Today is the day when daffodils bloom,
Which children pick to fill the room,
Today is the day when grasses green,
When leaves burst forth for spring to be seen.
— Robert McCracken, Spring
Yesterday, I wrote about the myth of Narcissus, which is how these Spring flowers became connected with narcissism, a personality disorder that we associate with extreme self-absorption and vanity. The word narcissus comes from the ancient Greek root word, “narke,” which is the word for deep sleep, stupor or numbness.
Narke is also the root of the word “narcotic.” This may be a reference to the crystalline alkaloid poison lycorine, that is contained primarily in the bulb, but is also in the leaves.
The word “daffodil” didn’t come into the English language until the 1500s. The old name for daffodil was affodyle, or affodell, possibly from the Old English “Affo dyle,” meaning “that which cometh early.” The prefix, “de” was probably added from the Dutch language article “de,” as in “De affodil.”
Daffodils have many magical and mythical associations. It was in asphodel-covered meadows that Homer tells us the souls of the dead wandered.
In fact, according to some legends, Hades Himself created the daffodil, in order to entice Persephone to pick them, and stray from Her companions. Once She was alone, He captured Her and took Her away to live with Him in the Underworld.
In the land of the dead, Persephone wears a crown of daffodils, and every Spring as She returns to us from there, heralding the end of Winter, it is Her crown of bright daffodils that we see first.
Daffodils are also imbued with many magical powers. For instance, medieval Arabian tribes knew that a bouquet of daffodils was a sure-fire aphrodisiac. Its juice was also sometimes used to treat baldness, but this was probably not much fun, as “daffodil itch” is one of the most common dermatitis problems for florists, and involves dryness, fissures, scaling, and erythema in the hands.
Chinese lore says that the daffodil flower brings good luck for the next twelve months if forced to bloom during the New Year celebrations.
But the magic of the daffodil is complex, and tomorrow I’ll share some of the cautionary aspects of it.