Emblems

The LEEK is the national emblem of Wales. But the stories that explain its adoption are mainly from the English point of view, the most scurrilous being that the Welsh were long ago infested with orang-outans. They (the Welsh) asked the English to help them exterminate the apes, but the English killed several Welshmen by mistake. So, in order to distinguish them from the apes, they asked them to stick a leek in their hats (Howells). On the Welsh side, the explanations vary from the very simplistic (St David ate leeks (Hadfield) ) to another recognition emblem; in this case the leek commemorates the victory of King Cadwallader over the Saxons in AD 640, when St David made the Britons wear leeks in their caps for purposes of recognition (Friend). It has even been suggested that the vegetable is a visual reminder of the old colours for Wales - white and green, white for the snow on the mountains, green for the pastures of the lowlands (Moldenke). In Greek mythology, the OAK was Zeus's favourite tree, his emblem, and the seat of his divinity (Rhys). It had sheltered him at his birth on Mount Lycaeus (Bayley), on which was a sacred spring to which the priests went in times of great drought to get rain. They did this by touching the water with an oak branch (Rhys). As the tree had sheltered Zeus, it became the symbol of hospitality; to give an oak branch was the equivalent of "you are welcome". The OLIVE was the emblem of Athena, or Minerva, Goddess of medicine and health (Megas).

The ROSE is the emblem of martyrs. The five petals of the red rose typified the five wounds of Christ, the white rose the virginity of Mary. It is said that on opening the tombs of saints, roses were often found in full beauty, but they fade at once when they are touched. St Louis of France was found with a rose in his mouth (Bunyard). But roses appear as part of the emblems of a great number of saints (see Drake & Drake). MADONNA LILIES first and foremost are the emblems of the Virgin Mary, always shown in pictures of the Annunciation. Indeed, the lily of sacred art is always the Madonna Lily, (and see SYMBOLISM also). It is also the emblem of St Catherine of Siena, and is even called St Catherine's Lily occasionally, but another dedication is to St Dominic. St Anthony of Padua, when not with the infant Christ in his arms, invariably has a lily (Haig). And that is not all, for it seems it was the emblem of St John the Baptist and of St Joseph (Woodstock & Stearn). Another emblem of the Virgin Mary was JASMINE (Ferguson), or the CARNATION, used as such in early German painting, and also in Italian art, when it was shown together with the Lily in a vase by the Virgin (Haig). These days, red carnations are the emblems of workers' movements in most European countries (Brouk). The emblem of St Agnes is the CHRISTMAS ROSE, symbol of purity, as St Agnes is the patroness of purity (Hadfield & Hadfield). As with the Madonna Lily, the pure white flowers are the reason for this dedication, as also is its time of blooming. St Agnes' Day is 21 January, at which time the plant should be well in flower. DANDELION is one of the three emblems of St Bridget, or Bride, originally the spring goddess, Brigid. Milk-yielding plants like the dandelion were often allied with the goddess in Scottish folkore (F M McNeill).

THYME was, according to a correspondent of Notes & Queries; 1873 the emblem of the radical movement in French politics. As such it was also the emblem of Marianne, the figure of the Revolution, known also by the Phrygian cap she wears. VIOLETS, being the symbol of humility, are the emblems of Christ on earth (Haig). So highly was it regarded by the ancient Athenians (it was actually in commercial cultivation for its sweetening properites) that they made it the emblem of their city (Genders. 1971). Closer to our own times, there is another association of the violet -that with the Bonaparte dynasty. When Napoleon left France for Elba, he said that he would return in the violet season; and violet (both the flower and the colour) became a secret emblem of confederates sympathetic to him. When he escaped from Elba, his friends greeted him with violets. BROOM is another symbol of humility, probably because of its use as a domestic implement. Indeed, it is also the emblem of the housewife in a negative sort of way. The display of a broom at the house door showed she was away from home, and her husband would welcome visits from his male friends. Conversely, no respectable housewife would dream of leaving a broom on view if she were at home, for it showed that a man's company would be welcome (M Baker. 1974).

Pope Gregory the Great said the POMEGRANATE should be used as the emblem of the Christian church, because of the inner unity of countless seeds in a single fruit (Haig). It was to be used to symbolize congregations as well. The ecclesiastical emblem for Whitsuntide is, or was, the GUELDER ROSE, and that for Holy Rood Day the BLUE PASSION FLOWER, with its complicated symbolism of Christ's Passion. This is a South American plant, and it is said that the Spaniards, on first seeing it, took it as an omen that the Indians would be converted to Christianity. The difficulty is that virtually every description of the emblem differs. One is that the three styles represent the three nails, the ovary is a sponge soaked in vinegar. The stamens are the wounds of Christ, and the crown, located above the petals, stands for the Crown of Thorns. The petals and sepals represent the Apostles (Bianchini & Corbetta). Another description has it that the ten white petals show the Lord's innocence; the outer circle of purple filaments symbolize his countless disciples; the inner brown circlets the Crown of Thorns; the ovary is either the chalice he used at the Last Supper or the column to which he was tied, or the head of the hammer that drove in the nails; the five anthers are the wounds; the three divisions of the stigma the nails with which he was fastened to the Cross; and the tendrils are the lashes of the scourging, just as the leaves are the hands of those who reached out to crucify him (Whittle & Cook). A REED has been an emblem in Christian art of the Passion, for Christ was offered a sponge soaked in vinegar on the end of a reed (Ferguson). An APPLE is another emblem of Christ, as the new Adam, so when it appears in the hand of the original Adam it means sin, but when it is in the hands of Christ, it symbolizes the fruit of salvation (Ferguson). The GRAPE VINE, too, is an emblem of Christ, especially significant when it is depicted growing from the chalice of the Eucharist (Christ & Colles). Christ said "I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that dwelleth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit, for without me you can do nothing" (John. 15; 5). In Old Testament writings, the vine stands for the Jewish people as a whole. BEAR'S BREECH (Acanthus spp) has been used in Christian symbolism as the emblem of Heaven (in the Ravenna Mosaics). DAISY is the symbol of innocence, and, thereby, the newly-born. As such it represents the infant Christ, and has been used thus in western art since the 15th century. The ROSE OF JERICHO (Anastatica hierochuntica) is the emblem of the Resurrection, and is actually called the Resurrection Plant, or Flower (Perry. 1972). The reason is that as the seeds ripen during the dry season, the leaves fall off and the branches curve inwards to form a ball which is blown out of the soil to roll about the desert until it reaches a moist spot or until the rainy season begins.

The BAMBOO, Prnnus, and PINE together are the emblems of Buddha, Confucius and Lao Tzu - the Three Friends (Savage. 1964). PEACH blossom was the popular emblem of a bride in China. The wood, too has a special quality, for it has the ability to repel evil spirits (so has willow wood) - they are both symbols of immortality, peach being the Taoist emblem (Tun Li-Ch'en). CYPRESS was a sacred tree in Persia, the symbol of the clear light of Ormuszd, and was frequently represented on gravestones with the lion, emblem of the sun god Mithras (Philpot). HINDU LOTUS is the emblem of Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune and beauty. It was worn as a talisman for good luck and fortune (Pavitt), and the SAL TREE (Shorea robusta) is the emblem of Indra (Gupta).

The SILVER WATTLE is the Australian national emblem, but that does not stop it from being an unlucky plant to bring indoors, even sometimes unlucky to plant in a garden. There are a few records in England, too, of its bad luck when brought indoors, even being described in one record as "a forewarning of disaster".

Embothreum coccineum > CHILEAN FIREBUSH. EMETICS

GROUNDSEL - there is a Cornish belief, obviously based on homeopathic magic, that it acts in different ways according to the direction in which the leaves are stripped from the stem. If upwards, that is, beginning from the root, with the knife ascending to the leaf, it makes it good as an emetic; if stripped downwards, it should be used as a cathartic (Hunt). Leighton mentions BLOODROOT as a powerful emetic.

Entada phaseoloides > NICKER BEAN EPILEPSY

ASH, split, and a child passed through used to be a very widespread and well-known charm for the cure of hernia, and was also apparently used in Suffolk for epilepsy (G E Evans). In Ireland, MELILOT was regarded as a remedy (Moloney), and an Irish manuscript from about 1450 prescribed HONEYSUCKLE leaves for epilepsy - "put salt and white snails into a vessel for three nights, add seven pounds woodbine leaves, and mix them to a paste; a poultice of this applied for nine days will cure" (Wilde). Where was it applied? Along with barley meal and some other herbs, FOXGLOVE was included in an Irish preparation to treat the complaint (Logan). As Thomson said (Thomson. 1976), desperate conditions demand desperate remedies! But it must have been quite a dangerous practice. Quite a spectacular measure was this Irish cure: if the patient fell in the fit, put the juice of absinthe (Wormwood, of course), FENNEL or sage into his mouth, and there would be an immediate recovery! (Hutchings - because they are green, is the implication in Hutchings's paper). A Cumbrian treatment, very simple, just required the patient to eat SORREL leaves (Newman & Wilson). How many and how often is not divulged, but bearing in mind the oxalic acid content of the leaves, it cannot have been too many at a time.

MISTLETOE has been used as a specific against epilepsy for a very long time. The doctrine of signatures may have played its part, for it has been said that its habit of downward growth recommended it for curing the falling sickness (Browning), but it is certainly not altogether a fancy, since it contains an active principle that is anti-spasmodic, and reduces blood pressure (Grigson. 1955) (always provided, Pliny said, "it has not touched the ground"), and always provided not too much is given, for a large dose would have the opposite effect (Anderson). Culpeper speaks of it as a sure remedy for the condition, and in the 18th century, Hill was also recommending the leaves, "dried and powdered" as a "famous remedy for the falling sickness". A decoction was made in Lincolnshire (Gutch & Peacock), and another folk remedy for the complaint was to take as much powdered mistletoe as would lie on a sixpence early in the morning in black cherry water or beer, and repeat for some days. But then comes the "charm" aspect of the cure - those "some days" had to fall near the full moon (Jacob). There are many more purely magical uses for the same complaint. Finger rings of mistletoe were made in Sweden (Dyer. 1889), and necklaces in Normandy (Sebillot), where also a chaplet was put round a child's head as an antidote for fits and epilepsy (W B Johnson). Another Swedish usage was for victims to get themselves a knife that had a handle of oak mistletoe (Kelly). RUE enjoyed a reputation for treating epilepsy, according to Wesley, who said that all that was necessary was to take a spoonful of the juice, morning and evening, for a month. A recipe from County Cavan for epilepsy requires this plant growing on walls of the old church in Knockbride to be boiled in milk and taken fasting for nine days (Maloney). WALL PENNYWORT had an old reputation for this disease, especially in the west of England (Grieve. 1931).

A volatile oil distilled from BOXWOOD has been prescribed for the condition (Grieve. 1931). A Shona nganga would use HEMP to treat the disease, or at least, one form of it. He would pulverize the leaves and the other plants used, fill a reed with the powder, and when the patient is actually having a fit, he lights the reed and blows the smoke into his face (Gelfand). It is treated in Russian folk medicine by eating as many raw ONIONS as possible, or else by drinking the juice (Kourennoff). Just the scent of THYME was once said to cure the disease (Classen, Howes & Synnott). The distilled water of LIME, according to Evelyn, was regarded as good "against epilepsy, apoplexy, vertigo", and so on. Even sitting under a lime tree is reported as improving the condition of epileptics (M Baker. 1980). Gerard, too, had already noted that "the floures are commended by divers ... against the falling sickness, and not only the floures, but the distilled water thereof ...". A more barbaric remedy was noted in 18th century Scotland: for the "falling sickness in children". "take a little black sucking puppy (but for a girl take a bitch whelp), choke it, open it, take out the gall, put it all to the child in the time of the fit, with a little tile-tree flower water, and you shall see him cured as it were by a miracle presently" (Graham). (Tile-tree is Lime, of course, taken directly from the generic name, Tilia). JERUSALEM OAK has been used for the purpose in America. An Alabama remedy uses the inner bark of this plant, boiled and mixed with molasses to make a candy (RB Browne).

Equisetum arvense > HORSETAIL

Equisetum hyemale > DUTCH RUSH

Equisetum palustre > MARSH HORSETAIL

Eranthis hyemalis > WINTER ACONITE

Erinus alpinus > FAIRY FOXGLOVE

Eriophorum angustifolium > COTTON-GRASS

Erophila verna > WHITLOW GRASS

Eryngium campestre > FIELD ERYNGO

Eryngium maritimum > SEA HOLLY

Erysimum cheiri > WALLFLOWER

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