hist-games: Gleadow and flowers

Diane O'Donovan diane_o_donovan at hotmail.com
Fri Apr 18 08:06:49 PDT 2003

I am not sure whether your interest is solely in the use of floral virtues  
to inform 'oracles' in card-packs, or whether it is the broader question of 
how such assignments came about which interests you: if the former, then the 
following will probably be of less relevance.

Gleadow in his Origins of the Zodiac cited the following connections as 
having been traditional for the Greeks, in their medicinal practice. I don't 
know, of course, what your oracular packs depict. Being not particularly 
interested in astrology, I did not follow the matter further.

Aries - Sage and water milfoil
Taurus - Vervain and clover
Gemini - holy vervain (v.supina) and wild gladiolus
Cancer - Comfrey and mandrake (mandragora officinalis)
Leo - cyclamen graecum
Virgo - calaminth
Libra - Scorpion tail and needleplant
Scorpio - Artemesia, houndstongue (cynoglossum)
Sagittarius - Pimpernel
Capricorn - Sorrel and hypericum hircinum, which smells of goat
Aquarius - Edderwort; fennel and buttercup
Pisces - Birthwort

Saturn - Asphodel, white heliotrope, houseleek and frothy poppy
Jupiter - Agrimony, chrysacanthus
Mars - Lambstongue, butterburr and hog's fennel
Sun - sunspurge, chicory
Venus - Vervain, white rose (r.sempervirens), man orchis
Mercury - mullein, cinquefoil
Moon - Paeony; helium

But as usual, the character of those constellations and planets was 
conferred  on their associated plants, and vice versa.

Gleadow naturally credits his information, which was taken from:

S.C. Atchley, Wild Flowers of Attica, Oxford University Press, 1938.

The majority of the virtues for each flower in these 'oracles' seem to me to 
have been derived from Biblical allusions, classical medicine, folk beliefs 
and from an understanding that the majority also have (and had) medicinal 

On this last, Culpepper is not so trustworthy. I found best and most 
thorough (at least in the English corpus) the book which served from the 
30's to the period of antibiotics' invention as the English-speaking 
pharmacist's standard text:

Grieve, Mrs. M., A Modern Herbal.

My copy is a reprint, issued by Jonathan Cape (1974). It is exceptionally 
useful, for in addition to thorough horticultural and pharmacutical 
information it provides details of the common, literary and folk names for 
each plant, and for the various beliefs about each.

Vervain, to take a random example, has its historical associations with the 
'bonded groups and societies' explained.


Diane O'Donovan

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