When the echinaceas that scatter in their purple profusion near the front stoop begin to bloom, I always know now that my birthday is drawing near (I was a late July baby). The Greek root from which this plant takes its name means hedgehog, which I find to be a delightfully Monty Pythonesque touch, given the formidable healing powers of this plant. Like all the plants we will consider in these pages, echinacea has many folk names, the most well-known being coneflower. It is also known as snakeroot, Black Susan, rock-up-hat, and scurvy root (the last no doubt as it may well have the power to cure this once dreaded infection). It is said that the flowers grown near your home will draw prosperity; surely a most wonderful attribute. And the root is attested as the most powerful part of the plant, but we are told to wait till the plant is in the fourth year of its growth before harvesting. Its astrological ruler is said to be Sagittarius, and like the orris root, it gives added punch and potency to any spell.
I had dinner this evening with my learned friend Peter Muise, author of the new book Legends and lore of the North Shore, a fascinating and beautifully composed volume. Peter presented me with a copy and I was intrigued to see accounts of some of my favorite sites, such as the Dogtown ruins, and an actual photograph of the infamous Devil’s Footprint outside a church in Ipswich. (No wonder the Witches in the classic film Bell, Book and Candle were said to have learnt their powers “when they were children and we lived in Massachusetts”!) There is even a section which dares to consider the blasphemous possibility that H. P. Lovecraft’s unspeakable Deep Ones may have had a basis in fact. Eldritch! We visited one of our favorite shops, the Seven Stars bookstore in Cambridge’s Central Square, and I came away with Emma Restall Orr’s exquisitely written meditation on Pagan ethics, The Path of Honor. Look for some thoughts from me on this book in a future entry. Orr’s writing speaks to me in ways that other attempts to address this topic in the past have failed to do. The book actually came out in 2001… as readers may have gathered, I am hardly cutting edge in my reading.