Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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Rampion, Rampion (Let Down Your Hair)

Posted by on in Culture Blogs

The Germans call it Rapunzel.

Rampion. Campanula rapunculus: an old European cultigen with a beautiful, star-shaped purple flower, whose leaves can be cooked or eaten raw like spinach; its parsnip-like white roots are likewise cooked or served in salads.

You know the story. The couple long for a child; finally she gets pregnant, but craves a salad made from the beautiful rampion that grows in the garden of the witch next door. (What is it about witches and gardens?)

Twice the husband manages to steal rampion undetected, but the third time the witch catches him. In the end, she lets him off with all the rampion he wants, but on one condition: she gets the child.

In due course, the longed-for daughter is born. They name her—of course—Rampion.

And once she's weaned, she goes to the witch.

No one seems to wonder why the witch wants the child. (A weanling is too big and tough to eat.) But the reason seems clear enough. The witch has no daughter of her own. What she's looking for is an apprentice, a successor.

It's an immemorial part of European witch-lore that a witch can't die until she's passed her Craft on to someone else. Folklore aside, it's a cultural imperative. Those of us who have spent years of our life acquiring this knowledge have the responsibility to pass it on before we die. That's how the Craft survives.

No wonder the witch gets so upset when Rampion falls in love with some cowan and gets pregnant before her training is finished.

In her classic A Modern Herbal, M. Grieve mentions an Italian folk tale from Campania in which “a maiden, uprooting a rampion in a field, discovers a staircase that leads to a palace far down in the depths of the earth” (Grieve 670). I've been unable to trace the story any further, but in this context it's hard not to think of Persephone.

It would appear that rampion is a plant intimately linked to female initiation.

Flower : leaf : root :: purple : green : white. Through these stories, one sees deeply into the inner life of the Triple Goddess.

There's certainly more to be said on the topic, but for now, I'm afraid, I've got to run.

The neighbor's in the garden again.


M. Grieve, A Modern Herbal, Volume II (1971). Dover.













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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Sunday, 13 November 2016

    Mercedes Lackey does a wonderful retelling of the story in "From a High Tower". I don't remember seeing rampion in the seed catalogues when I was growing up, but if I ever get the chance I would like to grow some and give it a try.

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