The Raven’s Trail: Daisy

Daisy

(Bellis perennis)

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Daises can grow anywhere that has well drained soil and has annual air temperatures above -35°C. Daisies can be found on every landmass except Antarctica. The basal leaf growth and prostrate habit of daisies combined with their prevalence in lawns results in them often being classed as weeds.  A Daisy technically has two types of flowers: the white petals are ray florets and the yellow centre is a mass of individual flowers.

Daisies in Folklore and Mythology

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Frederick Morgan. Oil on canvas. ‘Margureites’ 1889.

The name Daisy comes from the old English ‘Daes eag’, or Day’s eye. This refers to the fact that the flower closes at night and opens during the day. Chaucer mentions daises in The Canterbury tales as ‘the eye of the day.’

Roman troops would collect sacks of Daises while marching to battle and soak dressings in the juice from them. This was then used on wounds to stop bleeding. This is thought to be the reason why the Latin name for daisies begins with the word Bellis, this could be a derivation of bellus’ meaning ‘pretty, or from ‘bello’, the Latin for ‘war’.

In more recent times daises have been associated with childhood, innocence and purity. The children’s game of making daisy chains is shown in this picture from 1889.  The Victorians thought that if a child wore a daisy chain they would be protected from abduction by fairies. There is also the childhood game of plucking a daises petals reciting ‘he loves me, he loves me not’, whichever phrase you run out of petals at is the answer to the question; Does he love me? This became popular after the game was show in Goethe’s Faust, published in the early 1800s. Daises also have a sinister side, in Celtic mythology it was believed that daises were the spirits of children who died during birth.

Daisies in George MacDonald’s Fantasy

Daisies in appear in a number of George MacDonald’s fantasy works, including Lilith, The Portent, The Princess and Curdie and The Carasoyn. The two texts which use daises most strongly are Phantastes and At The Back of the North Wind. 

In this image from Phantastes we see the fairy of the daisy engraved by Arthur

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The Fairy of the Daisy. Engraving by Arthur Hughes for Phantastes 1905.

Hughes.  The fairy is described as , ‘a little, chubby, round-eyed child, with such innocent trust in his look! Even the most mischievous of the fairies would not tease him, although he did not belong to their set at all, but was quite a little country bumpkin. He wandered about alone, and looked at everything, with his hands in his little pockets, and a white night-cap on, the darling! He was not so beautiful as many other wild flowers I saw afterwards, but so dear and loving in his looks and little confident ways.’ 

Daisies also appear in At The Back of The North Wind  when the hero, Diamond, describes the land at the back of the North wind in what at first appears to be a nonsensical song:

For the wind that blows is the life of the river flowing for ever that washes the

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Anodos with the flower fairies. Illustration by John Bell  for Phantastes 1894.

grasses still as it passes and feeds the daisies the little white praises and buttercups bonny so golden and sunny with butter and honey that whiten the sheep awake or asleep that nibble and bite and grow whiter than white and merry and quiet on the sweet diet fed by the river and tossed for ever by the wind that tosses the swallow that crosses over the shallows dipping his wings to gather the water and bake the cake that the wind shall make as hard as a bone as dry as a stone it’s all in the wind that blows from behind and all in the river that flows for ever and all in the grasses and the white daisies and the merry sheep awake or asleep and the happy swallows skimming the shallows and it’s all in the wind that blows from behind.

This trail has been developed by Rebecca Langworthy with editorial assistance from Derek Stewart, Mark Patterson and Oliver Langworthy.

Further Links

More about daisies as a plant can be found through the flower expert here

More about the folklore of the daisy can be found in Katharine T. Kells essay on the subject, available here

The 1894 version of Phantastes  is available here 1894phantastes

The 1919 edition of  At The Back of the North Wind is available here 1919Northwind

Audio book versions of Phantastes and At The Back of the North Wind are available via Librivox at the links below

Phantastes  https://librivox.org/at-the-back-of-the-north-wind-by-george-macdonald/

At The Back of the North Wind  https://librivox.org/phantastes-by-george-macdonald/

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George MacDonald’s Scotland is Supported by The Research Institute of Scottish and Irish Studies https://www.abdn.ac.uk/riiss/   The University of Aberdeen https://www.abdn.ac.uk/and the British Association for Victorian Studies (BAVS): www.bavs.ac.uk