The meadow saffron, or autumn crocus, as it is also called, is a highly fascinating plant. Its purple flowers look like crocuses, but appear in early autumn, when most other plants are done flowering. This is also reflected in its German name “Herbstzeitlose”, which means “autumn messenger”. From the “naked” flowers may also be derived the English moniker “naked ladies”.
The leaves, on the other hand, show up in spring and have been mistaken for bear’s garlic. A dangerous and potentially deadly mistake, since the entire plant contains the alkaloid colchicine, which acts similar to arsenic, and has no known antidote. In addition it has a long latency period, which makes poisoning with autumn crocus even more difficult to recognize and treat. Colchicine acts as a mitotic poison, by interfering with the reduction division of the chromosomes during meiosis. While deadly, it is also made use of in medicine, for treating certain types of cancer, as well as in plant breeding, where it causes plants to grow larger and produce bigger fruits.
A plant named Colchicon was first mentioned by Dioscorides. The specific name autumnale given by Linnaeus, refers to its time of flowering. The genus name Colchicum is derived from Colchis, the landscape on the Black Sea, most famously known for the witch Medea, who is told to have poisoned her enemies with meadow saffron, but also restored youth with its help. In Apollonius Rhodius’ Argonautica, Medea rubs a salve on Jason’s limbs, which contains meadow saffron. According to another legend, meadow saffron grew from the blood that dripped from Prometheus’ liver. However, the same story is also related to the Mandrake and both plants are candidates for the mythical plant named “blood of Prometheus”.
Despite a narrow therapeutic index, meadow saffron has been used medicinally for at least 3500 years. It is still a treatment for rheumatism and gout. During the times of the plague the bulb was also worn as a protective amulet around the neck. (You can read more about this plant on my garden blog).
The artwork shown here is one of my more illustrative works, combining symbolism and showing the plant spirit in an anthropomorphic form. It was first show-cased in 2017 at gallery Circle1 in Berlin, as part of the “Bad Intentions” group exhibition. It is drawn with black ink on paper that has been stained with coffee and meadow saffron flower extract. It is signed and dated on the back and comes in a simple black cardboard passe-partout.
You receive the exact work shown here.
Artwork size: ca. 4 x 8 inch, passe-partout size: ca. 6 x 11 inch
Or better said, postcards with new “Flower Devils” can now be ordered from the web shop! The new cards feature freshly captured motifs from summer 2018 as well as some of my earliest photographs in this series, including the auspicious “Henbane Devil” on black henbane flower, which initiated and from which the series got its name.
In German folklore, witches and even the devil himself were believed to take on the shape of bumblebees. A bumblebee-wax candle was lit in church, if a witch was burnt at the stake. Evil people were cursed with having to return as a bumblebee after death. The sub-earthen drone sound of a bumblebee signaled the presence of the dead. Instead of consecrated wavers, bumblebees were allegedly served at black masses. Bumblebees were also superstitiously feared as carriers of sickness and ritually buried to drive out plague. On the other hand, a dead bumblebee worn in the pocket, was believed to ensure the purse would always be filled with money. And he, who managed to secretly steal the bumblebee’s honey, was destined to find a huge treasure. Hence bumblebees were both viewed as good and bad omens.
The other new cards are:
“Belladonna Devil” et al – large earth bumblebee entering a deadly nightshade flower, common carder bees on comfrey and viper’s bugloss flowers, wasps mating on our white lavender, bee inside crocus flower after a long winter
Impressions from recent trip to Crete – symbol laden honey bee among the ruins of the Minoan palace in Malia, a small wasp nest on prickly pear, protected sea daffodil flower with Mediterranean sea in the background
Last but not least, cards with unfolding flower of the “Black Devil” datura, blue Aconite and green Henbane “Dragon” and – upon request – myself among the green “devils” in our garden.
New in the shop: postcards with my occult/nature inspired “Plants and Planets“ series from 2018! Available in two formats. The postcards have round edges and the sizes comply with common post standards.
In the past botanists such as Nicholas Culpeper associated plants with the planets, fixed stars and zodiac signs. The attributions were based on an intense study of a plant’s features, which included treats such as a thorny or prickly appearance, the scent emitted by the flowers or the entire plant, the plant’s life cycle, colors, metals contained in a plant, medicinal and other uses and of course plenty of folklore. Today plants are classified scientifically based on their genome, but their planetary lore is preserved and continues to evolve in the books of authors such as Stephen Skinner, Paul Huson, Scott Cunningham, Harold Roth and so on.
I find it inspiring to continue this tradition and to explore its own inner logic. Hence I created these planet themed still life photographs of herbs, that I gathered from our garden and surroundings, many of which are also part of my seed boxes. They are ordered according to the Chaldean sequence. With this series I yet delve deeper into the language of plants and the symbolism and magical properties attributed to them.
Please leave a note with your order, if you wish for the postcard to be signed on the back (no extra cost).
The candles have been lit, the incense has been burnt; my work now vibrates in the rooms of gallery Circle 1 until December 23rd. What started as a vague idea of creating artwork for a list of magical plants, has years later finally taken shape. Now was the point when everything fell into place naturally. It was preceded by searching and researching, trial and error, sowing, growing, loss and gain in the very basic and earth-bound occupation as a gardener and harvester. The first hand study of the actual plants laid the foundation, my rediscovered love for ink became the tool for manifesting my visions.
The installation is hence titled “Harvest” and consists of an earthen altar with dried plants and harvest related offerings: self baked bread, honey from the neighborhood and self-made beeswax candles. The souls and spirits that were contained in the once alive, now dead corpora of the plants, find a new house in the form of fetishistic ink drawings: the “Sigilla Magica” series.
With these new forms I also found an own language, which aims to both entertain and communicate memes to the viewer. 12 ink drawings reference 11 magical plants as well as the ‘queen bee’ – “Regina Bombina” – governing the vital interaction between plants and pollinators. In addition, 2 anthropomorphic drawings depict the Aconite and Mandragora in half-human form, as the armed and poison-dart struck “Wolf Shaman” and beheaded and re-headed “Regina Amandrakina” with her freakish offspring. Lastly, 2 botanical studies of the roots of the Aconite and Mandragora are meant to act as a bridge between abstraction and realism and honor the individual and fascinating shape of each in detail.
Tonight I share this new artwork with you, which is again a riddle. The game is as usual: guess the plant depicted and leave a comment with your suggestion! If you have been following my recent postings on my new herbalism blog you will easily find the plant in question. A hint: it has to do with autumn. 😉
In my part of the world the past new moon occured close to the midnight hour and when the moon was just entering into the sign of Scorpio. In addition friends and followers in Eastern Asia and most of North America could simultaneously witness a beautiful partial solar eclipse. An astrologically and magically interesting time, some would already hold their Samhain celebrations on this night, closing another circle, saying farewell to the old and inaugurating a new year. It is the beginning of a liminal time, when the veil between the world of the living and the other side thinnens. It is believed the souls of the deceased – both beloved or malign, familiar or nameless – come to visit and contact the living, in dream or even physically. Temperatures are dropping, you see your breath in the cold air. The trees are yet aflame in autumn colors but will soon turn barren. Winter is just around the corner.
I felt it sooner this year than usual, perhaps owed to the early arrival of summer, autumn and winter are coming earlier as well. And it feels like its going to be a cold one. I experienced some dark days and nights, where I turned inside and contemplated, what has been done and what can and will be done. I got inspired and wrote these lines:
I feel the change of season
this autumn fire
the nights getting longer
the impending darkness
this cold breath down my neck.
But I am aflame and
burning with passsion
to a degree that it
almost consumes me.
Memories and dreams
the future and the past
they are merging
in a round-dance of autumn leaves
in the yellow light of street lamps
or in the dim grayness of
one drizzly September day.
I am day dreaming
and the world around me becomes
like the surface of a pond
into which I dip my finger
and suddenly the whole picture
starts to ripple and disperse
and the voices of people talking to me are muted
and I hear something else.
The veil is thinning.
I am dreaming of reconciliation.
I hear from a lot of people this year has been their worst by far. Some say they felt a strong negative Saturn influence in their life. Things being stolen or lost, relationships breaking apart, unexpected changes for the worse and in some instances also suicide attempts. There was a lot happening around me and for all I know there is little in life to rely on. Believes and faith, relationships and worldly values are questioned and challenged. And the idea that from loss and pain still something good or even better arises, may infact not always hold true. Yet the quality of conversations improves, deepens. Superficialties don’t suffice any longer. And I still feel lucky. I do have my self, my work, and spirits and friends to turn to. Even if they may be struggeling themsselves; as long as there is a shared will to continue and work towards better times – not sit and wait – there is reason for hope.
What really helps me during times, when there is apparently nothing positive at all, is the feedback I receive from you, my customers and followers. It does indeed mean a great deal to me. It is one reason why I’m doing what I’m doing and why I continue this project. Feedback such as this:
Having received one of your plant sigil card sets, I wanted to thank you for your work and express my gratitude in having received one. It is a beautifully crafted work, with an obvious spine of honesty, experience and exploration. A profound expression of the green, from the veils of the divine. – JR/O.
Thank you and all who write me messages, comment, like and fave! Thanks to over 2000 followers on facebook and 500 on tumblr, thanks to my watchers on deviantArt and elsewhere! Thanks to the loud and silent supporters and the imps and gnomes and wizzards doing ‘magic’ in the background and spreading the word! You know who you are.
And though it is true that this is often a lonely path we do take inspiration from another, consciously or unconsciously. I like to think that the same spirits contact us individually and sometimes they whisper the same and other times different things into our ears. Tuesday I thought about harvesting Belladonna under the waning moon. But the night was cold and rainy and there was no sharp shining crescent sickle to be seen that would have called for harvest. Thursday I read of Harold Roth‘s plan to harvest Belladonna under the new moon. I first thought no, lets leave them for another month or wait for next year’s Walpurgis. But then I gave it a second thought, went outside short before midnight and the conditions were just right.
The midnight hour was the hour of Venus and the dark moon had just entered Scorpio. A fitting constellation for working with the poisonous (scorpio) green (venus), and the darker aspects of the goddess (black moon), of whom the Belladonna is evocative. The Deadly Nightshade also has connections to the Germanic myths of the Wild Hunt, especially the Valkyries, daughters of heaven and earth (Wotan and Erda), who accompany the souls of the warriors that died in battle, to their final destination in Valhalla, which is reflected in the German name “Walkerbeere”. The Wild Hunt is said to begin with Samhain and culminates during the Winter Solstice and following nights. My first abstract vision of the plant’s essence shows her infront of a dark stormy sky with flashes of lightning and blood is raining from black clouds.
I took two roots, grown in pots, and both about 3 years old. The plants have flowered ready and the lasts berries are also ripe. In fact the stems are already slowly dying back and new green sprouts come from the root base. So it was indeed good timing. Especially since the following nights were even colder and the green parts don’t survive freezing. It makes sense that the time around Samhain is traditionally the time for the last harvest, which is then put up in the home for drying.
I also encountered a surprise when digging up the second plant as it had grown a long tap-root. It wouldn’t take an end and I actually could not unearth it wholly. I had to dig much deeper to get to the end of the part still stuck in the ground and it turned out that entire thing was indeed over 40 cm long!
I removed the soil manually, then cleaned them in rainwater and put them on the harvest altar, together with previously harvested roots. I lit beeswax candles and offered libation. I noticed a spicy smell and, though I used gloves, felt actually a bit benumbed from the fumes. I learned that the alkaloids concentrate in the root during autumn and winter. It may well be possible these two roots have a higher potency. They are now drying slowly and I plan to later make fetishes with them that tie together visullay the mentioned astrological and magical aspects. Below are a few pictures to show you their raw beauty:
In September I had already gathered leaves and sprigs, which I put between newspaper pages for drying. What do you read in there? It’s been a Belladonna year for sure!
Yet there are plenty of other herbs (and for that matter also seeds!) and so I find myself again running around the house and garden, collecting, sorting and processing all sorts of green harvest. It will still be a giant task to take photos of everything and make it available for ordering. I am also working on a larger herbal commissions, which includes labeling and filling custom bottles for a client.
At least I am ready now with rearranging our front garden (more about this later) and next is the raised bed. So lots to do this week until the official Samhain date. And I still have a very special interview in the making, as well as news concerning my contributions to the third Pillars Periodical Journal! But all in good time. 🙂
So long, after so much deadly nightshade here is now another plant, which embodies the month of October: the Chinese Aconite (Aconitum carmichaelii), or Herbst-Eisenhut, as it is called in German, is the last of the aconites to flower and brightens up the October month with its lush blue-violett inflorescences. It’s poisonous as hell too and another name for aconite was in fact Scorpio. The aconite, as the ‘king of poisons’ is in different ways to be seen as a counterpart to the belladonna or ‘queen of poisons’, who’s atropine is the physiological antidote in aconite poisoning. Now I certainly wouldn’t recommend doing the test. However I do like to grow them besides each other, for higher inspiration and guidance. In fact, I do have quite a few aconite and belladonna seedlings to plant out yet… Yep, lots do! 🙂
Summer is coming to an end and yet I did not even share half of the photos I’ve taken during the past three months. So I sat down with a glass of red wine and made this summary of summer garden impressions for you. Click through the gallery to find a commentary on each motif and feel free to comment!
Related genera:Anemone, Aquilegia, Delphinium, Helleborus, Pulsatilla, Ranunculus
The poisonous plant genus Aconitum consists of at least a hundred different species and has an array of legends and folklore attributed to it.
Sometimes called ‘Queen of Poisons’ or ‘Plant Arsenic’, similar to how arsenic is considered a ‘King of Poisons’.
A distinction sometimes found concerns the names Monkshood and Wolfsbane. Some argue the original Wolfsbane is the white or yellow-flowered species Aconitum lycoctonum whereas the blue flowering Monkshood, Aconitum napellus is probably the better known of the two species and it is frequently found in medieval monastery gardens. The two species contain different poisons, which are however similar in effect.
Mythology and History
The Greek word akónitos is composed of ak = pointed and kônos = cone, an akon being a dart or javelin, perhaps a reference to the use as an arrow poison. Theophrastus suggests the name derived from the town of Aconæ (today assumed to be near Karadeniz Ereğli in Turkey). It may also have been named after Mount Akonitos in Pontus (Asia Minor), where the plant is said to have grown from the spittle of Cerberus, the three-headed watchdog of Hades, when the folkhero Heracles drew up the beast from his infernal abode. Homer (800 bc) gives the first account of this myth in the Illiad. Eight centuries later Ovid embellishes the story in Metamorphoses VIIContinue reading Aconite Info