The topic for this Valentine’s week is love potions! What are they made from? Who uses them? Do they work?
In Wicked Enchantments, Joyce Froome describes an array of magical charms used throughout the ages and recorded in the Museum of Witchcraft in Cornwall, England. These include: sticking a certain number of pins into an apple or onion while chanting a rhyme; specific astrological symbols engraved on a box as a love talisman; carrying henbane root to make you appear more attractive; piercing knotted cords with pins; throwing salt on the fire while reciting a chant on three consecutive Fridays; melting a wax heart over a hot tile while casting a charm that will bind the lover to your will; and pushing pins in the sleeve with a prayer for each one so you will dream of your future spouse. And quoting from The Book of Secrets of Albertus Magnus, Froome explains that a typical magical drink contained items such as periwinkle, houseleek, and earthworms!
Over the centuries love potions have appealed to young women in search of a husband; those who’ve lost their sweethearts and wish to lure them back; lovers in search of willing bed partners; and insecure people needing outside support, especially when they’ve already been rebuffed. Cunning folk were only to happy to oblige and had a fifty-fifty chance of providing satisfaction, though of course they were conjuring up sexual allure and attraction, rather than genuine love.
There is some scientific research suggesting that modern-day “love potions” may actually affect human mood – for example, those based on odors containing jasmine, rose, and vanilla. Smells can trigger pheromones and create longing, attraction, or remind the person of happy erotic memories from their past. Several products on the market contain chemical pheromones which supposedly make the wearer sexually irresistible. Likewise, in the time before Viagra, certain herbs were used to increase the blood flow and stimulate arousal. But did they really work? What do you think?
Froome, Joyce. Wicked Enchantments: A History of the Pendle Witches and Their Magic (Lancaster: Carnegie, 2010)