Origin Legends

Cereals in particular have attracted many origin myths, because of their supreme importance in the maintenance of life. There is often an incident of human or divine sacrifice involved. The idea was that one death, that of the god itself, would provide life to countless thousands by the gift of agriculture. Sometimes the death would not be of a divine personage, but of an often unnamed hero or precursor of the human race. Such a myth is this Menomini Indian one. An old man had CORN (MAIZE) which he kept hidden from mankind. It took a young boy, his nephew, to kill the old man and by so doing release the corn for the benefit of all (A Skinner). An example of a different type of myth is this one from Mexico: a childless woman, who went to fetch water, saw the reflection of an egg on the cliff above. Her husband fetched it, and in seven days it hatched a small child with golden hair, which was soft and silky, like maize, which is personified by the child. (Newall, and see also Hatt for other corn origin myths).

One origin myth for the POMEGRANATE says that when Agdos, the hermaphroditic son of Zeus, was emasculated, the plant sprang from him (Freund).

Ion is the Greek for VIOLETS, and the legend of its origin is, in Lyte's words, "after the name of that sweete girle or pleasant damoselle Io, which Iupiter turned into a trim Heyfer or gallant Cow, because that his wife Iuno (being both an angry or jealous Goddesse) should not suspect that he loved Io, as also for her more delicate and wholesome feeding, the earth at the commandment of Iupiter brought forth violets, the which, after the name of the well-beloved Io, he called in Greeke Ion". Gerard had this story too, but another legend says that the Greeks adopted the name Ion after certain nymphs in Ionia had made an offering of the flowers to Jupiter (Browning). A quite different origin myth is that it sprang from the blood of Attis when Cybele changed him into a pine tree.

Cyanus, the specific name for CORNFLOWERS, is named for the Greek muse Kyanos, who worshipped Flora, and was for ever gathering flowers for her altar. When he died, the goddess gave his name to the flowers he was always picking (Skinner). The Russian name basilek for the cornflower is explained by invoking the memory of a young man, Vassili, who was changed by a jealous nymph into the plant (Palaiseul). One of the Greek origin legends for SAFFRON tells of a youth named Crocus (the word crocus is always taken to be saffron in early accounts) who was changed into the flower after being accidentally killed by Mercury. Another tradition has it that the crocus sprang from the spot on which Zeus once rested. The anemone, more specifically the POPPY ANEMONE (Anemone coronaria) owes its origin to the death of Adonis, one legend saying that he was changed into the flower, and another that it sprang from the mixture of the blood of Adonis and the tears of Venus (Rambosson).

In Morocco, the origin of OLEANDER is said to be the child of the spittle of Fatima, daughter of the prophet. Her husband took a second wife, and when Fatima saw her entering the house she spat on the floor in contempt. The oleander sprang up at once. Since then it is said "a rival is bitter as the oleander" (Legey). BREADFRUIT, cultivated widely throughout Asia, originated in Polynesia, and several of the islands have stories of the origin of the tree, all quite similar. The version from Hawaii tells how a man called Ulu died during a famine, and his body was buried near a spring. During the night, his family, who remained indoors, could hear the the sound of dropping leaves and flowers, and then heavy fruit. In the morning, they found a breadfruit tree growing from the grave, and the famine was over (Poignant). Ulu in fact signifies an upright, i e male, breadfruit, which is called ulu-ku. The low, spreading tree whose branches lean over, is ulu-ha-papa, and is regarded as female (Beckwith. 1940). There are, of course, perfectly rational stories of the introduction of breadfruit from other islands, though some of them suggest that it was taken from an island inhabited only by gods, and preserved for human use. The origin of TARO, too, is celebrated in Hawaiian mythology. One legend is of a daughter who had a child by her father, the god Wakea. It was born not in the form of a human being, but of a root, and it was thrown away at the east corner of the house. Not long after, a taro plant grew from the spot, and afterwards, when a real child was born to them, Wakea named it from the stalk (ha) and the length (loa). Another version says that the child of Papa was born deformed, without arms or legs, and was buried at night at the end of the long house. In the morning there appeared the stalk and leaves of a taro plant, which Wakea named Ha-loa (long root stalk), and Papa's next child was named after that plant (Beckwith. 1940). COCONUT, too, has many origin legends ascribed to it in the Pacific islands, involving the head and "eyes", and an eel shape that has a strong sexual content (for details, see COCONUT).

CROWN IMPERIAL (Fritillaria imperialis) was once a queen, so a legend has it, whose beauty, instead of contenting her husband the king, made him jealous, and in moment of anger and suspicion, he drove her from his palace. She, well knowing her innocence, wept so constantly at this injustice as she wandered about the fields, that her very substance shrank to the measure of a plant, and at last God rooted her feet where she had paused, and changed her to the crown imperial, still bearing in its blossoms something of the dignity and command she had worn as a human being (Skinner). A Scottish tradition says that the crown imperial hangs its blossoms down for shame at not having bowed to the Lord, and the spots at the bottom of the bells are the everlasting tears it shed in contrition (Simpson). Yet another legend says it was white once, but was dyed red by the blood of Christ at Gethsemane (Bazin).

There is a Burmese legend accounting for the origin of INDIAN SHOT (Canna indica). Dewadat tried to kill the Buddha by pushing a great boulder on him as he passed by below. The boulder fell at the Buddha's feet, bursting into a thousand fragments. A single fragment striking the Buddha's toe, drew blood, from which the Canna arose (Skinner).

One of the legends of the origin of SNOWDROPS is that an angel was comforting Eve after the Fall. No flower had bloomed since the expulsion from Paradise, and it was snowing. The angel caught a snowflake in his hand, breathed on it, and it fell to earth as the first snowdrop (Gordon. 1977).

Ornithogalum umbellatum > STAR OF BETHLEHEM

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