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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/852

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

visible, and to turn the swords of foes against themselves.[1] The Swiss peasants affirm that the Ascension-Day wreaths of the amaranth make the wearer invisible, and in the Tyrol the mistletoe is credited with this property.

But some plants, as we have already pointed out, were credited with the magic property of revealing the presence of witches, and of exposing them engaged in the pursuit of plying their nefarious calling. In this respect the St. John's wort was in great request, and hence it was extensively worn as an amulet, especially in Germany on St. John's Eve, a time when not only witches by common report peopled the air, but evil spirits wandered about on no friendly errand. Thus the Italian name of "devil-chaser," from the circumstance of its scaring away the workers of darkness, by bringing their hidden deeds to light. This, moreover, accounts for the custom so prevalent in most European countries of decorating doorways and windows with its blossoms on St. John's Eve.

But, in spite of plants of this kind, witches somehow or other contrived to escape detection by the employment of the most subtle charms and spells. They generally, too, took the precaution of avoiding such plants as were antagonistic to them, displaying a cunning ingenuity in most of their designs which it was by no means easy to forestall. Hence in the composition of their philters and potions they infused the juices of the most deadly herbs, such as that of the nightshade or monk's-hood; and to add to the potency of these baleful draughts they considered it necessary to add as many as seven or nine of the most poisonous plants they could obtain, such, for instance, as those enumerated by one of the witches in Ben Jonson's "Masque of Queens" who says:

"And I ha' been plucking plants among
Hemlock, henbane, adder's tongue;
Nightshade, moonwort, libbard's bane,
And twice, by the dogs, was like to be ta'en,"

Another plant used by witches in their incantations was the sea or horned poppy, known in mediæval times as Ficus infernalis; hence it is further noticed by Ben Jonson in the "Witches' Song":

"Yes, I have brought to help our vows,
Horned poppy, cypress-boughs,
The fig-tree wild that grows on tombs.
And juice that from the larch-tree comes."

Then, of course, there was the wondrous moonwort (Botrychium lunaria), which was doubly valuable from its mystic virtue, for,

  1. See Fiske, "Myths and Mythmakers," p. 44; also Baring-Gould's "Curious Myths of the Middle Age?," 1877, p. 398.