History of Lavender
Lavandula, commonly called lavender, is one of the most popular and widely cultivated herbs in existence. With its ethereal blue-purple hue and refreshing, clean scent, lavender has remained wildly popular for cosmetic, medicinal, and magickal purposes for the last 2000 years. From the Egyptians, to Victorian England, to the 21st Century, lavender has a long and magickal history.
One of the oldest uses of lavender was by the ancient Egyptians. They used the herb in the mummification process, as well as in perfumes and ointments. Upon the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb, decorative urns were found which contained residue that smelled strongly of lavender. It was thought that these containers had held a type of ointment that was only used by the wealthy and royal peoples as perfume and medicine, proving that among other herbs, lavender was considered important enough to be used by royalty. It was also said that Cleopatra used a lavender perfume to seduce Mark Antony.
Some sources claim that lavender is mentioned in the Bible as well. The assertion is that lavender went by the name of spikenard in the Bible, and that it was one of the plants that Adam and Eve took with them when they were banished from the Garden of Eden, that the woman who washes Jesus’s feet did so with lavender scented oil, and that lavender was also used to wash Jesus as an infant and after crucifixion. This however, is probably not true. It seems that spikenard and lavender are different plants (which look very similar), and due to translation issues, the two herbs have been confused. (This post has a good breakdown of the issue is you want to dive down that rabbit hole.)
Ancient Greece and Rome
Lavender was widely used in the ancient Mediterranean civilizations. In 77 AD, Greek physician and author Dioscorides, compiled one of the first major works of herbalism called De Materia Medica. In it, he recorded that soldiers used lavender to treat burns, wounds, and other skin issues. It was also used to relieve headaches, sore throats, and digestion problems. Pliny the Elder, another Greek writer, wrote that lavender had a number of uses, such as treating insect bites and mensural problems.
In ancient Rome, lavender was used most often as a washing and cleansing herb. In fact, the name lavender comes from the Latin “lavare” (to wash/bathe). Romans used lavender to perfume and clean their homes, air out sick rooms, as incense in religious rituals, as perfume for their bodies, and in their baths and soaps. Lavender was a precious commodity, costing 100 denarii for 1lb of the herb, which was roughly a months wages for a farmer.
The Middle Ages and Beyond
No doubt this love of lavender spread to the rest of Europe as the Roman Empire grew. As Romans began living in Central Europe and the British Isles, they brought lavender with them. It continued to be a popular herb. The knowledgeable nun, Hildegard Von Bingen, used lavender to get rid of lice and fleas. During the outbreaks of the Black Death in the 1400 and 1600s, lavender was used to freshen sickrooms, and placed inside of the “Bird Masks” that doctors wore to treat patients. It was believed to protect them from falling victim to the plague, and its beautiful scent masked the odor of death.
Long-used as a perfume, lavender was worn by ‘ladies of the night’ (uh-hem, prostitutes) to entice customers. Funnily enough, it was also sprinkled on the heads of young women to keep them chaste. Married women kept lavender near their beds to incite passion in their husbands, and maids were known to put lavender under their pillows to help them get a glimpse of their future husbands in their dreams. Lavender also had a strong association with protection, cleanliness, and relaxation. Even before the middle ages it was worn or carried by a person to ward off the evil eye, hung above doorways to ward off bad spirits, and used to induce sleep and calm.
These beliefs carried on through the Renaissance and Enlightenment. In the 1800s, lavender was sold on the streets in London to help protect travelers. Queen Victoria was enamored with the scent of lavender, so much so that she appointed a special position within her household to manage all her lavender affairs. Lavender was used throughout the royal chambers, and Victoria’s person. She had enormous influence on ladies of her society, making lavender one of the most sought after herbs for perfume and cosmetics, a trend that has still not fallen out.
More recently, the use of lavender to treat wounds has been explored. In 1910, René-Maurice Gattefossé, a French chemist is said to have badly burned his hand. He reacted quickly, submerging his hand into a container of lavender oil nearby. This turned out to be a good decision, as the oil helped heal his wound quickly and with little scarring. He published a book about this observation, which had a large influence on the field of aromatherapy and using oils as healing agents. This also had a major impact on the use of lavender as a method of healing burns and wounds in WWI and WWI when other supplies ran low.
Today, lavender is used in many products. It is a popular scent for cosmetics, toiletries, room sprays, pillow sachets, and aromatherapy. Lavender has also been proven to elevate moods, help with sleep, create calm, relieve pain, and improve memory.
All of this history informs our magickal uses of lavender. The energies of lavender can be seen in all of these past medicinal and folkloric uses. Its association with cleanliness, calm, beauty, romance, and protection goes back hundreds, if not thousands of years. These people sensed the inherent value and energy in the herb and used it accordingly. Lavender can be used in many ways during spells and rituals. It’s energies promote:
- Psychic ability
The uses of lavender are endless in magick. I like to draw upon the innate energy and use it when that vibration is needed. You can use lavender in food to bring happiness and peace, keep lavender in your home for protection, use it to sprinkle moon (or otherwise blessed) water to purify a space, drink it in tea to increase psychic ability or promote calm, burn lavender or lavender scented candles (or a diffuser with lavender essential oil) for any of the above reasons. You can also use it in love/romance/happiness spells.
Below are links to some wonderful recipes that you can make to get more connected with the energies of lavender.
Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs. Scott Cunningham.
The Green Wiccan Herbal: 52 Magical Herbs, Plus Spells and Witchy Rituals. Silja.