Notes from the Apothecary: Tulips
As the earth in the Northern Hemisphere warms between the Spring Equinox and Beltane, we can look forward to seeing the world painted with the vivid colours of the spring flowers. It’s hard for me to pick a favourite as I love so many, but tulips are definitely close to my heart. I grew black ones when I was in my goth phase. I’ve had deep, blood coloured ones, and scarlet ones winking red-eyed at the sky. I’ve had yellow ones vying with the daffodils for the brightest frock contest. They are glossy, bold and brash… and I love them.
The Kitchen Garden
Tulips aren’t edible, please don’t eat them, thank you! There are places on the internet (dark, horrible places) that tell you it’s OK to eat tulips, particularly the bulbs (the onion-like part under the soil). It is not. They can kill you. They are particularly toxic to livestock and pets, so please be aware, especially if you have a dog that likes to dig your flower beds up and chew on things. There are some recipes from during the Second World War, which indicate that in desperation (food was heavily rationed in many places), tulips were experimented with for cooking. The key was, you had to cut out particular parts of the bulb. This sounds like risky business to me, so my advice is don’t bother. According to Henrie A. van der Zee of Holland, “Almost everybody tried it out and nobody liked them,” which tells you all you need to know.
For a witch, the kitchen isn’t just about food, of course. Tulips can add a splash of colour, either just outside the kitchen door in pots or borders, or in vases in the kitchen, if you have access to cut flowers. Tulips can be great for colour magic, as they come in such a diverse range of hues, so find your favourite colour and exploit the glossy brilliance of these flowers to perk up the heart of your home.
The Witch’s Garden
At their most obvious, tulips are a harbinger of true spring. They tell us we are past the delicate yet hardy snowdrops of Imbolc, and not yet at the turning of the May Blossom, yet warmer weather and sunnier days are on the way. They represent the ever-turning wheel and the points in between the major festivals. As a bulb, they also represent returning life, and hidden life in the winter months.
In different cultures, the tulip has had very different meanings, so context is everything. In the Netherlands, the tulip represents the brevity of life, as it flowers and dies in a relatively short period of time. In contrast, in Turkish culture, the tulip represents paradise on earth, possibly due to its otherworldly beauty. In either case, it’s worth remembering that even after the beauty has died away and the flowers have returned to the earth, the plant lives on in the bulb beneath the earth. This is an important lesson that physical beauty is transient, but substance remains. It could also be indicative that beauty is subjective; in the eye of the beholder.
Tulips in Eastern culture are also associated with wealth and abundance, so could be used in money magic. Prosperity is also indicated, which may not just mean wealth but health and happiness too.
In Turkish mythology, the tulip was formed from the blood of ill-fated lovers who sadly killed themselves, each believing the other to be dead. The tulip is their love made everlasting, and as such has been an ingredient in love spells. Also in Turkey, the tulip is also used as a charm against evil, indicating protective properties.
Colour magic was already mentioned, as tulips come in a huge variety of colours. If you want some petals to boost your colour magic, you can plant or buy a variety of tulips, as they range from almost black to white and pretty much everything in between. The petals are strong and glossy, so have a vivid visual impact when used in spell working or as part of a ritual. Here’s a few colours correspondences and appropriate tulips to use
Red: Love, passion, fire, the cardinal direction of south, warnings, blood, family. In Celtic witchcraft red is one of the colours of the Morrígan, and heavily associated with sorcery, prophecy, life and death and making a connection to the supernatural or Aos Sí. Grow tulipa linifolia for red flowers with just a touch of black at the base.
White: Purity, fertility, death, angels, air, the cardinal direction of east, creativity, inspiration, cleansing. In Celtic witchcraft white is often seen as an indication of magical prowess and is associated with druids, and also magical symbols such as mistletoe. It may indicate a particular power with words, and is also the colour of other-worldly creatures, such as the Cú Sí in Irish mythology, or Rhiannon’s horse in the Welsh tales. Grow tulipa biflora for white, star-shaped flowers with a touch of yellow and grey.
Black: Fertility, mystery, the new moon, scrying, the unknown, meditation, banishing, protection. In Celtic witchcraft black is the colour of boundaries, the liminal, and the separation between this world and the world of the fae. It is liminality, and the point upon which the world changes. It is earthly magic, and speaks of physical power and transformation. Although there are no truly black tulips, there is a variety called ‘Paul Scherer’ which is such a deep maroon, it is almost black.
Home and Hearth
Between the spring equinox and Beltane, have tulip flowers in a vase in a prominent place in your home to encourage happiness, prosperity and positivity to wash throughout your abode. If placed at your front door/emagazine entrance they will prevent evil passing over the threshold into your home.
I Never Knew…
There’s an English tale about a man convicted of stealing tulip bulbs. His defense was that he thought they were onions, and couldn’t understand why they tasted so bad! Needless to say, he was convicted and forced to pay for the dubious ‘onions’.
About the Author:
Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist.
She is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals: Celtic Witchcraft.
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