St. Lucy's Day is currently most often associated with Sweden, one of the celebrations of light in the midst of winter's darkness. Little Christmas, or the Feats of Saint Lucy, is a favorite advent celebration. In the early morning, the Lucia Bride, usually the youngest daughter, is dressed in a long white gown with a myrtle or bilberry crown and lighted candles. She awakens the family, often bringing coffee and tea, and braided Lucia twists, flavored with saffron and cardamon. After the family is served, she visits the barns, taking food to the animals.
In addition to the home celebration, the young girls attend services at the church dressed in their lighted crowns. St. Lucy represents the promise of the light in the darkness and the sun's return.
Saint Lucy is the patron saint of the blind and those with visual challenges. Lucy was born in Syracuse, Sicily in the 3rd century. She was born to wealthy Christian parents and at an early age she secretly vowed to remain a virgin and serve God by helping others.
Her father died when she was young. When she came of age, her mother arranged her marriage to a pagan but Lucy rejected him. It was the time of the Diocletian persecutions and when her suitor denounced her as a Christian, she seemed destined to death by burning or life in the brothels. Her fate was to be martyred by a sword through her throat.
In another story she escapes the marriage by tearing her eyes out in frightful desperation. She is often depicted carrying her eyes on a tray.
Miraculously, her sight was restored and she was able to serve God and mankind as she has intended. She is celebrated for giving sight to the blind, food to the hungry, and light to the darkness. The name Lucy comes from the root word Lux, meaning light.
Herbs associated with St. Lucy's Day
Saffron Myrtle Dill Goldenrod Bilberry
St. Lucia's Saffron Braided Bread
I teaspoon saffron, soaked in 1 cup boiling water for 10 minutes. Let cool
2 packages dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
4 T softened butter
3 T sugar
1 teaspoon salt
I cup slivered almonds
1 cup dried bilberries (blueberries) or raisins
5 to 6 cups unbleached flour
1. Prepare saffron.
2. Dissolve yeast in water.
3. Mix the butter with eggs, sugar and salt in a large bowl.
4. Add milk to butter and eggs.
5. Add almonds and dried fruit
6. Stir in saffron mixture.
7. Add flour gradually and stir with wooden spoon until it is is smooth and forms a ball.
8. Place on floured board or counter and knead until smooth - about 5 minutes.
9.Put into a greased bowl, turn it over and cover with a towel in a warm place until double, about an hour and a half.
10. Punch down dough, divide into 3 sections. Braid and form into a circle shape.
11. Place on cookie sheet and let rise until double - about 30 minutes.
12. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
13. Bake about 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
14. Remove from oven, cool and ice.
2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
Combine and gradually add water until it is the consistency of icing.
Drizzle on to bread.
Decorate with slivered toasted almonds and/or dried fruit if desired.
Top with candles
A friend asked where I find my information on herbal legends and lore. I'be been collecting for decades, following my grandmother's example. Her journals are filled with articles, recipes, and notes. She was born in 1900 and there are pages dated from 1918 forward. Many of her notes are stained from use and the journals are falling apart, but they are priceless treasures to me!
She also gathered cards, booklets, etc, including give aways from stores. One of my favorites is a 50th anniversary edition from the Valley Rural Electric Co-op, Inc., celebrating President Franklin's Rural Electrification Order 7050.
I started collecting longer ago than I care to admit, and have 3 ring binders and journals filled with hundreds of articles, notes, and sketches. And now the internet is brimming with information, though a lot of what I've collected isn't on line - yet! I'm continuing to sketch almost every day and so on it goes!
This comes from Merry Christmas from Valley Rural Electric Co-op, Inc., a 32 page booklet celebrating the Golden Anniversary of Franklin Roosevelt's introduction of the signing of executive order 7057. The booklet is filled with crafts, decorations, recipes, stories and gift ideas.
The Legend of the Spider
Once upon a time, long ago on Christmas Eve, a mother and her children prepared their home for the visit of the Christ Child. Everything was scrubbed and cleaned, and when the tree was beautifully decorated, the family went to bed. While they were sleeping, the spiders, who had been chased from their favorite nooks and crannies, crept back to view the lovely preparations. They were filled with wonder at the tree's glittering beauty and crawled on every branch to see each shining ornament, but alas, after their inspection, the tree was shrouded with cobwebs.
When the Christ Child came and saw what had happened, he smiled at the thought of the spider's wanting to see his tree and he blessed it as he touched each web to turn it into gold and the tree glistened with beauty even greater than before.
This is how it happened that in so many parts of the world, it is a custom to have a spider web on every tree.
2 silver tinsel pipe cleaners
1 inch styrofoam balls
black pipe cleaner
black chenille bumps (small)
eyes (wiggle eyes or silver sequins
Cut the tinsel pipe cleaners in half and space three of the pieces evenly apart to make the frame of the web. Tie with silver thread at the center to keep them in place. Then, using the silver thread, circle around the spokes, wrapping around each stem and tie at the last connection. About three or four concentric circles make it look like a spider web.
Cut the styrofoam ball in half, cover with black bumps and glue on eyes. Cut the black pipe cleaner into eight sec ions, insert into flat side of the spider's body, and bend feet to fasten to the spider web.
Gifts from Pine
Pine is often used in protective wreaths during the holiday season. Pine replaced the dead black chicken which was once hung on doors to discourage witches from entering. They were honor bound to count every feather before they could go inside. Thankfully, pine needles replaced the feathers, undoubtedly more fragrant than rotting poultry!
Witches have very active minds and often get distracted and lose count, so instead of starting over, they will probably go next door. (You may want to advise your neighbors to get a pine wreath.)
I, on the other hand, like witches - the term comes from Wicca meaning "wise one' - so I don't bother with pine on the door. It is handy inside however, as the fragrance purifies and refreshes the air and discourages illness. The evergreen needles are said to ensure continual joy! You may want to consider incense, instead of, or in addition to, the fresh pine boughs!
Amber -Pine's Gift of Golden Sunshine Energy
Wheat and roses are also associated with St. Barbara.
"Barbara, the Saint, was elected of God,
She gave her bread to the poor,
Her miserly father rebuked her
And threatened her with his sword.
When he caught her with bread in her lap
She cried unto God in her fear,
God turned the sword in his hand
Into a crochet needle.
When here father demanded to see
What she concealed in her lap,
She cried unto God for help
And the bread in her lap turned to roses."
~ Translation from The Syrian
The crusaders are credited with bringing gingerbread to England in the Middle Ages. The first recorded recipe is dated 1390, with instructions to soak ginger, honey and breadcrumbs to produce a 'bread'.
Queen Elizabeth 1 was the first to shape them into the image of 'gingerbread men' to please her court and dignitaries. They were often elaborate with intricate design and gold leaf.
Their popularity grew and the were sold at fairs throughout the mid 17th century. A gingerbread seller is featured in Ben Johnson's play, St. Bartholomew's Fair.
The Gingerbread Boy was immortalized in St. Nicholas Magazine in May, 1875 when a childless woman baked a gingerbread boy for her husband, but he runs away saying,
"Run, run, as fast as you can.
You can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man."
Gingerbread men are still popular today and the dough has been used to bake almost everything imaginable, with a few examples below.
Jimsonweed - Dratura Strimonium
Today's herb is Jimsonweed, also called devil's trumpet, Hell's bells, thorn apple and moon flower, from the genus Datura. It belongs to the Solanacease (nightshade) family. Its toxic ingredients include tropane alkaloids, including atropine, hyoscyamine and scopolamine, and it is particularly dangerous because the amount needed for a high is nearly the same as the lethal over dose which greatly increases the chance of accidental fatal overdose.
There are times I simply must pause when I do herbal research. These are the kinds of things that have guided me to avoid deadly herbs for so long. I've been sharing information on haunting herbs for years and it has all been in fun, using only herbs found in the gardens of the white witches. But there can be a dark and serious side to herbal use. The lists of illness and most often death associated with this herb are readily available on the internet so I won't list them here.
That being said, I have been in awe of the gorgeous Jimsonweed for years and would not be anymore inclined to eat it than I would poison ivy. I can enjoy it at a distance and as with all the deadly herbs, I strongly advise you look but don't touch!
Bliss, M. (2001), Datura Plant Poisoning, Clinical Toxicology Review
~ Erica Jong
of the poisonous flowers--
even your smallest buds
are said to cause
madness, sleep & death,
but your spiny ″apples,″
prickly & stiff as porcupines,
are the real villains,
& were much beloved
by Kali’s worshipers,
(O kill, kill
in a goddess’ name!)
for arrow tips
& sacrificial victims’ hearts--
you were also used
in love philters!
The cynic laughs,
knowing that love
is the first poison--
that takes the soul,
& all the organs
(O kill, kill
in a goddess’ name!)
Venus, Kali, the Great Mother
the God of the Witches--
what does it matter?
Love potion or poison,
it is the same drink
that brings oblivion
in the end.
Love-will, Sorcerer’s herb,
you were used by brothel keepers
to seduce the innocent,
& witches brewed you
for their flying ointments.
The soldiers of Jamestown
made merry with your juice.
It was a new country
but the herbs were old.
The poisons link us
the poisons & the love philters.
Down through the Ages
we are joined by vines;
we wear garlands
of poisonous berries
Green as innocence,
green as love of death,
we bud, we flower, we fall--
& ancient herbs
out of our blind
The lesson from this is that it is critical to know the latin name when studying herbs. For that reason I'll list the latin name first, with the paintings, and additional folk names below. Also, please beware of what you find on the internet. I've seen sketches with black berries on the bittersweet night shade and I have never seen the plant or a photo of the plant with black berries. They can be green, yellow, orange or red, but I've never seen black.
Both of the herbs are poisonous and all parts should be avoided.. They have both been attributed to enabling witches to fly. "Bella Donna" means beautiful lady in Italian and at one time women were rumored to use the herb to enlarge their pupils so they would look more desirable. Sadly as with many herbs, the amount needed was almost the same as the lethal dose so there were accidental deaths as a result. I'll stick with eyeliner and mascara for my eye make up. If that's not good enough, the guy can take a hike!
Atropa belladona (Poison)
Solanum dulcamara (Poison)
open their lids
for their lovers;
Maenads fall upon men
dripping with dreams;
& children die
from the sweetest
of inky fruits.
wine of the Bacchanals,
you are indeed the witch’s berry,
I look into your open eye & see
women in love with death,
dying with the widest
& brightest of eyes.
Have you no shame at all
The other herbs
pretend to be angelic,
but you freely play
the Devil’s part.
Dwaleberry, Sorcerer’s cherry,
your sweetness bursts
on the tongue,
the lungs relax,
& death comes
Mandragora - Mandragora officinarum
© Mikell Y Worley, Mandrake, Watercolor and Pen and Ink, 5" x 7'
This year I'm featuring the Deadly Herbs of Halloween and Friday the 13th seems the ideal time to post. We'll begin with Mandrake, the root of Mandragora. Legend states that the plant sprung from the dripping blood and semen of men who were hanged at the gallows.
Mandrake, translated as the dragon resembling man, (Atropa mandragora, Mandragora officinale) is one of the most powerful of the Halloween Herbs. The root, said to resemble the form of a human body, can grow to a length of three or four feet. It is most often associated with males (Man-drake, Mandragan, Mandragor, Mannkin), but other names include a feminine reference (Ladykins and Womandrake). And there are other folk names including Brain Thief, Wild Lemon, and Raccoon Berry. Do you see why I love herbs?
Another name is Herb of Circe, as it is thought to be the herb used in the brew made by the sorceress Circe (Kirke) to turn Odysseus's trespassing men into swine. Wow!
If that weren't enough, there are additional benefits! It can protect your home and assure affluence and abundance. Silver coins placed next to this handy root will double in amount over night. Even those who aren't known for our mathematical expertise can see the benefit!
Mandrake can be used to attract love if you hang the root on the headboard of your bed. Keep in mind, this is a three to four foot long hairy root that looks something like a person. I'm just wondering how I'd react if I woke up in the middle of the night and . . . .oh, never mind. Once true love is guaranteed it will ensure fertility and the scent ensures a peaceful night's sleep - at least until the baby arrives!
But there is a problem. Mandrake roots are rare and expensive, and, well they should be, considering the challenges involved with obtaining one. To ensure that the magic is intact, there are certain procedures that must be followed. You don't just go out with a shovel to your nearest mandrake patch and start digging.The root must be obtained on a moonless night, ideally yanked out just at the stroke of midnight.
There is another problem. The mandrake does not want to be removed from the ground. It shrieks in protest. The shrill screams seem to have a derogatory effect on all that hear them and drive them to insanity. So as you can imagine, people aren't lining up to be harvesters of the mandrake root.
There is a solution but Zippy, my Puggle, and I don't like it. "The safest way to secure a mandrake was to tie a dog to the plant on a moonless night. Plugging one's ears with beeswax and blowing a horn to drown out the shrieks, the dog was whipped at the stroke of midnight and the jumping animal pulled the screeching root from the ground and died."
Died. A dog, at least one or we know they wouldn't have given this example, died so that someone could tie a hairy root to their bedpost.
One more thing to keep in mind when considering the use of mandrake is that is is poisonous. It is a member of the Solanaceae family and the berries and roots contain anticholinergic alkaloids such as hyoscyamine and scopolamine.
There is good news though! If you're looking for a substitute for your spell this Halloween, you can use the root of an ash, which might be even more difficult to dig up than the Mandrake. It is a tree, after all. The root of betony or may apples have also proved to be worthy alternatives. For an even more easily obtainable solution, apples are said to work just as well.
In addition to it's many attributes, Mandrake inspired poetry from the hauntingly talented Erica Jong. Enjoy. I'm on my way to tie an apple to my bedpost.
Lehner, Ernst and Johanna (1960), Folklore and Symbolism of Flowers, Plants and Trees, Tudor Publishing Company
Stories from my grandmother
~ Erica Jong
little man dancing
with your great tap root,
small song-&-dance man
cloven-hoofed as the Devil--
no wonder you make such noise!
putting out fine root hairs…
Pythagoras & Theophrastus
sang your praises--
blessed you as aphrodisiac
blasted your resemblance
Like man you are tricky, devious,
like man you curse & bless.
Like man you are a poisoner
& a love-bringer;
like man you take
what you can.
bringer of fruitfulness & potency,
lamp in the darkness,
killer of starving dogs,
shrieker, gallowsman, dragon-doll--
you were once thought beneficent
in Biblical times,
but gradually the Devil claimed you.
You grew at the foot
of the gallows,
lapping up dead men’s sperm,
giving birth only to death.
& yet we all give birth
to only death,
& your other attributes--
O bringer of treasure, sensuality, love,
success in battle--
also lead to death.
So dance little Mandrake
in your doubleness.
Rejoice at the gallows’ foot.
You are indeed a dress rehearsal for man,
& we shall join you underground
© Erica Jong, Witches (1981)
Jong, Erica, (1997) Witches, Abradale Press
"My mission is
to help others see and cherish the beauty,
romance and treasures within and around them
that are often dismissed or completely overlooked."
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Mikell is a writer, artist and professional treasure hunter, finding the greatest treasures in the wonderful people who enter her life!