Peony Lore & Magic

(Paeonia sp.)

Planetary Ruler: Sun

Element: fire

Associated deities: Paeon, Apollo, Aesculapius, Leto,gods of healing, moon goddesses

Magical Virtues: healing, warding, protection, counter magic, exorcism

As I write, the peonies are starting to come out in my garden this week, and I know from experience that this heralds a period of early summer storms – every year, my poor red peony gets its petals bashed off by thunderstorms and torrential rain as soon as it flowers! Luckily, the storms have usually passed by the time the slightly later pink and white varieties open.  They have a short blooming period in early summer, lasting only 7-10 days, but their beauty and usefulness makes them well worth the space.  

Peonies have been used medicinally since ancient times.  In Chinese traditional herbalism, peony root (Bai Shao) is still used in the treatment of a variety of conditions, including gout, menstrual cramps, migraine and hepatitis. 

In Europe, the mediaeval monks grew them in their herb gardens, while the English herbalist Culpepper stated that the ‘male’ peony could cure falling sickness and the ‘female’ could drive away nightmares.   

It’s connection with healing goes deep.  It was named by Theophrastus in honour of Paeon, who is said to have used it to cure wounds in the Trojan War.  [1] He is said to have received the flower from Leto, the mother of Apollo, on Olympus, and used it to cure Hades of a wound received in a fight with Herakles.  [2] Paeon was a pupil of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine.  However, Asclepius became jealous of his clever pupil and sought to kill him, but Zeus rescued the youth by changing him into a peony flower.  Sometimes, however, Paeon is used as an epithet of the sun god Apollo, who had aspects as a healer god himself, dispelling sickness just as he dispelled darkness and negativity as he rose as the sun each day.  Sometimes, Paeon is used as a sobriquet of Asclepius himself. 

The ancient Greeks believed that it was an emanation of the Moon that glowed at night to drive away evil spirits, giving protection horses wherever it grows, safeguarding shepherds and their flocks, keeping the harvest from injury and preventing storms.  [3]However, much like the mandrake, its collection was surrounded by taboos and danger.  Pliny said, “that of necessity it must be gathered in the night for if any man shall pluck the fruit in the daytime being seen of the woodpecker he be in danger of to lose his eyes“.

In the mediaeval period, the peony was used to ward off evil in its various guises.  Culpeper said it was an antidote to any sickness caused by demonic possession, such as epilepsy.  Gerard said it healed those who had been bewitched.  The seeds steeped in hot wine were believed to prevent nightmares or strung onto a necklace to protect children from convulsions, ward off evil spirits and madness.  [4]  Pennsylvanian Germans also used it to prevent fits, washing with a rag that had been tied to a peony.  [5] The plants were often grown near the door of cottages as they were considered to be able to drive away witches and storms, fairies and goblins.  [6] Peonies were widely believed to prevent nightmares, advocated as such by Pliny, and even Francis Bacon who said that it protected against “the incubus we call the mare”.  [7]

It protected against lightning.  [8] Peonies had the ability to disperse evil spirits and storms, drive away tempests and witches. 

One superstition held that if you count the petals on a flower and they come out odd, there will be a death in the family.  Pennsylvanian Germans said that if you gave peony as a gift someone in your family will die.  [9]

The peony is an ancient plant of protection, its power bringing all within its sphere into the care of the Moon Goddess, particularly all living and growing things.  The petals may be scattered around the edge of the circle and the dried petals and powdered root used in protective incenses. Grow peony in your garden, put the dried petals in potpourri or charm bags, or carry on the person in a herbal talisman.

Place a peony charm bag under the pillow to prevent nightmares.

Peony is used in exorcism rituals and incense.

The peony makes a suitable incense to honour and invoke the God of Medicine and healing energies.  Use peony in incenses, potions, and spells of healing. 

© Anna Franklin, from the forthcoming Hearth Witch’s Garden Herbal, Llewellyn, 2023

[1] Wilfred Blunt, Flowers Drawn from Nature, Leslie Urquhart Press, 1957

[2] Mrs C.F.Leyel, Herbal Delights, Faber, 1937

[3] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[4] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[5] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[6] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[7] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[8] Donald Watts BA MIL, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Lore, Academic Press, London, 2007

[9] Edwain Miller Fogel, Beliefs and Superstitions of the Pennsylvania Germans, America Germanica Press, 1915


Author: annafranklinblog

Anna Franklin is the High Priestess of the Hearth of Arianrhod, which runs teaching circles, a working coven, and the annual Mercian Gathering, a Pagan camp which raises money for charity. She regularly speaks at conferences, moots and workshops around the country. She is the author of many books on witchcraft and Paganism, including the popular Pagan Ways Tarot, Sacred Circle Tarot, The Fairy Ring, Herb Craft, Magical Incenses and Oils, Personal Power, A Romantic Guide to Handfasting, Familiars, The Oracle of the Goddess, Hearth Witch, The Path of the Shaman and The Hearth Witch’s Compendium. Anna’s books have been translated into nine languages.

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