Daily Draw March 20th, 2011
I am using my wonderful Botanical Postcard Oracle today. The cards are too big to shuffle being six inches square, so I laid them out in four piles and mixed them up that way.
The boys are back in town: the robins, red-wing blackbirds, grackles, and starlings are cleaning up all the loose bird seed that was under the snow. I heard the robin calling last Thursday and looked up and there he was in one of the maple trees in the backyard. My first robin this year and about a week later than usual. So in honour of the boys I pulled……
ACONITE AND YARROW
The Prepona praeneste is a rare tropical butterfly, sometimes on endangered lists, that is popular with collectors due to its beautiful colouring. I’m not quite sure why she painted this particular butterfly with the two herbs, she doesn’t cite any information on the back of the postcard. I saw specimens from Peru and Columbia online, and it has subspecies that are equally rare and beautiful. They feed on rotted fruit and fly very fast; their powerful, thick bodies ensure this rapidity. Threats include loss of environment due to farming, and also trees are cut down to plant drugs and then the drug plants are sprayed with herbicides that kill the butterflies.
It is sometimes called the Red Prepona and people use special traps to catch them, either to merely view them or to kill and sell to collectors. Interesting that some collectors are also artists who want the specimens for painting. Sometimes they make the butterflies into brooches or other souvenir items. It seems a shame to have them threatened in so many ways.
Aconitum napellus and Achillea multifolia, are two of the oldest known medical herbs. Aconite was common during the time of Homer in Greece and Yarrow has been found in a 60,000 year-old Neanderthal grave site.
I have three books on herbs and one of them, Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, was given to me as a gift by the woman who owned the tarot shop I used to go to. She used it as a reference in the store, so it was her personal copy. She was closing the business and I’ve never seen her again, so it has great value to me.
Yarrow is helpful in stopping internal and external bleeding, and it is named after Achilles because the legend goes that he used Yarrow to heal wounds in the Trojan War. It has the most fascinating generic names like Nosebleed, Old Man’s Mustard, Bad Man’s Plaything, Death Flower, Eerie etc. The nosebleed reference comes from a practice of tickling the inside of the nose with a yarrow leaf , and if you were loved by your sweetheart, your nose would bleed. Similarly, the association with divination added somewhat evil or “bad” connotations to the herb. Yarrow stalks are also used for divination with the I Ching.
It grows everywhere, I have some wild yarrow in my location and we’ve also grown coloured varieties of it from commercial seed. It attracts love but also distant relations you wish to see. Funny, my cousin wrote me last week and I’d been thinking about him.
Aconite is sometimes associated with Hecate and the Underworld. Hecate’s familiar was Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the Underworld, and supposedly aconite formed from drops of saliva from his foaming mouth. The Greek name for this herb is lycotonum (lycos means wolf) which apparently comes from the custom of using aconite to poison arrows. It is a rip-roaring poison and several species of it in various cultures have been used as arrow poisons.
I know it best in its species Monkshood, Aconitum napellus, and at one point had some in my garden–still do in the front garden according to the spouse. The name Wolfsbane (Aconitum lycoctonum) is also familiar with this genus and comes from an association with werewolves and protective properties against them. Although Aconite root is poisonous, it can be used to relieve pain in small doses. It makes your extremities become numb, thus its anaesthetic action in liniments and such, and taken internally it can slow the respiration and circulation and depresses the nerve endings, also relieving pain. It can sometimes be mistaken for horseradish, and there are examples of people thinking they’re using the horseradish root for a sauce and then dying because it’s aconite. Leopold Bloom’s father in Ulysses committed suicide from an overdose of aconite.
You can imagine how carefully it has to be handled. We don’t use it today because we have better drugs that are safer to administer, although there are homeopathic remedies that use Aconitum lycoctonum and Aconitum napellus. There are so many examples of this herb in books, folklore, and mythology, it’s quite interesting.
This is a 16-inch covered oval vegetable dish from the Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica dinnerware service, with painted Aconitum napellus. This too is beautiful.
I’m thinking that for today’s draw this might signify a respect for nature and a hint not to destroy but observe and enjoy. Painting flowers and butterflies does not require their death, we have photographs available to use as references. Many beautiful plants can be poisonous, and the beauty of butterflies can be poisoned by greed.
The boys are back.