Written by Aerinn Hodges- Kolfage
It’s hot in New York, Cancer season is here, and violets are in bloom. Their purple, blue, and yellow heads bob merrily in the shade beneath much larger trees and shrubs. Planted as ornamentals around the city and beyond, violets are overlooked just as easily in magic as they are walking down the street but these pretty blooms hide some potent enchantments in a dainty package. Although sumptuous roses and weedy mugwort may be more striking or seem more magical, unobtrusive and un-exotic flowers like the violet are no less healing or sorcerous.
The violet may be any of 525 to 600 species in the genus viola. It’s a low-growing perennial and early bloomer native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa but naturalized throughout the temperate regions of North America. The violet prefers rich, moist soil and partial shade, fitting for a plant of Venus in Cancer, as it’s described by 17th century botanist and astrologer Nicholas Culpepper. This humble, little blossom is a cooling, watery ally during the Summer months and can relieve fiery tempers, nourish overheated tissue, or help us press the refresh button on our lives.
If you find yourself unable to sleep after a long day in the Sun, 16th century astrological physician Anthony Ascham suggests soaking your feet in water infused with violets and binding the herb to your temples before going to bed. A contemporary magical manuscript from the Folger Shakespeare Library, published in 2015 as the Book of Oberon, also lists violets among the ingredients of a Venusian incense. On the other hand, an old Scottish poem collected in the 18th century, has it that washing your face with violets steeped in goat’s milk was a popular method to increase a woman’s beauty and charm potential lovers:
“Anoint thy face with goat’s milk in which violets have been infused, and there is not a young prince upon earth who would not be charmed with thy beauty.”
In the classical Mediterranean world, one of the Homeric Hymns dedicated to Aphrodite calls her violet-crowned and Roman naturalist Pliny suggests wearing a garland of violets while banqueting will prevent drunkenness and diminish the effects of hangover. Maud Grieve, 19th century herbalist and educator, in the second volume of her Modern Herbal, says ancient Athenians used violet to ‘moderate anger’ and ‘comfort and strengthen the heart’, pointing to a long history of Venusian associations.
American folk magic, and African-American conjure in particular, considers violet a flower of love. A favorite working of mine, which highlights the modest but potent simplicity of popular magic, is to wear violet leaves in your right shoe to draw a new lover to you. However, heartsease, a type of violet popularly identified as a pansy, can be worked with to soothe the pains of a broken heart by bathing in an infusion of it for nine days according to Catherine Yronwode’s Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic.
In my experience, violets embody the Venusian spirit at her most romantic and sentimental, while the cardinal energy of Cancer empowers the flower to offer a fresh start like a rebirth from the waters of creation. They are especially helpful when tears need to be shed, hard hearts softened, or hot heads cooled.