Herbs in Myth and Fairy Tale
How to start an article about fairy tales and faery herbs? Being a discussion rather than the archetypal fairy tale, one cannot exactly begin with the eternal words ‘once upon a time’, yet one has to approach this subject somehow. Perhaps this should be done in a similar way to fairy tales themselves, obliquely, sideways, craftily. We will begin, then, with the subject of witches. After all, witches have featured in many fairy tales throughout the ages, spell casters good, bad, and deplorable, using their herbs to spin spells, bewitch and bewilder. Witches have always had one foot in the otherworld – call it hell or fairyland, the line between good and evil is often merely a matter of perspective, for example the infamous witch trials. Words put into the mouths of those accused spoke of the devil but what would the individual witch’s perspective be? Many folk tales speak not of the devil, infernal bargains and eternal damnation, but of magical blessings, chancy, capricious elves and wights, the second sight, rare gifts.
Of Witches, Cantrips and Curses
To continue the discussion about witches, a prime example of herbs used in a faery tale would certainly be the poison – in some versions of the tale Belladonna – used to season the apple given to the beautiful and unfortunate Snow White by her jealous stepmother. The apple sent the girl into an enchanted sleep until Prince Charming happened along to break the spell. One shudders to think which herbs the sorceress applied to the spindle that Sleeping Beauty pricked her finger on – quite possibly the usual suspects; Belladonna, Mandrake, Henbane and the odd wing of newt. Then, of course, the castle Sleeping Beauty slumbered in for 100 years was surrounded by brambles and roses – both of which are herbs.
Chicory, the well known plant with glorious blue flowers, also has a part to play in a number of different folktales and fairy stories. In Germany, it is believed to be the famous Luck Flower, which can be used to open the mountains and gain access to the Otherworld and all its riches. Another German folk story speaks of a maiden who watched for her lover’s return every morning and evening, but as the seasons passed, he did not return and she finally died of a broken heart, there at the side of the road. Chicory sprang up where she passed on, the blue flowers opening and closing with the morning and evening and continuing the girl’s solitary vigil. Others stories from Eastern Europe speak of a sorcerer’s daughter whose lover was murdered by his rival for the girl’s affections. The girl killed herself at his graveside, and her grief stricken father turned her into the Chicory plant, with flowers the same blue as her eyes. Another tale speaks of the daughter of a witch, a maiden with glorious sky blue eyes, who was much beloved by the Sun. He begged for her hand in marriage, but she refused him rudely. In typical vengeful fashion, the Sun turned her into the Chicory plant, forever to watch the sun rise and set. The girl turned to her mother for help, and the witch, who could not break the spell entirely, was able to weaken it enough so that the plant’s flowers could close at noon and so give the girl some respite.
More to be posted tomorrow – I decided to publish this article in three parts as it is quite long. Posted due to several people wanting to read some of my articles. Published last year in Hedgewytch magazine, and the first article I got published! Hope you enjoy it, lovely people xx