Wednesday, 1 July 2009


Thank Lugus for Foxgloves and their towering spikes.

Despite them filling the ditches and hedgerows at this time of year I've never got to the bottom of their name. My favourite version of the story goes a little like this.

Wicked faeries - infected with blood lust - would put the soft flowers on foxes' feet allowing them to pad silently into a chicken coop to go about their feasting.

Other alternatives - sadly - don't involve foxes at all. And sometimes not even gloves. One of these is "folks glieuw", which literally means folk music. The old Anglo Saxon word gleow meant "to play an instrument" and the word glieuw may be related to an ancient bell-like instrument that had a series of pendant hanging bells. I imagine it like a retro tambourine being jangled away while sitting round the campfire with some cider. Although it doesn't take a massive leap of imagination to see how glieuw turned into glove over time.

As usual the Welsh, with a rich oral and written tradition, hold some literary keys. In the old days it's either menygellyllon (elves' gloves) or menyg y llwynog (foxes' gloves). In modern Welsh bysedd y cwn (dogs' fingers) is used.

The marauding Norsemen not only navigated and pilaged. They seemingly united the Anglo Saxons and the Old Welsh on botanical nomenclature. In Norwegian the word is revebjelle (fox bell). We'll likely never know the truth and we're the richer for it.

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