"Eye of newt, and toe of frog, wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting, lizard's leg, and owlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble, like a hell-broth boil and bubble."
-- William Shakespeare
Such sinister ingredients would surely deter all but the foulest of hearts from filling the cauldron. Or, would they?
To learn to prepare any recipe, be it for a hearty stew, herbal remedy, powerful poison or an offering to summon entities of the darkest nature, you must have the proper ingredients and in the proper concentrations.
So how does one begin to decipher the instructions found in those grimoires penned in darkness and secrecy hundreds of years ago? As Glinda the Good Witch said to Dorothy, "It's always best to begin at the beginning."
Our short garden journey begins with lessons in history and vocabulary, necessary essentials to understanding all that follows. The path to discovery leads back to the first century A.D. to a Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides who lived approximately between the years 40CE and 90CE. Dioscorides was a physician, pharmacologist and botanist during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero. As a surgeon with the emperor's army he traveled extensively studying and gathering knowledge, elements and herbs from locations all over the Roman and Greek world. In the waning days of the Roman Empire, Dioscorides compiled a volume of manuscripts called the "De Materia Medica" which described more than six hundred remedies of vegetable, animal and mineral origins. Within the manuscripts there also existed a substantial discourse on poisons.
These volumes remained in use over generations and throughout the Dark Ages, most especially in Europe. Found within these widely distributed and greatly respected writings of science were strange and exotic substances such as "Fat of a Head" and "Semen of Helios."In the second century A.D. there came a Greco-Roman doctor, pharmacist and philosopher named Claudius Galenus who lived from 131CE to 201CE. Claudius Galenus, better known as "Galen," continuing Dioscorides’ traditions, furthered the quest by writing approximately 500 books and papers, becoming, without question, the most respected scientist of his day. His writings, which covered every aspect of medical science, shaped the methods of formulating in meticulous dosages the herbal tinctures and potions that could be used for means both sinister and benign. Galen's work surpassed the longevity of the "De Materia Medica" exacting a heavy influence on physicians and herbalists throughout the Middle Ages. Galen eventually made his home in Egypt as a practicing physician until his death in 201CE.
The word "galenic" is still used today to describe medications made from vegetable or animal ingredients. Once again, in a widely distributed and respected scientific work were the sinister references to the severed body parts of animals and men.
So what, aside from developing the exacting proportions of elements animal, vegetable and mineral required for all manner of uses, did these two men perpetuate and indeed, validate?
The answer is...a secret code.
The use of code names assigned to various herbal ingredients had been initiated in a series of Ancient Greek texts dating from the second century BCE to approximately the fifth century CE. These texts, known today as The Greek Magical Papyri, contained fragments of spell books...repositories of arcane knowledge and mystical secrets. The papyri's spells, recipes and formulas were written in code and shorthand and detailed everything from the summoning of dark gods and demons to "folk Remedies," love potions and poisons for ridding oneself of unwelcome lovers. Both physicians obviously were well familiar with and borrowed heavily from (perhaps even contributed to) the texts and of the Papyri.
Remembering that what is used to cure may also be used to kill, Dioscorides and later Galen saw to it that the elements and herbs used in the makeup of potions used for both curses and cures were obscured within the tradition and used the same code as that found in the Greek Magical Papyri. Since both Dioscorides’ and Galen's works remained in use for centuries throughout the world, the use of these code names for herbs was continued by all manner of physicians and sorcerers, many of whom were likely unaware of the names’ sinister origin. The concern was that if the learned did not take precautions, the general population would have access to the instructions for all manner of working with elements and herbs. That is to say, the secrets to making all manner of magic with these substances would be available to all.
That simply could not be allowed.
Of course, these secrets inevitably were murmured from one to another and over time, the eye of newt and toe of frog found their way into the cauldron and craft of the grune hexe. And so it is here that we begin our vocabulary lesson.
Going back to Shakespeare's formula for a "hell's broth," here are some of the translations:
"Tongue of dog" is referring to hound's tongue (Cynoglossom officinale), an herb allegedly having the power to quiet the barking of dogs.
"Adder's fork" is adder's tongue (Ohioglossum vulgatum), a fern reputed to have healing properties.
Thus, knowledge of apparently simple and straightforward products of the natural world was all that was necessary to decode the formulae and treatises of the wise.
A further list of translations taken from the works of both Dioscorides and Galen, as well as The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, including The Demonic Spells by Hans Dieter Betz, follows:
Adder's Tongue: Dogstooth Violet; Plantain
Ass's Foot: Coltsfoot
Bat's Wing: Holly Leaf
Bat's Wool: Moss
Bear's Foot: Lady's Mantle
Bird's Eye: Germander, Speedwell
Blood: Elder sap or another tree sap
Blood from a Head: Lupine
Blood from a Shoulder: Bear's Breeches
Blood of a Goose: Mulberry tree's sap
Blood of a Hamadryas Baboon: Blood of a spotted gecko
Blood of a Snake: Hematite
Blood of an Eye: Tamarisk Gall
Blood of Ares: Purslane
Blood of Hephaistos: Wormwood
Blood of Hestia: Chamomile
Bloody Fingers: Foxglove
Blue Jay: Bay laurel
Bone of an Ibis: Buckthorn
Brains: Cherry tree gum [this phrase usually designates any fruit tree gum]
Bull's Blood or Seed of Horus: Horehound
Bull's Foot: Coltsfoot
Bull's Semen: Eggs of the blister beetle
Calf's Snout: Snapdragon
Capon's Tail: Valerian.
Cat's Foot: Canada Snake Root and/or Ground Ivy
Clot: Great Mullein
Corpse Candles: Mullein
Cuddy's Lungs: Great Mullein
Crocodile Dung: Ethiopian Earth
Crow Foot: Cranesbill, wild geranium, buttercup
Devil's Dung: Asafoetida
Dog: Couch grass
Dog's Mouth: Snapdragon
Dog's Tongue: Hounds Tongue
Dove's Foot: Wild Geranium
Dragon's Blood: Resin of Draco palm
Dragon's Scales: Bistort leaves
Eagle: Wild Garlic or Fenugreek
Ear of an Ass: Comfrey
Ears of a Goat: St. John's Wort
Englishman's Foot: Common Plantain
Eye of Christ: Germander, speedwell
Eye of the Day: Common daisy
Eye of the Star: Horehound
Eyes: Inner part of a blossom; Aster, Daisy, Eyebright
Fat from a Head: Spurge
Five Fingers: Cinquefoil
Frog's Foot: Bulbous buttercup
From the Belly: Earth-apple
From the Foot: Houseleek
From the Loins: Chamomile
Goat's Foot: Ash Weed
God's Hair: Hart's Tongue Fern
Gosling Wing: Goosegrass
Graveyard Dust: Mullein
Great Ox-eye: Ox-eye daisy
Guts: The roots and stalk of a plant
Hair: Dried stringy herbs; ripe male fern
Hair of a Hamadryas Baboon: Dill Seed
Hair of Venus: Maidenhair fern
Hare's Beard: Great mullein
Hawk's Heart: Wormwood seed or wormwood crown
Head: Flower of a plant
Heart: Walnut; bud, seed, or nut
Hind's Tongue: Hart's Tongue Fern
Horse Hoof: Coltsfoot
Horse Tongue: Hart's Tongue Fern
Jacob's Staff: Great Mullein
Jupiter's Staff: Great Mullein
King's Crown: Black Haw
Kronos' Blood: Cedar
Lamb's Ears: Betony
Lion's Hair: Tongue of a Turnip [i.e., the leaves of the taproot]
Lion's Tooth: Dandelion, also known as Priest's Crown
Lion Semen: Human Semen
Man's Bile: Turnip sap
Physician's Bone: Sandstone
Pig's Tail: Leopard's Bane
Ram's Head: American Valerian
Red Cockscomb: Amaranth
Seed of Horus: Horehound
Semen of Ammon: Houseleek
Semen of Ares: Clover
Semen of Helios: White Hellebore
Semen of Hephaistos: Fleabane
Semen of Herakles: Mustard-rocket
Semen of Hermes: Dill
Shepherd's Heart: Shepherd's Purse
Skin of Man: Fern
Skull: Skullcap Mushroom
Snake's Ball of Thread: Soapstone
Snake's Head: Leech
Sparrow's Tongue: Knotweed
Swine's Snout: Dandelion leaves
Tears of a Hamadryas Baboon: Dill Juice
Teeth: Pine Cones
Titan's Blood: Wild Lettuce
Toad: Toadflax; Sage
Unicorn's Horn: False Unicorn Root; True Unicorn Root
Weasel Snout: Yellow Dead Nettles/Yellow Archangel
White Man's Foot: Common Plantain
Wolf Claw: Club Moss
Wolf Foot: Bugle Weed
Wolf's Milk: Euphorbia
Worms: Thin Roots
By the Queen of Sorcery I this garden lay:
Malediction, deep affliction May it bear both night and day.
By the Devil conjured, spread out sick and sere,
Evil, deathly blossoms, may they alone thrive here!
All material Copyright (c) 2011-2015 by Alyne Pustanio and Creole Moon Publications.
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