“Plants of the Witches”
HECATE, the Grecian goddess of the infernal regions, presided over magic and enchantment, and may fairly be styled the goddess, queen, and patroness of Witches and sorcerers. She was acquainted with the properties of every herb, and imparted this knowledge to her daughters Medea and Circe. To this trio of classical Witches were specially consecrated the following herbs:—The Mandrake, the Deadly Nightshade, the Common Nightshade, the Wolfs-bane, the Pontic Azalea, the Cyclamen, the Cypress, Lavender, Hyssop-leaved Mint, the Poley or Mountain Germander, the Ethiopian Pepper, the Corn Feverfew, the Cardamom, the Musk Mallow, the Oriental Sesame, the rough Smilax, the Lion’s-foot Cudweed (a love philtre), and Maidenhair, a plant particularly dear to Pluto. Medea was specially cognisant of the qualities of the Meadow Saffron, Safflower, Dyer’s Alkanet, the clammy Plantain or Fleawort, the Chrysanthemum, and the brown-berried Juniper. All these plants are, therefore, persistently sought for by Witches, who have not only the power of understanding and appreciating the value of herbs, but know also how to render harmless and innocuous plants baleful and deadly. Thus we find that an Italian Witch, condemned in 1474, was shown to have sown a certain noxious powder amidst the herbage near her dwelling, and the unfortunate cows, stricken at first with the Evil Eye, were at length attacked with a lingering but deadly malady. So, again, in the ‘Tempest,’ Shakspeare tells us that in the magic rings traced on the grass by the dance of the Elves, the herbage is imbued with a bitterness which is noisome to cattle. These rings, which are often to be met with on the Sussex Downs, are there called Hag-tracks, because they are thought to be caused by hags and Witches who dance there at night.
It is recorded that, during the period of the Witch persecutions, whoever found himself unexpectedly under an Elder-tree was involuntarily seized with such horror, that he in all probability fell into an ecstatic or hysterical state. Although not one of the trees dedicated to Hecate and her Witch progeny, the Elder appears to have invariably possessed a certain weird attraction for mischievous Elves and Witches, who are fond of seeking the shelter of its pendent boughs, and are wont to bury their satanic offspring, with certain cabalistic ceremonies, beneath its roots.
These satanic children of Witches are elfish creatures, sometimes butterflies, sometimes bumble bees, sometimes caterpillars or worms. They are called good or bad things—Holds or Holdikens. The Witches injure cattle with them; conjure them into the stem of a tree; and, as we have seen, bury them under the Elder-bushes; then, as the caterpillars eat the foliage of the tree, the hearts of those people are troubled of whom the Witches think.
The ill-omened Cercis Siliquastrum, or Judas Tree, is reputed to be specially haunted by Witches, who experience a grim pleasure in assembling around the tree on which the traitorous disciple is said to have hung himself. Perhaps it is they who have spread the tradition that death overtakes anyone who is unfortunate enough to fall into one of these trees.
The Witches of the Tyrol are reputed to have a great partiality for Alder-trees.
Witches are fond of riding about through the air in the dead of night, and perform long journeys to attend their meetings. Matthison tells us that
“From the deep mine rush wildly out
The troop of Gnomes in hellish rout:
Forth to the Witches’ club they fly;
The Griffins watch as they go by.
The horn of Satan grimly sounds;
On Blocksberg’s flanks strange din resounds,
And Spectres crowd its summit high.” Continue reading ““Plants of the Witches” — Richard Folkard”