Harper's new monthly magazine 247, joulukuu 1870
When Goethe represents Margaretas plucking the star-flower and crying, as its last leaf falls, "He loves me!" and Faust as saying, "Let this flower-language be thy heavenly oracle!" he traced all our drawing-room fortunetelling with flowers to its true source in divination. At the earliest age of the world the human heart felt flowers to be the natural symbols of gentle affections and noble aspirations. Their
of a use the finest"
had redeemed religions and races from the darkes phases of superstition before they taught Leigh Hunt "the end of use." Transmitted from earlier, adopted by later religions - passing from pagan temples to be cultivated in convent walls - the common flowers of our gardens have reached us as an imperishable trust bequeathed by the first intimations of a Supreme Love to the mind of man. These floral optimists have preached their evangel of hope through the winter of superstitious fear; and the terrors pictured by priestcraft have been covered over by their soft and irresistible invasion of every church festival, their smiling sympathy with the bride, their power to wreathe with beauty the coffin and the grave. It is remarkable how little of ill has ever been believed of them, whereas every animal has been somewhere regarded as a devil. Except a few names given with humor rather than malevolence, as devil's-apron and devil's-leaf ([-] setan, as the nettle is called by the natives of Timor), and a few similar names, there are few which have ever suggested diabolism. Chick-weed, pigwort, pickpocket, snap-dragon, Jack-in-the-pulpit, and the like, are at worst grotesque; and as a general thing even poisonous flowers - as aconite, called wolf's-bane, monk's-hood, etc. - have been regarded from the optimistic point of view. The fatal thangin-nut of Madagascar is believed to be a divine plant, given to be a test of the rightfulness or wrongfulness of an accusatin. It was not with antipathy that the Egyptians redarded the frail anemone as a symbol of sickness. It is notable that the most sacred flowers have been rather weeds and parasites than flowers, and it is possible that they shared some of the sanctity with which idiots are invested in Russian villages. I doubt not that if we could cross-examine some brother of the stone age as to his preference for John's-wort, he would express himself as nearly as possible in the language of a passage written by Hawthorne amidst his conflicts with the squash-bugs in his garden. "Why is it, I wonder," asks Hawthorne, "that Nature has provided such a host of enemies for every useful esculent, while the weeds are suffered to grow unmolested, and are provided with such tenacity of life and such methods of propagation that the gardener must maintain a continual struggle, or they will hopelessly overwhelm him? What hidden virtue is in these things, that it is granted to sow themselves with the wind, and to grapple the earth with this immitigable stubborness, and to flourish in spite of obstacles, and never to suffer blight beneath any sun or shade, but always to mock their enemies with the same wicked luxuriance? There is a sort of sacredness about them. Perhaps if we could penetrate Nature's secrets we should find that what we call weeds are more essential to the well-being of the world than the most precious fruit or grain."
A few flowers of ill omen must, however, be mentioned. The marigold, which the French call soucis (cares), is rigidly excluded from the flowers with which the German maidens tell their fortunes - in the way presently to be noticed - as also is the calendula, as it is thought they are unfavorable to love. The poppy has long been a symbol of death - "the sister of sleep." The crocus (the flower into which the friend of Smilax was transformed when pining with unrequited love), the Austrian peasants say, must be plucked only by healthy young girls or strong men, as it tends to draw away the strength; and it is worthy of note that homeopathy prescribes crucus for female weakness. Ox-eye, or maudelyne-wort, has a bad effect on cattle that eat it. Notwithstanding the wonderful virtues every where ascribed to four-leaved clover, the finder of the five-leaved will have bad luck. These, however, are about all the ill-omened flowers. There are, indeed, circumstances under which all flowers are injurious. They must not be laid on the bed of a sick person, according to a Silesian superstition. In Westphalia and Thuringia it is said no child under a year old must be permitted to wreathe itself with flowers, or it will die soon; and in Erzgebirge, it is added, such flowers will entirely lose their fragnance. Flowers must, according to a common German saying, in no case be laid on the mouth of a corpse, since the dead man may chew them, which would make him a "Nachzehrer," or one who draws his relatives to the grave after him. To dream of white flowers prognosticates death; and if a white rose-bush puts forth unexpectedly, it is a sign of a death in the nearest house. One who throws a rose into a grave will waste away. It must be remembered, however, that the flowers and plants which were even usually associated with death were by no means considered illomened, but often the reverse. That the rosemary, while in many countries it has been strewn on graves-
"There's rosemary for you - that's for remembrance"
- in Thuringia is twined with bridal wreaths, and worn by the young at confirmation. Rosemary is much used in many regions as a diviner in love affairs. We have seen that the same association with death pertains to the myrtle, of which the normal bridal wreath in Germany is made. Even the saffron, which has an equivocal reputation in Austria, was regarded in the far East as an omen of good destiny to one on whose grave it bloomed; and the Swiss mothers twine the safran printanier around the necks of their children to keep them from harm - this superstition being engendered by the love of that flower for the snow and snowy peaks. In Erzgebirge saffron is thought good for the butter if given to cows, and in one or two regions it is thought to cure jaundice.
*) The natives of Mexico find a similar significance in their "resurrection-plant," which has a more remarkable power of recuperation than any other. After drifting about the months, brown and shriveled, it requires only a few moments in a cup of water to expand to its original form and recover its color. Euphorbia, or Medusa-head, blooms out to warm water after being apparently dead.The symbolism of the Rose - like its etymon, which has been variously regarded as from greek, [-] (rekated ti [-]m red; Skr. rudhira; Ger., roth, and from latin ros (dew) - is puzzling. Why should it have been in ancient Egypt the token of silence? It preserved this significance in Greece where Eros was represented offering a rose to the god of silence, indicating the secrecy in which love delights. In Tyrol we find it held that the rose-gall producs sleep. Stratagem also loves silence, and so we find the rose appearing on Roman shields. Thence it appeared with the cross as the device of Luther and sumbol of the Rosicrucians (sub rosa cruz), to find its way, as a symbol of secred bands, until it became the badges of York and Lancaster, and gave us our phrase sub rosa. Related, probably, to its symbolism of silence in its relation in some countries to death. The Arabians have a legend of a garden of mystical roses once planted by King Shaddad, and now lost and buried in their desert. The Chinese plant the rose over graves, and it was frequently carved as an emblem on Greek and Roman tombs. This, however, may be cognate with the Syrian belief which regards it as an emblem of immortality. The reverence with which the Jews spose of their coming Messias as "the Rose of Sharon" is repeated in the esteem of their descandants for "the rose of Jericho" - whuch, from its ability to recover life after being swept about like a dry leaf, became the natural emplem of the Resurrection.* The flower thus called is not a rose, but has been placed by Linnæus in the 1st order, Siliculosa, 15th class, Tetradynamia. Its earliest mention, perhaps, is in Jesus Sirach, 24; and it (or its representatives) has been called Anastatica (resurrection-flower) hierochantina, Rosa hierosolymitana, Rosa S. Mariæ (French jérose. The pilgrims to the Holy Sepulchre reported that it marked every spot where Mary and Joseph rested on the flight into Egypt, which suggests the Greek myth that the red rose was metamorphosed from white by the blood of Venus when she trod on its thorn while going to aid the dying Narcissus. The Turksa have a version of the same myth, saying that the rose is colored with the blood of Mohammed, and they will never let that flower lie on the ground. The rose of Jericho certainly has a remarkable power of resuscitation, one brought by the Templars from the East having bloomed after 700 years. All the superstitions connected with it in the East have, in Germany and Italy, gathered around the rose called by its name, which the novel of the Swiss David Hess has made familiar. It is called the Weinachts-rose, and is supposed, if steeped in water on Christmas-eve, to confer the power of divining the events of the coming year. In her dedication of the pleasant French story entitled "The Rose of Jericho," which she has recently translated, Mrs. Norton speaks of having found the same flower often borrowed in Italy by women to insure safe childbirth. This may be refereble to another Greek legend that the rose sprang from the bath of Aphrodite. There is a superstition in Persia that, on a certain charmed day of the year, the rose has a heart of gold. To this Omar seems to allude in his verse:
"Look to the blowing rose shout us. "Lo,
Laughing," she says, "into the world I blow;
At once the silken tassel of my purse
Tear, and its treasure on the garden throw!"
In Waldeck, Germany, we have a reminiscence of this fable in the superstition that it is the rose - and not, as in held usually, the cowslip or the forget-me-not - which unlocks the treasures concealed in fairy castles.
*) There was an old customs of nurses to put a drop of human blood in a new-born child's bath to insure its having rosy cheeks.The Catholic "rosary," which the German call Rosenkranz, or rosewreath, suggests that originally the worshipers may have counted their prayers with roses; at any rate, it seemed certain that for a long time the larger beads were called roses. But this was the case in Germany before the introduction of Christianity. The rose was held to be the favorite flower of the maternal goddes Holda, who, as we have before seen, was often called "Frau Rose," or "Mutter Rose." It was partly transferred, with all other symbols of Hold, to the Madonna, who is frequently called "Marienröschen." Mary, it is said, dries her veil on a rose-bush, which thenceforth bears no more roses. But there has been a tendency to associate the white rose particularly with the Virgin Mary, that being chiefly chosen for her féte days, while the warmer and more earthly feelings associated with "Frau Rose" are still represented in the superstitions connected with the red rose. If a white rose bloom in autumn it denotes an early death; if a red, an early marriage. The red rose, it is held, will not bloom over a grave. In posen the "rose-apple" is carried by the country maiden in her breast to keep her lover true. In Thuringia she who has several lovers may name rose leaves after them and seatter them on water; the leaft that sinks last is that of her truest lover, or predestined husband. Some of the superstitions concerning the rose in Germany are singular; as for instance, the custom found in some places of throwing rose leaves on a coal-fire for good luck, and the saying that a rose-bush pruned on St. John's Day will bloom again in the autumn. The relation of the flower to blood is widely believed. Thus one may find in France and Italy, as well as Germany, the saying that a drop of one's blood buried under a rose-bush will bring rosy cheeks.* The rose is also associated with an acnient charm once universal in Germany, still frequent it Swabia ad Westphalia runs thus: "Abek, Wabek, Fabek: in Christ's garden stand three red roses - one for the good God, the other for God's blood, the third for the angel Gabriel; blood, I pray you cease to flow!" In Swabia it is said: "On our Lord Jesus" grave sprintg three roses - the first is Hope, the second Patience, the third God's Will: blood, I pray you be still!" Sometimes again it is, "In God's garden bloom three toses - Blood-drop, Blood-stop, and Blood-still," etc. These runes have curious modifications. In St. Louis, Missouri, a German named Stretger last year committed murder, and afterward suicide. In his room was found the following charm against hemorhage: "At the grave of Christ bloom three flowers - the first is Jugend, the second is Tugent, the third is Gubel" (?Übel). "Repeat three times and the blood will cease to flow." I have somewhere met with a legend that the thorn-crown of Christ was made from rose-brier, and that the drops of blood that started under it and fell to the ground blossomed to roses; the fable has been recalled to me, though I can not trace it, by the felicitious lines of the most gifted American poetess (Mrs. Howe):
"Men saw the thorns on Jesus' brow,
But angels saw the roses."
A similar idea pervades the sotry of "Dora-röschen," known to English readers as "The Sleeping Beauty," or "Rose-Bud," who, it will be remembered, sleeps in a palace surrounded by formidable thorn-thickets, in which all who approached perished save the true prince, to whom the thorns were all roses, through which he passed with ease. There is, by-the-way, in the same legend, as it orignally appears in the Edda of Sæmund, a curious reminisence of the Oriental symbolism which connected the rose with silence and sleep. When Sigurd there enterst the castle and arouses Brynhilda, she tells the story of her trance in these words: "Two kings contended; one hight Hialmgunner, and he was old bust of mickle might, and Odin had promised him the victory. I felled him in fight; but Odin struck my head with the sleepy-thorn, and said I should never be again victorious, and should be hereafter wedded." There seems little doubt that the flowering of the rose out of a thorn has from the earliest period had a significance to the Norseman as representing his own character. In "Beauty and the Beast" we get a notion of the Beast's kindliness, under his formidable aspect, by his living in a garden of roses, and setting so high a value upon them which show the good heart of the thorn. Mr. Emerson says that the English people love this story because it is characteristic of them. "The English man is a bear with a soft place in his heart; he says no, and helps you."
The name of the Lily seems to be related to some old personifications of the night, which Orpheus described as "the mother of gods and men." In the Syrian dialects we have Lil, Lilleh, etc., as denoting the evening. It is probable that some earlier deification of the evening is reperented in the Talmudic legend of Lilith, Adam's first wife, whose fatal charm lay in her golden hair. Cold to all, her lovers wasted away, and around the heart of each was froun a thread of golden hair. Selden is probably correct in identifying Lilith with the Arabic Halalath and Assyrian Allilat on the one hand, and Luna or Diana on the other. Of Allilat he says (De Diis Syriis): "Quae non alia est a Luna sine Diana. Lilith etiam dieta Judæes, quid ad eodem quo Halalath Arabum manet fonte a Lailah, nempe quod nox est, unde Lilith." The similarity of the name to Deleilah, and to Lilæs, the beautiful nymph and daughter of Cephissus, and also to Lethe, goddess of oblivion, after whom the river Lethe in the underworld was named, is worthy of note. It looks somewhat as if there might have blended with the Talmudic that of the Lotophagi (Od., ix.):
"And whose tasted of their Flowery meat
Cared not with tidings to return, but clave
Fast to that tribe, forever fain to eat,
Reckless of home return, the tender lotus sweet."
This lotus, however, was probably the nebek, still eaten by the Bedouins, and only by nominal association with the nymphæa could have shared the legends of the liy. That the cold golden-haired Lilith, and the chaste man-hating Diana, should be personfications of the moonlight, and that their emblem should be the pale golden-hearted lily, is not wonderful; but it must be remembered that the only white lily known to the Jews was the water-lily. It is curious that the most gorgeous wild lily in America - the yaca, which furnished Margaret Fuller with a theme for one of her finest pieces - should be popularly called Adam's-needle. From the time ofthe Crusaders pilgrims to Palestine have sought to find there the lily whose array was beyond that of "Solomon in all his glory." But the lily referred to by Christ has never been satisfactorily ascertained. The popular idea that it was the lily of the valley has been evolved from the simple and lowly character of Christ, but that lily, loving cold Norway best, is unknown in tropical regions. It is not, indeed, certain that the flower meant was what we now call a lily at all. Asphodel, amaryllis, narcissus, crinum, and the golden lily have all had learned advocates for the honor referred to. The same obsecurity surrounds the flower referred to so often by Solomon - "He feedeth among the lilies," "He shall be as the dew upon the lily." It was probably through the sacred associations with which the words of Christ invested the lily that the fleur-de-lis became the emblem of France; one legend being that after one of the battles of the Crusades the banner, which had hitherto been white, was found covered with lilies. The sacred lily of the East is the Lotus, there being hardly one of the Oriental mythologies in which it has not a chief place. In Egypt, where the flower reaches its greatest beauty, it was reresented as the throne of Osiris, the god of day. In India Vishnu was pictured, in the long intervals of his earthly avatars, as a beautiful youth sleeping on the star-spotted serpent, which floated on an azure sea, and clasping the lotus in his hand. As Creeshna he was called "the lotus-eyed." One of the holiest volumes of Buddha is entitled "The White Lotus of the Good Law;" and Buddha is always pictured bearing lotus flowers in each hand. The Syrians regarded it as a sumbol of the cradle of Moses found on the shores of the Nile by Pharaoh's daughter; and whereever the story of the Deluga found its way the lotus was associated with the Ark. Our name for the lotus (nymphæa) seems to refer to the myth of teh metamorphosis of the nymph Lotis when she was pursued by Priapus, as related by Ovid; but it is probable that it was a tree signified in the story, probably the Diospyrus lotus of Italy. During the ages in which the water-lily has been held sacred it has been invested by poets with every variety of significance. It meant fertility on the Nile and on the Ganges to the people, while to the prophets it meant the soul drawn out of evil matter and surmounting the waves of sense. On the Rhine a superstition is occasionally met with that the nymphæa must be gathered only with magical formulas - of late an ave or paternoster will do - and that it then is a potent charm agains witchcraft. In Spain the lily has been credited with the power of restoring those who have been transformed into animal shapes. Concerning our common lily there was once a superstition among farmers that the number of white cups on the most flourishing stem they could find denoted the number of shillings a bushel of wheat would bring that year; and there is still a belief among those who put their trust in the village herbalist that it is a cure for venomous bites. The Snow-Drop has long been regarded as a sacred flower, as the first sign of the returning life of nature piercing the snow (French, perce-neige. It was consecrated to the Virgin Mary. On her Ascention-day, formerly, her images were removed from the altars to indicate her ascension, and the spot where each stood strewn with snow-drops.
The gnaphalium (amarenthon, the helichrysum of Pliny, and the chrysanthemon which Dioscorides describes as used for chaplets), which we know under so many common names - cat's-foot, chastity, everlating - has long gad a connection with immortality in Catholic countries, and is gathered on Ascension-day to be hung over the door of house and stable as a charm against various evils, but especially against lightning. It was this flower that Emerson laid on the grave of his friend Thoreau. "There is," he said, "a flower known to botanists, one of the same genus with our summer plant called "life-everlasting," a gnaphalium , like that, which grows on the most inaccessible cliffs of the Tyrolese Mountains, where the chamois dare hardly venture, and which the hunter, tempted by its beauty and his love (for it is immensely valued by the Swiss maidens), clibs the cliffs to gather, and is sometimes found dead at the foot with the flower in his hand. It is called by the botanists Gnaphalium leontopodium, but by the Swiss Edelweisse, which signifies noble purity. Thoreau seemed to me to be living in the hope to gather this plant, which belonged to him of right." The superstitions value placed on it by the Swiss is for wreaths, which are made on Ascension-day, and said to have power under certain conditions to render the wearer invisible. It is also an old Suabian belief that one who on the Friday of the full moon, or on a fète day before sunset, pulls it up by the root, and folding it carefully in a white cloth, wears it agains the naked breast, will thereby be made bullet-proof and daggerproof.
Some beautiful German legends are connected with Strawberry, which was a favorite fruit of Frigg, or Holla, the goddess of the summer. As was afterward said of the Virgin Mary in Paradise, Holla was said to go a-berrying with the children on St. John's Day. On that day no mother who has lost a child will taste a strawberry, for then her child will get none in Paradise. Mary will say, "Stand begind, your sweet-toothed mother has eaten yours already." Holla and her little companions pick strawberries so rapidly that in a quarter of an hour all their baskets are full. In Bavaria it is said elves come to milk the cows, in return blessing the animals with abundance of milk. These elves being very fond of strawberries, the shepherds tie little baskets of them between the cows' horns. The Gübich, of dwarf-king, is said in Hanover always to have strawberries and rasberries on his table. In Bavaria it is related that a little strawberry girl met an old woman clothed entirely with moss, and soon after found that all her berries had changed to gold. There is a story very popular in the Tyrol, ut found with modifications throughout Germany, that a little brother and sister, while picking strawberries, met a noble woman of shining raiment and with a crown brighter than the sun. It was the mother of Christ. The little girl arose respectfully, but the boy went on eating strawberries. The woman gave the sister a golden box, the brother a black one. The boy found in his box two black worms, which, becoming longer and longer, wind themselves around him and lead him forever into the dark forest. But out of the girl's box came two angels which flew with her to Paradise. (Mannhardt.)
The common Clover, which was much used in ancint Greek festivals, was regarded by the Germans as sacred chiefly in its four-leaved variety. There is, indeed, in the vicinity of Altenburg a superstition that if a farmer take home with im a handful of clover taken from each of the four corners of his neighbor's field, it will go well with his castle during the whole year; but the normal belief is that the four-leaved clover, on account of its cross-form, is endowed with magical virtues. The general form of the superstition is that one who carries it about him will be succesful at play, and will be able to detect the proximity of evil spirits. In Bogemia it is said that if the maiden manages to put it into the shoe of her lover without his knowledge when he is going on any journey, he will be sure to return to her faithfully and safely. In the Tyrol the lover puts it under the pillow to dream of the beloved. On Christmas-eve, especially, one who has it may see witches. Plucked with a gloved hand and taken into the house of a lunatic without any one else perceiving it, it is said to cure madness. The four-leaved clover is also thought in various regions to protect one from witches, especially in the dark; to keep butter pure, on which account it is good form for a butter-mould; and to prevent one from being drafted for military service.
The Violet (Latin, viola,, a little flower; Greek ) had its greatest reputation among those races of the East whose religions were rather emotional than mystical. The Arabian poets bade the wealthy and ambitious learn humility from this lowly way-side preacher. In Mohammedan countries it has acquired a sanctity on account of their prophet's fondness for it. "As my religion is above others," he said, "so is the excellence of the odor of violets above other odors; it is as warmth in winter and coolness in midsummer." It is likely that it was from some long fore-ground of popular homage that the violet became the badge of the medieval minstrels, as in the poetical contests of Toulouse, where the prize was a golden violet. Its kindred have been translated into interior meanings, as their names show - pansies (pensés), heart's-ease, herb-trinity. The only German superstitions connected with it are to be found in Brandenburg and Silesia, where it is said to cure ague if onw chews the first violet he sees; and in Thuringia, where it wields a charm against harm from the black-art. There are few flowers whose popularity is more creditable to human nature. Except that in some rigions of the East it has been used to flavor sherbets, and that in Scotland it has been used as a cosmetic, thought formerly to be favorable to the complexion, it has been universally cherished for its modest beauty and its delicate fragnance alone.
The Germans can not be included in the stolid class defined by Worldsworth, to whom a Primrose is a yellow primrose and nothing more. It may not be a very spiritual treasure which they see in its gold, but it is true that no flower has had in that country awider association with the supernatural. Its German name, "Schlüsselblume," or key-flower, is indeed strictly referable to its legendary connection with hidden treasures. The myth, as told in various sagas, affirms that the good Bertha entices some favored child by exwuisite and fascinating primroses to a secred doorway completely overgrown with flowers. This is the door to an enhanted castle. When the key-flower touches it the door gently opens, and the favored mortal passes to a room with vessels covered over with primroses, beneath which are treasures of gold or jewels. When the treasure has been taken the primroses must be placed back carefully, otherwise the lucky person will be forever followed by a black dog. The superstition survives in England only in the country name of the cowslip, "fairy-cup" - i. e., a cup holding fairy gifts. another form which the fable takes is that the flowers are blue - the azure of the sky, which is Bertha's blue eye - and that the treasures are held by forget-me-nots. When the treasures have been taken, in this case, a voice is heard, saying, "Forget not the flowers" - i. e., to replace them carefully - and thence that flower is named the forget-me-not. As serpents usually guarded such treasures, the names scorpion-grass, viper's bugloss, for similar flowers is significant. In other regions, again, the gold is declared to be found hid under flax, in which form of the myth one may detect a fable of industry, like that of the dying farmer who told his sons of a treasure hidden in the field, which, however, turned out to be gained by industriously working it. In Waldeck it is the rose under whose silence the treasure is concealed; and in yet other places white flowers.
The Aloe still preserves its sanctity in various parts of the East. The Persian Dervis sings:
"Ah, I flame as aloes do!"
and it is still swung from the cencers of Egyptian temples. The worshipers often pass a bit of aloe from one to another, each kissing it and touching his forehead with it. The Mussulmans plant it around the most venerated tombs; and if a Mussulman has made a pilgrimage to the shrine of the Prophet, the fact is made known, and the honor claimed, by the appearance of aloe at his door. The Hews of Cairo hang it over their thresholds to keep away evil spirits. The origin of the aloe's sanctity is probably indicated in its Arabic name, saber (patience). The holiest monastery in Syria is probably that on Mount Saber, where the aloe is much venerated. The belief that it blossoms once a century is still cherished in the East; and the certainly long interval between its blossoms, and the little nourishment or aid it demands, added to its character as an evergreen, probably made it a symbol of the sleep of death and the resurrection. In Germany it is called the Tree of Paradise, but being little known to the common people, they, like ourselves, are affected by its sanctity only through the formidable superstition with which its medicinal virtues are still invested in the minds of physicians.
Chamomile, still drunk as a tea in English cottages as a cure for carious ailments, and a favorite medicine with the homeopathists, has had a place among the magically endowed plants asfar back as ancient Greece, where it was used in religious festivals. Wreaths of it are still made in Eastern Prussia, which, having been gathered on St. John's Day, are hung up in houses as a charm against storms. In Erzgebirge magical virtue is ascribed to chamomile tea; and in that and various other regions of Germany it is a favorite plant in the divination of love affairs.
In reading accounts of the old witch trials, especially those of the south of England, one can hardly help being struck by the fact that in the antics by which the so-called witches sought to impose upon their neighbors the plants used by them are almost always Rue and Vervain. There is now little doubt that the circles and signs of pretended magic shown to have been used by the hags were ghosts of the early pagan rites, which had survived from pre-historic times. Rue was, in many lands, supposed to have a potent effect on the eye - even more than eupohrasy, or eyebright, with which eyes are still injured n Scotland - bestowing second-sight, and is still regarded in some regions as a specific for dim eyes. So sacred was the regard in which it was held in Great Britain that we find the earliest Christian missionaries sprinkling holy-water from brushes made of it on their congregations. From which cause it was called "herb of grace." There is a reminiscence of this in Drayton's description of incautation:
* Lunaria, or moon-wort, somehwat moon-shaped and once supposed to cure the madness so widely attributed to the influence of the moon.
"Then sprinkles she the juice of rue,
With nine drops of the midnight dew
From lunary* distilling.
Milton also represents Michael as purging Adam's eyes with it. Shakespeare may be right in connecting rue with "ruth," because of its bitterness, the word iself being from Ang-Sax., rüde, Green, . The only region on the Continent where any superstition concerning rue is found resembling the form it assumed in England, as affecting the eye, is in the Tyrol, where it is one of five plants - the others being broomstraw, agrimony, maidenhair, and groud-ivy - which are bund together and believed, if carried about, to enable the bearer to see witches. If laid over the door, it keepss any whitch who shall seek to enter fastened on the threshold. Iti is especially reverenced by the rustic population of Posen, where it is held to be a powerful charm against widked spells, excellent to heal serpent-bites, and where it is buried with young children to keep their bodies from speedily decaying.
* In Scabla it is said that he who looks on agrimony as he sowns, early or late, will always have a stout blood.
Rue, crane's-bill, and willow are the three essentials of a magic wreath, which generally consists of nine kinds of plants, made by the maidens of Voigtland, with which to test the number of years they are to remain single. Walking backward to a tree they throw the wreath over their heads, until it remaings hanging on the tree; each failure in the attempt represents another year in the interval before marriage. The connection of Agrimony* with rue is the Tyrol as conferning preternatural vision is curious, when ee remember that its name is a corrpution of agromony, the flower of Argos, who kept his hundred eyes in good condition with it. In Austria the plants good for the eyes are artemisin, larkspur, goat's-thorn, cat-mint, and corn-flowers, which the weak-eyed make into a wreath, and look through it at a St. John's fire.
The renown of vervain may be traced to ancient Greece and Rome, where it was borne by embassadors on treaties of peace. It was sacred to the god of war, representing, however, his more mercifyl mood, possibly because it is a plant which is always found near human dwellings. It naturally became associated with the war-god of Germany, who, being also a lightning-god, was supposed to avert the thunderbolt from a house protected by it. It is still used thus by some, in connection with artemisia, in Franconia. It is, however , more directly associated with Tyr in the Bohemian superstition that vervain and rue boiled together, and the liquid poured on a gun-flint, will render the shot as sure to take effect as any "Freischütz" could desire. In the same country it is held that vervain which has been touched to a St. John's fire has power to snap iron and chains. The Druids called vervain "holy herb." They gathered it at the rising of the dog-star, from spots upon which neither sun nor moon ever shone, and bestowed on the earth sacrifices of honey to compensate it for the deprivation of so holy an herb. Its reputation was sufficient in Ben Jonson's day for him to write:
"Bring your garlands, and with reverence place
The vervain on the altar."
Even yet, in some districts of England, children may be seen with vervain twined about their necs, little knowing that in earlier times it was sometimes succeeded by a halter.
The country people, in naming the little flower that smiles brightly when all other flowers have withered the Daisy, or day's-eye, holding, in England at least, that it springs under the light of the planet Venus, have forestalled the poets. Beyond all other flowers this "unassuming commonplace of nature," as Wordsworth calls it, has been the favorite with poets. Chaucer, Spenser, Shakspeare, Ben Jonson, Burns, Wordsworth, and others of less fame, have celebrated its humble beauty. In early days it was held in superstitions regard chiefly on account of its star form, and is to-day the favorite flower of the German maidens in prognosticating their love fortunes. In Thuringia it has a mysterious association with the teeth; the saying there runs that one who has had a tooth taken out must eat the first three daisies he sees, which will secure him from toothache for the future. This Thuringian superstition is, however, an anomaly in the history of the daisy, which, as one of the flowers of Bertha, was adopted for St. Margaret, and became the favorite of the cloisters, where it was called, generally, Margaret, but also Paquerette, or Easter-flower, in France, and Michaelmas-daisy in England. It is regarded in some parts of Great Britain as a cure for sciatica and for swellings.
The Thistle was in former times much valued for magical purposes. It must be gathered in absolute silence when it is to be thus used. It was deemed sacred to Thor, and its blossom receives its color from the lightning, from which it defends. What is known among the poorest classes of Poland and the contiguous regions of Prussia as the elf-lock is supposed to be the work of evil demons; and it is said that if one buries thistle seed it will gradually disappear. It is said by others to be produced by the seed of a thistle; and old wives administer medicines until the elf-lock is ripe, when they crush it off with a sharp stone - a knife, or any thing of iron, being particularly prohibited. In Silesia and Franconia thistle is regarded as a safeguard against witchcraft. In East Prussia, if any domestic animal has a sore or wound in which worms appear, the cure is to gather four red thistle blossoms before daybreak and put one in each of the four directions of the compass, with a stone in the middle between them. The milkthistle was called in England "Our Lady's thistle."
The night-blooming flowers have every where been regarded as symbolical. The cereus gained its name from the torches with which Ceres is said to have searched for Prosperpine. The superb cactus which is called the torch-thistle in Mexico, is called the steppe-light in Russia. The "king's-candles" of Oberfalzx are regarded as great sacredness. The North American and South American Indians seem to have observed the phenomena of sleeping and night-blooming plants, and it has been thought by some that they had to some extent anticipated the floral dial of Linneæus.
It is a question which I have not been able to determine satisfactorily when or why orange flowers in England and France displaced the old emblem of love and constancy, myrtle, for the bridal wreath. Some critics, however, incline to the belief that by the famous apples of the Hesperides were really meant oranges, a fruit known in Greece only by reports from the southwest. The myth which chiefly swurrounded this beautiful and distant fruit, which may have been called apple simply because that had become a generic name (as we see in Latin ponum also), was, that Ge (Earth) had presented the apples, guarded by the dragon Ladon, to Hera at her marriage with Zeus. If the custom came by this route it would have been asssisted by the white and shining aspect of the blossoms of the fruit, whose name is probably related to the word for radiance ([-], morning, whence Aurora, and aurum, or, gold.) (The French word orange, however, though evidently influenced by or, preserves in it the Persian name for the fruit, nárandsch, from the Skr., naranga, meaning, strangely enough, "the desire of elephants.") The orange blossoms would easily be connected with the apple of Aphrodite, which was also a golden apple. The arrows of Eros were golden; but they are not so poetic as those of Kamadawn, the Indian Cupid, whose arrow-heads were from the rose-red amra-tree, and were shot from a bow of sugar-cane.
But our catalogue must now be brought to a close, thought it might be almost indefinitely extended. A few flower superstitions must be mentioned, however, which, though they are found only in an isolated condition, might, if traceable, be found related to vast theologies. How curous it is to find the Ocymum sanctum of India, the common basil, regarded in the superstitions of Voigtland as the test of chastity, withering in the hands of the impure! In some places it is said that if basil be laid under the plate of an impure girl she will not touch it. The bleeding-nun was formerly a charm against bad weather in Germany, and now is consecrated to the Virgin Mary. Saxifrage, if cut so that there shall be a stem with nine prings, is supposed to enable him who carries it into a church on Walpurgis-night to see witches. One striking fact about the German plant superstitions, particularly, is the lowlines of the vegetables about which so many grand things are said. The "Leaves of Grass" have, indeed, already found their poet; but the faithful potato, which, following man over the world, has become almost "a man and a brother," still waits for its epic. Yet the popular heart has not failed to contribute mach toward its apotheosis. Its relation to the stars is affirmed in the Teutonic belief that one must be careful not to plant it during the ascendency of Pisces, lest it be watery, but in that of Gemini, that it may be full. It has been adopted into the Christian year in the belief of the Lithuanian farmer that it must be planted on Maundy-Thursday. If one sells potato seedlings before he has planted some himself, he must retain three of them, otherwise his own potatoes will produce no fruits. Its relation to poverty was foretold in the belief of Voightland that potatoes meant stout blood, but bad luck; and in the same country it is said that when its top-shoots droop a visit is betokened. In Silesia a raw potato is applied to warts; in Friesland it is kept on the flesh till it decays to cure the malady of the rich, gout; and in some parts of England it is carried avout to heal rheumatism. Much is said also of turnips, which must be planted on St. Margaret's Day, and on the edges of the field, care being taken that no leaf be ever taken from the turnip-field lest the vegetable become dry. Grimm has given us a beautiful story of the poorer of two brothers, who could only present the king with a huge turnip, but thereby gained fortune. It is the theme of an old Latin story of the fourteenth century, entitled "Raparius," the MS. of which is at Strasbourg. As for beans, why need I tell their wonderful history to those who have red of Hack climbing his bean-stalk; or the young bride of "The Robber-Bridegroom," whose beans and pease took root and flourished to guide her back from the lonely wood; or who have taken the homeopathic medicine ignatia, if saintly virtues? The Arabs have a tradition that at Hebron it was that Esau sold his birth-right, and that the pottage was of lentils. From a mosque there the Dervises distribute a daily supply of lentil soup to the poor and travelers. Lentils (Ervum lens) are supposed to have given us the word "Lent," by its use in Catholic countries during that season. Gourds (which must be planted on Ascension-day) - "twopence," or loose-strife, called in France herbe aux cent maladies - the salads, one of which changed folks to asses, the other changing them back again (see Grimm's "Krautesel" and Gresta Romasorum - pimpernel, the charm against any epidemic in Thuringia and Bohemia - hemp, the exorcist of fevers in Bohemia, as well as murderers - linseed, a various regions regarded as oracular - fennel, caraway seed, coriander, feared by the dwarfs - and many other common plants and seeds have been held in a reverence which now seems to us grotesque. There have been no end of virtues ascribed to the nettle, which was a pet plant of the Thunderer, and was, in Germany, the curer of burns and the protector from thunder-bolts. Old Culpepper declares that it is a plant of Mars, and excellent agains venomous bites and stings. (So old is the homeopathic idea!) The english notion that beer may be made of nettles can not, I think, be tehe result of experiment, and is perhaps traceable to the custom in some parts of Southern Germany of laying nettles on cass of beer . i. e. to keep the liquid from turning dour under the storms, through Thor's respect for the plant. Of some plants and flowers, into whose correspondences we can not enter, it may be at least suggestive to recall some of the popular names - as traveler's-joy, heart's-case, shepherd's-needle, dandelion (dent-de-lion), wayfarer's-tree, quee-of-the-meadow, wake-robin, cuckoo-cup (out of which the cuckoo was supposed to take its morning draught), maidenhair, humble-plant, honesty, sweet-margory, woodbine, Venus's-looking-glass, dame's-violet, shepherd's-purse, bittersweet, immortelle, wind-witch-thistle (which the Russians call perikatipole, or leap-in-the-field), virgin-bower, dianthus (flower-of-God), star-of-Betlehem, Solomon's-seal, Jerusalem-oak, Job's-tears, cross-flower, samphire (corruption of St. Pierre), tansy (St. Athanasie), which I have seen growing on the tops of Finnish hovels, apparently sown there as protection, brier (Briareus?), senna (sana), sage (saga), lady's-smock, lady's-slipper, hollyhock (holyoak), daffodil (asphodel), amaranth, and passion-flower. It is lain that "he who spake of trees from the cedar-tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall" had no wider hospitality than the instinct of mankind for these humble gifts of the field and way-side. In the Norse story it was not the idle princes but the poor dwarf that found the heaps of pearls concealed under the moss; and there is reason to believe that the country "dammlings" who have given the common flowes some of the beautiful names just mentioned have not been left without the purer treasures they conceal from all who are not lowly like themselves. No doubt, too, they have served man well medicinally; for though of the 400 English herns in the "Complete Herbal" of Nicholas Culpepper, applied "to the care of all disorders incident to man," many were useless in themselves, and some hurtful, it can not be doubted that the exchange of the herbalist for the apothecary and his drugs was to pass from Dr. Log to Dr. Stork.
It is generally supposed that man's earliest worship is represented by these superstitions concerning plants and those concerning animals; that it was from these lower objects that his reverence gradually ascended to the adoration of the sun and stars. But I believe that a careful examination of the superstitions which have been recorded in this paper will furnish many evidences that the case was really reverse. It is probable that the awe which was the beginnig of worship was first excited in the human mind when it gazed upon the mysterious, silent heavens, or witnessed the conflicts of night and day, and the wild power of the elements above him. At a later period, and after he had given greater attention to the cultivation of the fruits of the earth, the scene of his interest would be gradually shifted from the distant heavens to the near earth, from the cold star to the flower unfolding beneath it. Progress of thought would then, as now, be from mindling high things toward condescending to things of low estate, from the unattainable to the attainable. And this would be brought about by the increasing perception of the correspondence between the heavens and the eartth, each change of the sky being responded to by a change in the growths of earth. That many of the flowers and trees were reverended because of their real or supposed relation to the heavens we know. The Hindoos say that the banyan is a tree growing downward, its roots being fed from above, where they lie. The myth of Daphne is a particularly striking illustration of the same thing. Daphne is plainly the Sanscrit Dahana, the dawn. Before the advances of Apollo (the sun) the dawn of course perishes, but its light remains with the laurel. The peculiar crackling of the laurel when burned (Pliny, lib. xv.) is thought to have occasioned the Roman superstitious concerning it. A laurel was preserved with great awe in the villa of the Cæsars, on account of the legend that an eagle let fall a hen, which fell into the lap of the Empress Livia, unhurt, and bearing in its beak the stem from which the tree had been reared. A very important fact also is one of which there can be no doubt, that the flowers chosen by the German peasants, by which to divine their fortunes, are always those which are star-shaped - as the crysanthemon and the daisy. One after another petal is pulled off to set of phrases, as, "Young man, widower, husband;" "He loves me, from his heart, with pain, beyond measure, can not leave me, loves me little, not at all;" "Single, married, convent;" and the phrase which represents the destiny is that with which the last petal falls. Another fact of importance is that all the virtues ascribed to flowers, plans, etc., were strictly connected with times, seasons, and planetary influences. Since the introduction of Christianity the old astronomical periods and festivals have become disguised in the saints' days as we now know them; but we know that the Christian year confomrs very closely to the pagan year, which was divided according to the changes of the moon and the relative position of the sun. The significance of the prescirption that the potent plants must be gathered under the full moon, or when the sun does not shine, or on St. John's Day, can not be misunderstood. The poetic phrase "stars of earth" was anciently realistic. The same thing might shown in relation to the sacred animals. It is very doubtful if the serpent was ever worshiped independently; it was as the earthly symbol of "the heavenly serpent," the rainbow, or the lightning, that it was venerated. We must then regard the reverrence paid to trees and flowers not as fetich-worship, but as a sacred regard paid to them as oracles of beings higher than themselves, of whose energies they were only appreciable manifestations.