“They have the power to enthrall and repel, to beguile and repulse, a mirror held up on our imperfect humanity”
-Nicholas J. Saunders
Delicate, dreamy and delightful, the poppy has been cultivated for millennia for its medicinal and magical properties. The variety most commonly seen in fields and sold within nurseries is the blood-red corn poppy, associated with remembrance, war, death and resurrection.
Papaver somniferum, or the Opium Poppy is known for the powerful pain killing drug Morphine which is extracted from its seeds. The more common poppy Papaver rhoeas which does not produce morphine still has a soporific effect when taken as a tea or burned as incense and can be used in conjunction with lavender for a peaceful blend.
“From its earliest cultivation the opium poppy was used to bridge the divide between pain and pleasure, between the living and the dead”
-Nicholas J. Saunders
The Poppy has been associated with death and dreaming and the liminal state as far back as Ancient Egypt, where it was used as a medicine to cure headaches and as an offering to the dead. As the poppy can be used to ease the transition between life and death I strongly associate it with Anubis, the Psychopomp who guides the soul between this world and the Other World.
In Greece the poppy was sacred to Thanatos, Hypnos, and Morpheus. The poppy is said to have flowered along the banks of the River Lethe in the underworld and is said to have grown in Hekate’s magical garden. The poppy may also have played a role in the Eleusinian Mysteries through its association with Persephone and Demeter.
Because Opium is a narcotic known for its ability to bring pleasure and ease both physical and mental anguish, it has been noted for its use by the bereaved. The mythical “Drug of Forgetfulness” Nepenthe, speculated to contain opium and henbane, was used to ease sorrow, depression and the pain of mourning.
Opium is a highly addictive drug and although it brings euphoria and relief from pain, it has the ability to kill. Because of its poisonous nature and its association with Death, it has often been described as a Saturnine herb. Karen Harrison, however, notes that the Poppy is attributed to Neptune, the planet of Dreamers, Artists and Poets and indeed Opium was the drug of choice among the Romantics- most notably Coleridge, P.B Shelley and De Quincey.
The Poppy is associated with both fertility and resurrection, as even when the land seems to be barren, the poppy rises up from the soil bright, red, and full of the sap of life.
In Witchcraft Poppies can be used for dream-weaving and prophetic dreams as well as for astral flight. Poppies are a noted ingredient in many Flying ointments due to the counteractive effects it has against the deadly herbs.
Poppy is often used in love and fertility spells drawing on the power of Aphrodite, and Hathor- the Lady of Intoxication, dance and music and can be added to a spiced wine as an aphrodisiac.
“But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flower, its bloom is shed.”
Resources and Further Reading:
The Druid Plant Oracle-Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm
The Poppy- A Cultural History- Nicholas Saunders
The Herbal Alchemist’s Handbook: A Grimoire of Philtres. Elixirs, Oils, Incense and Formulas for Ritual Use. -Karen Harrison
* Photography by Redspyda9 in collaboration with The Purple Broom