Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Sorcerer's Violet


Or Joy of the Ground.
Or fiore di morte - flower of death.
Periwinkle, Vinca minor.

Mentioned by Pliny, Discordes and Galen.

Described in Chaucer's time:
Parvenke is an erbe grene of colour
In tyme of May he beryth blo flour...

Used in love philters as a potent aphrodisiac (likely because of its putative binding properties) the Boke of Albertus Magnus claims: Perwinke when it is beate unto poudre with worms of ye earth wrapped about it and with an erbe called houslyke, it induceth love between man and wyfe if it bee used in their meales.
Um...angle worms?...yuck.
A simple touch in a historical romance of desperate housewives, though.

Herbals claim garlands were made of it for dead infants in Italy and so it is called there Death's Flower.

Simon Frazer on his way to be executed was crowned in mockery with Periwinkle when he passed through the street of London in 1305.

In North America, Perwinkle has proliferated as a non-native garden escape.

I have occasionally lamented how the natural world has receeded to a Shakespearean stage direction - to wit: a forest glade - in some contemporary settings.

Small specifics may vitalize a setting, add atmosphere, promote a plot. To me, just the old name Sorcerer's Violet is evocative.

Can you imagine a character opening his/her front door to find a wreath on the stoop? Picks it up and says in confusion "What's this?" - and another character says "fiore di morte." "Huh?" "Flowers of death" - and the chapter ends.

29 comments:

Steve G said...

Sounds like a Hercule Poirot mystery.

LadyBronco said...

That would be a great ending to a book as well, I think.

Bernita said...

I suppose it does have that air of the "secret clue," Steve.

I suppose, Lady B.
It's just an example of how anything with associated history/lore can be used to enhance.

Sonya said...

A lovely name for a flower. Both of them. :-) I agree that the contemporary emphasis on "bare minimum" has left a lot of prose lacking. When you are forced to cut out the "flowery" stuff, does that mean one must literally lose the flowers?

Literary works are permitted lush description. I maintain that description beyond "a forest glen" really does work wonderfully in commercial fiction, when used skillfully -- that is to say, when things are described using the viewpoint character's knowledge.

So, if your character is a botanist, avid or amateur gardener, history buff, or funeral home employee, for example, he or she might observe these flowers for what they are.

And if your character is a mechanic, airline pilot, child, or severely allergic to nature, he or she might describe them as "purple flowers" or "ugh, greenery *ah-choo!*" or "tiny blossoms of lavender nestled in a sea of deep green, a heartbeat of splendor clinging to life" (in the case of, say, a poetic pilot who misses nature while he spends his life airborne).

I'm rambling. Sorry. :-)

Bernita said...

Lovely comment, Sonya. Thank you.
However, I don't think that one's knowledge must be predicated by one's occupation, that it limits a character's observations, except superficially.
And that's one of the problems with basic genre writing - stereotyping - an expectation of limitation, of ignorance.
Everyone has odd bits of trivia tucked away.
Do we really need to construct a backstory explanation for everything a character might know?

Jeannie said...

It's also called Myrtle - which I'm wondering now if that comes from mortal..muerte...morte...death - kinda makes you wonder why anyone would ever name their daughter Myrtle doesn't it?

Bernita said...

I don't think the etymology of the word "myrtle" has any particular death associations, Jeannie,
The Latin root is myrtus.
The "flowers of death" title for the periwinkle were a result of its evergreen habit (of practical value in funeral arrangements)- an association, therefore, with the hope of immortality.
Girls were called Myrtle because the plant was dedicated to Venus(love, in the Language of Flowers)) and also because it is fragrant.

writtenwyrdd said...

Brother Cadfael (sp?) was an herbalist, and that BBC series had some great old herb names in it. I wish it were back on the air.

Fiore de morte is a cool sounding name, but then Italian is like that.

But when I read the name Sorcerer's violet, I had this image of a Harry Dresden conversation with his skull, Bob:

"Give me the recipie for a love philter, Bob."

"A big hand of sorcerer's violets and some beer."

"What's a sorcerer's violet?"

"Periwinkle, you ninny. Haven't you learned anything in all these years?"

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I really like the "death wreath". It evokes a sort of beauty in death, and it's not like it's for the mourners. If you put a wreath on the deceased, it feels more as if the flowers are for them.

I learn something every day I come here. :)

Jaye Wells said...

That Chaucer needed some spell check. Sheesh.

Love that idea for a chapter cliffhanger. Is this info from a specific book or an accumulation of knowledge? I'd love something that lists historical references and uses for herbs.

Bernita said...

I love the Brother Cadfael books, Written.
The herbology is in keeping and never intrudes beyond what is necessary.I can think, offthand, of only once they become a central cause of murder by poison.

More of a loving gesture, isn't it?
Thank you, SS.
In spite of my predeliction for fragments, I hope.

Bits and pieces from my collection of herbals, Jaye. This time mostly from "Old-fashioned Herbal Remedies" ( W.T. Fernie, M.D., Coles Publishing, 1980) and "Herbal Handbook" (Dawn McCleod, Wiltshire Book Company, 1972 edition) - well indexed.
These are two of my favourites because of the quotes from older herbalists.
I'd be happy to look up a specific herb for you, btw.

Jaye Wells said...

Thanks, Bernita. I'm afraid I'd need more of a reverse reference. My knowledge of herbs is very shallow. I'd need more of a "for this use you need this herb" thing. Thank you for the recommendations and the offer.

Bernita said...

That's why I mentioned that one is well-indexed - burns/scalds, wounds, to heal, etc.

spyscribbler said...

I'm so glad I read your blog every day. It's like a daily reminder of everything I forget to pay attention to!

And that would make a great chapter ending!

Erik Ivan James said...

Yeah. Doesn't Bernita confirm every day how glad we are that she is here?

Bernita said...

Thank you, Natasha. The world is not made entirely of concrete and plastic.

Nice of you to say, Erik. Thank you.

raine said...

Can you imagine a character opening his/her front door to find a wreath on the stoop? Picks it up and says in confusion "What's this?" - and another character says "fiore di morte." "Huh?" "Flowers of death" - and the chapter ends.

Yes! :-)

Bernita said...

Raine, I'd probably rip the pages to get to the next chapter!
On the other hand, I've often thought that poison ivy is a grossly under used bio-hazard in outdoor settings...

December/Stacia said...

Oooh, great chapter ending!

I had periwinkle in my garden in Florida--it grew out of control, despite my having been told it was too hot there for it to flourish.

Bernita said...

Great ground cover for awkward places, December, but one has to be rutheless otherwise.

Scott from Oregon said...

It looks like what we call Vinca vine around here. I brought shovel fulls of it from the side of the road home. It stays green and has beautiful purple flowers.

You have to beat it back with a lawn mower, though.

Bernita said...

Probably is periwinkle, Scott.
I find the regional name variants very interesting.

writtenwyrdd said...

We call it vinca in my neck of the woods, too.

Bernita said...

Seems people are more precise these days,Written.

Scott from Oregon said...

It's actually one of my all time favorite plants, as it does exactly what I ask it to. It fills in spots with lots of green and puts out flowers for most of the year in a color that I find extremely pleasant to look at.

I can move it around like hair transplants once I have some growing in the yard.

I'll have to try and learn more about it...

Charles Gramlich said...

Yes, "sorcerer's violet" is a perfectly lovely name. sounds like a great title for a poem.

Seeley deBorn said...

I'm starting to wonder why a former co-worker suggested it for my garden...

Bernita said...

Requires no care - except for containment - Scott and tends to choke out weeds too.

It do, indeed, Charles.

Person was probably not aware of the funereal association, Seeley.

Poetry said...
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