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The Folk-lore of Plants   By: (1848-)

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THE FOLK LORE OF PLANTS

BY

T.F. THISELTON DYER

1889

PREFACE.

Apart from botanical science, there is perhaps no subject of inquiry connected with plants of wider interest than that suggested by the study of folk lore. This field of research has been largely worked of late years, and has obtained considerable popularity in this country, and on the Continent.

Much has already been written on the folk lore of plants, a fact which has induced me to give, in the present volume, a brief systematic summary with a few illustrations in each case of the many branches into which the subject naturally subdivides itself. It is hoped, therefore, that this little work will serve as a useful handbook for those desirous of gaining some information, in a brief concise form, of the folk lore which, in one form or another, has clustered round the vegetable kingdom.

T.F. THISELTON DYER.

November 19, 1888.

CONTENTS.

I. PLANT LIFE

II. PRIMITIVE AND SAVAGE NOTIONS RESPECTING PLANTS

III. PLANT WORSHIP

IV. LIGHTNING PLANTS

V. PLANTS IN WITCHCRAFT

VI. PLANTS IN DEMONOLOGY

VII. PLANTS IN FAIRY LORE

VIII. LOVE CHARMS

IX. DREAM PLANTS

X. PLANTS AND THE WEATHER

XI. PLANT PROVERBS

XII. PLANTS AND THEIR CEREMONIAL USE

XIII. PLANT NAMES

XIV. PLANT LANGUAGE

XV. FABULOUS PLANTS

XVI. DOCTRINE OF SIGNATURES

XVII. PLANTS AND THE CALENDAR

XVIII. CHILDREN'S RHYMES AND GAMES

XIX. SACRED PLANTS

XX. PLANT SUPERSTITIONS

XXI. PLANTS IN FOLK MEDICINE

XXII. PLANTS AND THEIR LEGENDARY HISTORY

XXIII. MYSTIC PLANTS

CHAPTER I.

PLANT LIFE.

The fact that plants, in common with man and the lower animals, possess the phenomena of life and death, naturally suggested in primitive times the notion of their having a similar kind of existence. In both cases there is a gradual development which is only reached by certain progressive stages of growth, a circumstance which was not without its practical lessons to the early naturalist. This similarity, too, was held all the more striking when it was observed how the life of plants, like that of the higher organisms, was subject to disease, accident, and other hostile influences, and so liable at any moment to be cut off by an untimely end.[1] On this account a personality was ascribed to the products of the vegetable kingdom, survivals of which are still of frequent occurrence at the present day. It was partly this conception which invested trees with that mystic or sacred character whereby they were regarded with a superstitious fear which found expression in sundry acts of sacrifice and worship. According to Mr. Tylor,[2] there is reason to believe that, "the doctrine of the spirits of plants lay deep in the intellectual history of South east Asia, but was in great measure superseded under Buddhist influence. The Buddhist books show that in the early days of their religion it was matter of controversy whether trees had souls, and therefore whether they might lawfully be injured. Orthodox Buddhism decided against the tree souls, and consequently against the scruple to harm them, declaring trees to have no mind nor sentient principle, though admitting that certain dewas or spirits do reside in the body of trees, and speak from within them." Anyhow, the notion of its being wrong to injure or mutilate a tree for fear of putting it to unnecessary pain was a widespread belief. Thus, the Ojibways imagined that trees had souls, and seldom cut them down, thinking that if they did so they would hear "the wailing of the trees when they suffered in this way."[3] In Sumatra[4] certain trees have special honours paid to them as being the embodiment of the spirits of the woods, and the Fijians[5] believe that "if an animal or a plant die, its soul immediately goes to Bolotoo." The Dayaks of Borneo[6] assert that rice has a living principle or spirit, and hold feasts to retain its soul lest the crops should decay. And the Karens affirm,[7] too, that plants as well as men and animals have their "la" or spirit. The Iroquois acknowledge the existence of spirits in trees and plants, and say that the spirit of corn, the spirit of beans, and the spirit of squashes are supposed to have the forms of three beautiful maidens... Continue reading book >>




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