The Wise Woman or White Witch
The wise woman or white witch has always been seen as someone mysterious and beautiful, but most times dangerous and ugly. But who was she really? Throughout history there have always been women and sometimes men who practise the arts of magic. These days we associate magic with Harry Potter, or witchcraft with the Salem witch trials. But in reality the witches of history were completely misunderstood. They were healers.
Back in history there were no such thing as doctors or physicians as we know them today. Men who were only taught the basic medical qualifications and in fact could hardly read let alone understand the ways of the body, were allowed to administer the cure for the 'humors' or bleed the patient with leeches. Some were known to cut the patients veins so that their blood would expel the 'bad'. Most of the time this would just kill the poor recipient of the so called doctoring.
Wise women were drawn to the art of healing by their love of flowers and nature. They had an affinity with the natural world that many people back then didn't even know existed. As we now know, witches were persecuted in the middle ages for using their 'unknown' evil eye, and cursing their neighbors. But of course the real truth behind the white witch or wise woman, is completely different.
Original translation (Witch meaning Wise Woman)
Wise Women as healers
The name wise woman was in fact a very apt name. If you think about how the world was in the middle ages, highly religious, wars, distrust and the belief that everything good or bad came from God, its really amazing that these women knew or felt that everything in nature was connected. Whether it be the healing properties of plants, or the animals in the woodland. These women treated them all with equal respect.
This was at a time when the whole world believed that God ruled man, and nature was there for us to exploit and use.
The wise woman used her knowledge of plants, flowers and herbs to make possets, which were hot drinks made from milk that was curdled, and Ale. And she would add whatever herb or plant remedy that she believed would be helpful to heal any villagers who were sick. Many people who lived near the wise woman would always go to her to be healed. Even though they were very religious and superstitious, they put their trust in her more than the male physic, who they were fearful of.
The Wise Woman's Garden
The wise woman would have an abundance of flowers, herbs, plants and fruit in her garden. This was her 'surgery' if you will. There would be hawthorn for problems of the heart, and in fact it is used today for arrhythmia, angina and mild congestive heart failure.
And rosemary the favorite of all wise women. The reason was because they were not so hygenic back then and a sprig of rosemary, or a rosemary posy, also known as a nosegay, for obvious reasons, was a perfect remedy against the awful smells of the day.
But rosemary really was a cure all plant. Below you can see some of the ailments that were cured or alleviated by the wonderful plant.
- Stimulate appetite, help to produce gastric juices and alleviate flatulence.
- Rheumatism and circulatory.
- Stimulate the hair follicles to help growth.
And so many more. In fact Rosemary really is a wonder plant. There is a wonderful story or legend surrounding the plant. Rosemary is said to be most potent ward against evil. It is said that upon her journey to Egypt, Mary threw her blue cloak over a rosemary bush and this turned the white flowers blue. And when she returned to Nazareth she would lay her Son's little garments over the bush to dry, to make them smell nice. Therefore making the plant the freshest and most sweet smelling flower in the world, and`perpetually steeped in the mercy of Christ. Evidently, the plant will not grow taller than 6ft in height over the space of 33 years. In honor of Christ. Fascinating.
Other names of flowers and plants in the garden would be, violets, honeysuckle, primroses, cowslips and wallflowers.
the garden would be fit to bursting with color and wonderful smells. The wise woman would make medicines, conserves and jellies, and even a medicine for hangovers.
With nature at their feet, and a skill born of trial and error, the wise woman would spend hours each day using pestle and mortar crushing and bruising the flowers or herbs, mixing and boiling the potions and hanging out the herbs to dry.
The cottage or house of the wise woman must have been a lovely sight. And the smell would have been delicious. No wonder the locals of the day saw her as someone magical, beautiful and just that little bit mysterious so that they kept away through fear of her, but knowing that they would need her powers for healing one of these days. For the locals she would have been a source of wonder, and a certain sense of peace knowing that there was someone out there who could help save the life of someone they love. The wise woman has been around for centuries in one form or another, through the middle ages, up to the 19th Century and beyond. And they are still around today. In every man woman and child who love nature, live green and help save the planet.
History of the Posy or Nosegay
The term Posy or Nosegay derives from 15th Century Middle English. It literally translates as nose and gay which meant ornament. Most gentlemen carried them in their pockets to be taken out and placed against the nose to alleviate horrible smells. And there were a lot of horrible smells back in those days. From unwashed people to open sewers.
Women would keep them tucked into their long skirts or around their necks. Alternately they would pin them to their bodice. The term Posy and tussie-mussie appeared later in the reign of Queen Victoria. The term tussie-mussie is not very well know, but was the first nosegay or posy to been made into a form of symbolism. Each flower that was picked and placed into the small bunch had a particular meaning which would be conveyed to the suitor or friend it was given to as a present.
Young lady wearing a nosegay around her neck
Make your own Posy or Nosegay
This is a really simple but lovely piece to make. We all know of wedding bouquets, and this is virtually the same. The only difference being that it is smaller, and can be symbolic.
- Pick a variety of flowers that you love most. Sweet peas are probably one of the best as the smell is one of the most gorgeous scents from any plant or flower.
- Use herbs or greenery of any variety to go around the posy of flowers. Rosemary is probably the best, but heather is wonderful too. I love the smell of the pine scented hedgerows growing near my house, they smell wonderful.
- Mint is another great idea. It may not be very good to place in or around the posy, but pick a few leaves, and place them inside the middle of the nosegay. The smell is wonderful, I often pick some and place it on my desk when I am writing.
- Either tie a ribbon around the base of the nosegay, or even colored wool wrapped around it.
And there you are. Mix and match your flowers with herbs. The scent will be a mixture of sweet and peppery.
A posset was a hot drink made from milk that had been curdled, with added wine or ale and then spice was added. But there were many variations of the drink. The wise woman would mix herbs and spices, fruit and honey and other ingredients to help alleviate the symptoms of illness among the villagers.
Many people would come to her door for assistance. Bringing small gifts such as bread or nuts, chickens and even pigs in payment of the medicine. All the flowers in her garden would be used, many of which we don't even think of using today. Ginger, cloves and cinnamon were the main ingredients to ward of colds and flu, but rose petals, and other flowers could be added too.
Herbs were the favorite of the wise woman as she knew the medicinal value of each and every plant. The fact that she was called a wise woman is very apt today as its only been recently discovered that picking flowers or herbs at night actually does improve the potency of the herbs chemical value. There was nothing magical about this though, it was purely trial and error, resulting in a perfect combination of skill and hard work.
The legacy of the wise woman lives on today. If we hadn't learned the skills passed down from these women many of the herbs that we use on a regular basis would be unknown to us. Or at least their healing properties. Over the years each and every wise woman who could write, have written down their potions, explained the health values of each plant and have given us a comprehensive look into the history and lifestyle of these wonderful healers. For all of their knowledge and steadfast hard work we can honestly say that if it wasn't for them, we would have had to start at the beginning. Learning each plant, testing each and every root, and most of all being far behind in the medical technology of today.
I say let's hear it for the Wise Woman. Or White Witch.
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