Dream Plants, by T. F. Thiselton-Dyer
The importance attached to dreams in all primitive and savage culture
accounts for the significance ascribed to certain plants found by
visitors to dreamland. At the outset, it may be noticed that various
drugs and narcotic potions have, from time immemorial, been employed for
producing dreams and visions—a process still in force amongst
uncivilised tribes. Thus the Mundrucus of North Brazil, when desirous of
gaining information on any special subject, would administer to their
seers narcotic drinks, so that in their dreams they might be favoured
with the knowledge required. Certain of the Amazon tribes use narcotic
plants for encouraging visions, and the Californian Indians, writes Mr.
Tylor, "would give children narcotic potions, to gain from the
ensuing visions information about their enemies;" whilst, he adds, "the
Darien Indians used the seeds of the Datura sanguinca to bring on in
children prophetic delirium, in which they revealed hidden treasure."
Similarly, the Delaware medicine-men used to drink decoctions of an
intoxicating nature, "until their minds became wildered, so that they
saw extraordinary visions."
The North American Indians also held intoxication by tobacco to be
supernatural ecstasy. It is curious to find a survival of this source of
superstition in modern European folk-lore. Thus, on the Continent, many
a lover puts the four-leaved clover under his pillow to dream of his
lady-love; and in our own country, daisy-roots are used by the rustic
maiden for the same purpose. The Russians are familiar with a certain
herb, known as the son-trava, a dream herb, which has been identified
with the Pulsatilla patens, and is said to blossom in April, and to
have an azure-coloured flower. When placed under the pillow, it will
induce dreams, which are generally supposed to be fulfilled. It has been
suggested that it was from its title of "tree of dreams" that the elm
became a prophetic tree, having been selected by Virgil in the Aeneid
(vi.) as the roosting-place of dreams in gloomy Orcus:
"Full in the midst a spreading elm displayed
His aged arms, and cast a mighty shade;
Each trembling leaf with some light visions teems,
And leaves impregnated with airy dreams."
At the present day, the yarrow or milfoil is used by love-sick maidens,
who are directed to pluck the mystic plant from a young man's grave,
repeating meanwhile this formula:
"Yarrow, sweet yarrow, the first that I have found, In the name of Jesus
Christ I pluck it from the ground; As Jesus loved sweet Mary and took
her for His dear, So in a dream this night I hope my true love
Indeed, many other plants are in demand for this species of
love-divination, some of which are associated with certain days and
festivals. In Sweden, for instance, "if on Midsummer night nine kinds of
flowers are laid under the head, a youth or maiden will dream of his or
her sweetheart." Hence in these simple and rustic love-charms may be
traced similar beliefs as prevail among rude communities.
Again, among many of the American Indian tribes we find, according to
Mr. Dorman, "a mythical tree or vine, which has a sacredness
connected with it of peculiar significance, forming a connecting-link
and medium of communication between the world of the living and the
dead. It is generally used by the spirit as a ladder to pass downward
and upward upon; the Ojibways having possessed one of these vines, the
upper end of which was twined round a star." He further adds that many
traditions are told of attempts to climb these heavenly ladders; and,
"if a young man has been much favoured with dreams, and the people
believe he has the art of looking into futurity, the path is open to the
highest honours. The future prophet puts down his dreams in pictographs,
and when he has a collection of these, if they prove true in any
respect, then this record of his revelations is appealed to as proof of
his prophetic power." But, without enumerating further instances of
these savage dream-traditions, which are closely allied with the
animistic theories of primitive culture, we would turn to those plants
which modern European folk-lore has connected with dreamland. These are
somewhat extensive, but a brief survey of some of the most important
ones will suffice to indicate their general significance.
Firstly, to dream of white flowers has been supposed to prognosticate
death; with which may be compared the popular belief that "if a white
rosebush puts forth unexpectedly, it is a sign of death to the nearest
house;" dream-omens in many cases reflecting the superstitions of daily
life. In Scotch ballads the birch is associated with the dead, an
illustration of which we find in the subjoined lines:—
"I dreamed a dreary dream last nicht;
God keep us a' frae sorrow!
I dreamed I pu'd the birk sae green,
Wi' my true love on Yarrow.
I'll redde your dream, my sister dear,
I'll tell you a' your sorrow;
You pu'd the birk wi' your true love;
He's killed,—he's killed on Yarrow."
Of the many plants which have been considered of good omen when seen in
dreams, may be mentioned the palm-tree, olive, jasmine, lily, laurel,
thistle, thorn, wormwood, currant, pear, &c.; whereas the greatest luck
attaches to the rose. On the other hand, equally numerous are the plants
which denote misfortune. Among these may be included the plum, cherry,
withered roses, walnut, hemp, cypress, dandelion, &c. Beans are still
said to produce bad dreams and to portend evil; and according to a
Leicestershire saying, "If you wish for awful dreams or desire to go
crazy, sleep in a bean-field all night." Some plants are said to
foretell long life, such as the oak, apricot, apple, box, grape, and
fig; and sickness is supposed to be presaged by such plants as the
elder, onion, acorn, and plum.
Love and marriage are, as might be expected, well represented in the
dream-flora; a circumstance, indeed, which has not failed to impress the
young at all times. Thus, foremost amongst the flowers which indicate
success in love is the rose, a fact which is not surprising when it is
remembered how largely this favourite of our gardens enters into
love-divinations. Then there is the clover, to dream of which foretells
not only a happy marriage, but one productive of wealth and prosperity.
In this case, too, it must be remembered the clover has long been
reckoned as a mystic plant, having in most European countries been much
employed for the purposes of divination. Of further plants credited as
auguring well for love affairs are the raspberry, pomegranate, cucumber,
currant, and box; but the walnut implies unfaithfulness, and the act of
cutting parsley is an omen that the person so occupied will sooner or
later be crossed in love. This ill-luck attached to parsley is in some
measure explained from the fact that in many respects it is an unlucky
plant. It is a belief, as we have noticed elsewhere, widely spread in
Devonshire, that to transplant parsley is to commit a serious offence
against the guardian genius who presides over parsley-beds, certain to
be punished either on the offender himself or some member of his family
within the course of the year. Once more "to dream of cutting cabbage,"
writes Mr. Folkard, "Denotes jealousy on the part of wife, husband,
or lover, as the case may be. To dream of any one else cutting them
portends an attempt by some person to create jealousy in the loved one's
mind. To dream of eating cabbages implies sickness to loved ones and
loss of money." The bramble, an important plant in folk-lore, is partly
unlucky, and, "To dream of passing through places covered with brambles
portends troubles; if they prick you, secret enemies will do you an
injury with your friends; if they draw blood, expect heavy losses in
trade." But to dream of passing through brambles unhurt denotes a
triumph over enemies. To dream of being pricked with briars, says the
"Royal Dream Book," "shows that the person dreaming has an ardent
desire to something, and that young folks dreaming thus are in love, who
prick themselves in striving to gather their rose."
Some plants are said to denote riches, such as the oak, marigold, pear
and nut tree, while the gathering of nuts is said to presage the
discovery of unexpected wealth. Again, to dream of fruit or flowers out
of season is a bad omen, a notion, indeed, with which we find various
proverbs current throughout the country. Thus, the Northamptonshire
peasant considers the blooming of the apple-tree after the fruit is ripe
as a certain omen of death—a belief embodied in the following
"A bloom upon the apple-tree when the apples are ripe,
Is a sure termination to somebody's life."
And once more, according to an old Sussex adage—
"Fruit out of season
Sounds out of reason."
On the other hand, to dream of fruit or any sort of crop during its
proper season is still an indication of good luck. Thus it is lucky
to dream of daisies in spring-time or summer, but just the reverse in
autumn or winter. Without enumerating further instances of this kind, we
may quote the subjoined rhyme relating to the onion, as a specimen of
many similar ones scattered here and there in various countries:
"To dream of eating onions means
Much strife in thy domestic scenes,
Secrets found out or else betrayed,
And many falsehoods made and said."
Many plants in dream-lore have more than one meaning attached to them.
Thus from the, "Royal Dream Book" we learn that yellow flowers "predict
love mixed with jealousy, and that you will have more children to
maintain than what justly belong to you." To dream of garlic indicates
the discovery of hidden treasures, but the approach of some domestic
Cherries, again, indicate inconstancy; but one would scarcely expect to
find the thistle regarded as lucky; for, according to an old piece of
folk-lore, to dream of being surrounded by this plant is a propitious
sign, foretelling that the person will before long have some pleasing
intelligence. In the same way a similar meaning in dream-lore attaches
to the thorn.
According to old dream-books, the dreaming of yew indicates the death of
an aged person, who will leave considerable wealth behind him; while the
violet is said to devote advancement in life. Similarly, too, the vine
foretells prosperity, "for which," says a dream interpreter, "we have
the example of Astyages, king of the Medes, who dreamed that his
daughter brought forth a vine, which was a prognostic of the grandeur,
riches, and felicity of the great Cyrus, who was born of her after this
Plucking ears of corn signifies the existence of secret enemies, and Mr.
Folkard quotes an old authority which tells us that the juniper is
potent in dreams. Thus, "it is unlucky to dream of the tree itself,
especially if the person be sick; but to dream of gathering the berries,
if it be in winter, denotes prosperity. To dream of the actual berries
signifies that the dreamer will shortly arrive at great honours and
become an important person. To the married it foretells the birth of a
Again, eating almonds signifies a journey, its success or otherwise
being denoted by their tasting sweet or the contrary. Dreaming of grass
is an auspicious omen, provided it be green and fresh; but if it be
withered and decayed, it is a sign of the approach of misfortune and
sickness, followed perhaps by death. Woe betide, too, the person who
dreams that he is cutting grass.
Certain plants produce dreams on particular occasions. The mugwort and
plantain have long been associated with Midsummer; and, according to
Thomas Hill in his "Natural and Artificial Conclusions," a rare coal is
to be found under these plants but one hour in the day, and one day in
the year. When Aubrey happened to be walking behind Montague House at
twelve o'clock on Midsummer day, he relates how he saw about twenty-two
young women, most of them well dressed, and apparently all very busy
weeding. On making inquiries, he was informed that they were looking for
a coal under the root of a plantain, to put beneath their heads that
night, when they would not fail to dream of their future husbands. But,
unfortunately for this credulity, as an old author long ago pointed out,
the coal is nothing but an old dead root, and that it may be found
almost any day and hour when sought for. By lovers the holly has long
been supposed to have mystic virtues as a dream-plant when used on the
eve of any of the following festivals:
New Year's Day,
According to the mode of procedure practised in the northern counties,
the anxious maiden, before retiring to rest, places three pails full of
water in her bedroom, and then pins to her night-dress three leaves of
green holly opposite to her heart, after which she goes to sleep.
Believing in the efficacy of the charm, she persuades herself that she
will be roused from her first slumber by three yells, as if from the
throats of three bears, succeeded by as many hoarse laughs. When these
have died away, the form of her future husband will appear, who will
show his attachment to her by changing the position of the water-pails,
whereas if he have no particular affection he will disappear without
even touching them.
Then, of course, from time immemorial all kinds of charms have been
observed on St. Valentine's Day to produce prophetic dreams. A popular
charm consisted of placing two bay leaves, after sprinkling them with
rose-water, across the pillow, repeating this formula:—
"Good Valentine, be kind to me,
In dream let me my true love see."
St. Luke's Day was in years gone by a season for love-divination, and
among some of the many directions given we may quote the subjoined,
which is somewhat elaborate:—
"Take marigold flowers, a sprig of marjoram,
thyme, and a little wormwood; dry them before a fire,
rub them to powder, then sift it through a fine piece of
lawn; simmer these with a small quantity of virgin
honey, in white vinegar, over a slow fire; with this
anoint your stomach, breasts, and lips, lying down, and
repeat these words thrice:—
'St Luke, St. Luke, be kind to me,
In dream let me my true love see!'
This said, hasten to sleep, and in the soft slumbers of night's repose,
the very man whom you shall marry shall appear before you."
Lastly, certain plants have been largely used by gipsies and
fortune-tellers for invoking dreams, and in many a country village these
are plucked and given to the anxious inquirer with various formulas.
1. "Primitive Culture," 1873, ii. 416, 417.
2. See Dorman's "Primitive Superstition," p. 68.
3. Thorpe's "Northern Mythology," 1851, ii. 108.
4. "Primitive Superstitions," p. 67.
5. "Plant-lore Legends and Lyrics," p. 265.
6. Quoted in Brand's "Popular Antiquities," 1849, iii. 135.
7. See Friend's "Flower-Lore," i. 207.
8. Folkard's "Plant-lore Legends and Lyrics," p. 477.