THE FOLK-LORE OF PLANTS
Plants have always been largely used for testing the fidelity of lovers, and at the present day are still extensively employed for this purpose by the rustic maiden. As in the case of medical charms, more virtue would often seem to reside in the mystic formula uttered while the flower is being secretly gathered, than in any particular quality of the flower itself. Then, again, flowers, from their connection with certain festivals, have been consulted in love matters, and elsewhere we have alluded to the knowledge they have long been supposed to give in dreams, after the performance of certain incantations.
Turning to some of the well-known charm formulas, may be mentioned that known as "a clover of two," the mode of gathering it constituting the charm itself:
"A clover, a clover of two,
Put it in your right shoe;
The first young man you meet,
In field, street, or lane,
You'll get him, or one of his name."
Then there is the hempseed formula, and one founded on the luck of an apple-pip, which, when seized between the finger and thumb, is supposed to pop in the direction of the lover's abode; an illustration of which we subjoin as still used in Lancashire:
"Pippin, pippin, paradise,
Tell me where my true love lies,
East, west, north, and south,
Pilling Brig, or Cocker Mouth."
The old custom, too, of throwing an apple-peel over the head, marriage or single blessedness being foretold by its remaining whole or breaking, and of the peel so cast forming the initial of the future loved one, finds many adherents. Equally popular, too, was the practice of divining by a thistle blossom. When anxious to ascertain who loved her most, a young woman would take three or four heads of thistles, cut off their points, and assign to each thistle the name of an admirer, laying them under her pillow. On the following morning the thistle which has put forth a fresh sprout will denote the man who loves her most.
There are numerous charms connected with the ash-leaf, and among those employed in the North of England we may quote the following:
"The even ash-leaf in my left hand,
The first man I meet shall be my husband;
The even ash-leaf in my glove,
The first I meet shall be my love;
The even ash-leaf in my breast,
The first man I meet's whom I love best;
The even ash-leaf in my hand,
The first I meet shall be my man.
Even ash, even ash, I pluck thee,
This night my true love for to see,
Neither in his rick nor in his rear,
But in the clothes he does every day wear."
And there is the well-known saying current throughout the country:
"If you find an even ash or a four-leaved clover,
Rest assured you'll see your true love ere the day is over."
Longfellow alludes to the husking of the maize among the American colonists, an event which was always accompanied by various ceremonies, one of which he thus forcibly describes:
"In the golden weather the maize was husked, and the
Blushed at each blood-red ear, for that betokened a lover,
But at the crooked laughed, and called it a thief in the
Even the blood-red ear to Evangeline brought not her
Charms of this kind are common, and vary in different localities, being found extensively on the Continent, where perhaps even greater importance is attached to them than in our own country. Thus, a popular French one—which many of our young people also practise—is for lovers to test the sincerity of their affections by taking a daisy and plucking its leaflets off one by one, saying, "Does he love me?—a little—much—passionately—not at all!" the phrase which falls to the last leaflet forming the answer to the inquiry:
"La blanche et simple Paquerette,
Que ton coeur consult surtout,
Dit, Ton amant, tendre fillette,
T'aime, un peu, beaucoup, point du tout."
Perhaps Brown alludes to the same species of divination when he writes of:
"The gentle daisy with her silver crown,
Worn in the breast of many a shepherd lass."
In England the marigold, which is carefully excluded from the flowers with which German maidens tell their fortunes as unfavourable to love, is often used for divination, and in Germany the star-flower and dandelion.
Among some of the ordinary flowers in use for love-divination may be mentioned the poppy, with its "prophetic leaf," and the old-fashioned "bachelor's buttons," which was credited with possessing some magical effect upon the fortunes of lovers. Hence its blossoms were carried in the pocket, success in love being indicated in proportion as they lost or retained their freshness.
Browne alludes to the primrose, which "maidens as a true-love in their bosoms place;" and in the North of England the kemps or spikes of the ribwort plantain are used as love-charms. The mode of procedure as practised in Northamptonshire is thus picturesquely given by Clare in his "Shepherd's Calendar:":
"Or trying simple charms and spells,
Which rural superstition tells,
They pull the little blossom threads
From out the knotweed's button heads,
And put the husk, with many a smile,
In their white bosom for a while;
Then, if they guess aright the swain
Their love's sweet fancies try to gain,
'Tis said that ere it lies an hour,
'Twill blossom with a second flower,
And from the bosom's handkerchief
Bloom as it ne'er had lost a leaf."
Then there are the downy thistle-heads, which the rustic maiden names after her lovers, in connection with which there are many old rhymes. Beans have not lost their popularity; and the leaves of the laurel still reveal the hidden fortune, having been also burnt in olden times by girls to win back their errant lovers.
The garden scene in "Faust" is a well-known illustration of the employment of the centaury or bluebottle for testing the faith of lovers, for Margaret selects it as the floral indication whence she may learn the truth respecting Faust:
"And that scarlet poppies around like a bower,
The maiden found her mystic flower.
'Now, gentle flower, I pray thee tell
If my love loves, and loves me well;
So may the fall of the morning dew
Keep the sun from fading thy tender blue;
Now I remember the leaves for my lot—
He loves me not—he loves me—he loves me not—
He loves me! Yes, the last leaf—yes!
I'll pluck thee not for that last sweet guess;
He loves me!' 'Yes,' a dear voice sighed;
And her lover stands by Margaret's side."
Another mode of love-divination formerly much practised among the lower orders was known as "peascod-wooing." The cook, when shelling green peas, would, if she chanced to find a pod having nine, lay it on the lintel of the kitchen-door, when the first man who happened to enter was believed to be her future sweetheart; an allusion to which is thus given by Gay:
"As peascod once I pluck'd, I chanced to see
One that was closely fill'd with three times three,
Which, when I cropp'd, I safely home couvey'd,
And o'er the door the spell in secret laid.
The latch mov'd up, when who should first come in,
But, in his proper person, Lublerkin."
On the other hand, it was customary in the North of England to rub a young woman with pease-straw should her lover prove unfaithful:
"If you meet a bonnie lassie,
Gie her a kiss and let her gae;
If you meet a dirty hussey,
Fie, gae rub her o'er wi' strae!"
From an old Spanish proverb it would seem that the rosemary has long been considered as in some way connected with love:
"Who passeth by the rosemarie
And careth not to take a spraye,
For woman's love no care has he,
Nor shall he though he live for aye."
Of flowers and plants employed as love-charms on certain festivals may be noticed the bay, rosebud, and the hempseed on St. Valentine's Day, nuts on St. Mark's Eve, and the St. John's wort on Midsummer Eve.
In Denmark many an anxious lover places the St. John's wort between the beams under the roof for the purpose of divination, the usual custom being to put one plant for herself and another for her sweetheart. Should these grow together, it is an omen of an approaching wedding. In Brittany young people prove the good faith of their lovers by a pretty ceremony. On St. John's Eve, the men, wearing bunches of green wheat ears, and the women decorated with flax blossoms, assemble round an old historic stone and place upon it their wreaths. Should these remain fresh for some time after, the lovers represented by them are to be united; but should they wither and die away, it is a certain proof that the love will as rapidly disappear. Again, in Sicily it is customary for young women to throw from their windows an apple into the street, which, should a woman pick up, it is a sign that the girl will not be married during the year. Sometimes it happens that the apple is not touched, a circumstance which indicates that the young lady, when married, will ere long be a widow. On this festival, too, the orpine or livelong has long been in request, popularly known as "Midsummer men," whereas in Italy the house-leek is in demand. The moss-rose, again, in years gone by, was plucked, with sundry formalities, on Midsummer Eve for love-divination, an allusion to which mode of forecasting the future, as practised in our own country, occurs in the poem of "The Cottage Girl:"
"The moss-rose that, at fall of dew,
Ere eve its duskier curtain drew,
Was freshly gathered from its stem,
She values as the ruby gem;
And, guarded from the piercing air,
With all an anxious lover's care,
She bids it, for her shepherd's sake,
Awake the New Year's frolic wake:
When faded in its altered hue,
She reads—the rustic is untrue!
But if its leaves the crimson paint,
Her sick'ning hopes no longer faint;
The rose upon her bosom worn,
She meets him at the peep of morn."
On the Continent the rose is still thought to possess mystic virtues in love matters, as in Thuringia, where girls foretell their future by means of rose-leaves.
A ceremony belonging to Hallowe'en is observed in Scotland with some trepidation, and consists in eating an apple before a looking-glass, when the face of the desired one will be seen. It is thus described by Burns:
"Wee Jenny to her granny says,
'Will ye gae wi' me, granny?
I'll eat the apple at the glass
I gat frae uncle Johnny.'
She fuff't her pipe wi' sic a lunt,
In wrath she was sae vap'rin,
She notic't na an aizle brunt
Her braw new worset apron
Out thro' that night.
'Ye little skelpie limmer's face!
I daur you try sic sportin'
As seek the foul thief ony place,
For him to spae your fortune;
Nae doubt but ye may get a sight!
Great cause ye hae to fear it,
For mony a ane has gotten a fright,
And lived and died deleeret
On sic a night.'"
Hallowe'en also is still a favourite anniversary for all kinds of nut-charms, and St. Thomas was long invoked when the prophetic onion named after him was placed under the pillow. Rosemary and thyme were used on St. Agnes' Eve with this formula:
"St. Agnes, that's to lovers kind,
Come, ease the troubles of my mind."
In Austria, on Christmas Eve, apples are used for divination. According to Mr. Conway, the apple must be cut in two in the dark, without being touched, the left half being placed in the bosom, and the right laid behind the door. If this latter ceremony be carefully carried out, the desired one may be looked for at midnight near the right half. He further tells us that in the Erzgebirge, the maiden, having slept on St. Andrew's, or Christmas, night with an apple under her pillow, "takes her stand with it in her hand on the next festival of the Church thereafter; and the first man whom she sees, other than a relative, will become her husband."
Again, in Bohemia, on Christmas Eve, there is a pretty practice for young people to fix coloured wax-lights in the shells of the first nuts they have opened that day, and to float them in water, after silently assigning to each the name of some fancied wooer. He whose little barque is the first to approach the girl will be her future husband; but, on the other hand, should an unwelcome suitor seem likely to be the first, she blows against it, and so, by impeding its progress, allows the favoured barque to win.
In very early times flowers were mcuh in request as love-philtres, various allusions to which occur in the literature of most ages. Thus, in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," Oberon tells Puck to place a pansy on the eyes of Titania, in order that, on awaking, she may fall in love with the first object she encounters. Gerarde speaks of the carrot as "serving for love matters," and adds that the root of the wild species is more effectual than that of the garden. Vervain has long been in repute as a love-philtre, and in Germany now-a-days endive-seed is sold for its supposed power to influence the affections. The root of the male fern was in years gone by used in love-philtres, and hence the following allusion:
"'Twas the maiden's matchless beauty
That drew my heart a-nigh;
Not the fern-root potion,
But the glance of her blue eye."
Then there is the basil with its mystic virtues, and the cumin-see and cyclamen, which from the time of Theophrastus have been coveted for their magic virtues. The purslane, crocus, and periwinkle were thought to inspire love; while the agnus castus and the Saraca Indica (one of the sacred plants of India), a species of the willow, were supposed to drive away all feelings of love. Similarly in Voigtland, the common basil was regarded as a test of chastity, withering in the hands of the impure. The mandrake, which is still worn in France as a love-charm, was employed by witches in the composition of their philtres; and in Bohemia, it is said that if a maiden can secretly put a sprig of the common clover into her lover's shoe ere he sets out on a journey, he will be faithful to her during his absence. As far back as the time of Pliny, the water-lily was regarded as an antidote to the love-philtre, and the amaranth was used for curbing the affections. On the other hand, Our Lady's bedstraw and the mallow were supposed to have the reverse effect, while the myrtle not only created love, but preserved it. The Sicilians still employ hemp to secure the affections of those they love, and gather it with various formalities, fully believing in its potency. Indeed, charms of this kind are found throughout the world, every country having its own special plants in demand for this purpose. However whimsical they may seem, they at any rate have the sanction of antiquity, and can claim an antecedent history certainly worthy of a better cause.
1. Thorpe's "Northern Mythology."
2. Fraser's Magazine, 1870, p. 720.