These brightly colored blossoms have many stories and beliefs associated with them. One is that if you want to keep evil away from your house, you’ll do well to plant lots of primroses because the Devil and his demons can’t abide them. Here’s why:
Once there was a peasant whose wife and children lay sick in bed. The poor man had no money for medicine yet without help, his family would surely die. He trudged along on his way to the city in the hope that he might find extra work.
When people are down on their luck, the Devil and minions are often not far away. So it was this time as well.
As the peasant trekked along, a demon hopped out of the bushes landing right in front of him.
“I’ll lend you a thousand dollars,” said the demon. “But if at the end of that year you cannot repay me, your soul belongs to me.”
“I accept,” said the peasant for with that kind of money he could surely afford the help his family needed. He felt certain he would think of a way to repay the demon once his beloved wife and children were healthy.
With pockets bulging he hurried to the city for food and medicine and his family did indeed recover. In his joy and relief the peasant forgot about the demon and the promise he had made. A year seemed a long way off.
The months passed pleasantly and one day when he was working in the garden he saw a rabbit with one foot caught under a rock. Now most peasants would have grabbed the rabbit and plopped it into the stewpot, but this peasant was a genial man. He lifted the rock saying, “Now scamper off and don’t eat any more of my cabbages.”
“Thank you,” said the rabbit and shook himself. All at once the rabbit was gone and in its place stood a little brownie with a long white beard. “For your kindness I will grant you one wish.”
Without thinking the peasant said, “Make the first one that climbs into my pear tree stay there until I tell him to come down!”
Someone had been stealing his luscious pears lately and it was on his mind.
“Granted,” said the brownie and disappeared.
The next week the year was up. The peasant was working in his garden when the demon appeared.
“Have you got the thousand dollars you owe me?” he asked.
“No-oo!” said the panic-stuck peasant.
“Then your soul is mine,” shouted the demon gleefully. “Come with me.”
Thinking quickly the peasant said,
“Oh dear. Yes I know I must keep my promise. But before I go, let me have one last earthly pleasure. Let me eat one pear off my tree.”
This seemed a simple enough request and the demon was so pleased with his easy victory that he granted the wish.
“Thank you so much,” said the peasant in his humblest voice. “You are so nimble and swift. Would you mind climbing the tree and picking a pear for me while I carry these potatoes to my wife?”
The demon scampered up the tree and picked a ripe yellow pear. But when he tried to jump down he was stuck. He twisted and turned. He thrashed and squirmed. He pushed and pulled, but the more he kicked the tighter he got stuck in the branches.
“Get me out of here,” he screeched.
“Only if you release me from my promise,” demanded the peasant.
“Free me and you can keep your sorry soul,” screamed the demon.
“And the rest of the money besides,” said the peasant.
“Yes, yes. Just free me.”
“I will. But first you must give me a token that you will never bother me ever again,” insisted the peasant.
Fuming with rage, the demon grabbed several yellow pears and tossed them on the ground where they broke into many pieces. Where the pieces scattered clusters of small yellow flowers grew. Those were the first primroses.
“Climb down,” called the peasant and the brownie’s spell was broken.
The demon hurried away and he was never seen in those parts again. But ever since that day, people have grown primroses around their hoses because they know if they do, the evil ones will never bother them.
(adapted from Vernon Quinn, Stories and Legends of Garden Flowers)
In the Language of Flowers primroses mean “young love” and also “I can’t live without you.”
In German and Scandinavian folklore wild primroses are called “keyflowers” and were supposed to have to the ability to open treasure chests should you find one. I spent a good many hours picking them as a child.
They are also sometimes called “the keys to Heaven” and here’s why:
One time the angels came to St. Peter with some disturbing news. Several unworthy souls were trying to get into heaven through a back door instead of through the Pearly Gates. At this news St. Peter grew so startled he threw his hands up in dismay and accidentally knocked his keychain off his belt. The keys tumbled down to earth and where they fell a clump of primroses sprang up.