THE LORE & MAGIC OF CLOVER (Trifolium spp.)
Planetary ruler: Mercury
Associated deities: Aphrodite, Freya, Hathor, Venus.
Magical virtues: luck, visionary herb, Beltane, faithfulness, love, fairy contact, abundance
My lawn is full of clovers, and I make no attempt to weed them out, because they are so beneficial. The bees adore them, and honey made by bees feeding on clover is delicious. It attracts many beneficial insects including parasitic wasps that kill aphids and other insects that can destroy the vegetable garden. It is wonderful for nitrogen fixation, pulling in atmospheric nitrogen and storing it in its roots. When the plant dies, nitrogen is released back into the soil as food for surrounding plants. This is not a modern discover, from the seventeenth century, farmers added red and white clover to their fields to feed them. This, and the fact that clover makes good hay, gave rise to the phrase ‘be to in clover’, meaning abundance.
This little plant, often regarded as a weed that grows in many a lawn and roadside verge has more than its fair share of folklore.
St Patrick used the clover to explain the three in one nature of the holy trinity. The threefold shape of the clover leaf was used to represent the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). In Christian lore, Eve took some four-leaf clover with her when she was banished from the garden of Eden as a reminder of her happy time in paradise. However, its reputation as a plant of luck and prosperity is most prevalent in Celtic countries, and it is likely that some of its lore may predate Christianity altogether.
Clovers generally have three leaves, and four leaves are rare, so just finding one might be considered extraordinary luck. Four is a number of balance – four directions, four elements, four seasons and so on. One traditional rhyme associates it with four common aspirations:
One leaf is for fame,
And one leaf is for wealth
And one for a faithful lover,
And one to bring you glorious health
Are all in the four-leaved clover.
Otherwise, the four leaves are taken to represent faith, hope, love, and luck. For Christians, the four-leafed clover represented the cross, and possession of one would protect against evil spirits, the attentions of fairies, witches and ill luck. Maybe before the advent of Christianity, it was a solar cross, a symbol which dispelled evil in ancient times.
Clovers were used in love magic. According to popular folklore, place a four leafed clover under your pillow to dream of your perfect partner. If you are seriously looking for a partner, place a clover leaf in your shoe, the first man you meet will be your destined lover. Or pin the clover to your door, and the first unmarried man that passes will be yours. Scatter in front of a new bride for luck and protection.
If we are to judge by fairy tales, clovers were much loved by the fairy folk. According to one story, a milkmaid accidentally picked a four-leaf clover with the grass she used to soften the weight of the pail on her head. When next she looked at her cow, she saw dozens of fairies milking it. In many documented recipes, a salve of four-leaf clover was said to open the Sight and allow a person to see fairies and spirits.
Clover is protective, a holy herb that shielded against dark forces. There is an old rhyme that runs: Trefoil, vervain, St John’s wort, dill/Hinders witches of their will. In Cornwall, a four-leaf clover is said to bring back a real child stolen by the pixies, by placing the clover on the changeling.
It is said that snakes will not go where clover grows. The related shamrock was said to have been planted in Ireland by saint Patrick who expelled all the snakes from the island, a metaphor for overcoming the power of the Pagans. Shamrock means small clover, though it is not a clover at all, but an oxalis.
The word clover is possibly from the Latin clava meaning ‘club’, the three knotted club of Hercules, the symbol in the suit of clubs in playing cards. In Anglo Saxon it was called cloeferwort (a wort is a medicinal herb).
Clover is a visionary herb, and may be employed in teas, wine, incense, salves and potions to aid access to the spirit world, especially for fairy contact at Beltane, a doorway between the seasons, and at the great fairy festival of Midsummer.
Consecrate the ritual pentacle and copper tools, such as herb knives, with clover infusion or oil. Use clover oil, incense and infusion in rituals and spells for increase, earth, abundance and prosperity. Carry a clover for luck.
According to an old spell, to stay young gather dew on May Day dawn. Steep in three clover stalks in it, out of the sunlight. The next day rub some of this water on your face, and every subsequent day until it is used up. (it’s worth a try!)
Use in incense, spells, herbal talismans, as an anointing oil for spells of rituals of love, and the goddess of love.
© Anna Franklin, The Hearth Witch’s Garden Herbal, forthcoming Llewellyn, 2023