Belladonna

Description

Popularly known as Deadly Nightshade (Mătrăgună), Belladonna, Good Lady, Lady Goodnight, Great Lady, Lady of the Woods, Woodland Flower, Woodland Herb, Empress of Weeds, and more, Atropa Belladonna, a plant from the Solanaceae family, is a perennial herb that primarily grows in thickets and forest clearings. It is a toxic plant from which atropine is extracted and used in ophthalmology to dilate the pupil. In folklore, Belladonna is a plant associated with enchantments and is one of the primary herbs used in magical rituals. It is perceived in a multifaceted manner, with both positive and negative connotations, depending on the way it is integrated into the ritual scenarios and contexts. 

It is used for marriages, to attract or repel lovers, by innkeepers, and for various physical and psychological ailments. It is believed to counteract the influence of supernatural beings like fairies and is considered a bringer of wealth and prosperity. Like a great goddess, offerings are made to Belladonna, and magical incantations are recited in her presence.

In the ethnobotanical studies by Simion Florea Marian, it is noted that Belladonna can come in various forms. In Bucovina, it is said to have two forms: one with black flowers, growing in dark and humid mountain areas, and one with white flowers found in arid, sun-baked regions where nothing harmful can thrive. In Maramureș, in the region of Marmația, Romanians believe there are three types of Belladonna: one with yellow flowers (the love Belladonna), one with brown flowers (the Belladonna of madness), and a third one called “cattle Belladonna” with a red-yellow flower in the center.

As a result, Atropa belladonna could sometimes be replaced with other plants, such as White Bryony (Bryonia alba), Small Belladonna (Scopolia carniolica), Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), Jimson Weed (Datura stramonium), and various other species that people generically referred to as Mătrăgună in the context of rituals. Mircea Eliade also pointed out that a similar phenomenon existed outside Romania, where Mandrake must have been the common name for various narcotic plants. This seems to be a fairly common linguistic phenomenon. (Andrei Oișteanu, Narcotice în cultura romînă: istorie, religie și literatură, p. 29)

This practice of substituting one plant or species with another while borrowing the same magical name, for example, “Empress” or the same magical properties, is also found in other magical rituals. During the celebration of Drăgaică the plant used is often Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum). However, depending on the geographical region, they can sometimes be substituted with Melilotus officinalis (in Prahova County, Starchiojd commune), or other plants that grow naturally in a specific geographic area

The use of Belladonna in magical rituals adheres to a strict set of rules, with slight variations depending on the regions of the country or ethnic specifics. The scenario follows a set of conditions and prescriptions regarding time, space, gestures, and behaviours. Belladonna, especially when used in love spells, is typically harvested by women, as they are the main keepers of the ritual scenario, including both young women and older single women. Men may also go to harvest it, but usually for fame, appreciation, or gaining a prominent status in the community. In cases of illness, men may go, but they are always accompanied by a female healer.

The harvesting time is in April and May, before Pentecost, because Belladonna counteracts their malevolent effects. (Source: Germina Comănici, Ramura verde în spiritualitatea românească)

When harvesting Belladonna for love purposes, it must be done joyfully. However, if it is for harmful intentions, it should be harvested during the winter or on gloomy, rainy days.

One must go to Belladonna before daybreak, and the ritual must always take place before sunrise.

Clean clothing and a clean body are essential, and nudity is one of the conditions for the ritual’s effectiveness.

When visiting Belladonna, you go on one path, but when returning home, you must come back on a different one, secretly. Be cautious not to encounter anyone on your path, do not speak to anyone, as any interaction with others can shatter the entire magic, and some may even temporarily or permanently lose their minds.

The person who harvests the plant must bring a gift to Belladonna because the magical powers must be redeemed. Offerings typically include bread and salt, flour, cakes or porridge, honey, sugar, and one may bring brandy or wine. The sick may bring water. These offerings must always be accompanied by specific verbal formulas.

After the plant is unearthed, in its place, you leave bread and salt, porridge, sugar, honey, and wine – “I give you honey, bread, salt, you give me your holy remedy.”

Belladonna is placed in the attic or on the house’s eaves, above the highest beam, in the hem of clothing, under a pillow, one may bathe in it, plant it facing the southern window, put it in a vessel in the cellar, or position it near an icon.

Belladonna for Love and Marriage 

A young woman who wants to be loved and married goes to the Belladonna on a Wednesday or Friday, before daybreak. She goes prepared, dressed in her best and cleanest clothes, and brings with her a tablecloth, a bottle of strong spirits, a glass, bread, and salt.

Once at the Belladonna, she circumambulates it nine times, while reciting: 

“Belladonna, good fruit! 

Marry me this month, 

And if not this month, then the next, 

For it’s been long since I’ve been a maiden.”

Near the Belladonna’s stem, she spreads the tablecloth and places the offerings on it. She fills the glass with spirits and honors the plant, saying: 

“Belladonna, Good Fruit! 

I honor you with respect, 

With love and with bread, 

May fortune come to me (…) 

(as collected by Simion Florea Marian, Botanica poporană română Vol. II)

After finishing the recitation, the young woman refills the glass, sprinkles the plant, and scatters a piece of bread around it. She takes the remaining bread and spirits with her, places the bottle of spirits on her head, and returns home, whistling and repeating the same words she spoke in front of the Belladonna. She repeats this scenario on Wednesdays and Fridays. On Friday, after scattering the bread, she removes the plant from the ground, places it on the tablecloth, and takes it home. Here, she puts it under her pillow and keeps it there until nightfall. Then, she puts it in water and bathes with it. On Saturday, before sunrise, she returns the Belladonna to where she took it and leaves it there. On her way back, she takes a different path and doesn’t look back.

In some cases, instead of a young girl, an older, widowed woman may go, bringing the Belladonna at dawn on the day of Ascension Day and planting it in the yard of a young, unmarried girl, if possible, in front of the southern window. In the place of the Belladonna, she leaves gifts – wine, bread, and honey. Before the girl engages in the ritual, the Belladonna’s seeds should be anointed with milk and honey.

In some areas, the girl may go to the Belladonna accompanied by her closest friends, young girls, whether single or recently married. The girl mixes wheat flour with sugar and honey, makes a small bread from them, and, before baking it, places it to rise between her breasts, saying: 

“As the breasts hold together, 

So shall it bind me and my destined one, 

Given to me by God.” (as collected by Simion Florea Marian, Botanica poporană română Vol II )

At the dawn of a Thursday or Saturday, the girl goes to the Belladonna accompanied by her friends. The bread, salt, and the glass with spirits will be placed at the base of the plant, near the root. The girls circumambulate the plant three times and whistle. The girl dedicates each round to her friends, but addresses the plant by the name of her intended. Finally, she dedicates the last round to the Belladonna, sprinkles it with spirits, and the girls drink brandy, whistle, and become infatuated. The plant is removed from the ground and taken home. In its place, the bread and salt are left. On their way back, the girls celebrate, dance, and recite the words mentioned earlier. If anyone sees them, the girls may temporarily lose their minds.

Even young men may go to the Belladonna when they want to be loved, but more often when they desire to be noticed and respected in their community. They go to the Belladonna also before sunrise, always on days associated with Venus. In Bucovina, the white Belladonna must be anointed with the wine and jam brought as an offering and dressed in the young man’s clean shirt. The young man circumambulates the plant while holding a beech branch and recites:

 “Belladonna, Good Lady!

 I reckon with you 

With bread and salt, 

With jam and wine, 

And with the best in the world, 

And you shall make me 

Stronger and more worthy, 

More beautiful and joyful, 

Than I am now, 

Before everyone.” (as collected by Simion Florea Marian, Botanica poporană română Vol. II)

The young man digs up the Belladonna and leaves the bread and salt in its place. He takes the Belladonna, dressed in the shirt, places it on his head, and returns home without anyone noticing. At home, the Belladonna is placed in a vessel with untouched water, in which he will later bathe. The Belladonna is then placed by the icon or above the beam.

Belladonna for Fete

In Transylvania, Belladonna used for fete (parties) is replanted in a pot in the cellar. When a girl wants to ensure that she will have a good time and be invited to festivities, to dance, she offers the Belladonna salt, honey, bread, a string of beads, and seven hollow reeds filled with wine. These offerings are placed near the Belladonna pot. On a Sunday, when she is alone at home, the girl takes the plant out of its hiding place and dances around it, laughing and chanting, just as she would during festivities.

Belladonna was also beneficial for pub innkeepers who often called upon it. For this purpose, they would send a woman who knew the ritual. This woman took a sample of the inn’s wine, bread, salt, and a coin. She would go prepared to the Belladonna, encircle it three times with all these offerings, and then dig it up. Once back with the plant, she would hide it under the wine barrel. Others would place it on top of the barrel, but some even threw it directly into the wine. Those who entered the pub would not leave until they finished all the wine and emptied their coin purses. Sometimes pubkeepers would also chant or perform incantations over it, placing it in the wine barrels. “In the Apuseni Mountains area,” Gheorghe Pavelescu noted, “pubkeepers are accustomed to placing a piece of Belladonna in the wine barrel(…) because then the person who drinks does not leave until they’ve spent all their money.” (Andrei Oișteanu, Narcotice în cultura romînă: istorie, religie și literatură  p. 27)

Belladonna for Healing 

Belladonna is used in chants to heal the sick. It is used against dizziness, headaches, fright, wandering spirits, stitches, pellagra, and colds. To treat a person with chilblains, a leaf that has been anointed with goose fat mixed with Belladonna is applied. Fumigations with Belladonna are performed to ward off evil winds. The sick person can go with the healer to plant but only after the Belladonna has produced fruit. They bring honey, water in a bucket, red thread, a silver coin, a round loaf of bread, and a clean shirt. The shirt is placed over the plant. A chant is recited, and the bucket of water is placed near the Belladonna. When the healer finishes the ritual, the sick person makes the sign of the cross. As night falls, the healer builds a fire and both lie down next to the plant. At dawn, the healer wakes up and performs another chant before sunrise, then pours the water from the bucket over the sick person, anoints them with honey, and dresses them in the shirt that has been resting over the Belladonna. Red thread with the coin is tied around the sick person’s neck.

In severe and seemingly hopeless cases, when the disease has nearly overcome the person, a belladonna tea is prepared. This tea will either heal the person or cause them to go mad. Immediately after drinking the tea, the person becomes insane. If after three days they do not recover, it means the person will die.

Belladonna to Ward Off Iele-fairies. In this case, the sick person should visit the Belladonna only on Monday or Wednesday, just before sunrise. They should wash their face and prepare offerings – salt and bread. Once at the Belladonna they make the sign of the cross, place the offerings near the root, and say: 

“Holy weed, 

Left by God, 

Marked by me, 

I honour you with bread and salt, 

To heal me, 

To gift me with remedies for all time.” 

(Collected by Simion Florea Marian, Botanica poporană română Vol. II)

Belladonna for Ugliness and Affliction 

Belladonna has an ambivalent nature, with the behaviours of individuals who come into direct contact with it being crucial in this regard. For its beneficial effects, the prescriptions outlined in the scenarios described above must be followed – bodily cleanliness, clean and well-kept clothing, gifts, kind words, and gentle gestures. However, for malevolent efficacy, the conditions are reversed, opposite to the prescriptions for love spells. The witchy old women from Gorj, for instance, go to it dirty, wearing old and worn-out clothes. Once there, they undress, utter curses, let their hair hang loose, make peculiar hand and head movements, move their eyes in all directions, and run wildly in one direction. They no longer address the plant as “Lady Belladonna” but directly as “Belladonna”

When treated this way, they dig up the plant, take its root, and put it in the food or drink of the person they want to harm. This can induce delirium, madness, or even death. Hence the saying, “It seems like you’ve eaten belladonna.”

Bibliography

  • Germina Comanici, Ramura verde în spiritualitatea populară, Editura Etnologică, București
  1. Simion Florea Marian, Botanica poporană română Volumul II/Ediție critică, introducere, repere bibliografice, indice Botanice, indice capitole publicate antum/postum, text stabilit, indice informatori și bibliografie de Aura Brădățean, Editura Academiei Romîne, Suceava 2010
    1. Andrei Oișteanu, Narcotice în cultura romînă: istorie, religie și literatură, ed. A 4-a rev., adăug. și il., Iași, Polirom, 2019
    2. Vasile Voiculescu, Cartea satului, Toate leacurile la îndemână, Ed.III-a, Fundația Culturală Regală „Principele Carol”. Institutul de arte Grafice „Luceafărul” S>A., București, 1938
  • https://gradinabotanica.umfst.ro/en/project/atropa-belladonna/

 

Description Popularly known as Deadly Nightshade (Mătrăgună), Belladonna, Good Lady, Lady Goodnight, Great Lady, Lady of the Woods, Woodland Flower, Woodland Herb, Empress of Weeds, and more, Atropa Belladonna, a plant from the Solanaceae family, is a perennial herb that primarily grows in thickets and forest clearings. It is a toxic plant from which atropine is extracted and used in ophthalmology to dilate the pupil. In folklore, Belladonna is a plant associated with enchantments and is one of the primary herbs used in magical rituals. It is perceived in a multifaceted manner, with both positive and negative connotations, depending on the way it is integrated into the ritual scenarios and contexts. It is used for marriages, to attract or repel lovers, by innkeepers, and for various physical and psychological ailments. It is believed to counteract the influence of supernatural beings like fairies and is considered a bringer of wealth and prosperity. Like a great goddess, offerings are made to Belladonna, and magical incantations are recited in her presence. In the ethnobotanical studies by Simion Florea Marian, it is noted that Belladonna can come in various forms. In Bucovina, it is said to have two forms: one with black flowers, growing in dark and humid mountain areas, and one with white flowers found in arid, sun-baked regions where nothing harmful can thrive. In Maramureș, in the region of Marmația, Romanians believe there are three types of Belladonna: one with yellow flowers (the love Belladonna), one with brown flowers (the Belladonna of madness), and a third one called “cattle Belladonna” with a red-yellow flower in the center. As a result, Atropa belladonna could sometimes be replaced with other plants, such as White Bryony (Bryonia alba), Small Belladonna (Scopolia carniolica), Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), Jimson Weed (Datura stramonium), and various other species that people generically referred to as Mătrăgună in the context of rituals. Mircea Eliade also pointed out that a similar phenomenon existed outside Romania, where Mandrake must have been the common name for various narcotic plants. This seems to be a fairly common linguistic phenomenon. (Andrei Oișteanu, Narcotice în cultura romînă: istorie, religie și literatură, p. 29) This practice of substituting one plant or species with another while borrowing the same magical name, for example, “Empress” or the same magical properties, is also found in other magical rituals. During the celebration of Drăgaică the plant used is often Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum). However, depending on the geographical region, they can sometimes be substituted with Melilotus officinalis (in Prahova County, Starchiojd commune), or other plants that grow naturally in a specific geographic area. The use of Belladonna in magical rituals adheres to a strict set of rules, with slight variations depending on the regions of the country or ethnic specifics. The scenario follows a set of conditions and prescriptions regarding time, space, gestures, and behaviours. Belladonna, especially when used in love spells, is typically harvested by women, as they are the main keepers of the ritual scenario, including both young women and older single women. Men may also go to harvest it, but usually for fame, appreciation, or gaining a prominent status in the community. In cases of illness, men may go, but they are always accompanied by a female healer. The harvesting time is in April and May, before Pentecost, because Belladonna counteracts their malevolent effects. (Source: Germina Comănici, Ramura verde în spiritualitatea românească) When harvesting Belladonna for love purposes, it must be done joyfully. However, if it is for harmful intentions, it should be harvested during the winter or on gloomy, rainy days. One must go to Belladonna before daybreak, and the ritual must always take place before sunrise. Clean clothing and a clean body are essential, and nudity is one of the conditions for the ritual’s effectiveness. When visiting Belladonna, you go on one path, but when returning home, you must come back on a different one, secretly. Be cautious not to encounter anyone on your path, do not speak to anyone, as any interaction with others can shatter the entire magic, and some may even temporarily or permanently lose their minds. The person who harvests the plant must bring a gift to Belladonna because the magical powers must be redeemed. Offerings typically include bread and salt, flour, cakes or porridge, honey, sugar, and one may bring brandy or wine. The sick may bring water. These offerings must always be accompanied by specific verbal formulas. After the plant is unearthed, in its place, you leave bread and salt, porridge, sugar, honey, and wine – “I give you honey, bread, salt, you give me your holy remedy.” Belladonna is placed in the attic or on the house’s eaves, above the highest beam, in the hem of clothing, under a pillow, one may bathe in it, plant it facing the southern window, put it in a vessel in the cellar, or position it near an icon. Belladonna for Love and Marriage A young woman who wants to be loved and married goes to the Belladonna on a Wednesday or Friday, before daybreak. She goes prepared, dressed in her best and cleanest clothes, and brings with her a tablecloth, a bottle of strong spirits, a glass, bread, and salt. Once at the Belladonna, she circumambulates it nine times, while reciting: “Belladonna, good fruit! Marry me this month, And if not this month, then the next, For it’s been long since I’ve been a maiden.” Near the Belladonna’s stem, she spreads the tablecloth and places the offerings on it. She fills the glass with spirits and honors the plant, saying: “Belladonna, Good Fruit! I honor you with respect, With love and with bread, May fortune come to me (…) (as collected by Simion Florea Marian, Botanica poporană română Vol. II) After finishing the recitation, the young woman refills the glass, sprinkles the plant, and scatters a piece of bread around it. She takes the remaining bread and spirits with her, places the bottle of spirits on her head, and returns home, whistling and repeating the same words she spoke in front of the Belladonna. She repeats this scenario on Wednesdays and Fridays. On Friday, after scattering the bread, she removes the plant from the ground, places it on the tablecloth, and takes it home. Here, she puts it under her pillow and keeps it there until nightfall. Then, she puts it in water and bathes with it. On Saturday, before sunrise, she returns the Belladonna to where she took it and leaves it there. On her way back, she takes a different path and doesn’t look back. In some cases, instead of a young girl, an older, widowed woman may go, bringing the Belladonna at dawn on the day of Ascension Day and planting it in the yard of a young, unmarried girl, if possible, in front of the southern window. In the place of the Belladonna, she leaves gifts – wine, bread, and honey. Before the girl engages in the ritual, the Belladonna’s seeds should be anointed with milk and honey. In some areas, the girl may go to the Belladonna accompanied by her closest friends, young girls, whether single or recently married. The girl mixes wheat flour with sugar and honey, makes a small bread from them, and, before baking it, places it to rise between her breasts, saying: “As the breasts hold together, So shall it bind me and my destined one, Given to me by God.” (as collected by Simion Florea Marian, Botanica poporană română Vol II ) At the dawn of a Thursday or Saturday, the girl goes to the Belladonna accompanied by her friends. The bread, salt, and the glass with spirits will be placed at the base of the plant, near the root. The girls circumambulate the plant three times and whistle. The girl dedicates each round to her friends, but addresses the plant by the name of her intended. Finally, she dedicates the last round to the Belladonna, sprinkles it with spirits, and the girls drink brandy, whistle, and become infatuated. The plant is removed from the ground and taken home. In its place, the bread and salt are left. On their way back, the girls celebrate, dance, and recite the words mentioned earlier. If anyone sees them, the girls may temporarily lose their minds. Even young men may go to the Belladonna when they want to be loved, but more often when they desire to be noticed and respected in their community. They go to the Belladonna also before sunrise, always on days associated with Venus. In Bucovina, the white Belladonna must be anointed with the wine and jam brought as an offering and dressed in the young man’s clean shirt. The young man circumambulates the plant while holding a beech branch and recites: “Belladonna, Good Lady! I reckon with you With bread and salt, With jam and wine, And with the best in the world, And you shall make me Stronger and more worthy, More beautiful and joyful, Than I am now, Before everyone.” (as collected by Simion Florea Marian, Botanica poporană română Vol. II) The young man digs up the Belladonna and leaves the bread and salt in its place. He takes the Belladonna, dressed in the shirt, places it on his head, and returns home without anyone noticing. At home, the Belladonna is placed in a vessel with untouched water, in which he will later bathe. The Belladonna is then placed by the icon or above the beam. Belladonna for Fete In Transylvania, Belladonna used for fete (parties) is replanted in a pot in the cellar. When a girl wants to ensure that she will have a good time and be invited to festivities, to dance, she offers the Belladonna salt, honey, bread, a string of beads, and seven hollow reeds filled with wine. These offerings are placed near the Belladonna pot. On a Sunday, when she is alone at home, the girl takes the plant out of its hiding place and dances around it, laughing and chanting, just as she would during festivities. Belladonna was also beneficial for pub innkeepers who often called upon it. For this purpose, they would send a woman who knew the ritual. This woman took a sample of the inn’s wine, bread, salt, and a coin. She would go prepared to the Belladonna, encircle it three times with all these offerings, and then dig it up. Once back with the plant, she would hide it under the wine barrel. Others would place it on top of the barrel, but some even threw it directly into the wine. Those who entered the pub would not leave until they finished all the wine and emptied their coin purses. Sometimes pubkeepers would also chant or perform incantations over it, placing it in the wine barrels. “In the Apuseni Mountains area,” Gheorghe Pavelescu noted, “pubkeepers are accustomed to placing a piece of Belladonna in the wine barrel(…) because then the person who drinks does not leave until they’ve spent all their money.” (Andrei Oișteanu, Narcotice în cultura romînă: istorie, religie și literatură p. 27) Belladonna for Healing Belladonna is used in chants to heal the sick. It is used against dizziness, headaches, fright, wandering spirits, stitches, pellagra, and colds. To treat a person with chilblains, a leaf that has been anointed with goose fat mixed with Belladonna is applied. Fumigations with Belladonna are performed to ward off evil winds. The sick person can go with the healer to plant but only after the Belladonna has produced fruit. They bring honey, water in a bucket, red thread, a silver coin, a round loaf of bread, and a clean shirt. The shirt is placed over the plant. A chant is recited, and the bucket of water is placed near the Belladonna. When the healer finishes the ritual, the sick person makes the sign of the cross. As night falls, the healer builds a fire and both lie down next to the plant. At dawn, the healer wakes up and performs another chant before sunrise, then pours the water from the bucket over the sick person, anoints them with honey, and dresses them in the shirt that has been resting over the Belladonna. Red thread with the coin is tied around the sick person’s neck. In severe and seemingly hopeless cases, when the disease has nearly overcome the person, a belladonna tea is prepared. This tea will either heal the person or cause them to go mad. Immediately after drinking the tea, the person becomes insane. If after three days they do not recover, it means the person will die. Belladonna to Ward Off Iele-fairies. In this case, the sick person should visit the Belladonna only on Monday or Wednesday, just before sunrise. They should wash their face and prepare offerings – salt and bread. Once at the Belladonna they make the sign of the cross, place the offerings near the root, and say: “Holy weed, Left by God, Marked by me, I honour you with bread and salt, To heal me, To gift me with remedies for all time.” (Collected by Simion Florea Marian, Botanica poporană română Vol. II) 
Belladonna for Ugliness and Affliction Belladonna has an ambivalent nature, with the behaviours of individuals who come into direct contact with it being crucial in this regard. For its beneficial effects, the prescriptions outlined in the scenarios described above must be followed – bodily cleanliness, clean and well-kept clothing, gifts, kind words, and gentle gestures. However, for malevolent efficacy, the conditions are reversed, opposite to the prescriptions for love spells. The witchy old women from Gorj, for instance, go to it dirty, wearing old and worn-out clothes. Once there, they undress, utter curses, let their hair hang loose, make peculiar hand and head movements, move their eyes in all directions, and run wildly in one direction. They no longer address the plant as “Lady Belladonna” but directly as “Belladonna” When treated this way, they dig up the plant, take its root, and put it in the food or drink of the person they want to harm. This can induce delirium, madness, or even death. Hence the saying, “It seems like you’ve eaten belladonna.” Bibliography Germina Comanici, Ramura verde în spiritualitatea populară, Editura Etnologică, București 2. Simion Florea Marian, Botanica poporană română Volumul II/Ediție critică, introducere, repere bibliografice, indice Botanice, indice capitole publicate antum/postum, text stabilit, indice informatori și bibliografie de Aura Brădățean, Editura Academiei Romîne, Suceava 2010 Andrei Oișteanu, Narcotice în cultura romînă: istorie, religie și literatură, ed. A 4-a rev., adăug. și il., Iași, Polirom, 2019 Vasile Voiculescu, Cartea satului, Toate leacurile la îndemână, Ed.III-a, Fundația Culturală Regală „Principele Carol”. Institutul de arte Grafice „Luceafărul” S>A., București, 1938 https://gradinabotanica.umfst.ro/en/project/atropa-belladonna/


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