Plant Magic: Wisdom from the Green World

Whether you live in a city or the countryside, the magic of plants can be found everywhere and sometimes where you least expect it. Be open and explore the magic that surrounds you.

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The Fairy Maids of February

While the days are noticeably longer, February often brings some of the fiercest winter weather making us long for spring and warmer days. One of the earliest flowers to venture into the bleak landscape is the snowdrop. Not waiting for clear ground, this little white flower often comes up through a blanket of snow.

At this time of year, I fondly think of the house where I lived in England and recall how it would have a drift of snowdrops along the side yard, but here in northern New England my garden is still buried under several feet of snow. I must wait patiently.

The common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) is thought to have originated in the Caucasus region of Eastern Europe. While it was introduced into England during medieval times, soldiers returning from the Crimean War (just as plant collecting was becoming a Victorian craze) took many more species of Galanthus back to Great Britain.

Not only were gardeners in love with this plant, writers and artists used it as a motif in literature, poetry, art, and jewelry. In the Victorian symbolic use of flowers (the language of flowers) the snowdrop was associated with purity and chastity because it often bloomed around the time of the feast of the purification of the virgin. Of course, this is the reason for its folk name Candlemas Bells. Other names include Fairy Maids of February and Milk Flower. Its genus name Galanthus is derived from the Greek gala, “milk,” and anthos, “flower,” and the species name nivalis is Latin for “snowy.”  (Kear, Flower Wisdom, 56-57.)

The common snowdrop has narrow, grass-like leaves surrounding the flower stems. The drooping flowers are white with three inner and three outer petals. The inner petals have a touch of green at their tips. While there are about twenty species of wild snowdrops, there are up to a thousand or more cultivated varieties. The difference in varieties is often very subtle; some relate to the height of the plant, the length of the flower petals, and the shape of the flower markings, as well as their shade of green. The craze for snowdrops continues to this day, in fact, a person who loves this elegant little plant is called a Galanthophile.

Like many garden plants, the snowdrop had medicinal applications in ancient times. The Greeks used it for pain and neurological problems. In Homer’s Odyssey, the plant called “moly” was the snowdrop. Given by the god Hermes to Odysseus, it served as an antidote to Circe’s poisonous potion.

Because this flower bravely rises through snow, it has been regarded as a symbol of hope. Of course, blooming as early as Imbolc, it certainly emphasizes the ongoing cycle of life. Quite to the contrary, in medieval times this flower was regarded as a symbol of death because an unopened blossom was thought to resemble a shrouded corpse. This may be the reason for a later belief that bringing one flower into the house was considered bad luck; taking more than one indoors was not.

While I don’t consider myself a Galanthophile, I always look forward to these elegant little heralds of spring. Although the color of snow, these flowers are like a soft whisper that change is on the way. They are a reminder that magic is always afoot.

When you see the first snowdrop of the season, don’t pick it; instead, make a wish and think about the warmer days ahead. To welcome back the plant devas and nature spirits, place an offering, such as a piece of quartz or other white crystal, amongst a cluster of snowdrops.

Gather and dry a few leaves and blossoms for spells. When you are faced with difficult issues, burn a pinch of dried leaves to bolster your strength or help you persevere. Echoing Hermes’ intention, place a couple of dried flowers in a sachet to carry as a protective amulet.

If winter is lingering where you are, think of these little fairy flowers waiting for the right moment to rise through the snow and spread magic across the landscape.

 

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  The author of over a dozen books, Sandra describes herself as an explorer of history, myth, and magic. Her writing has been featured in SageWoman, The Magical Times, The Portal, and Circle magazines, Utne Reader and Magical Buffet websites, and various Llewellyn almanacs. Although she is a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, she travels a solitary Goddess-centered path through the Druidic woods. She has lived in New York City, Europe, England, and now coastal New England where she lives in a Victorian-era house with her family, cats, and a couple of ghosts.  

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