Primrose Session

Primroses are wonderful flowers to work with. They are edible (in small quantities), and healing, having been used for many years to alleviate stress and sleeplessness, as well as many other ailments. In this session, we celebrated the fact that in many folklores of the world, primroses are said to be the keys to spring.

The Rhyme

 

Primrose flowers all around

Like white torches from the ground

Listen, and you’ll hear the sound

Spring is bursting through the land.

The Story

 

Once upon a time there were two best friends, a boy and a girl, who lived on a wide bare meadow. They played everywhere, in the grass and out of the grass, on the stones and under the stones, up the trees and over the trees. But they never played around the great black mountain, for they knew that it was not safe.

One day, though, they were playing hide and seek, and the little boy ran off to hide, and found himself right at the side of the mountain, and as he looked at it, he realized he was standing in front of a great door. He pushed at it, and it opened, and he went in, deeper and deeper, until he found a great cave, and there he felt very sleepy, so he lay himself down, and slept.

The little girl looked for the boy. She looked for him in the grass and out of grass, on the stones and under the stones, up the trees and over the trees, but she couldn’t find him anywhere. And as she stood there, she knew with a terrible sudden certainty that he had gone inside the mountain. So she walked towards it, and there she found a great door. And she pushed the door, and pushed it, and pushed it, but try as she might she could not get it open, and nothing she could do could get it open.

The little girl sat down by the side of the mountain and began to cry. And as she cried, an old woman came passed, and stopped, and looked at her.

“Why are you crying?” she asked.

The little girl looked up at the strange old woman. “I’ve lost my friend,” she said. “He’s gone into the mountain, and I’m not strong enough to open the door.”

The woman laughed. It was a strange laugh that seemed to ring across the meadow, and over the stones, and up the great black mountain.

“Strength is useless, however much you have, or do not have,” she said. “It’s the key you need.”

The girl lifted up her tear-stained face. “What key?”

“The key to the mountain,” said the old woman.

“Where can I get it?” said the girl.

The woman laughed again, then started to mumble something under her breath. She mumbled awhile, and then her voice got louder again, and the girl could make out the words.

Neither glass, metal or rock,

Will open up the mountain lock,

But if you want to walk the dark,

Find the flower of spring’s first spark

Like a torch, as white and wild,

Pick the primrose’s first child,

Give it to the darkest stone,

and let the sleeping one come home.

The girl opened her mouth to ask another question, but when she looked again the woman was gone, as if she had been made of smoke that was scattered by a momentary breeze.

The girl looked out over the meadow. It was grey and brown, with scatterings of grass here and there. Nevertheless, she began to look for flowers. She looked in the grass and out of the grass, on the stone and under the stone, up the trees and over the trees. She looked for a day and a night, and a night and a day, and suddenly, and at the foot of a great spreading tree she saw a patch of white flowers.

Primrose flowers all around

Like white torches from the ground

Listen, and you’ll hear the sound

Flowers, flowers across the land.

Quickly she knelt down, and carefully picked a bunch of the primrose blossoms. Holding them in her hand she carried them back to the mountain door, and pressed a single flower against the door. For a moment, nothing happened. And then slowly, very slowly the door began to open.

The little girl followed the tunnel down, down and deeper down, until she felt like she was walking into the very heart of the mountain. She was afraid, but the flowers that she held it her hand glowed like torches, and it made her less afraid, and so she carried on, and eventually got to a great dark cave. There on the floor, she saw her friend. He was very still, and at first she was afraid that he was not alive, but she shook him and he opened his eyes.

She helped him up, and as she did so, by the light of the primroses, they saw that the cave was full of great chests. Very carefully they opened them, and there they found treasure. There were chests of gold and of silver, of sapphires and rubies and emeralds and diamonds. The girl and the boy looked at each other, and then, very carefully, they took armfuls of the treasure, taking care to close the chests again behind them, and they made their way back up to the mountain door, the primroses lighting the way.

As they came out of the door, blinking in the sunlight, a golden coin dropped from the girls arms and landed on the soft earth below. But it wasn’t a coin that fell to the ground, for as it fell to the earth it burst out of the ground as a daffodil. The little girl and the little boy looked at each other and felt their hearts beating.

“It’s not treasure,” said the little boy. “It’s spring!”

And so the girl and the boy took great armfuls of the treasure, and began throwing it across the meadows, the emeralds and the diamonds, the rubies and the sapphires, the gold and the silver, and from the ground burst daffodils, and crocuses and snowdrops and primroses and cowslips, and further down the meadow bluebells, and dandelions and daisies, campion and forget-me-nots, violets and ramsons and orchids.

And the girl and the boy played in the meadow. They played in the grass and out of the grass, on the stone and under the stone, up the trees and over the trees, through spring they played and through summer, until autumn came. But that’s another story.

Primrose flowers all around

Like white torches from the ground

Listen, and you’ll hear the sound

Spring is bursting through the land!

Notes

 

If telling this, you can encourage audience to join in with “in the grass and out of the grass...”, as they begin to know it, and also to help the little girl with pushing the great rock door. It’s also lovely to have everyone joining in with suggesting wild flowers at the end that might grow from the treasure.

Questing

 

To prepare this session, we made keys out of salt dough, painted them in rainbow colours and hid them in the primroses. As the first activity the children had to find the primroses around the garden and the keys hidden within.

Planting

 

After the story we scattered a bowl of wild flower seeds across a patch of earth, our own version of the armfuls of treasure.

Crafting

 

Using the magnolia trees in the garden, and gathering their fallen petals, we made our own gateway to spring.

Recipe Book

 

The recipe for this session was primrose meringues, which I adapted from this article. We only used a very small amount of primrose petais because the flowers in our garden were not particularly abundant, so each child picked a single flower each. The joy was in the symbolic scattering of the petals into the wonderful foam.

 

We did use copious amounts of sugar, so next time I think I might try a sugar free meringue recipe. If anyone knows of a good one, let me know and I will add it here.

Background

 

One of the first plants to flower in spring, the word primrose comes the Latin primula, meaning firstling. Magic is embedded in its name, for in languages across the world its name is key flower, relating to stories that it opened the gateway to spring. In Germany it is called Schlüsselblume, and here, particularly in Bavaria, they tell tales of a little girl finding a primrose and using it to open an underground cavern to a great cave of treasure. She had to be careful, however, to close and cover over the chests afterwards, otherwise a black dog would follow her all her life. In Czech, where the plant is called petrklíč (Peter‘s keys) they have a legend of St Peter, letting slip the keys to Heaven through his fingers as he dozed one spring morning. The heavenly keys fell to earth, and sprung from the ground as the golden white flowers of the primrose. There is also a Norse tradition in which Freya used the primrose as a key to open the gates for spring to begin, and it’s also believed that the German Goddess Bertha called children into her hall with the power of primroses.

 

When creating this session, I worked with these legends to put together a story about the primrose. Like all the stories on this site, I worked with it in the presence of the plant, built on it by telling it to small people and big people and plant people and human people, and see it as an evolving conversation with the plant and with the imagination. Please feel free to use it, play with it, but do so with respect to the primrose that it is dedicated to.

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