"Into the Woods" series, 55: Troll Maidens and the magic of bridges
Up the May!

Wildflower season

Wildflowers on my desk

Although it's still too cold to feel like spring, the wildflower season has begun. The bluebells are unfurling, and soon our woods will be a Faerieland carpeted in flowers.

Bluebells are especially loved by the faeries, and as such they are dangerous. A child alone in a bluebell wood might be whisked Under the Hill and never seen again, while adults can find themselves lost for days, or years, until the faery spell is broken. Other names the plant is known by: Faery Thimbles, Wood Hyacinths, Harebells (in Scotland, for they grow in fields frequented by hares), and Dead Man's Bells (because the faeries are not kind to those who trample willfully upon them).

Bluebells in the house can be lucky or unlucky, depending on where in British Isles you live. Here in Devon, it's the former: a bouquet of bluebells, picked with gratitude and tended with care, confers the faeries' blessings on the household and "sweetens" spirits sagging after a long winter. Love potions are made of bluebell blossoms, and a bluebell wreath compels the wearer to tell the truth about his or her affections. Despite this association with love, bluebells in Romantic poetry are symbols of loneliness and regret; while in the Victorian's Language of Flowers they represent kindness, humility, and a sense of wonder.

Devon Bluebells

Bluebell Faery by Brian Froud

In Some Kind of Fairy Tale, Graham Joyce captured the uncanny magic of a bluebell wood:

"The bluebells made such a pool that the earth had become like water, and all the trees and the bushes seem to have grown out of the water. And the sky above seemed to have fallen down to the earth floor; and I didn't know if the sky was the earth or the earth was water. I had been turned upside down. I had to hold the rock with my fingernails to stop me falling into the sky of the earth or the water of the sky."

(Graham's faery novel for adult readers is both magical and sinister, and highly recommended.)

Devon bluebell wood

Harebell Faery

Wild violets are often associated with the Greek myth of Persephone, for she was out in the fields gathering the flowers when Hades abducted her into the Underworld; they are flowers of change, transition, transformation, and the cycle of death-and-rebirth. In the Middle Ages, the violet represented love that was new, uncertain, changeable or transitory; yet by Victorian times, in the Language of Flowers the violet was a symbol of constancy. 

Here in Devon, old country folk are wary of bringing violets (and snowdrops) into the house, for this will curse the farmwife's hens and make them unable to lay. Dreaming of violets is lucky, however, as is wearing the flowers pinned to your clothes...but only if the violets are worn outdoors. Take them off at your doorstep and leave them for the faeries, alongside a bowl of fresh milk.

Wild violets 2

Wild violets

Milk for the faeries

Primroses guard against dark witchcraft if you gather their blossoms properly: always thirteen or more in a bunch, and never a single flower. On May Day, small primrose bouquets were hung over farmhouse windows and doors to keep black magic and misfortune out, while allowing white magic to enter freely. Primroses were braided into horses' manes and plaited into balls hung from the necks of cows and sheep as protection from piskie mischief on May Day and Beltane. Hedgewitches made primrose oinment and infusions for "women's troubles" (menstrual cramps) and "melancholy" (depression), while oil of primrose, rubbed on the eyelids, strengthened the ability to see faeries. Primrose wine was a courting gift, proclaiming the giver's constancy -- though by Victorian times, in the Language of Flowers, primroses symbolized the opposite, so a gift of them demonstrated how little you trusted a fickle lover's fine words.

Primrose Faery by Brian Froud

Primroses

"Flowers lure us into the present moment by the miracle of their beauty," writes Judith Berger (in Herbal Rituals, a lovely book about medicine plants through the four seasons).  "Watching and waiting for a particular plant to bloom gives birth to patience within us. We slow our rhythm down in order to fully experience the process of flowering; expectancy and excitement deepen hand in hand with our patience. As we observe, we come to see that the full unfolding of the flower petals is the culmination of an unhurried dance in which the flower senses and responds, moment by moment, to the environmental conditions which surround and penetrate it. These conditions include termperature, moisture, light, and shadow, as well as the more subtle influences of sound vibrations, heartful care, and respect.

"In Buddhist poetry, there is a verse which reads: 'I entrust myself to the earth, the earth entrusts herself to me.' To entrust is to place something in another's hands with the confidence that what has been given will be cared for."

VioletOn this cold wet day, after a long hard winter, I entrust myself to the woodland's flowers. Bluebell, primrose, stitchwort, pink campion: they're all emerging now despite the weather, bursts of color and joy in the rain-soaked hills. They are not waiting for a "perfect" day to bloom, and neither must I await the "perfect" time to write, or paint, or to pick up the reins of daily life once more. Recovery from a long illness is not like stepping through the door into bright sun; there is no clear line between "sick" and "well," only the deep, invisible processes of healing, slowly unfolding day by day. To wait for strength, ease and "perfect" pain-free hours is to wait for life to begin instead of living.

This is life. This is spring. Cold, wet, and grey...but full of wildflowers.

Woodland daffodils & other wildflowers

Dog & wildflowers 2

Dog & wildflowers 2Words: The passages quoted above are from Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce (Doubleday, 2012; winner of the 2013 Robert Holdstock Award), and Herbals Rituals by Judith Berger (St. Martin's Press, 1998).  Pictures: "Bluebell Faery," "Harebell Faery," and "Primrose Faery" by Brian Froud, from Faeries by Brian Froud & Alan Lee (Abrams, 1978). All rights reserved by the authors & artist.

Comments

One can never help but check out the titles on the spines of your books. I was pleased to see Scheub's "Story" on your shelf. I am re-reading that right now myself.

I love this post so much, and I wish I could go flower dancing with you in the meadows and fields. ♥♥♥ The lore just makes my heart happy, and you're right in saying there is no better time than now to do what we say we want to. (Reminder to self.)

Beautiful,uplifting and inspiring.Something to read and reflect upon.
Take good care and many thanks Terri.

I love that book...and I believe my copy of it was a present from you, dear.

Thank you, Shveta and Grace. It's always fun to pair Brian's art with photos from the Devon landscape that inspired it. And I do so love the folklore of plants.

Thank you for this post. Hope you continue to improve health-wise and that the spring warms up.

We woke up to snow on the car's roof yesterday! The weather is deeply strange...again. It's so cold the poor model in the life drawing class I go to found it very uncomfortable this afternoon. "I'm freezing my **** off here!" he informed the students. But as we could all clearly see that his **** were still very much attached, none of us were particularly sympathetic.

We have harebells in England too, but they're a completely different species to the bluebell; delicate single flowers on a slender stem. Understated and beautiful.

Hi Terri

I adore, just adore this post on the language and symbolism of flowers. Especially on the nature and magic of the blue or harebell. Such gorgeous pictures with their hidden, underscoring passages that only add more intrigue and wonder to these images. Here in the high desert, our wildflowers include poppy, lupine an bentham along with some others. The lupine , in particular, is noted to symbolize happiness and bring strength after trauma or an emotional setback.


Spring In The High Desert

She comes first as wind
wild and rattling
the red tiles of our house
begging to be heard, blessed;
and scatters cactus pins
or pine needles in the field.

A shaking down
of debris and ghosts
that have lingered too long
beyond Winter's twilight.

Then she comes as rain
leaving a bowl of water
in the street or garden,
buds and small leaves
tambourining the trees.

The shaman in you
wants to either dance
fetching spirits to foresee
or look into the puddle
divining dreams of tomorrow.

Her blue burst of lupine
only days, damp hours
from tatooing the earth.
Her way of designing
ample strength and joy
to prevail.
_________________________
Again, many thanks for these!
Take care
Wendy

How lucky you are to have so many wildflowers in your world. We have very few bluebells here, maybe a cluster along a parkland walk, maybe another growing against someone's roadside hedge. I always feel envious of England's blue-carpeted woods.

Wishing you blessings of strength and warmth as you continue to journey into health.

Charming. She came a little differently in Central Oregon High Desert. She gave us the sniffles and little purple, or orange little flowers with dark green thick leaves, you could not pick. But green. She gave us that.

Graham Joyce's Bluebell Wood

I still miss his presence in this world.
Every books he wrote I still have, to
Remember his large joy for life,
His grand way of making us happy.

I met him in the hotel in San Jose
In the thick of fans and writers,
Magic. He and I talked a while.
A wizard from the working class.

I still have a warm glow he left.
No, he is not available to tale to,
But the books, the deep voice, the
Writer with fairy gifts, glowing/

That should be not "to tale to," it is "To talk to." While I was writing this poem my cat decided to jump up on this desk, as it was time for me to ....groom him :)

May your healing be steady, Terri!

I was just looking up some of Graham Joyce's work last night...

Here in my neck of the Oregon woods (just south of Portland), the bluebells are finishing up ahead of schedule. Some gardeners don't like them because they tend to spread. Bring them on, I say.

When I worked on the Canadian prairies in the 80s, pretty much anything bigger than a mud puddle had a pair of ducks in it, and there were advocets and curlews and... It was pretty easy to get used to their presence, until the job finished and I left.

Out here on the 'wet coast' we have flowers pretty much every month of the year. Victoria is known as the City of Gardens. However, rather than getting complacent about it, we appreciate their ever-changing colours, shapes, scents...

I love this post Terri. The writing, the art work, the photos, all fabulous!

Earth Like Water


"The bluebells made such a pool that the earth
had become like water,”--Graham Joyce from
Some Kind of Fairy Tale

When the bluebells
in their profusion
make the earth like water,
and the little dark insects
swim across the surface,
their wings making waves
in the still air.

When the dragonflies
in their confusion,
make the air a battleground,
darting at one another,
avoiding only at the last
the bright conflagration
of their stained glass wings.

When the little spotted fish
in their delusion
leap from the water
singing school psalms
and shedding droplets
that hang in the air
like wet prayers.

When the wild turkeys
spread their tails,
the fox its masculine scent,
little red squirrels lie down
in the furrows of their longing,
and the hares dance
their passions on the hills.


Then we know spring
has divided us from winter,
a casual calculation
that multiplies the earth’s
many mysteries
and gives it a name:
Spring.

©2016 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

I can see, hear, even smell the red earth of your land.

small leaves
tambourining the trees. GORGEOUS

Jane

Oh--I was about to comment on how wonderful "tale to" was. I think you should keep it as a happy happenstance!


Jane

The wild violets profusely pepper my woodland this spring, so many shades of purple. However, in Missouri, I've never come across the magical bluebell. I wish to someday tread lightly and respectfully through a magical bluebell wood. Until then I will happily settle for the forest at my back door. For it holds other Midwest magic.

Dragonflies in confusion. little spotted fish in their delusion, wild turkeys...the fox,.red squirrels,and hares.....I love all these as it is, yes, Spring! Delicious words, lovely....
oh, and wet prayers !!!!!!!

OK. maybe my cat knew it was better.

What a beautiful post, right in time for the 1st of May. Thank you. Wishing everyone well. I've been busy with family and travel obligations, but am missing all the poetry and wisdom of Myth and Moor. Sending love. And flowers.

Thanks so much Phyllis!

I deeply appreciate your kind words and appreciate your interest in this piece. Here, we have had some rain and the weather is very windy!

Take care
Wendy

Hi Jane

Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on this poem! I sincerely appreciate it! I am glad you could sense the red earth and essence of this!

Take care,
Wendy

This was such an insightful post! We've got bluebells in our garden so I'm trying to decide if that's a good sign or a bit dangerous!

Hi Terri,
I have only recently discovered your blog and am completely in love with it!
I also loved 'Some Kind of Fairy Tale' and also spotted 'Bitter Greens' on your bookshelf. What a fantastic and dark retelling of Rapunzel.
Looking forward to reading more of your blog!
Kate :)

Terri-san, wishing you wellness, with deep appreciation of your blog, and of the poems here in the comment section, from Japan, Jennifer

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