Last week, I posted a list of herb codes I had collected over the years for your grimoires. My friend and Master Herbalist, DJ Martin, tried to comment on the post, but the site here wasn't cooperating with her. She has some information that you may want to take into account with those codes, so I asked her if she'd like to have some space here to share. She graciously agreed:
Much has been made in recent years of some unusual nicknames for herbs. To paraphrase a lot of blogs I’ve read, “Witches don’t use animal parts. It’s just code for a plant. [For example] ‘Wolf’s Foot’ really means Bugleweed.”
To be fair, these names really are code and those lists you’re reading and copying are, for the most part, accurate. However, witches (and healers) didn't always hold animals as sacred as we do today. In early to medieval times, nearly everything had a medicinal or magical use; they weren't shy about killing an animal without being humane about it if a part was needed to ease human suffering.
There is even a manuscript, Medicina de Quadrupedibus (Medicine of Quadrupeds), usually attributed to Sextus Placitus and probably written in the early part of the eleventh century. It is not intact itself, but is appended to the Old English Herbarium, which is from the same time frame. It deals with the medicinal properties of various animal products and after a preface begins:
“There is an animal which is named taxo, that is badger in English. Take that beast and do off the teeth from it [while yet] alive, those which it has biggest, and thus say: «In the name of the almighty God I kill thee and beat thy teeth off thee»[…]”
From Bald’s Leechbook, (leech being a term for what today would be a doctor) the copy of which is dated to circa 950CE:
For swollen eyes, take a living raven, take the eyes out of it and, still living, bring it into water […]
From the same source:
[…]For the same [a headache], find little stones in the stomach of a swallow’s fledglings and hold them so they do not touch earth nor water nor other stones, sew three of them together in whatever you want, put them on the man to whom they are needful […]
In the Lacgnuna Manuscript, dated to about 1000CE:
If the eyes be blocked, take raven’s gall[bladder] and white maring, wool-lettuce and salmon’s gall[bladder]; put them together; drop it into the eye through a flax-coloured cloth and a little sharp juice; then the eye clears.
Animal blood was used frequently, both medicinally and magically. Dove’s Blood Ink, usually used in written love spells, was blood drawn from a dove. Was the dove killed simply for its blood? Probably. But the rest of the bird was more than likely plucked and roasted for dinner. Today, we leave the poor doves alone, add a few drops of Rose essential oil to some red ink and call it “Dove’s Blood”.
In conclusion, bear in mind the age of whatever it is you’re reading. “Bat’s Wing” may mean a Holly leaf or it really could mean the wing of a bat.
Kallan's note: I want to thank DJ for taking the time to share her knowledge with us here. As a history major, I'd also like to put some of this into context. The period of time DJ references here is known as "The Dark Ages" or the "Early Middle Ages".
Prior to this, ancient Europe was populated by a multitude of tribes, each with their own set of beliefs and traditions, but with more in common than we have been led to believe. One of these commonalities was in their "shamanic" practices. There is a growing amount of evidence that the healers of these tribes shared many of the same ideas as those of the natives of the American continent. They did, in fact, have a reverence for plants, animals, etc...
I highly recommend the works of Brian Bates, former Chairman of Psychology at the University of Sussex. He is currently a Senior Visiting Research Fellow there in the Sussex Institute and a Visiting Professor at the University of Brighton. He is best known as the author of best-selling books on the shamanic wisdom of Anglo-Saxon England, and for his award-winning course at Sussex on "Shamanic Consciousness". My personal favorite is "The Way of Wyrd."
As we seek to understand and reconstruct Pagan history and beliefs, it's important that we put context around the timeframes in which we study.
Thanks to DJ for reminding me of that, and for sharing her knowledge with us all. If you'd like to learn more about herbs and plants, or even read some of DJ's fictional works, please visit her at http://www.authordjmartin.com/