A little hint of herbal storytelling on film blog...
A very simple storytelling session with P.4 pupils.
My version of Jane Ray's 'Apple Pip Princess' adapted to fit with their curriculum topic incorporating: local community, school grounds and food, as part of a day long program of curriculum lead sessions in a primary school.
An impromptu glimpse into the legends of Valerian on a herbal storytelling wander along a Scottish riverbank
Blogs and Stories as Told by Amanda Edmiston
At Botanica Fabula Storytelling, it’s always a great pleasure to connect with people of all ages in Scotland and across the world who appreciate a magical story or two. I regularly guest host #FolkloreThursday on twitter as @Herbalstorytell and contribute written re-tellings of folktales to their website. I also add to my own blog on occasion with more content being added soon. You can follow my adventures on facebook and instagram and keep in touch for new ways to connect with my work from a distance in the near future.
Gin Maker, Spell Breaker.
My mother, she killed me,
My father, he ate me,
My sister Marlene,
Gathered all my bones,
Tied them in a silken scarf,
Laid them beneath the juniper tree,
Tweet, tweet, what a beautiful bird am I.
The Grimm brother’s classic ‘The Juniper Tree’ http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm047.html is a story that makes even the least sentimental of souls shudder and look as if they have a nasty taste in their mouth. It centres around a gruesome dark tale of infanticide, cannibalism and jealousy…but I have told it, I’ve shared it albeit to a very carefully chosen, adult group, with added conversation about the role the more horrific stories have in giving us a safe place to look at our most hidden fears and the magnified maybe skewed symbolism which bloats the piece.
I ask people to remember the time induced change in the way we value our children and appreciate other people’s and reflect on the fact that this story predates modern contraception.
It comes from a time of short lives and an entirely different approach to the turmoil and shivering nightmares of post-natal depression.
It comes from a time when Juniper: diuretic, gin berry, demon chaser, spell breaker was also prized the world over as an effective abortificant.
I’ve been told tales of it’s use by women from India and Turkey, the Highlands of Scotland and the Navajo nation, it’s something women got told even 40 years ago, quietly by their Aunties their mothers, their sisters.
It’s the lurking truth behind the simmering horror in that story.
The reality of mother’s ruin.
The factual seed that grew to the urban myth of gin in the bath.
But this medicine turned mythology, is merely the popular edge of the Spell breaker.
Juniper, now becoming rarer maybe due in a small part to our reduced need for physical spell dispersers, now we can explain the mechanics of so much magic, now we’ve tamed the demons, the moorlands and the woods, now we have no need to plant Juniper at our doors to give miscreant ill intentioned witches something to count before they can invade our homes…
Having spent so long quietly saving us in so many ways, this shrub needs us to save it.
After all Juniper’s actual role in our stories and our folklore (despite it’s association with some of the more controversial aspects of human nature: our fascination with intoxication, our desires, our needs to control our body and our environment, whether due to real or perceived threats to our survival) is one of protection and that works best as a reciprocal arrangement!
The protection Juniper offers is not always hard to stomach either.
One of my favourite stories for really tiny children is a traditional one where a Juniper tree and a Pine tree offer to protect a young bird incapable of following it’s family on the essential winter migratory path. It’s beautiful full of gentle facts, and morsels of morality, but delivered in a charming little gem of a tale.
In Scottish folklore it’s role was one of a demon chaser it’s smoke was said to purify the air, chase real and imagined fronds of evil and that’s the story that led me to write this, a little peek into a historical world tangled with literature, feeding on folklore, that’s slowly growing:
On Rosemary and Juniper
Mara had only the barest memory of the sea, she remembered her mother’s lullabies lilting softly in time to the echo of the waves, the intermittent shriek of the gulls, the percussive shingle unsettled by the tides moon struck nuances, but she wanted to remember, wanted to remember now as she held her own child, her shawl wrapped round them both, its blue woollen fibres buffeted by the cold wind as she fled from that which would harm her.
She had tried the ancient traditional purification rituals her mother had taught her, to rid her world of these demons, burnt Rosemary as the Roman’s had done when they came to this shore and Juniper as the highlanders always had, to cleanse the air, but the witches had battled through, they had counted all the leaves on the Juniper bush planted on her threshold and had only been distracted from their mischief for long enough to allow her to gather Violets for her child’s cough and Rosemary to help her remember the shore she sought and to ward off the plague (like a Queen carrying a Maundy bouquet as she tended the poor) and then she hastily left through the back of the bothy.
‘Look at my flowers’. The words kept whirling round her head, the words of a young girl lapsing into madness ‘There’s Rosemary, that’s for remembering. Please remember, love. And there are Pansies, they’re for thoughts’, Ophelia’s bouquet so sorrowful, a floral manifestation of a young girls hopes to meet her lover shown on St Magdalen’s day, or maybe as Herick said
‘Grow for two ends – it matters not at all Be’t for my bridall, or my buriall.”
Mara clutched her bundle, her herbs and her child and ran…the wisps of shawl turning the flowers of the bushes blue as she fled from the sickness that sent those around her mad and dreaming of demons and fled to the shore where the sea foam she just remembered would take her away, like a mermaid returning, to safety and distant dreams(c) Amanda Edmiston 2015
So as you sip gin and contemplate the cloud strewn Autumn sky, give Juniper a thought, add a handful of twigs to a fire and watch as they sparkle and glow, smoke chasing demons, just in case there are any lurking, let the berries chase the internal fluid that leads to paranoia and more demons will disperse. Then plant one outside your door, witches will be busy counting, birds will have somewhere to hide and a beautiful native shrub will survive a little longer.
CHASE THE DEVIL
An original folktale 'mended' from fragments of stories, legends and herbal folklore, about the most fitting of flowers for February's last lick of winter's kiss...
Once upon a time, before medical notes; before research papers were funded; before mood swings were medicated; when plants grew unhindered by commerce. When every village had a woman who knew, who lived outside, apart, but essential, an anchor, a go to for problems chronic or transient alike. There lived a young man strong of heart, brave and steadfast, with foresight in his eyes and love in his breast.
A young man who awoke from a swirling dream of darkness and sorrow. An awakening like no other; an awakening full of dread and fear, his body was weighted, leaden; his skin ashen: timeworn and desolate. He raised his head but could not open his eyes for slow meaningless weeping, his throat wished to retch, his mind a blank. His mother at first concerned could find no physical ill, by turn fearful then infuriated, she wracked her mind for the source of his melancholy, but none could she find. Indeed every time she entered and left his presence she swore she heard not her sons derelict moans but a low growly chortle. Was he laughing despite his pallor of misery? She searched and sought for another explanation for the eerie noise. But only the young man himself could see the host of that tonal sound so resonant with despair bound in a gutterel laugh, and his embracing misery did not give him the chance to articulate what he saw:.....A huge black dog, fed daily by its master...
...Satan himself, fed daily on a meal of the young man's joy and happiness.
Weeks passed, as midsummer arrived his mother still finding no answer, sought the wise woman who lived by the water high on the heath near the villages edge. The woman came at the mothers beckoning, bringing her basket of freshly picked herbs with her. On finding the poor youth still bound to his bed by an unseen force, pale, shaking, and mournful, she rubbed her eyes with the dew from the plants in her basket and using her wits to look deeper into the space around him, she slowly came to see the glowering shape of the devil’s dog, pinning the young mans feet to the iron of his bedstead, growling its ominous gloom laden chuckle.
The woman acted swiftly sensing the arrival of greater evil, grasping the yellow flower of the 'witches herb' and stuffing it into the slack
open mouth of the youth just as the dog's master appeared. On seeing the woman's work the devil was possessed with a fury, a tumultuous rage. Throwing the dog to one side, and brandishing his pitchfork, the devil proceeded to stab and mutilate the leaves of the plant, and each perforation he made oozed with the blood of St John, the blood drawn when Herod separated the baptists head from his body and blamed the behest of Salome (a lass I'd like to suggest who didn't really need her suggestions taking to seriously but probably just needed some counselling.....I digress...). The blood healed the plant allowing no harm to be done but sent a shiver like a shock right down the shaft of Satan's pitchfork and shaking the very will of the devil, who followed by his dog disappeared back to his fiery domain.
In no time at all, after drinking an infusion of his herbal saviour the young man's sunny disposition returned and forever after 'the witches herb' was known as St Johns Wort ...or...Chase the devil...
(c) Amanda Edmiston 2012
The Wolf Peach...a little taste of lycanthropy
So a revisiting of my tale of werewolves and solanaceae; the lost legend I recreated for Atropa Nights, the missing link that explained the flesh crawling, skin walking, shape shifting, Atropine aggravated descent into inflammation...
A story mended from the European folklore surrounding Solanum Lycopersicum, the tomato..once believed to be a fruit used by witches to turn unsuspecting victims to werewolves. A fruit, which it was claimed, had the ability to draw money into the house if placed on the mantelpiece...maybe leading to the variety grown successfully by many a gardener...the Moneymaker.
Here is my story linking werewolves, wild women and of course ...
...THE WOLF PEACH
There was once a girl, a girl who lived alone with her mother in a dark wild wood; a wood on the edge of a dark wild town, a town torn from the bed of the river and ripped from the heart of the meadow; a town with towers taller than the trees, towers with more inhabitants than the trees that came before it; more inhabitants than the ash or the mighty oak itself. Inhabitants dwelling like the folkloric spiders in a gall wasps oak apple, spiders foretelling of shortages and tainted crops. Inhabitants restricted by invisible chains, chains of service, chains of fear and mistrust, chains wrought when their knowledge had been wrenched from them....... left afraid, afraid of the wild wood and the tidal waters beyond.
Day by day the girl watched as her mother tended the plants in her garden, a garden half tame half wild wood; she watched and learnt as her mother brewed tisanes, steamed soups, baked cakes, infused teas, chopped stews, cut herbs and harvested plants. She watched and tasted, learnt and listened. Every day she listed to her mother every fruit and vegetable, every flower and leaf, very herb and spice, every tree and root; all the ones she loved and all the ones she didn't, all the ones that healed and all the ones that harmed, all she liked and only one she loathed; red and night shade scented, juicy and spongelike, textured like cut tongue; the slippery hint of antagonistic green guarding the seeds within, criss crossed with membrane, too visceral, too sweet; its sharp acidic punch bringing bile to her throat, making her mouth water and her stomach gag; simultaneously, confusing and repellant: the wolf peach.
Her mother had known, as the child had swollen inside her; known as her own body had reviled the shades: the potato, the aubergine.....tomatoes had brought heartburn, heartache, nausea and dreams, dreams of skin walkers prowling and inflammatory. Now as the girl grew, sought womanhood and wider knowledge, she beseeched her to try, to discover for herself its inflammatory cascade, as she knew eventually she must.
But alone in the house the girl carefully kept the fruit to its place, on the mantelpiece... ripening, designed that way to repel bile and attract money, a more positive cause and effect she felt.
Eventually the day came when full grown, the men started to come to her door and beg and promise, cajole and insist, beguile and charm, promises in hand but bags empty, and she took to handing out the loathed fruit to suitors and watched as one by one, they bit and swallowed and howled at the moon, as they grew viscous, demanding and calous, malicious and malodorous; til exhausted and fearful she slammed the door and reached for her mothers hand, held tight and did not understand her mothers eyes of sorrow or her disconcerting mirthless laugh. " You'll get it right in the end" she said, "you just need to trust yourself and keep watching for it".
So she watched and she looked, hunting amongst the dust purple pollen of the nightshade, tomatoes beautiful disdainful aunt with a venomous nature; crawling wide eyed amongst the evil peanut stench of the Datura, through Hemlock and Henbane. 'Til she realised, the answer lay not there, but amongst the basil and the melissa, the thyme and the sage, herbs of knowledge and strength, along the celery's conduit for paranoia, the parsleys trigger for tidal flow; and with the wolf peach itself. The more she knew the less the suitors chapped at her door, 'til one alone stood forward, shaking his head, refusing the tomato she offered, till the girl stepped from inside her mothers house and as the moon rose and her body swelled and the tides across the dark town drew her near, she took the wolf peach and its lycanthropic call and consumed it, and as the ill minded lurking in the shadows of the nearby woods cursed her and withdrew, the one was left, standing, watching, arm outstretched, ready to catch her if she fell. He did not roar back as she screamed, transformed, lycanthropy complete, but knew in his heart that this wolf woman had a beauty and strength to resist the darkness, to know it, engage with it, and with him by her side, and take her place alongside her mother as a woman in the wild wild wood.
(c) Amanda Edmiston 2012
For a more in-depth look at the history of tomato-fear see this great article on Atlas Obscura: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/when-tomatoes-were-blamed-for-witchcraft-and-werewolves