Sweet Briar

Hell Really Exists

Hell Really Exists

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(Rosa rubiginosa) Just as well known under the name Eglantine. "Sweet", because of its inherent fragrance, which, so it is said, is fresher before rain (Trevelyan). This rose has attracted legends, just as the others have. One of them explains why their thorns point downwards. The devil was expelled from heaven, and he tried to regain his lost position by means of a ladder made of the thorns. But when the plant was only allowed to grow as a bush, he put the thorns in their present position out of spite. In some parts of France, it is said that the sweet briar was actually planted by the devil; and the hips are his bread. It is called 'Rose du diable' in those areas, and 'Rose sorcière' in Anjou and La Mayenne. French mothers use an injunction to stop their children picking the flowers. If they touch them, they say, a thunderbolt will fall on them (Sebillot).

There is a Derbyshire superstition that where the sweet briar flourishes in a garden, the mistress is ruler (Addy. 1895), a belief that is associated with quite a few other plants, notably rosemary, and even sage. But this rose is also a symbol of chastity, sometimes being painted in portraits of ladies of the Elizabethan period. There is one of Elizabeth Brydges, for instance, in which a spray of eglantine appears in the top left hand corner, and also in her hair, and, as an embroidery, on her cuffs (Hearn).

"Gather Sweetbriar in June, for it promoteth cheerfulness", is an old Scottish saying. Twigs of it were often used for sprains. But the protection Sweet Briar gives is more often found to be spiritual. In Normandy, for instance, hanging it over the door used to be regarded as a certain protection against witchcraft, and also against fevers (W B Johnson), which must have been thought of as a result of malevolence.

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