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Plants and Flowers

Plants and flowers were, indeed, intimately connected with this worship. We have seen how constantly they are introduced in the form of garlands, and they were always among the offerings to Priapus. It was the universal practice, in dancing round the fire on St. John's eve, to conclude by throwing various kinds of flowers and plants into it, which were considered to be propitiatory, to avert certain evils to which people were liable during the following

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year. Among the plants they offered are mentioned mother-wort, vervain, and violets. It is perhaps to this connection of plants with the old priapic worship that we owe the popular tendency to give them names which were more or less obscene, most of which are now lost, or are so far modified as to present no longer the same idea. Thus the well-known arum of our hedge-bottoms received the names, no doubt suggested by its form, of cuckoo's pintle, or priest's pintle, or dog's pintle; and, in French, those of vit de chien and vit de prestre; in English it is now abbreviated into cuckoo-pint, or, sometimes, cuckoo-point. The whole family of the orchides was distinguished by a corresponding word, accompanied with various qualifications. We have in William Coles's Adam in Eden, (fol. 1659) the different names, for different varieties, of doggs-stones, fool-stones, fox-stones; in the older Herbal of Gerard (fol. 1597) triple ballockes, sweet ballockes, sweet cods, goat's-stones, hare's-stones, &c.; in French, couillon de bouc (the goat was especially connected with the priapic mysteries) and couille, or couillon de chien. In French, too, as we learn from Cotgrave and the herbals, "a kind of sallet hearbe" was called couille à l'évêque; the greater stone-crop was named couille au loup; and the spindle-tree was known by the name of couillon de prêtre. There are several plants which

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possess somewhat the appearance of a rough bush of hair. One of these, a species of adiantum, was known even in Roman times by the name of Capillus Veneris, and in more modern times it has been called maiden-hair, and our lady's hair. Another plant, the asplenium trichomanes, was and is also called popularly maiden-hair, or maiden's-hair; and we believe that the same name has been given to one or two other plants. There is reason for believing that the hair implied in these names was that of the pubes. 68 We might collect a number of other old popular names of plants of a similar character with these just enumerated.

In an old calendar of the Romish church, which is often quoted in Brand's Popular Antiquities, the seeking of plants for their hidden virtues and magical properties is especially noted as part of the practices on the eve of St. John (herbæ diversi generis quærantur); and one plant is especially specified in terms too mysterious to be easily understood. Fern-seed, also, was a great object of search on this night; for, if found and properly gathered, it was believed to possess powerful magical properties, and especially

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that of rendering invisible the individual who carried it upon his person. But the most remarkable of all the plants connected with these ancient priapic superstitions was the mandrake (mandragora), a plant which has been looked upon with a sort of feeling of reverential fear at all periods, and almost in all parts. Its Teutonic name, alrun, or, in its more modern form, alraun, speaks at once of the belief in its magical qualities among that race. People looked upon it as possessing some degree of animal life, and it was generally believed that, when it was drawn out of the earth, it uttered a cry, and that this cry carried certain death or madness to the person who extracted it. To escape this danger, the remedy was to tie a string round it, which was to be attached to a dog, and the latter, being driven away, dragged up the root in its attempt to run off, and experienced the fatal consequences. The root was the important part of the plant; it has somewhat the form of a forked radish, and was believed to represent exactly the human form below the waist, with, in the male and female plants, the human organs of generation distinctly developed. The mandrake, when it could be obtained, was used in the middle ages in the place of the phallic amulet, and was carefully carried on the person, or preserved in the house. It conferred fertility in more senses than one, for it was believed that

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as long as you kept it locked up with your money, the latter would become doubled in quantity every year; and it had at the same time all the protective qualities of the phallus. The Templars were accused of worshipping the mandrake, or mandragora, which became an object of great celebrity in France during the reigns of the weak monarchs Charles VI. and Charles VII. In 1429 one Friar Richard, of the order of the Cordeliers, preached a fierce sermon against the use of this amulet, the temporary effect of which was so great, that a certain number of his congregation delivered up their "mandragoires" to the preacher to be burnt. 69

It appears that the people who dealt in these amulets helped nature to a rather considerable extent by the means of art, and that there was a regular process of cooking them up. They were necessarily aware that the roots themselves, in their natural state, presented, to say the least, very imperfectly the form which men's imagination had given to them, so they obtained the finest roots they could, which, when fresh from the ground, were plump and soft, and readily took any impression which might be given to them. They then stuck grains of millet or barley into the parts where they wished to have hair, and again

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put it into a hole in the earth, until these grains had germinated and formed their roots. This process, it was said, was perfected within twenty days. They then took up the mandrake again, trimmed the fibrous roots of millet or barley which served for hair, retouched the parts themselves so as to give them their form more perfectly and more permanently, and then sold it. 70


100:68 Fumitory was another of these plants, and in a vocabulary of plants in a MS. of the middle of the thirteenth century, we find its names in Latin, French, and English given as follows, "Fumus terrae, fumeterre, cunteboare." See Wright's Volume of Vocabularies, p. 17.

102:69 Journal a'un Bourgeois de Paris, under the year 1429.

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