The full moon of September is in Pisces, my favorite full moon of the year. It’s also known as the Wine Moon. As the equinox comes and goes, now is the time to preserve the fruit harvest of summer – and wine or juice is a great way to do just that. When better to brew than under a full moon?
Today I want to introduce a particularly sacred plant to this full moon and this time of year. Whether or not you celebrate Mabon or the equinox more generally, the lore, herbal, and folk magic uses of this plant are interesting on their own. What plant you may ask? That would be the bramble, or common blackberry vine.
When I was growing up, we spent the first week of September collecting baskets and baskets of berries from the vines that grew along the forest edge by our home. I’d bring the baskets to my mother who made jams and preserves over the stove, which we would then indulge in throughout the winter and spring seasons. Blackberry season is wrapping up around here, with most branches bare of fruit. I missed them this year. (But will be making wine from grapes instead!)
In the British Isles, it was generally prohibited to pick or eat blackberries after October 10 or September 29th – whenever Michaelmas was celebrated. After that date, the berries were said to have the devil’s spit on them from when St Michael tossed the devil from heaven and into the bush. There are many versions of this, like the devil’s cloven hoof causes the berries to rot or he drags his black cape over the branches making them deadly.
In a more practical sense, this is typically when the berries have passed their peak. It’s why they were considered poisonous come October, devil or no devil.
Blackberry vines or brambles have been a sacred plant for thousands of years. The Europeans of the Neolithic age saw them as a representation of vital life force energy, while in more contemporary nature spirituality the plant is associated with the Mother Goddess for its spiraling shape. From the Ancient Greeks to the Ancient Celts, blackberries have been used to treat all manner of wounds and ills. The leaves, roots, and berries have been used in wrappings, tinctures, and elixirs to treat burns, sore throats, bronchitis, bug bites, and even gout. In Scotland, gnawing on the cane could help with asthma. An Anglo Saxon charm called for cutting the tips of one’s hair and sprinkling them among new blackberries for hair growth. Like most plants, the medicinal and magical uses were many.
The goddess Brigid has many holy wells which often have bramble vines growing around them or nearby. This may be why blackberry wine or juice is used in Imbolc ritual. Leaves from these brambles are also said to cure wounds. Nine, in fact.
Now, you may be wondering why the blackberry vine or bramble is considered a magical tree. Some consider it a weed for its tendency to just grow wildly on its own. To put it simply, to the Celts anything with a woody stem was effectively a tree – so the folk magic and lore around the bramble is as detailed as any other. According to Celtic legend, the bramble was brought to Ireland by none other than the Tuatha De Danann. Sandra Kynes, in her book Whispers from the Woods, speculates that the plant’s spiraling nature may have had some influence in Celtic interlacing design work.
But not all origin stories of the blackberry bush were as benevolent. In the Balkans the bramble was thought to be the devil’s attempt at planting and harvesting grapes. He failed and ended up with the prickly blackberry bush instead.
Yet the bramble widely represents to human beings a promise of fertility, wealth, and happiness. This is evident in the way the bramble offers not only abundance at harvest time but also the opportunity for us to store the fruits of each year in a variety of ways – as wine, jam, dried leaves – that we can then use to both heal and satiate us through the colder months.
Like the blackberry vines of my childhood, the bramble tends to grow along the edges of places – like stone quarries, forests, or holy wells. It isn’t typically cultivated like other crops but grows wild and aggressive in the natural environment, sheltering creatures like birds in its prickly nest.
Planetary associations of the Moon and Venus thus make sense, as the Moon is associated with comforts of home while Venus brings wealth. But because of its prickly nature and tendency to grow at the edges of thickets or dark places, the bramble has a variety of associations with the spirit world and afterlife to it too. Some examples include:
- Dreaming of picking blackberries could be a sign of an upcoming illness
- Some thought the bramble was the plant used to make the thorny crown worn by Jesus
- Spirits can be invoked at the site of a bramble
- Vines were planted in cemeteries to protect the grave
- Burning the leaves of blackberry could ward off evil spirits and was done in bridal chambers to protect the newlywed
- In East Anglia, blackberry canes were used to make spirit flails
Between this lore and our knowledge of some traditional medicinal uses of the plant, we can reach the natural conclusion that bramble is overall feminine, cooling, and ruled by water with strong protective associations. Bramble can offer comfort even in painful situations. Despite the thorn, it offers a berry. The flowers of bramble offer a promise of fruit to soon follow, which makes them exceptional tokens or ingredients in love magic.
In my view, the bramble seems to act as a barrier between our world and the supernatural or otherworlds. It assists us in keeping away spirits who may do us harm when we are particularly vulnerable, such as times of illness, when we are wounded, or when we are in liminal spaces in nature.
Gods and Goddesses of Bramble
As I mentioned earlier, Brigid is pretty directly associated with Bramble, as are Dagda and Danu. It has also been called sacred to deities such as Hathor, Poseidon, Dionysus, Freya, Osiris, and Branwen.
If you’re interested in the medicinal uses of the blackberry vine, be sure to find a trusted resource because while bramble is generally safe, there is a chance of cyanide exposure if you burn the leaves at the wrong point in the drying cycle.
Does blackberry grow where you live? If so, do you have any family traditions or folklore around it? Do you harvest the berries or make any wine or preserves? I’d be interested to hear about your relationship with the blackberry!