Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Mythology of Briars, Nettles, and Thorns


Natural and beautiful, sharp and serpentine, usually found in the wild and unwanted in most tamed gardens, these plants have been used in folklore and witchcraft for centuries.

In the story of 'Sleeping Beauty,' the slumbering princess is surrounded by a wall of briars and brambles. (Brambles are also blackberry bushes and notorious faery fruit.) Briar Rose is another name for Sleeping Beauty, suggesting that her beauty might conceal prickles.


The nettle is known for its healing properties, despite being a stinging plant. Blind nettles are called Lamium album (A lamia is a female demon who kills babies.) The nettle plant wards off ghosts. It's the plant of the Noridic storm god Thor. In the fairy tale 'The Wild Swans,' a girl releases her brothers from their enchanted swan forms by placing nettle shirts over them.


Blackthorn and hawthorn are traditionally faery trees. Infamous for crowning sacrificial kings, thorns also blind the prince in the original 'Rapunzel.' Thorns pierce, shed blood. In 'Sleeping Beauty,' the princess punctures her finger on a spindle and falls under the spell. Snow White's real mother pricks her finger on a needle and uses that drop of blood to wish for a child. In 'Little Red Riding Hood,' Red Riding Hood is offered a choice by the wolf; the Path of Needles or the Path of Pins.

The spindle and the needle, symbolic thorns, set a story on its path.

Briars, nettles, and thorns symbolize barriers, pain, enchantment, but they also keep the vulnerable from being breached. In storytelling, they signify that life has teeth. And, like most faery things, they are beautiful, and something to be wary of.




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