Saint–John’s-wort may have come from Assyria, where it was hung over doors during religious festivals as protection against evil spirits and influences. Because it flowers at about the time of the summer solstice (June 21 or 22), it played an important role in pagan religious rites and sun worship festivals. The Romans burned it in bonfires on Midsummer Day. The Greeks also used it in exorcism, believing that its fragrance would drive away evil spirits.
Under Christianity, the plant was rededicated to St. John the Baptist, whose birthday, St. John’s Day, is observed on June 24. Medieval priests continued the customs of the Greeks in using the plant in Exorcism, and it acquired the monicker “devil’s flight.” The Church also continued the pagan custom of gathering the plant at Midsummer Eve, to be draped about windows and doors and hung on the necks of children to protect them against illness for a year. Midsummer is not the only time the plant is effective: one may gather it any Friday and wear it on the neck in order to dispel melancholy and drive away all manner of spirits.
In the 17th century, Saint–John’s-wort was often used in the Exorcism of Demons and ghosts, and it was said to expose witches and protect against bewitchment.
According to folklore on the Isle of Wight, if a person steps on Saint–John’s-wort, a fairy horse will appear under him and race off with him for the entire night. See Charms AGAINST Ghosts.
- Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. New York: Facts On File, 1999.
- Magic and Medicine of Plants. Pleasantville, N.Y.: Reader’s Digest Assn., 1986.