O Solitude! If I must with thee dwell,
Let it not be among the jumbled heap
Of murky buildings; – climb with me the steep,
Nature’s Observatory – whence the dell,
Its flowery slopes – its rivers crystal swell,
May seem a span: let me thy vigils keep
‘Mongst boughs pavilioned; where the Deer’s swift leap
Startles the wild Bee from the Fox-glove bell.
— John Keats
From Beltane to Midsummer, the Faery Kingdom celebrates the intense, growing delight of Spring. With the blessings and protection of Thalia, we will examine some of the traditional relationships between the Faery realms and flowers.
As I discussed yesterday, foxglove is well known to be associated with the Faery realms. This can certainly be seen in the many folk names given to it, include Faery Thimbles, Faery Glove, Little Folks’ Glove, Faery Fingers, Faery Petticoats, Faery’s Cap, and Faery Weed. Other names include Dead Men’s Bells, Dog’s Fingers, Lion’s Mouth and Witches’ Bells.
Traditional explanations of the name “foxglove” indicate that it is a reference to “folks’ glove,” meaning the Fair Folk, and has little to do with foxes. But the wonderful Living In Season website of Waverly FitzGerald points to “a story that the fairies gave foxgloves to foxes so that they could wear them on their feet and slip into henhouses more quietly.” Further evidence of the inclusion of foxes in the story can be found from the fact that the common name in Norwegian is Revbield, or foxbell.
In addition, Waverly tells us, the German name is fingerhut which means “thimble.” This is why Leonhart Fuchs (1501-1566), the famed German herbalist, gave it the Latin name of digitalis, referring to our digits – our fingers.
As I admonished yesterday, foxgloves, while beautiful, are deadly when ingested, and should be handled with care. However, they can be used for dyeing, producing a chartreuse color when used with alum.
Also of course, they are favorites of the Fae, and in your garden they are an invitation to the Shining Folk to be welcome. This makes foxgloves powerful guardians of the home. Remember, you should not ingest them, nor burn them, but foxglove on your altar during ritual is a lovely and magical way to invoke the aid of the Good Folk.
But perhaps you might want to make sure your altar is outdoors. The Irish believe that foxgloves in the house are unlucky. And they should never be taken aboard a ship.
Foxgloves are said to offer magic that will expose lying and deceit, even sometimes forcing honesty. Foxglove is also helpful in spells that call for protection or increasing psychic awareness. Their presence during scrying or other divination work will amplify your ability to see that which is otherwise hidden. And they are said to be especially sacred to Brighid, Morrigan and the Dagda.
Foxgloves are their most powerful when gathered during the Full Moon, which is coming up this Monday. But beware. In some folklore traditions, picking the wrong foxgloves will offend the faeries that live within and can bring disastrous bad luck, even death, to the picker and her or his family. So be absolutely sure you’ve received permission before cutting, and do not fail to leave an offering in return.
Tomorrow, I’ll share some more about these flowers beloved by the Fair Ones, as well as some general suggestions as to how best to leave offerings, should you wish to do so.