Mother of Pearl – An Herb for Attracting Good Luck and Prosperity
Mother-of-pearl (Ruta graveolens) is one of the most well-known herbs in the folk medicine and magical tradition of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Its use is multifaceted, mainly used to purify the home space and the human body from negative forces. The mother-of-pearl is a plant of Mediterranean origin, growing in places with a dry climate. Because of its specific smell, the herb is also used in Bosnia as an insect repellant, and traditionally at least one sprig is kept in the wardrobe next to the clothes. The mother-of-pearl was known for its apotropaic qualities among the Illyrians, Greeks and Romans, being used to ward off evil forces and treat various health problems. The remnants of these ancient beliefs are preserved in folk medicine, where, for example, it is claimed that the herb successfully cures all heart diseases. Even Shakespeare himself gave the mother-of-pearl the unusual name “god’s mercy” because of the ritual practice of soaking a sprig of it in water and sprinkling it on possessed people. In some Mediterranean cultures, the plant is widely used in cooking because of its rich vitamin C content. In Bosnia, mother-of-pearl is added to brandy, thus improving digestion.
Herb against diseases and evils
In addition to its many medicinal uses, the herb occupies a prominent place in folk beliefs and as a means of combating evil forces, mainly because of its smell, as well as the unusual appearance of its leaves, which resemble an outstretched human palm. This was reason enough for it to gain fame as a plant that protects against evil. Traditionally in Bosnia, mother-of-pearl or mother-of-pearl is cultivated in homes, near the front door, because of the belief that in this way it will protect the home and its inhabitants from lessons, magic and evil spirits. Young children were placed leaves of the herb under the pillow to protect them from the evil eye. Even today, before the coming of autumn, the old women collect the dried fruits of the mother-of-pearl, stringing them on a string and making from them the so-called a “tespih” or rosary made up of 33 beads that hangs on the wall in the home. In this way, it is believed that she will attract happiness in him.
In Bosnian folklore, the mother-of-pearl is dedicated to good samodivas (villas). According to folk beliefs, samodivas enjoy sleeping on the leaves of this herb because of its specific smell. This belief is also supported by the rituals performed by the young maidens, in which they swear with a mother-of-pearl bracelet. In one of these, a maiden who wishes to be noticed everywhere and to attract the attention of bachelors, is required to wash her body to be clean and to take a sprig of mother-of-pearl and a vessel of lukewarm water. With naked body and loose hair, she should drink from the water, and while holding it in her mouth she should recite Surah Ikhlas nine times, then spit the water back into the vessel and dip the pearl in it, while saying the following incantation:
“A fairy fell asleep on a mother-of-pearl leaf,
it has spread from her to me
gold, silver and silk.
Gold gilded me
silk enveloped me, and villa blessed me
to be healthy and strong,
among everyone in the world the most suitable and beautiful to be.
veledalin amen, by God amen!”*
Finally, after saying the words three times, the girl blows over the water and pours it over her body, from head to toe, letting the water flow freely. In this way, the ritual is completed, and the wrist left after the watering must be thrown where no human foot steps. Folk healers claim that by performing this ritual, the girl will be cleansed of lessons, envy and hatred, and her luck will open if it was previously closed. If she is unlucky in love, then it is believed that her “luck is locked” and this ritual must be performed for three consecutive Tuesdays. This ensures that he will be able to quickly meet his burn.
The mother-of-pearl does not only help maidens to attract love, but also married women, especially those whose husbands cheat. There is an old custom in northwestern Bosnia when a woman has an unfaithful husband to wash her underwear and spread it out to dry on a mother-of-pearl bush, then put it on. Thus imbued with the scent of the herb, they will make the woman desirable and loved again in the eyes of her husband.
Another unusual use of mother-of-pearl is that it can be used as a substitute for incense. Bosnian folk beliefs say that with a few dry leaves of the herb, together with prepared musk, people affected by harmful influences, especially those attacked by spirits and black magic, can be cured. At least once a year around the home is incensed with dry mother-of-pearl leaves to ward off evil forces and lessons that may have entered it, especially after visiting guests. Those who make protective amulets (muski) usually fold in them a few leaves of the herb to give it extra strength and thus provide its owner with immunity from evil. Given the qualities of this plant, it is worth mentioning the frequent statement of Bosnian healers (ojakli kadan) that: “due to its usefulness, one should protect it more than one’s own child”.©
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