The Herbs Under The Cross

Healing plants grow under Christ's cross and out of the blood of our Saviour. People in Germany and Norway believe that the grass of Sânziene (Hypericum) grew roots from the Saviour's blood drops. Other legends tell that the same plant was born from the blood of Saint Joan. Many herbs are said to have appeared under Jesus's cross, while they were crucifying Him. The Crucifixion is a cosmic act per se. Jesus was crucified on Golgotha, at the core of the world, in "the middle of the Earth," and, thus, all religions identify with His pain. This is the popular explanation for the trees that became dry at that moment. Besides, the passions of Christ bear a cosmo-soterilogical value; had it not been for Christ's sacrifice, there would have been no love and good will among people. Jesus was crucified at the core of the world, where Adam was created and buried. His blood drips on top of "Adam's head," baptizing the father of the world, redeeming his sins. This is the basic idea – the Saviour's blood redeems the original sin – for the curative value of the herbs under the cross. Just as Jesus's blood saves the humans, the herbs rising from the holy blood heal the pains and sorrows of people. The blood of the Virgin Mary herself made some plants spring. Other popular beliefs talk about the herbs planted and watched by the Virgin Mary herself, with "her five fingers." There is a story about the Virgin Mary praying to Jesus to create a plant that she later gave to humans. F. Ohrt, the folklorist, wonders about Jesus's intention of creating the herbs under the cross to cure His own wounds. This idea, however, has come up rather late, even if it is engulfed in several popular beliefs; the nucleus of the entire set of legends is, as seen before, the creation and healing power of Christ's blood. Still, all these legends must be interpreted in a wider context, that of the creation of the Cosmos, of the vegetal realm, that is, out of the blood and body of a god; sometimes, as we are to see further, creation is possible by the very sacrifice of the god himself.The Saviour's blood is not only a source for healing herbs to grow, but the holy sacrifice provides for the existence of the humans, as we are told in the legends about the origin of wheat, vineyards and of unction from Jesus's blood and body. An Ethiopian apocrypha mentions Jesus asking God to spare Adam and Eve from dying by starvation after they have been banished from Heaven. God urges Jesus to give them a part of His body to feed Adam and Eve. Jesus gives away a piece of His body (the rib), crumbs it and shows it to God. God takes out a crumb out of His holy body and places it among those brought by Jesus, teaching Him to send them to Adam by Archangel Michael. The Archangel delivers Adam the holy seed, edifying him about sowing and reaping. Romanian folk poetry richly displays the motif of the wheat originating in Christ's blood: "On the cross they put MeAnd My body crucifiedMy flesh was torn apartTouching the groundMaking wheat grow." Some other popular texts show Jesus telling the saints about His crucifixion; His flesh was torn apart and touched the ground, changing into wheat, His blood into wine and His sweat into unction. "Thorns they put togetherMy Flesh was piercedSweat drained from my bodyDripping on the groundUnction springing a lot…" Texts about the origin of vine are even thicker in number. In Questions and Answers, a compilation of apocryphal texts translated from Slav before the 17th century, accounts for the birth of vine as connected to Procla, Pilate's wife, who attended the crucifixion of Christ. "When Pilate set off to the cross, he said to his wife: Do not follow me there! She disobeyed him and dressed in a simple gown, she went there to watch Jesus from a distance. She wished to witness the true nature of Christ since she deeply hoped to be a Christian. When they pierced Christ's rib, blood gushed everywhere, heavily smearing Procla' s dress. She rushed home to wipe and wash the dress for she feared Pilate; then she went to the vineyard, dug a hole under a peach tree and buried the dress there; the next moment, a beautiful vine sprang from the ground, bearing grapes; the wife was terrified, but could not help from wondering. Then Pilate arrived home and asked: Where is my wife? The slaves told him she went to the cross to watch the crucifixion. They started to look for her and finally found her in the vineyard, naked, and they saw the glorious fruits. And Pilate said: What is this? The wife told them crying what had happened; and Pilate reproved her: Didn't I tell you not to go there? And she replied: Behold my guilt." This legend about the origin of vine also gathers other elements from mythical themes: ritual interdiction, nudity and Dionysus' vine, woman and the Tree of Life. We will take these into consideration in a dedicated work. Let us read some more popular texts about the origin of vine: "Nails in My handsMake My blood drainAnd where they droppedGood wine popped." "Blood sprung from my woundsTurning into wine." "… They pierced His ribDraining blood and water.Out of blood and waterVine grew,The vine bore fruitAnd the fruit gave wine,The Lord's blood for the Christians." There is a saying in Moldavia that you should take care of a vine for seven years, and you must not be mad or curse while toiling the vine, even if you hurt yourself. "Then God delivers you from your sins and you shall reach Heaven. Due to the Lord's blood!" The Antiquity was familiar with these legends, although their value was magical, lacking the religious and moral dimension that goes beyond the popular Christian myths. Violets sprang from Attis's blood; Adonis's blood made roses and anemones come to life; pomegranates were the fruit bore by Dionysus' blood. They are vegetation gods that died a violent death. Clement of Alexandria preserves the tradition of savory germinating from Corybants' blood, "qui in terram effluxerant, apicum (savory) germinasse arbitrentur." Osiris embodies the plant maat (the law) and several species of herbs grow out of his body. He taught the Egyptians to grow wheat and vine. In the Nebeseni papyrus, Osiris is depicted surrounded by vine and grapes, and in the Nekht papyrus, he sits on a throne besides a lake that hosts a luxuriant vine. Osiris, as well as Attis, Adonis and Dionysus are gods of vegetation, often identified with cereals and vine. Plants germinate from their bodies and blood just as they do from goddess's Durga in the rainy seasons, as the Indians believe.Not always, though, the god's vegetal nature accounts for the origin of plants growing from his blood or body. The theme of plants' conception is often integrated into the grandiose act of Cosmogony by the self-sacrifice of a god. The plants grow from one part of the god's body, however without pointing out if that god died as a consequence of his creation act. Thus, in some Egyptian beliefs, plants and all life-bearing kingdoms were born from the eyes of Ra. They also say that plants, trees and creeping plants grew from god Rem. We witnessed above the birth of the entire vegetation from Osiris's body, as a consequence of his violent death.The motif of plant creation is often integrated in the cosmogony myth. In Chinese mythology the death of the god P'an Ku gives birth to this world. When he died, his breath turned into clouds and wind, his voice into thunder, his left eye was the sun etc., and the skin covered in hair was transformed into trees and plants. The Indians know that, "in the beginning," when Brahma created the world and the animals from his own body, he conceived the grass and trees out of his hair. A mythological Japanese text, Nihongi, I, 6, tells that plants sprang from different organs of the goddess Uke-mochi, after her death. An Iranian tradition states that 55 eating plants and 12 species of healing plants were born out of the body of the primordial bull. Other text depicts the birth of peas from the bull's horns, the garlic from its nostrils, the vine from its blood etc. According to a late Iranian source, wheat germinated from the two bodies of the primordial pair, Masjav and Masjanay. Mithraicism holds the primordial victim (the divine bull) responsible for the birth of useful animals; marrow is the source of life for wheat and its blood for vine. This genesis myth is common with the Iroquois: the emerging of the universe and of this world out of the corpse of the primordial "giant," as a Ymir. The primordial mother was murdered and plants grew from her body. The myth of plants originating in an assassinated supernatural creature, may that be a god, a primordial human or animal, is preserved to some extent in the initial act of Creation, when invaded by new mythical themes. Therefore, in a Celtic legend, 365 plants grew from the dead body of Miach's, Dian Cecht's son, the doctor of the hero descent Tuatha De Denann. The number corresponds to the joints and nerves in his body. The mystical correspondence between the body hair and the grass, present in many creation myths, occurs even when creation is no longer involved, but a religious act imitating creation takes the floor, that is ritual sacrifice. This correspondence between the ritual sacrifice and body organs is frequent in India. The ascetic that declines the ritual predestined with the Veda and practices pranagnihotra, that is "daily sacrifice by breathing," transforms his own body into "ritual sacrifice," that is into a cosmic body (since every ritual sacrifice is an imitation of the Universal Creation). Although somehow altered, the myth of Creation is present within another group of legends regarding the origin of plants. The myth tells about the vegetal kingdom springing from different organs of a god or from his sweat or blood or from a Cosmic Tree, etc. Drinking the magic soma prepared by Tvashtri, Indra feels her limbs weakening; what dripped from her eyelashes turned into wheat, the soma draining from her marrow gave birth to rice, jujube tree grew from her tears, barley from her saliva, etc. Indra's sacrifice is easily traceable along the creation of the vegetal kingdom; her entire body changes into plants and trees. In some Indian traditions, garlic took life from a drop of amrta (nectar of the gods) that the tired god Garuda carelessly dropped on the ground. There are many variants of this legend. The gods' nectar is by excellence the "drink of immortality"; the mythical transfiguration of the water element, father of plants and of the entire Cosmos. Professor Przylusky associates these stories with the mystical solidarity that held together a musical instrument (flute, drum) to the mythical forefather along Paleo-Asian cultures. The latter is presented under two faces: "sous la forme humaine il est l'Empalé, le Perforé; sous la forme végétale, il est bambou troué, c'est-à-dire une flute." We, however, are confronted with the lack of evidence supporting this hypothesis. Even it had ever been present in Santali stories, the theme of the mythical forefather is now lost. The epic highlight does not single out the detail that somebody carved a musical instrument out of a bamboo, closing inside the dead girl, but on the aspect that the plant grew up from the corpse of the murdered girl. This folk theme is a common one. Here is the story: a wonderful girl (or a fairy) grows from a miraculous fruit or from one gained with effort by a hero (pomegranate, lemon, orange); one of the slaves or a ugly woman kills the girl and replaces her for the hero's wife; a flower or a tree grows up from her dead body or the girl changes into a bird or fish who when killed by the ugly woman gives birth to a tree; the girl appears from that tree's fruit or from its bark or branch. The folklorists are familiar with this theme under the name of "The Three Lemon Trees." Let us chose some variants out of their great number. In an Indian story in Punjab, the killed fairy turns into a lily and when the fake princess tears it apart, a mint plant and then a liana are born. In Deccan, they talk about a jealous queen who drowns a girl into a pond. A sunflower springs in that place and when the flower is burnt, a mango tree resurrects from the ashes. Although contaminated by the sub-theme of the "replaced fiancée" and "the enchanted hair pin," this story is very popular in Europe. The heroine goes through several transformations, just as her Asian peer. In a story from Tuscany, the heroine is turned into a herring that will be murdered later and thrown away in a hip rose bush. She turns into a "unusually big bush" that is offered to the prince as a rare curiosity. A feeble voice comes from the hip rose: "Take care! Don't hit me!" The price dissembles the bush with a small knife and the girl comes out safe and sound. In the Greek variant of the same story, the girl turns into a delicate golden herring and then into a lemon tree. When an old man takes his axe and tries to cut the tree, he can hear a voice: "Hit the upper part! Hit the lower part! Don't cut in the middle 'cause you'll wound a girl!." This is a perfect reminder of Santali stories. In a Romanian tale, "The Three Golden Pomegranates," the beautiful princess is turned into a bird by a gypsy woman. The latter wants to have the bird killed. A stately and tall fir-tree is born from her blood. These beliefs that all sort of plants come to life from human bodies that died a terrible death are not common only in tales. The old Pseudo-Turpin chronicle tells us how perfumed roses grew from the bodies of dead Christians and hip roses from those of the Saracens after a great battle. A species of wild rose is spread over the battlefield in Towton.We can easily draw the conclusion from the facts presented above that all heroines not only change into plants after they die, but they can also be born from a fruit. Their solidarity with the vegetal realm is complete. In some of the variants of the Romanian tale "The Three Golden Pomegranates," the heroine's descent from fruit is pictured differently: a saint gives one of the girl's parents an apple and after the mother has eaten it, she gives birth to a baby girl. Therefore, an old man receives from a saint (Sfanta Vineri / Saint Friday) an apple and after he eats it, a girl is born from his thigh. This tale, as well as many others, belongs to the class of stories about fecundation by plants and fruits. One of the classical examples in folk literature is the Pentamerone, II, 3, a tale of a virgin who gets pregnant after having eaten a rose leaf. Ovid mentions the legend according to which Mars was born from Juno without the interference of Jupiter because goddess Flora touched her with a flower. Penzer has a nice collection of stories about conception by holy fruits. The folk theme as well us the real beliefs about plant conception are frequently present. The thorough examination of this folk theme exceeds the economy of the present article. I have presented you with several Oriental and Western stories regarding birth from plants or by eating fruits, as well as the theme of transformation of a fairy or prince who experienced a tragic death into a tree or a flower. The reason of my presentation is to highlight the universality of this theme and to show the variety of "sub-themes" derived by natural evolution of the stories or by contamination with other folk themes. The essential lode is the genetic relationship between human and plant. The hero and heroine are born from a plant or turn into one after death. Obviously, this death is only shallow in most cases. We might say that the heroine changes her appearance only for a while, recovering her human shape in the end. We have traced an important feature along the entire group of folk and ethnographical documents we have looked into: those plants spring only on the spot where the hero or heroine suffered the tragic death. As if the very violent killing more often than not accompanied by deceiving triggers the creation of a new plant. Indeed, we noticed that those plants do not grow just on any grave. They come to life only where princes or fairies were murdered with vile intentions, legendary creatures killed by deceiving, worriers slaughtered in battles. The folk documents in our possession minutely preserve this detail, full of substance: natural death does not yield to creation. Only the violent death of a fabulous creature such as a fairy can turn into a new beginning for a form a life. This life, incomplete within the human frame of the hero's life tries to complete itself under a different shape: plant, tree, and flower.It goes without saying that the story we have embraced here is not always present as such in the legends and tales we dealt with. We do not meet so much stories as we run into myths, at least within this category of folk products. We easily identify in the above stories and legends the presence of the archaic myth of creation by sacrifice. These stories obviously earned their independence from the initial myth; they do not intend to explain the genesis of the Cosmos or of cosmic life. On the other hand, they are not the unitary creation of the same social group that has brought into existence the myth's cosmogony. These emanations of the human mind are connected to cosmogony because they belong to the same mental universe. We do not care so much that the Santali or the Romanian storyteller is "aware" of the metaphysical implications of the hero's birth from a flower or of his corpse's changing into a plant. What matters for us is that these episodes belong to the same mental universe shared by the cosmogony myths, whose metaphysical substance cannot be questioned. Cosmological ideas such as creation by self-sacrifice are active in an endless number of rites and beliefs derived from such rites. (Editors' italics). The cosmological sacrifice of Purusha, "the primordial giant," who gives birth to worlds and all living creatures with its limbs makes, somehow, the ideal prototype of construction rituals, of sacrifice meant to help opening mines or launching ships to water. All these legends and their later derivations are constructed along the same idea that no "creation" or "spirit" of establishments (may that be a house or a ship) can be achieved but through sacrifice. In the legends about the herbs under Christ's cross we can trace archaic mythological themes. They belong to ancient popular beliefs, taken over by Christianity from the heathen world and transplanted into a new religion: a) the myth of vegetation created from a god's body; b) the creation of a god or of a mythical creature tragically murdered; c) mystic unity between humans and plants. Needless to say, these independent archaic mythical elements, derived from the initial cosmogony myth, have acquired new meanings and metaphysical substance once touched by Christianity. The Christian message not only introduced a fresh perspective upon the mystical and moral world, but also saved the mythical heritage of antiquity, by engulfing it in the great cosmic drama and conveying spiritual values to all myths regarding "creation," "birth" and "death." This is not the moment, however, to insist upon moral and religious transformations of archaic mythology under Christian influences. In these pages we intended to present new meanings of folk studies acquired in the light of the history of religions and of pre-Christian myths.

by Mircea Eliade (1907-1986)