Mandrake – Herb Lore

ron pulls a mandrake

This was probably my funniest moment of all Harry Potter films. When they pull the Mandrake out for repotting.

Ooo! Mandrake! Squeel! Everyone seems really excited for me to make this one. Whenever I’ve mentioned it on Facebook or to my friends they’re all like ‘Gasp! Mandrake! Yea Cool!’ and stuff like that.

Atropa mandragora, or Mandragora officinale. Some of my fave folk names include Brain Thief, Hexenmannchen (German: Witches’ Mannildn), Zauberwurzel (Sorcerors Root), Raccoon Berry, Satan’s Apple and Herb of Circe. It has so much lore around it. Holla!

-Mandrake-roots

Mandrake belongs to the Nightshade family and contains deliriant hallucinogenic tropane alkaloids. The roots sometimes contain bifurcations causing them to resemble human figures, so their roots have long been used in magic rituals, and in contemporary pagan traditions.

According to the legend, when the root is dug up it screams and kills all who hear it. Literature includes complex directions for harvesting a mandrake root in relative safety. For example Josephus (c. AD 37 Jerusalem – c. 100) gives the following directions for pulling it up:

A furrow must be dug around the root until its lower part is exposed, then a dog is tied to it, after which the person tying the dog must get away. The dog then endeavours to follow him, and so easily pulls up the root, but dies suddenly instead of his master. After this the root can be handled without fear.

Poor dog!

Mandragora

This is a less gruesome account as described in medieval herbals, such as British Library Harley MS 4986 (twelfth century):

‘If you want to gather the mandrake because of its great health-giving qualities, you shall gather it in this wise. It shines at night like a lamp, and when you see it mark it round quickly with iron lest it escape you. For so strong is this power in it, that if it sees an unclean man coming to it, it runs away. So for this reason mark it round with iron and dig about it, taking care that you do not touch it with the iron; but remove the earth from it with the utmost care with an ivory stake, and when you have seen the foot of the plant and its hands, then you shall at once bind the plant with a new rope, and you shall tie the same round the neck of a hungry dog, and in front of it place food at a little distance, so that in its eagerness to get the food it may pull out the plant.’

It was a common folklore in some countries that mandrake would only grow where the semen of a hanged man had dripped on to the ground (my mind boggles WHY a hanged man would ejaculate but whatever); this would appear to be the reason for the methods employed by the alchemists who “projected human seed into animal earth”.

The following is taken from “Paul Christian”. pp. 402–403, The History and Practice of Magic by Paul Christian. 1963:

Would you like to make a Mandragora, as powerful as the homunculus (little man in a bottle) so praised by Paracelsus? Then find a root of the plant called bryony. Take it out of the ground on a Monday (the day of the moon), a little time after the vernal equinox. Cut off the ends of the root and bury it at night in some country churchyard in a dead man’s grave. For thirty days water it with cow’s milk in which three bats have been drowned. When the thirty-first day arrives, take out the root in the middle of the night and dry it in an oven heated with branches of verbena; then wrap it up in a piece of a dead man’s winding-sheet and carry it with you everywhere.

Like, wow.

Most magical uses around Mandrake concern protection, fertility, money, love and health. A whole mandrake root, placed on the mantel in the home, will give the house protection, fertility and prosperity. Where there is mandrake, demons cannot reside and so the root is used in exorcism.

mandrake

In can be kept as a talisman, as a doll under the bed in a wooden box but you must give it a bath every Friday or it shrieks.

Harry Potter image copyright Warner Bros. Sources include Wikipedia, Cunnigham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs and The Medieval Bestiary

Oak – Herb Lore

oak sprig

The mighty Oak tree. Quercus alba. The King of Trees (one of them at least), with a long history of folklore throughout Europe. Sacred to Jupiter, Thor, Zeus – all the big guns of the pantheon, and with powers of protection, healing, prosperity, fertility fortune.

Traditionally there have been four main uses of oak, and this usefulness reveals why the oak would become so important and sacred. The most prominent use is as a timber tree. Oak was a highly prized timber and was particularly used in ship building in the days of wooden ships, buildings, for furniture etc. The other uses include the bark which was used for tanning leather; the acorns which were used for fattening pigs as they are a rich food source; and like many other trees the smaller branches and twigs were used for firewood or charcoal making.  Oak was the sacred wood burnt by the druids for their mid-summer sacrifice. In fact the word ‘druid’ some say means ‘oak man’. Religious idols were fashioned from oak wood and Witches often danced beneath the tree.

quercus alba

It is associated with the Gods of thunder (like Thor and Zeus) as oak was often split by lightning. This is probably because oaks are usually the tallest tree any area.  Ancient kings presented themselves as the personifications of these gods, taking on the responsibility not only for success in battle but also the fertility of the land, which relied on rainfall. They wore crowns of oak leaves, as a symbol of the god they represented as kings on Earth.  Oak leaves’ connection with rainfall also survived in more recent folklore in a variety of similar rhymes about which tree’s leaves appeared first, such as the Irish saying:

If the oak before the ash,
Then we’ll only have a splash.
If the ash before the oak,
Then we’ll surely have a soak!

A tree as long-lived and strong as the oak naturally offers magical protection. Acorns placed in windows guard against the entrance of lightening, and a piece of oak wood carried protects the bearer from all harm. Indeed carrying any piece of oak is lucky.

If you catch a falling oak leaf you shall have no colds all winter, and if a sick person is in the house a fire made from oak wood to warm the house will draw off the illness. Carry an acorn against illness and pains, for immortality or longevity, and to preserve youthfulness. it also increases fertility and sexual potency.

Planting an acorn in the dark of the moon ensures that you shall receive money in the near future.

Acorns

But my favourite bit of lore about oak trees is that of the Summer King and Winter King, a tale I like to remember particularly at the winter Solstice. In it the Holly King represents one half of the year, while his counterpart and adversary the Oak King represents the other. The two battle as the seasons turn; at Midsummer the Oak King is at the height of his strength whilst the Holly King is his weakest. The Oak King rules and Holly regains his strength until at the Autumn Equinox when the Holly King overthrows Oak, his strength peaking at Midwinter. There are many folkloric pairings in which this tale is illustrated including Gawain and the Green Knight, the Robin and the Wren and Lugh and Balor, and of course simply light and dark, yin and yang, the endless balance of the universe.

These pairs are seen as the dual aspects of the male Earth deity, one ruling the waxing year, the other ruling the waning year.  The Holly King is represented by holly and other evergreens, and personifies the dark half of the (Pagan) year. He is also seen by some Neopagans as an early inspiration for the Santa Claus legend.

oak forest

Finally, the most beautiful bit of lore that I found was this old Somerset folk legend: Foxes are hidden by oak spirits from hunters, for they guard all forest beasts “wipe your sore paws in our oaktree rain pool” which makes their pads heal and torn fur grow back.

SO Mother Eagley.

Images are Wikipedia Commons. References: Cunningham: Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, Britishtrees.com, treesforlife.com, wikipedia, Carr-Gomm: The Book of English Magic

Hawthorn – Herb Lore

Common_hawthorn

To kick off with my first new embroidery project of 2013 I thought I ‘d start a new series of posts exploring some of my favourite folklore and facts about the magical and poisonous plants that are inspiring me at the moment.

One of the things about my upbringing that I am most grateful for is that I was taught to recognise trees and birds. This grounding grew into a love for nature and a desire to recognise common British plants, trees and animals. I was surprised when I met my husband that he didn’t know what an Oak tree looked like, or a sparrow or thrush. So I’m going to share with you some of the things that I most like about the inspirations behind the new designs for Mother Eagle this year. I realised that with 26 new pieces that makes a new piece every fortnight so I guess that’ll be my aim.

Hawthorn

First is Common Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). Folk names for this tree, traditional in hedgerows include Hagthorn, Haw, Mayblossom, Quickthorn and Bread and Cheese Tree, which refers to the nourishment the tree provides all year round; the old country practice of eating the young buds and leaves straight from the tree, and the berries (haws) being used to make brandy and wine.

I love Hawthorn a lot because of the way it reflects the seasons all year round so prettily. This small tree with sharp thorns bears white blossom in spring, and red haws later in the year.

Hawthorn_fruit

Hawthorn was once used to decorate May poles, and has long been associated with fertility and used at weddings. However the leaves are believed to enforce chastity and so were placed in the bedroom or under the mattress. Worn, Hawthorn promotes happiness in the troubled, depressed or sad.

leaves

At one time was believed to be Witches who had transformed themselves into trees (Witches have long danced and performed their rites beneath the tree), and in the past most Witch’s gardens had at least one hawthorn hedge. Hawthorn protects against lightening and damage from storms, and in the house where it grows no evil ghosts may enter.

HAWTHORN

The hawthorn is sacred to the fairies, and is part of the the fairy tree triad of Britain: “Oak, Ash and Thorn”, and where all three grow together it is said one may see fairies.

All images Wikipedia Commons.

 

Creative Conundrums and Poisonous Plants

books

It’s 2013 and we’re all still here! This feels like a special year.

This is the first year I have ever begun where Mother Eagle is the business I want it to be, with no fear or anxiety that it’s not quite me, not quite right.

Ash

For a while now I have been gripped with the desire to create a series of embroidered jewellery designs based on magical and poisonous (sometimes both) plants and trees. Mother Eagle would have these in her garden, and in the woods around her, know them well and use them wisely.

Rowan

Many years ago I began training as a Medical Herbalist, and although this never transpired, (I am a Clinical Aromatherapist instead) I have a lifelong interest in plants, matched with one in folklore and traditional medical and magical practices. My bookshelves groan under the weight of such themed titles and so the first problem I had was narrowing it down.

hazel

Over the Christmas break I started researching the most poisonous and the most magical plants, trees and herbs, made a list, added the folklore, what they looked like etc…There were many. Too many.

Hemlock

The next problem I had was the uncomfortable one of commercial success and popularity versus personal indulgence and artistic interest. Although I will get a kick out of embroidering all 13 traditional magical trees from the druid calendar, plus every native British magical and/or poisonous plant,  will anyone want to buy one and if they did want to buy one, am I going to be inspired to create another copy? However, if I learnt anything in 2012 it was about having artisitic integrity.

Juniper

I have a few issues here. Like the fact that Mother Eagle isn’t me. She isn’t a Druid nor is she a witch (at least not a ‘typical’ one, if there is such a thing). My interests do not necessarily translate into her life. Similarly, some poisonous and interesting plants just don’t look very interesting, so they won’t work as jewellery very easily, like Poison Hemlock for example. Certainly not very recognisable unless you really know what you’re looking at.  Looks like Cow Parsley. Probably how it kills you but anyway…Blackthorn is another very dark and sinister plant that I was really keen to do, but I’m not sure about how I would create the long nasty thorns.

Blackthorn

And again, would this will bring success to the collection commercially? I can’t deny that having strong pieces like the Midwinter Fox or Wolf, or the skull trio have attracted the interest of bloggers and press, and have been my most popular pieces to date (both animals now on a made to order basis, the first edition sold within weeks).

Wolfsbane

So an animal element is always going to be strong and with wider appeal, than, lets say Wolfsbane (above), which again has a lot of fascinating history and deadly fame, but just isn’t an iconically recognisable plant or frankly easy to create in stitch.

Spindle

Then there’s also all my older designs, like the Owl Pendant and the Hare that only exist in metal frames at the moment and I want to ‘upgrade’ them to a fresh wooden frame.

Vervain

Desicions, decisions…

I put it to my fans on Facebook and Twitter and got a very positive response, which I thank them enormously for!

So although the next 2 collections for 2013 will be dominated by new designs, there will also be some classics, upgraded or with a new twist. The images I share here with you are of plants that didn’t make the cut (hover on the image to see what they are!). But if you don’t agree with me, you can always have me create your own bespoke piece! I just added a page to my website telling you all about how to commission me

I couldn’t resist sharing with you what (at the moment – things may change!) you can expect from Mother Eagle jewellery this year. I don’t feel there is a compromise here, and I’m excited with how I think I will execute each piece. There will be a lot of Stumpwork featured to stretch my skills:

Midsummer 2013 Collection:

  • Oak (an acorn pendant)

  • Birch (brooch)

  • Crabapple (Pendant)

  • Mandrake (Pendant)

  • Foxglove (Pendant)

  • Hawthorn (Pendant)

  • Henbane (Pendant)

  • Bee (Pendant)

  • Raven (Brooch)

  • Toad (Remake of the Pendant)

  • Stag (Remake of the Pendant)

  • Skeleton Hand (Pendant)

  • Willow (Brooch)

Midwinter 2013 Collection:

  • Mistletoe (Pendant)

  • Holly (Brooch)

  • Ivy (Pendant)

  • Pine (cone – Pendant)

  • Arctic Hare (Re-do Pendant)

  • White Stag (Re-do Pendant)

  • Hedgehog (Brooch)

  • Yew (Pendant)

  • Femur (Brooch)

  • Ribcage (Remake of the Pendant)

  • Elder (Brooch)

  • Mugwort (Pendant)

  • Deadly Nightshade (Pendant)

Which pieces are you most excited about?

My Autumn Expedition To The Great Beyond.

I’m posting later than I usually do this week because I went to London at the weekend for something I had to do for my alter-ego as a clinical aromatherapist. While I was there my husband and I had time to go to Highgate Cemetary for a little walk around.

It is quite a famous place and I’ve wanted to visit for ages. There are over 53,000 graves.
It was the most perfect day for it. Very mild, not at all cold, and a heavy mist hanging around. And all the flaming colours of October everywhere.

I really like graveyards. Not so much in a goth-emo creepy way, I find them incredibly peaceful. Highgate is a beautiful, green place. Huge and rambling and full of shrubs and ancient trees, which are there through no human intervention whatsover (well, no LIVING human intervention of course). Life-ful.

When I walk around them I see all the trees and plants and birds (there are many here – bird houses everywhere and squirrels and foxes too) and think of the cycle of life and death and regeneration and metamorphosis into new manifestations of life.

This is why I would like to be buried, not cremated. I want my body to live on in the plants and nourish new life. Walking round here some of the graves are so old they are completely covered in creeping ivy or hazel and I think that’s wonderful; these bodies have truly gone back home.

Some people are uncomfortable speaking of death. When I look at death and dying, in a place like this, I just feel happiness; of course I don’t want to lose those I love, but to anyone who finds graveyards or ‘places of rest’ spooky or ‘dark’ or ‘morbid’ I urge to go somewhere like this and just walk around for a bit; really see and hear the birds and trees and the life all around them, read the inscriptions, see how much love and peace is there. It truly is life-affirming and very moving.

There are tombs of all ages and we enjoyed seeing the different artistic styles – in the typography and carvings, and in the obvious social status and cost. This was one of the most unique and moving headstones for me:

You can’t really see it but click for a closer look. I almost missed it. It looks just like a couple of smooth pieces of drift wood. The tiny inscription looks almost like it was just written in indelible pen.

“Alison Burns 21.06.52 15.11.2009

“Somewhere to put your wings.”

‘Her life a beautiful memory, her loss a silent grief’

‘To Willie, not lost, but gone before I go to him’

‘A great man, the essence of our lives, the polestar of my existence, the love of my life’

There are two parts of the cemetary – the east which is where we were, and the west which is older and more decrepit and with more mausoleums and crypts, but you can only go with a guided tour and unfortunately we didn’t have time that day. It is a fabulous presentation of the Victorian attitude to death and burial in the most part, and there are many famous people buried here, many artists and writers and thinkers.

Pop-artist Patrick Caulfield’s grave stating the obvious.

Santa’s grave is here too!

Don’t worry kids, just joking, it’s Karl Marx of course, but uncanny resemblance, non? Who knew?!

Have a look on wikipedia about Highgate Cemetary and also the Highgate Vampire legends.