In the occult community, I tend to go by the name of ‘Ivy’. My dear friend Red has written about the significance of names in a prior post, so I won’t repeat what she said. Instead, I wish to contemplate on why I have chosen that name for myself and how the mask I wore has morphed me into who I am today.
Firstly, the name Ivy was picked due to the convenience of it. Ivy is short for ‘ivy-crowned’, an epithet of the Greek god Dionysus. My foray into paganism began officially through Hellenic Polytheism, wherein Dionysus was my primary mentor and patron. I had initially laughed at the person who suggested that I look towards Dionysus as someone to assist me through a crisis that was previously troubling me. Back then, all I knew of the god was that he was the lord of parties and wine. In that regard, it was insane that I — a Capricorn Sun, very much saturnine in my austerity and reserved character — would want to venerate a deity known for insobriety.
It was hilarious how wrong I was.
Dionysus is so much more than drunken debauchery. With wine comes frenzy: maníai, madness, insight and the manic Mysteries. Through Dionysus-Zagreus-Sabazios, I was shown how truth can exist within contradictions; ergo, duality or the lack thereof, a unification of opposites, ekstasis leading to transcendence. It was through Orphism and the Orphic Gold Tablets that I first understood how jumping into milk is akin to falling into the ocean of the stars. It was through the lens of sparagmos and omophagia that I performed my first Red Meal: eating the flesh of the God-Devil and drinking his blood and having him devour me in return— a mutual consumption, for to share a meal is to share divinity. Dionysus too was the one to pique my interests in death and the afterlife (and eventually, necromancy). What might surprise those who did not know much about the Goat-Lord of Grapes is that he is not a summer deity, but rather a winter and funerary god. Funerary rites were held in the name of Bacchus, and every winter when Apollo departs from Delphi, it is Dionysus who takes the Sun God’s place at the temple.
I could go on and on and on about Dionysus, but the point I wish to make was that Dionysus was my first. He was the one who first took my hands and led me through the doors into a world I didn’t know had existed. For that, I honor him by taking on the name of Ivy: the garland of kissios that wreathes the head of the bull-horned god, the creeping green that adorns his thyrsos.
However, my practice soon shifted after I caught the attention of another figure who sought to initiate me. Regardless, although I no longer ‘work’ with Dionysus, the symbolism surrounding the folklore of the ivy plant still very much rings true to my identity as a practitioner and a witch. To quote the book Under the Bramble Arch by Corinne Boyer:
“There was a certain darkness associated with ivy quite possibly because of her associations with death, graveyards and ruins. In Cornwall if you wanted to dream of the Devil, you would pin four ivy leaves to the corners of your pillow. In early American folklore, ivy was unlucky to give as a gift in Maine and Massachusetts because it could bring death to a family. A Somerset belief was that to pick an ivy leaf off a church wall, one would develop sickness. To fall asleep under a large ivy vine climbing tree was said to bring death to the one in slumber. Ivy’s black berries were sometimes used in cursing rituals in the British Isles. It is no surprise that ivy is ruled by Saturn, according to astrologers of old. Ivy was a burial plant due to its evergreen nature and was associated with immortality.”
Ivy is a saturnine plant associated with death and the Devil. And yet, in folk magic, ivy is associated with love. To quote some examples again the aforementioned book:
“Ivy was used along with holly in an Irish love divination on New Year’s Eve. Ivy and holly leaves were placed under one’s pillow, and the following simple charm was spoken to bring dreams of a future mate: Oh ivy green and holly red, tell me tell me whom I shall wed […] Because of its intense clinging nature ivy has been used in love magic in times past, being a symbol of love, fidelity and friendship. Country names for this planet were ‘bindwood’ and ‘love stone’. Ivy was used in marriage divinations, some were as simple as if a girl placed an ivy leaf in her pocket, the next man she met would be her future husband. An old char, from Dunbartonshire, was for a young maid to take an ivy leaf that was growing on a church, place it under her blouse and whisper this rhyme: Ivy, Ivy, I love you. In my bosom put you. The first young man who speaks to me, my future husband he will be.”
How could such a saturnine plant be associated with love? One of the answers, as I would come to understand, is due to the same reason that Libra is the exaltation of Saturn and the domicile of Venus. To explore the astrological significance of this might take a post of its own, along with the mind of someone more knowledgeable about astrology than my current level of expertise. Nevertheless, the image of love as a tree slowly but surely growing, with sturdy roots beneath a soil wetted with blood, is one that keeps reappearing in my head. Perhaps, that is the connection between Saturn and Venus and love. Either way, when one thinks of a different kind of love — the kind associated with temptation and seduction — another image that comes to mind is that of the serpent or the snake.
Ivy is an incredibly serpentine plant. Daniel Schulke, in the Viridarium Umbris, claims that ivy is ‘aligned with the snake spirit’. It makes perfect sense to me that ivy, like the snake that tempted Eve, is so commonly used in love magic. Ivy, in its serpentine-saturnine nature, is binding and love magic is often performed through binding one heart with another. Likewise in folk magic, the hagstone or the adder stone, is often used as a tool for protection and spirit flight. The snake, known for its poison and the manner in which it sheds its skin, is again an unsurprising occult symbol for death and rebirth. Briar has also written a very thought-provoking post on the symbol of the snake, which I do urge people to read if they are interested in the topic.
The latest puzzle piece in this conundrum seems to be my realization that I, in fact, have Venus in paran with Alphard. According to Ptolemy, the fixed star Alphard has the planetary nature of Saturn and Venus, being a star within the constellation of Hydra, the water snake. My friend and astrologer (and astrolater <3) Sasha Ravitch has touched upon Venus and the planet’s Otherness, especially when it is in paran with or at an angle to a fixed star, in her latest podcast appearance. I really do recommend that people go listen to the podcast if they are interested in the relation between stars and spirit work.
To conclude this ruminative piece on the symbol of the ivy plant, it can be said that the name I casually took on had come to mean a lot more than it initially did. The mystery of the serpent is still one that I am exploring. I don’t believe a complete comprehension of any mystery could be achieved, but insight and understanding is something I hope to gain in the future.
1. Boyer, C., 2020. Under the Bramble Arch: A Folk Grimoire of Wayside Plant Lore and Practicum, Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Publications.
2. Schulke, D., 2005. Viridarium Umbris: The Pleasure Garden of Shadows, Chelmsford: Xoanon Limited.