Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/848

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826
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

of husbanding this valuable product, and there is less and less waste every day. Indeed, it behooves all to be careful, for, with the exhaustion of the gas, the improvements, the factories, the towns themselves will vanish.


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PLANTS IN WITCHCRAFT.[1]

By T. F. THISELTON DYER.

THE vast proportions which the great witchcraft movement assumed in by-gone years explains the magic properties which we find ascribed to so many plants in most countries. In the nefarious trade carried on by the representatives of this cruel system of sorcery certain plants were largely employed for working marvels, hence the mystic character which they have ever since retained. It was necessary, however, that these should be plucked at certain phases of the moon or seasons of the year, or from some spot where the sun was supposed not to have shone on it.[2] Hence Shakespeare makes one of his witches speak of "root of hemlock digg'd i' the dark," and of "slips of yew sliver'd in the moon's eclipse," a practice which was long kept up. The plants, too, which formed the witches' pharmacopœia, were generally selected either from their legendary associations or by reason of their poisonous and soporific qualities. Thus, two of those most frequently used as ingredients in the mystic caldron were the vervain and the rue, these plants having been specially credited with super-natural virtues. The former probably derived its notoriety from the fact of its being sacred to Thor, an honor which marked it out, like other lightning plants, as peculiarly adapted for occult uses. It was, moreover, among the sacred plants of the Druids, and was only gathered by them, "when the dog-star arose, from unsunned spots." At the same time, it is noteworthy that many of the plants which were in repute with witches for working their marvels were reckoned as counter-charms, a fact which is not surprising, as materials used by wizards and others for magical purposes have generally been regarded as equally efficacious if employed against their charms and spells.[3] Although vervain, therefore, as the "enchanters' plant," was gathered by witches to do mischief in their incantations, yet, as Aubrey says, it "hinders witches from their will," a circumstance to which Drayton further refers when he speaks of the vervain as "'gainst witchcraft much avayling." Rue, likewise, which entered so largely into magic rites, was once much in request as an antidote against such prac-

  1. From "The Folk-Lore of Plants," in the press of D. Appleton & Co.
  2. See Moncure Conway's "Demonology and Devil-Lore," 1880, ii, 324.
  3. See Friend's "Flower-Lore," ii, 529, 530.