The Burning Bush
The burning bush became the oracle through which God spoke during Moses’ conversion. Learn more about plant lore.
In the lives of men and women whose stories the scripture relates, plant magic played a large part. A bush became the oracle through which God spoke during Moses’ conversion. An angel of the Lord appeared in the flame of the bush that burned but was not consumed. Later, Moses divided the Red Sea and struck water from a desert rock with a rod that his brother Aaron had once changed into a serpent. And it was a balsam tree that told David to begin the attack on the Philistines.
Even in the Song of Solomon, when a maiden invites her lover into the fields where “mandrakes give forth fragrance,” there is an allusion to the aphrodisiacal properties of the mandrake.
Jacob, too, had a magic trick up his sleeve, when he took fresh rods of poplar and almond and plane, peeled white streaks in them, exposing the white rods. Jacob then placed the rods in front of the watering throughs, and the “flocks bred in front of the rods and brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted offspring.”
Among the laws that God gave Moses at Mount Sinai was one stating, “You shall not permit sorcerers to live.” Medieval clerics enforced this law ruthlessly, condemning suspects to torture and death. The earlier Christian church did not enforce the law so strictly.
It was the time that many plants and flowers were exorcised of their pagan connotations by a new association with Christian saints and martyrs. In the past, the Greeks had associated the rose with Aphrodite, the goddess of love, while the Egyptians had offered it to the souls of their dead pharaohs. The church, rather than banning the lovely blossoms of the rose, reconnected it with the Virgin Mary.
Missionaries rechristined the vervain, which had played a part in the religious rites of early Germans and Celts, as herb-of-the-cross, when they claimed it had stanched Christ’s wounds on Calvary.
The druids taught that the evergreen holly provided winter refuge for the wood spirits and so protected against bad fortune. The Christians made the holly a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice, likening the holly’s spiny leaves to His thorns, and the scarlet berries the blood of Christ’s passion. So Christian priests used plants and flowers as effective teaching tools, finding Christian lessons in many weeds and wildflowers.
The three distinct leaves of shamrocks, that join to make a whole represented the Trinity. And the alchemilla vulgaris, a plant whose flowers set seed without fertilization, since the male parts wither before the female parts mature, became a symbol of the miraculous virgin birth. So Christians renamed the plant lady’s mantle, and created a perpetual reminder of the Virgin Mary’s immaculate purity.
Certain plants were associated with holy feasts because of their period of blooms. The wood sorrel, which flowered around Easter was called the alleluia plant by Monks. Daisies, which flowered around the feast of St. Michael, were named Michaelmas daisies. By watching for these and other blooms, the faithful could observe the holidays even if they could not read a calendar.
The Bible and medieval churchmen put to great use plants and flowers by spreading the gospel through them!