Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

them to cast their old skin, and by its use they recover their sight if it becomes dim. Gerarde says, that the seed “drunke for certaine daies together, fasting, preserveth the eyesight, whereof was written this distichon following:

Fæniculum, Rosa, Verbena, Chelidonia, Ruta,

Ex his fit aqua quæ lumina reddit acula.
Of Fennell, Roses, Vervain, Rue, and Celandine,

Is made a water, good to cheere the sight of eine."
The ancients believed that the use of Fennel gave strength to the
constitution, and made fat people grow lean. The roots of Fennel,
pounded with honey, were considered a remedy for the bites of
mad dogs.-Fennel is one of the numerous plants dedicated
to St. John, and was formerly hung over doors and windows on
his vigil

. - Astrologers state it is a herb of Mercury under Virgo. FERN.—Among Celtic and Germanic nations the Fern was formerly considered a sacred and auspicious plant. Its luck-bringing power was not confined to one species, but belonged to the tribe in general, dwelling, however, in the fullest perfection in the seed, the possessor of which could wish what he would, and the Devil would be obliged to bring it to him. In Swabia, they say that Fern-seed brought by the Devil between eleven and twelve on Christmas night enables a man to do as much work as twenty or thirty ordinary men.

In mediæval days, when sorcery flourished, it was thought the Fern-seed imparted to its owner the power of resisting magical charms and incantations. The ancients believed that the Fern had no seeds, but our ancestors thought it had seed which was invisible. Hence, after the fantastic doctrine of signatures, they concluded that those who possessed the secret of wearing this seed about them would become invisible. Thus, we find that, in Shakspeare's · Henry IV.,' Gadshill says: “We steal as in a castle, cock-sure: we have the receipt of Fern-seed, we walk in. visible.”

The people of Westphalia are wont to relate how one of their countrymen chanced one Midsummer night to be looking for a foal he had lost, and passing through a meadow just as the Fern-seed was ripening, some of it fell into his shoes. In the morning he went home, walked into the sitting-room, and sat down, but thought it strange that neither his wife, nor indeed any of his family, took the slightest notice of him. “I have not found the foal," said he. Everybody in the room started and gazed around with scared looks, for they had heard the man's voice, but saw no one. Thinking that he was joking, and had hid himself, his wife called him by his name. Thereupon he stood up, planted himself in the middle of the floor, and said, “ Why do you call me? Here I am right before you.” Then they were more frightened than ever, for they had heard him stand up and walk, and still they could not see him.

am none.

The man now became aware that he was invisible, and a thought struck him that possibly he might have got Fern-seed in his shoes, for he felt as if there was sand in them. So he took them off, and shook out the Fern-seed, and as he did so he became visible again to everybody.

A belief in the mystic power of Fern-seed to make the gatherer walk invisible is still extant. The English tradition is, that the Fern blooms and seeds only at twelve o'clock on Midsummer night -St. John's Eve—just at the precise moment at which the Saint was born

“But on St. John's mysterious night,

Sacred to many a wizard spell,
The hour when first to human sight

Confest, the mystic Fer-seed fell." In Dr. Jackson's Works (1673) we read that he once ques. tioned one of his parishioners as to what he saw or heard when he watched the falling of the Fern-seed, whereupon the man informed him that this good seed is in the keeping of Oberon (or Elberich), King of the Fairies, who would never harm anyone watching it. He then said to the worthy doctor, “ Sir, you are a scholar, and I

Tell me, what said the angel to our Lady; or what conference had our Lady with her cousin Elizabeth, concerning the birth of St. John the Baptist ?" Finding Doctor Jackson unable to answer him, he told him that “the angel did foretell John Baptist should be born at that very instant in which the Fern-seed-at other times invisible-did fall : intimating further that this saint of God had some extraordinary vertue from the time or circumstance of his birth.”

• To catch the wonder-working seed, twelve pewter plates must be taken to the spot where the Fern grows: the seed, it is affirmed, will pass through eleven of the plates, and rest upon the twelfth. This is one account: another says that Midsummer night is the most propitious time to procure the mystic Fern-seed, but that the seeker must go bare-footed, and in his shirt, and be in a religious state of mind.

In ancient days it was thought the demons watched to convey away the Fern-seed as it fell ere anyone could possess themselves of it. A writer on Brittany states that he remembers to have heard recounted by one who had gathered Fern-seed, that whilst he was prosecuting his search the spirits grazed his ears, whistling past them like bullets, knocking off his hat, and hitting him with it all over his body. At last, when he thought that he had gathered enough of the mystic seed, he opened the case he had been putting it into, and lo! it was empty. The Devil had evidently had the best of it.

M. Marmier, in his Légendes des Plantes, writes :-" It is on Midsummer night that you should go and seek the Fern-seed: he who is fortunate enough to find it will indeed be happy. He will

have the strength of twenty men, he will discover precious metals in the bowels of the earth, he will comprehend the present and the future. Up to the present time, however, no one has been able to secure this precious seed. It ripens but for a minute, and the Devil guards it with ferocious vigilance."

De Gubernatis, in his Mythologie des Plantes, publishes a communication sent him by the Princess Marie Galitzin Prazorovskaia, on the subject of the flowering of the Fern, the details of which she obtained from a Russian peasant, On Midsummer night, before twelve o'clock, with a white napkin, a cross, a Testament, a glass of water, and a watch, one seeks in the forest the spot where the Fern grows; one traces with the cross a large circle ; one spreads the napkin, placing on the cross the Testament and the glass of water. Then one attentively looks at one's watch: at the precise midnight hour the Fern will bloom : one watches attentively; for he who shall see the Fern-seed drop shall at the same time see many other marvels; for example, three suns, and a full moon, which reveals every object, even the most hidden. One hears laughter; one is conscious of being called ; if one remains quiet one will hear all that is happening in the world, and all that is going to happen."

In a work by Markevic, the author says :—“The Fern flowers on Midsummer night at twelve o'clock, and drives away all unclean spirits. First of all it put forth buds, which afterwards expand, then open, and finally change into flowers of a dark red hue. At midnight, the flower opens to its fullest extent, and illuminates everything around. But at that precise moment a demon plucks it from its stalk. Whoever wishes to procure this flower must be in the forest before midnight, locate himself near the Fern, and trace a circle around it. When the Devil approaches and calls, feigning the voice of a parent, sweetheart, &c., no attention must be paid, nor must the head be turned, for if it is, it will remain so. Whoever becomes the happy possessor of the power has nothing to fear: by its means he can recover lost treasure, become invisible, rule on earth and under water, and defy the Devil. To discover hidden treasure, it is only necessary to throw the flower in the air: if it turns like a star above the Sun, so that it falls perpendicularly in the same spot, it is a sure indication that treasure is concealed there."

A very ancient method prescribed for obtaining the mystic Fern-seed is given by Dr. Kuhn. At the Summer solstice, if you shoot at the Sun when it has attained its mid-day height, three drops of blood will fall: they must be gathered up and preserved, for that is the Fern-seed.

The Franche-Comté peasantry talk of a mysterious plant that misleads travellers. According to a German authority, this plant is no other than the Fern on Midsummer night. As we have seen, on that night the Fern is reputed to flower, and to let fall its seed: he who secures this seed, becomes invisible; but if the unsus

[ocr errors]

pecting traveller passes by the Fern without noticing it, he will be assuredly misled, even although well acquainted with the road. This is the reason why, in Thuringia, they call the Fern Irrkraut, the misleading plant.

In Poland, there is a popular notion that the plucking of Fern produces a violent thunderstorm.

In Germany, they call the Fern Walpurgiskraut, the superstition being that, on the Walpurgisnacht, the witches procure this plant in order to render themselves invisible. In Lombardy, there exists a popular superstition akin to this. The witches, they say, are particularly fond of the Fern; they gathered it to rub in their hands during a hailstorm, turning it from the side where the hail falls the thickest.

The root of the common Male Fern (Filix mas), was an important ingredient in the love-philtres of former days. An old Gaelic bard sings :

“ 'Twas the maiden's matchless beauty

That drew my heart anigh;
Not the Fern-root potion,

But the glance of her blue eye.”
In olden times the young scroll-like fronds of this Fern were
called Lucky Hands, or St. John's Hands, and were believed to pro-
tect the possessor from sorcery, witches' spells, and the Evil Eye.
In Germany, the Male Fern was formerly called Johanniswurtzel;
and both on the Continent, and in England, it was the custom, on
Midsummer Eve, to gather this Fern, which was sold to the cre-
dulous, who wore it about their persons, and mingled it with
the water drunk by their cows, as a protection against all evil
sprits, and to ensure good luck. It is believed, in Thuringia, that
if anyone carries Fern about him, he will be pursued by serpents
until he throws it away. In Sweden, the plant is called Snake-
bane.

An ancient notion prevailed, that the Male Fern had an antipathy to the Reed; and that where one grew, the other was sure to be absent. According to Dioscorides, the root hereof is reported to be good for those that have ill spleens; and being stamped with swine's grease and applied, it is a remedy against the pricking of the Reed.”. Other old herbalists state, that the roots of the Male Fern, and the Lady Fern (Filix fæmina), boiled in oil, produced “very profitable ointments to heal wounds.” The Ophioglossum had, in olden times, the reputation of being a cure for the bite of serpents. (See also Bracken).

According to Cornish fairy mythology, the Fern was connected with the Small Folk, who are believed to be the spirits of the people who inhabited Cornwall thousands of years ago—long before the birth of Christ. In the legend of the Fairy Widower, a pretty girl, Jenny Permuen, a village coquette, one day set off to “ look for a place.” At the junction of four cross roads, she sat

[ocr errors]

down on a boulder of granite, and thoughtlessly began to break off the beautiful fronds of Ferns which grew all around. Suddenly a young man appeared before her, and addressing her by name, enquired what brought her there. Jenny replied that she wished to obtain a situation, and was on her road to the market town. The young man said he was a widower, and in want of a young woman to take care of his little son; and that as he liked Jenny's good looks, he would engage her there and then for a year and a day, and pay her well; but that he should require her to swear his oath, which consisted in kissing a Fern-leaf, and repeating the formula :

“ For a year and a day,

I promise to stay." Jenny was charmed and flattered; all sorts of visions rose before her

eyes, and, without hesitation, she took the oath and followed the stranger eastward. In silence the pair walked on, until the girl was quite weary; then they sat down on a bank, and the young man taking a bunch of leaves passed them rapidly over Jenny's eyes: her weariness departed as if by magic, and she found herself in fairy-land, with her mysterious master. He led her to a splendid mansion, and introduced her to his little boy, who was so beautiful that he instantly won her love. The girl continued at her duties in fairy-land for the allotted time; then, one morning, upon awaking, she found herself sleeping in her own bed in her mother's cottage; and the old gossips of the village, upon hearing her story, knew that she had been carried by the Small People to some of their countries under the hills.

FIG.–There are several mythological accounts of the origin of the Fig. According to one, Lyceus, one of the Titans, pursued by Jupiter, was metamorphosed into a Fig-tree by the goddess Rhea. Another story attributes to her husband, Saturn, the origin of the Fig-tree, and on this account the inhabitants of Cyrene deck the statue of the god with crowns of Figs. A third myth relates that the Fig-tree is the offspring of the loves of Oxylus, King of Elis, with a Hamadryad. Bacchus, however, was generally considered to have introduced the Fig to mortals: hence the tree was sacred to him, and he is often represented as crowned with Fig. leaves. On this account, also, it was customary to make an offering of the first Figs to the jovial god. At the Canephoria festivals at Athens, in honour of Bacchus, the female votaries wore round their necks collars composed of dried Figs; and at the Dionysian festivals, a basket of Figs formed a prominent feature in the procession. At Rome, the Fig was carried next to the Vine in the processions in honour of Bacchus, as the patron of plenty and joy; and Bacchus was supposed to have derived his corpulence and vigour, not from the Vine, but from the Fig. Under the name of the Ficus ruminalis, the Romans jealously guarded the sacred wild Fig-tree, upon the roots of which stranded the cradle containing

« AnteriorContinuar »