As any contemporary Witch, Neo-Pagan, or educated occult historian can tell you, worship of the Christian's devil was never an element of the Old Religion or the Witches' Craft. However, the vast majority of Christians in the Middle Ages believed otherwise. They viewed all Witches as being in league with the Prince of Darkness, and were convinced that it was from him that the Witches received their evil powers. This had a big impact in the area of herbal folklore, as many of the plants used both magickally and medicinally by Witches became forever linked to the devil and branded with diabolical nicknames that reflected this.
The following is a list of plants, beginning with their common names or botanical names (in italics) and followed by their nicknames relating to the devil: Alaskan ginseng: devil's club Alstonia scholaris: devil's tree Asafoetida: devil's dung Bachelor's buttons: devil's flower Belladonna: devil's cherries Bindweed: devil's guts Cassytha spp: devil's twine Celandine: devil's milk Colicroot: devil's-bit Datura: devil's apple Dill: devil-away
Dodder: devil's guts; devil's hair; hellweed Elder: devil's eye
Elephant's foot: devil's grandmother Fairywand: devil's bit
False (or white) hellebore: devil's bite; devil's tobacco Fern: devil's bush Field convolvulus: devil's weed Grapple plant: devil's claw root Hedge bindweed: devil's vine Henbane: devil's eye
Hieracium aurantiacum: devil's paintbrush
Indigo berry: devil's pumpkin
Jimsonweed: devil's-apple; devil's trumpet
Lambertia formosa: mountain devil
Mandrake: Satan's apple
Mexican poppy: devil's fig
Mistletoe: devil's fuge
Parsley: devil's oatmeal
Periwinkle: devil's eye
Pothos: devil's ivy
Pricklypear cactus: devil's-tongue
Puffball fungus: devil's snuffbox
Queen Anne's lace: devil's plague
Viper's bugloss: bluedevil
Wild yam: devil's-bones
Yarrow: devil's nettle
There is a rather curious legend, which dates back to medieval times, about how the plant known as the devil's-bit (Succisa pratensis) came to receive its devilish name. It holds that when humankind discovered this plant's thick, tapered root was effective in treating many of the ailments that the devil and his minions took great delight in afflicting upon the mortal race, the devil became so infuriated that he took an angry bite out of the plant's root. This resulted in the root's gnashed appearance, which in turn led to its name. A similar legend about the devil is connected to the colicroot (Aletrisfarinosa), which is also known as devil's-bit (in addition to numerous other folk names).
In medieval Europe, oregano was believed to be highly effective in warding off sorcerers, demons, snakes, and venomous animals. Any person who carried oregano as an herbal amulet could neither be harmed nor tempted by the devil.
During the Burning Times, it was a common practice for many inquisitors to burn oregano twigs during the torture sessions of accused Witches. It was believed that the smoke generated by burning oregano effectively kept the devil from aiding his servants.
Parsley was another plant associated with the devil in centuries past. Notorious for its incredibly slow germination, parsley seed was said by some to have to go seven times to hell to obtain the devil's permission before it could grow. Others believed that it had to go to the devil nine times before coming up. According to a related superstition, if parsley seeds failed to germinate, the unfortunate individual who planted them would meet with death sometime within the coming year.
Many devil-fearing folks regard St. John's wort as the most potent herbal amulet against Satan, as well as all things of an evil nature. In Great Britain, it was once common for St. John's wort to be sewn into one's garments for protection against the devil. To keep homes and their inhabitants safe from the evils and mischief of the devil and his fiends, it was customary for sprigs of St. John's wort to be gathered on St. John's Eve and then hung over the doors and windows.
To drive away "phantastical spirits," according to Robert Burton's 17th-century work, The Anatomy of Melancholy, St. John's wort should be gathered on a Friday and then "hung about the neck."
It was not uncommon for children in the 17th century to be made to wear a piece of mistletoe on a necklace for protection against the devil and evil spirits. Many superstitious folks of that period also employed mistletoe as a charm against demonic possession.
It is said that if you cast yarrow upon your doorstep, the devil will dare not enter your house. This procedure is also recommended for keeping out evil spirits and negativity, as well as averting both bad luck and wicked spells.
Centuries ago in England, it was believed that burning the wood of the elder (a tree said to have been used by the
Druids to both bless and curse) invited the devil into one's home. However, hanging elder over the doors and windows works to keep him out.
Holly (once known as the "holy bush") and yews were frequently planted near houses and in churchyards during the Middle Ages in the belief that they kept the devil and his legion of demons well at bay.
In Fenland (a community in the East of England), monkey puzzle trees are often found to have been planted in or near graveyards. Said to be disliked by "Old Scratch," these trees are believed to prevent the devil from gaining entry to hallowed burial grounds and claiming the souls of those being laid to rest.
While monkey puzzle trees may not be to the devil's liking, nuts, on the other hand, are something of which he is said to be quite fond. According to an old legend, the devil goes "nutting" every year on "Holy-Rood Day" (September 14th). In the year 1670, the following was published in Poor Richard's Almanack: "Let not thy son go a nutting on Holie-Rood day, for fear he meet a tall man in black with cloven feet, which may scare him worse than a rosted [roasted] shoulder of mutton will do a hungrie man." Legend also has it that if a person goes to gather nuts on a Sunday, he or she will have the devil as a companion.
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