Notes from Diane's Garden

Or The Curious Lore and Magical Property of Plants
By Diane Fenster

May, 1987: Vervain

Beltaine Greetings!

Demeter and Kore have been reunited. The earth is green once more. May (from Maya, Maia,Maj or Mai, the Virgin Goddess of Spring) is the traditional month of "the wearing of the green" to honor Mother Earth. It also was (is???!!!) a time for fucking in the newly plowed fields to encourage the crops.

All hail the Queen of the May and her King, who wins her by combat to the death with her previous king! The Queen is Diana Nemorensis or Diana of the Wood and the King is her son/lover, Lord of death and rebirth. They're the ones who get to perform the heiros gamos or sacred marriage (see Fraser's Golden Bough, chapter I) This leads to congratulations for Don and Yoshiko who had a beautiful handfasting on March 28th (The Great Rite was not performed, however.)

The practice of container gardening can be traced back to the fertility cult of Adonis, who was worshiped by the Babylonians, Assyrians and Phoenicians, and later by the Greeks. Adonis represents the spirit of the green growing world that is cut down by winter but is reborn in the spring. (I believe this is an example of a later patriarchal takeover of the Demeter/Kore myth.) The autumnal disappearance of the green of the world provoked widespread mourning for the death of Adonis. Aphrodite (his lover) then resurrects him, and spring returns once more. The rejoicing at his return took the form of Adonis Gardens: baskets or pots filled with earth in which wheat, barley, lettuce, fennel, and other quick- sprouting seeds were sown and tended for eight days. When in bloom, they were placed on the housetops or around the statues of Adonis. They were used as charms to promote the growth of vegetation. From this religious rite came the custom of container gardening. First the plants were grown only for the Return of Adonis but the practice later became an all-season decoration of plants in containers. The origin of the window box is also traceable to this same rite.

I would like to encourage you all to try an eight-day ritual of growth like the above so we can all welcome the "return of the green."

This month's topic is Vervain. From the Celtic ferfaen-- fer (to drive away) and faen (stone) The plant was used for affections of the bladder especially stones or calculus.

Another derivation is given as being from Herba veneris (herb of Venus) because of its aphrodisiac properties. Not a particularly showy plant like the rose, but one of mighty pedigree nonetheless. It was sprinkled on the altars of Jupiter. Ben Jonson wrote: "Bring your garlands and with reverence place the Vervain on the altar."

Vervain has been used to cure venomous bites and serious diseases. Vervain flowers were worn around the neck in an amulet to guard against fever, measles, smallpox, and the Plague.

Persians (Zoroastrians) made use of Vervain in their worship of the sun. They carried branches of it in their hands as they approached the altar. Druids used Vervain in their lustral water. Also, the name Verbena is the classical Roman name for "altar plants"' in general so I suspect from the references about aItars that Vervain was thought of as a symbol of humility towards the gods. Using Vervain on your altar in the Month of May (while performing the Great Rite perhaps) seems to be in order.

It is one of the plants dedicated to Venus She wore a crown of Vervain intertwined with myrtle. Germans presented newly married women with wrealths of Vervain so as to put them under the protection of Venus. Pliny said, "if the dining chamber be sprinkled in water in which the herb Verbena has been steeped, the guests will be merrier."

The Vervain in my herb garden is a rather inconspicuous, low-growing plant until it is time to flower. It then sends up tall shoots which become covered with pale lilac flowers. The plant is extremely fertile and self sows readily.

All in all, it is a plant of Magickal and historical importance and well worth a place in the herb garden.


The Prime Mover of the Universe