Monday, May 21, 2012

Herbal Superstitions A to Z

“Superstition is one of the mainsprings of human behaviour,
generating hopes of defeating the forces of evil, and of influencing
one’s own fate.” —Iona Opie and Moira Tatem, A Dictionary
of Superstitions.
It was once believed that an acorn placed on a windowsill
guarded a house against fires and damage caused by lightning
strikes. This superstition can be traced back to the old Norse
legend that the great god Thor once sheltered from a thunderstorm
under a mighty oak tree.   

Adder’s Tongue
The British once believed that adder’s tongue gathered
during the waning of the moon possessed the power to cure
adder bites and, according to David Pickering’s Dictionary of
Superstitions, countered “other evils associated with snakes.”

According to a rhyme found in a medieval medical manuscript,
“If it [agrimony] be leyd under a man’s head, he shall sleep as if he were dead. He shall never drede nor waken, till
from under his head it be taken.”

According to the ancient Roman author Pliny, the eating
of five nuts from an almond tree before drinking wine will
work to prevent drunkenness!
If success in your business ventures is what you desire, one
way to attain this (in addition to hard work) is to climb to the
top of an almond tree, so sayeth an old legend from Asia.

Associated with Saint Michael the Archangel, angelica was
once thought to dispel lustful thoughts and protect against
sorcery, the Black Death, attacks by rabid and venomous beasts,
and a wide variety of illnesses.

Apple Tree
If the sun shines on Christmas morning and rain falls on
Saint Swithin’s Day (July 15th), these are both a good omen
that the apple orchards will yield a bountiful crop the following
season. To ensure that an apple tree bears fruit for many
years, an old custom from Germany is for the first fruit of the
season to be consumed by a woman who has bore many children.
There exist a number of death omens related to apple trees.
For instance, if there should be a single apple left on a tree
after the rest of the crop has been picked at harvesting time
and it does not fall to the ground before the arrival of the
following spring, the family upon whose land the apple tree
stands will lose one of its loved ones to the Angel of Death.
Interestingly, it is an old Pagan custom in some parts of the world to deliberately leave one apple on the tree at harvesting
time as an offering to the spirits. Beware of apple trees that
blossom out of season (particularly in the fall), for they are
said to presage a death in the family.
Unicorns, according to Pagan folklore, often dwell beneath
apple (and ash) trees. Every so often, one or more of these
magnificent magickal creatures can be observed eating or wandering
about in an apple orchard, especially in the wee morning
hours when the countryside is shrouded in a ghostly mist.
Other apple superstitions are as follows: Eating an apple a
day is said to “keep the doctor away.” Wassailing apple trees
on Twelfth Night keeps all manners of evil spirits at bay. Cutting
down an apple orchard is said by some to bring bad luck,
and many Pagan folks in Norway once believed that by eating
apples they could attain “immortality through wisdom.” According
to an issue of Notes and Queries from the year 1862, “a
good apple year is a great year for twins.”
Rubbing an apple before eating it is an old method to
ensure that the fruit will be free of any evil spirits or demonic
entities. Some superstitious folks still believe that if you eat an
apple without first rubbing or washing it, you invite the devil
to dine with you.

In England, it was once believed that bad luck would befall
anyone who dared to pick the fruit of the blackberry plant
after the 11th day of October (the old
date of the Christian’s Feast of Michaelmas).
Legend has it that on this day many
eons ago the devil fell into a thorny blackberry
thicket and laid a curse upon the

The broom has long been regarded as a plant of ill omen,
and unluckiest during the month of May. To sweep the house
with blossomed broom in May (or even to bring it into the
house) is said to “sweep the head of the house away.” In England,
it was once believed that the whipping of a young boy
with a branch of green broom would result in the stunting of
his growth.

If the very first daffodil you lay your eyes upon in the
spring or summer hangs its head towards you, this is said to
be an omen of bad luck for the remainder of the year. This
herbal superstition, which is centuries old, continues to live
on in many parts of Great Britain.

The legendary power of garlic to keep bloodthirsty vampires
and all evil spirits at bay is known throughout much of
the world. However, some say that only garlic gathered in the
month of May can be truly effective for this purpose.
According to an old legend popular among Christians,
the first garlic sprang up in the spot where the Devil’s left foot
stepped when he left the Garden of Eden. In the spot where
his right foot stepped, sprang the first onion.
Garlic is said to be able to absorb the diseases of both man
and beast, as well as to trap and destroy negative vibrations and
evil influences within cursed or haunted dwellings. (Interestingly,
onions are accredited with having the same powers.)

Also known as hagthorn (due to its long association with
Witches), the hawthorn is a very magickal tree that is said to
be sacred to the Pagan deities Cardea, Flora, and Hymen. In
England it was once believed that the hawthorn was one of the
three trees most sacred to the fairy-folk (the others being the
oak and the ash).
It is customary for many modern Witches to decorate their
Beltane altars and May poles with hawthorn. In ancient times,
many a superstitious soul believed that hawthorns were actually
Witches in disguise. Many Witches were thought to have
been able to transform themselves into trees at will by means
of magickal spells, or (according to Christians) through the
aid of the devil. Others were said to have danced so wildly
around the hawthorns in their frenzied rites that they permanently
became as one with the tree.
Take care not to sit beneath the boughs of a hawthorn tree
on Halloween (the time of year when the invisible veil between
the human and supernatural realms is thinnest), otherwise,
you may fall under a fairy enchantment. Cutting down a
hawthorn tree is said to greatly anger the fairies, and therefore
brings the worst of luck to the one who fells it.
There exist contradicting legends concerning the bringing
of hawthorn blossoms into the house. One holds that the
blossoms are beneficial, offering the household protection
against evil, sorcery, and lightning. Another claims that they
are extremely unlucky and may even bring about a death in
the family.

Since medieval times, it has been believed that bad luck
awaits those who pick the black hellebore. White hellebore flowers, on the other hand, were once believed to cure madness,
promote intelligence, and protect against epileptic seizures,
leprosy, miscarriages, and attacks by rabid animals.
Long ago, many farmers blessed their cattle with hellebore
to protect them against sorcery, and it was for this purpose that
the plant was dug up with certain mystical rites. In The Complete
Book of Herbs by Kay N. Sanecki, it is said that “a circle was
described with the point of a sword around the plant, and then
prayers were offered while the black roots were lifted.”
Some farmers still believe that a good harvest is portended
whenever a hellebore plant bears four tufts. However, it is believed
to be an extremely bad sign should it bear only two.
This portends a crop failure in the near future.

Known by many names, including “bat’s
wings” and “Christ’s thorn,” the holly is a plant
strongly connected to the Yuletide season and
highly valued by Witches for its magickal and
divinatory powers. It was once believed to safeguard
a house and its inhabitants against lightning
strikes, evil entities, hauntings, and black magick when
planted near the dwelling.
Carrying a wand or walking stick made of holly wood will
prevent you from falling victim to all hexes and bewitchments,
according to occult folklore.
To avoid bad luck, be sure never to bring holly into your
house prior to Christmas Eve. However, not having holly in
your house at all on Christmas Day is said to conjure the worst
of luck for all members of the family.
It is supposed to be very unlucky to step on a holly berry,
cut down a holly tree, sweep a chimney with holly, or burn discarded holly boughs, which some folks believe invites the
Angel of Death to claim a member of the family.
The so-called “male” variety of holly (with prickly leaves)
brings good luck to all persons of the male gender; while the
“female” variety (with smooth leaves) brings good luck to all of
the fairer sex.
An old Christian legend holds that the cross on which
Jesus Christ was crucified was made of holly wood, and it was
the blood of Christ that gave the holly berry its deep red color.
It is said that lightning will never strike a holly tree nor
anyone who stands under the branches of one during a storm.
It was a widespread belief in the Middle Ages that the
holly possessed miraculous curative powers. Pricking or thrashing
the feet with holly and then walking barefoot in the snow
was once thought to cure chilblains (an inflammatory swelling
caused by cold and poor circulation). Another old method
for treating chilblains was to rub the ashes of burnt holly berries
upon the afflicted areas. To prevent a fever, scratch your
legs with a holly branch; and to ease a whooping cough, drink
a bit of fresh milk out of a cup or bowl made of holly wood.

In many parts of Great Britain it is still believed that houseleeks
growing on the outside walls and/or roof of a house bring
phenomenal good luck to all inhabitants of the dwelling. However,
should you purposely or accidentally cut down a houseleek,
you will suffer a streak of bad luck, especially where your
house is concerned.
Houseleeks are also said to protect a house against lightning
strikes, fire, and tempests. For this reason, it is traditional
for many folks upon moving into a new home to plant
them as close to the house as possible before doing anything else. It is also very common for many Welsh families who dwell
within thatch-roofed cottages to plant houseleeks upon their
rooftops for good luck.

According to old English folklore, the hydrangea is an
unlucky plant for young ladies who wish to find a husband.
Persons who allow the plant to grow near their houses (especially
close to the front door) are said to curse their daughters
with a lonely life of spinsterhood.

Some people believe that bringing an ivy plant into the
house also brings in bad luck. Picking a leaf from an ivy plant
growing on the wall of a church will cause you to fall ill. Even
worse, should the ivy growing on the wall of a house suddenly
wither and die for no apparent reason, this is said to indicate that
a death will occur in that household within a very short time.

If the wind should blow leaves of any type into your house,
this is said to be a very lucky omen. Catching a falling autumn
leaf before it reaches the ground also brings good luck, and
some people claim that for every leaf you catch you will have a
day filled with good luck. Another superstition holds that if
you secretly make a wish as you catch a falling leaf on Halloween,
it will surely come true for you. And yet another leaf-catching
superstition promises 12 consecutive months
of good luck and happiness for those who catch
12 falling leaves in the month of October.

It was once believed that mandrake plants were inhabited
by dark-skinned supernatural beings known as mandragoras
(“man-dragons”), which were mischievous by nature and often
called upon to aid sorcerers and sorceresses in the practice
of their craft.
A legend dating back to medieval times claims that when
a mandrake plant is pulled from the ground, it emits an earpiercing
scream and begins to sweat droplets of blood. Legend
also has it that any person whose ears were unfortunate enough
to hear the plant’s shriek would either be driven to madness or
suffer an agonizing death. How this legend came to be is somewhat
of a mystery, but it was nevertheless well known throughout
Europe and even prompted many practitioners of sorcery
to use dogs to uproot their mandrakes as a safety precaution.
One interesting theory concerning the origin of the shrieking
mandrake legend can be found in Richard Lucas’ The Magic
of Herbs in Daily Living:
“Tests conducted by Sir Janghadish showed that a plant
pulled up by the roots suffers tremendous shock, comparable
to that of a person beaten into insensibility. This immediately
calls to mind the legend of the screaming mandrake. Perhaps
the myth originated when some person here and there with
mediumistic ability tore a mandrake from the ground and psychically
sensed the plant’s torment and anguish. Such an experience
would have excited profound emotions of horror in
the mind of the psychic, especially if the person was a timid
soul or one whose psychic faculties had just emerged for the
first time. It is not difficult to understand that in some instances
the shock could have caused insanity or heart failure.”

In order to be effective in magickal spells, mistletoe must
be cut with a single stroke of a gold sickle on the Summer
Solstice, the Winter Solstice, or the sixth day after the new
moon. Take care not to let the plant touch the earth, lest it be
rendered magickally impotent.
This old Pagan custom originated with the priestly caste
of the Celts, who believed that mistletoe found growing on
oak trees possessed the power to heal as well as to promote
fertility and protect against all manner of evil.
The Druids believed that it was necessary to appease the
gods by sacrificing a pair of white bulls during their mistletoecutting
Also known in earlier times as all heal, devil’s fuge, golden
bough, and Witches’ broom, the mistletoe is said to be sacred
to the Pagan deities Apollo, Freya, Frigga, Odin, and Venus.
According to old Pagan herb lore, mistletoe works well to
ward off lightning strikes and storms when hung from the
chimney or over the doors and windows of a dwelling.
Fairies are also said to be repelled by the sight and smell of
mistletoe, a belief that unquestionably gave birth to the old
custom of placing a sprig of the plant inside a child’s cradle.
With the protective power of the mistletoe working for them,
parents who once feared that their children might be stolen by
fairies and replaced with changelings could rest easier at night.
In England it was once believed that if a young woman
failed to be kissed beneath a sprig of yuletide mistletoe before
her wedding day, she would be forever unable to bear children.
Likewise, unable to father children would be the fate of
any man who never kissed beneath the yuletide mistletoe while
in his bachelorhood.
Many people continue to cling to the old belief that cutting
down any mistletoe-bearing tree is a most unlucky thing
to do. Some individuals who have done so are said to have met
with a violent death as a result. But whether such strange and
deadly occurrences are actually the effects of an ancient Druid
curse at work or merely odd coincidences, we may never know
for sure.

“Too superstitious…is their conceit…that it [mistletoe] hath
power against witchcraft, and the illusion of Sathan [Satan], and
for that purpose, use to hang a piece thereof at their children’s neckes.”
—J. Parkinson, Theatrum Botanicum, 1640.

Molukka Bean
The Molukka bean (or nut) is a variety of nut native to the
Molukka Islands, and popular as an amulet in the Western
Isles of Scotland (where they often wash ashore). When worn
about the neck, a white Molukka bean is said to turn black to
indicate the presence of a sorcerer or a person possessing the
evil eye. Some people believe that Molukka beans guard against
death in childbirth and drowning.

In the Middle Ages, it was popularly believed among the
peasantry of Europe that the fern known as moonwort possessed
the power to open or break locks, loosen iron nails, and
unshoe horses that tread upon it. An even more curious superstition
surrounding the moonwort holds that woodpeckers can
acquire the strength to pierce iron if they rub their beaks upon
a leaf of this plant. How this bizarre belief entered into the
annals of herblore is a mystery.

Sacred to the Pagan goddesses Artemis and Diana, the
mugwort is a significant magickal herb and one with many
connections to occult folklore.
According to an ancient tradition, a mugwort plant must
be picked on the eve of a Summer Solstice in order for its
magickal properties to be properly activated. Christians in the
Middle Ages seldom pulled a mugwort from the soil of the
earth without first making the sign of the cross to ward off any
evil spirits that might have taken up residence within the plant.
A small “coal” (said to be actually “old acid roots”) found
in the ground beneath the roots of a mugwort plant is reputed
to be one of the most powerful of all natural amulets. However,
occult tradition holds that unless the mugwort plant is
uprooted at noon or midnight on St. John’s Eve, the “coal”
found beneath it shall be without amuletic value.
For those lucky enough to unearth such a treasure, a
mugwort’s “coal” will offer protection against all “venomous
beasts,” ward off evil and sorcery, heal all ills (including madness
and the plague), inspire feelings of lust in the frigid, bring
fertility to those cursed with barrenness, and induce prophetic
dreams (especially pertaining to future marriage partners) when
placed under a pillow at bedtime.

“If they would drink nettles in March,
And eat muggons [mugwort] in May,
So many fine maidens
Would go not to the clay.”
—An old Scottish rhyme.

It is a good luck sign to find a peapod containing nine
peas, and an even luckier one to come across one containing a
single pea. If you make a wish while throwing a pod of nine
peas over your right shoulder, the chances are
good that your wish will come true (but only if
you do not repeat it to anyone). It was once
believed that a wart could be cured by rubbing
it with a pod of nine peas while reciting a
special incantation.

It was once believed that to accidentally leave any earth
unsown in a field brought upon a death in the family before
the end of the year, or, depending on the local legend, before
the crop is reaped. An old Scottish farming superstition holds
that if the weather prevents the sowing of seed after a farmer
has taken it out to the field, this is a grim omen.

Centuries ago, it was common in rural England for a live
shrew-mouse to be imprisoned within the split trunk of an
ash tree and left there to suffocate or starve to death, thus
giving the tree incredible magickal powers. Such a tree was
known as a “shrew-ash” and its branches and leaves were believed
to possess the miraculous powers to heal both man and
beast of a wide variety of ailments, including shrew bites.

In some parts of England it is still believed that willow
wood should never be burned on Bonfire Night. To do so invites bad luck. Driving a horse with a stick of willow brings on a
stomach ache, while swatting a child or animal with one stunts
their growth.
Willow trees have long been valued for their natural ability
to protect against sorcery and the evil eye, and some individuals
believe that touching them ensures good luck. However,
never reveal a secret beneath a willow, otherwise your secrets
will be repeated by the wind.

Wood Betony
According to Penelope Ody in The Complete Medicinal
Herbal, wood betony was the most important herb among the
Anglo-Saxons, who found at least 29 medicinal uses for it. She
also suggests that wood betony was “possibly the most popular
amulet herb, used well into the Middle Ages to ward off
evil or ill humors.” A ninth century Saxon work called Herbarium
Apuleii says that wood betony “is good whether for a
man’s soul or his body; it shields him against visions and
dreams.” Other popular herbs in Saxon times were mugwort,
plantain, vervain, and yarrow, which were used in numerous
internal remedies, but most commonly employed as an amulet.

From: Herbal Magick A Witch’s Guide to Herbal Folklore and Enchantments

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