Archive for the ‘The Medieval Calendar’ Category

Friday, October 31, 2008

Plants in Medieval Magic

Flower spikes of the beneficent vervain going to seed. Seed capsules of thornapple, Datura metel in the bed devoted to Plants Used in Medieval Magic

Left: The powerful but beneficent vervain (Verbena officinalis) growing in the bed devoted to Plants Used in Medieval Magic in Bonnefont Cloister Herb Garden; Right: Seed capsules of the sinister and poisonous thornapple (Datura metel) growing nearby.

Trefoil, vervain, John’s-wort, dill,
Hinders witches of their will,
Weel is them, that weel may
Fast upon Saint Andrew’s day.

—Traditional rhyme, put into the mouth of the gypsy Meg Merrilies by Sir Walter Scott in Guy Mannering.

Medieval calendar practices, and the plants associated with them, were an amalgam of Greco-Roman and Celto-Germanic observances with Christian beliefs and traditions. Many folk rites performed at the thresholds between the seasons of the year were intended to avert storms, ward off diseases of cattle, and prevent the blighting of crops.  All these misfortunes were attributed to the activities of witches. Read more »

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

St. Swithun’s Day

Garden Day, 2003

Above: A rainy Garden Day at The Cloisters, 2003. Visitors to Bonnefont Herb Garden were undaunted by the downpour.

Today, July 15, is the feast of St. Swithun, or Swithin; of all the saints’ days traditionally used as weather prognosticators, St. Swithun’s is the most famous and the most long-lived:

St. Swithin’s day if thou dost rain,
for forty days it will remain;
St. Swithin’s day if thou be fair,
for forty days ’twill rain nae mair.

Read more »