How the key of heaven came from heaven (cowslip) (039)

In germanic mythology the key of heaven gave the ‘key’ to a treasure. Nowadays we are quick to think of treasure in terms of a treasure trove full of gold and silver. But in long gone times the treasure referred to was more likely to be that of insight and wisdom. In the middle ages this germanic myth was taken over by the christians. However, it still refers to spiritual treasures: heavenly wealth. A careless Peter plays the main role in this christian myth.
Peter is one of Jesus’ twelve apostles and after his death he became the keeper of the heaven’s gates. On his belt still rattled the large golden keys which allow entry to all the heavenly vaults. It is his task to welcome the ‘good souls’ into the heavenly paradise and to point the ‘bad souls’ in the direction of hell.
On one of the first spring days of the year in question Petrus was feeling slightly dazed by the warm spring sunshine and nodded off to sleep in his comfortable chair in front of the heavenly gates.  He was so sleepy that he forgot to click the keys onto his belt, so that they eventually fell out of his hands as he sat there snoring. Several hours later the bunch of keys fell to earth.
A little girl who was playing in a field nearby heard the heavy keys drop down in the meadow. The gold glittered and shone yellow in the sun. Because she sensed that these were important keys, she did not dare pick them up. Instead she ran back home to tell her parents about these amazing keys which had simply dropped out of the sky.
By the time the parents of the excited girl had reached the meadow, it seemed as if the keys had already disappeared. But on the spot where the girl pointed to now grew a beautiful plant with bright yellow sparkling flowers.  A plant they had never seen before. The flowers hung down to the side of the stem, like the keys on a keyring. They realized at once that they were special, which is why they called this newly discovered plant ‘key of heaven”.
Because it came from heaven, the parents imagined that there must be a treasure hidden beneath the plant. So after digging carefully around it and finding nothing, they knew that it would bring them good fortune in the near future. That is why they looked after the plant with the greatest care. As a result, it thrived and multiplied, spreading across large areas of land.

The key flower is called primula in Latin, which means firstling. It is one of the first plants to flower in the earliest days of  spring. There are three varieties in the lowlands: the gold-laced or common cowslip (Primula veris), the slender oxlip (Primula elatior) and the stemless primrose (Primula vulgaris). These are all yellow. In Europe, however, most varieties of the primulas grow in mountainous areas where they can also be coloured pink, red, purple and white. The roots are bitter and taste of aniseed. In former times people used the roots to cure illnesses, because the primula was seen as a holy plant able to heal all kinds of ‘devilish afflictions’ such as gout and arthritis! With the addition of generous quantities of sugar it provided a widely-used cough mixture. Nowadays, the cultivated variety is a popular buy in the springtime.    


© Els Baars,

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Els Baars