The cimaruta is an ancient charm, most commonly found in Italian folklore tradition, dating back at least to Roman times, if not further. It is steeped in fascinating symbolism and speaks strongly of a superstitious and incredibly rich culture.
If you have visited any museum containing magical or folklore related artifacts the chances are you’ve seen a Cimaruta and maybe not even realised. Pitt Rivers has a huge collection of them, which is where I first encountered these curious objects. They can also be seen at Frederic Mares Museum in Barcelona, the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cornwall and many other places.
Typically the Cimaruta resembles a Rue sprig, which is a plant with an absolutely fascinating history and symbolism. Rue has been used since ancient times in cooking, herbal remedies and as a popular ingredient in spells and witchcraft. During the Middle Ages rue was used as a way for witches to recognise each other. As ever the church attempted to hijack this herb by calling it the ‘herb of grace’ and using it to sprinkle holy water on subjects.
There are also some fascinating folklore tales which feature rue. In Classical mythology it was believed that the basilisk could kill all plants with its breath, except rue. Weasels bitten by the Basilisk would eat rue to recover from their injuries and fight back. This may relate to beliefs that rue could help to cure poisoning. In other examples rue represents virginity, or regret.
The imagery of the Cimaruta itself is complex. With the herb closely associated to Diana and the three branches displayed are connected her Triformis nature. In addition, the small charms at the end of the branches each have their own meaning. The result of this is that each different Cimaruta’s symbolism is unique.
Commonly featured charms are the moon, a hand, a fish, a key, a serpent, a heart, a flower. The piece can often be dated by what charms it features, as later charms imagery is more influenced by Christianity.
Different interpretations of the use of these protective charms only serves to increase the mystery (and for me intrigue) surrounding them. It is generally thought that they were a charm against the evil eye and witchcraft. The overtly pagan imagery of the charms is argued as being valid as a weapon ‘against’ witchcraft as Christian elements on later examples balance out and defeat these heathen elements, thus protecting from witchcraft. I have to say this does sound rather illogical to me, and I’m far more inclined to believe the idea that these were worn by followers of the cult of Diana. The majority of the various symbols all represent and connect with Diana in some way, suggesting to me that this was more about the worship of this particular goddess, before being changed and bastardised later by the church. The fact that rue was used for practicing pagans to recognise each other is another major point for me in this. I can appreciate that for hundreds of years the Cimaruta has probably been a talisman against witchcraft, but I can’t help but think that it has a much deeper history than that statement suggests.
Cimaruta have been a great source of fascination since I first laid eyes on them quite a few years ago now. Since then I have delved into their fascinating symbolism and history, but because of the lack of knowledge surrounding them and conflicting information available I have only gotten so far. I fully intend to continue my quest to learn all there is to know about these beautiful relics of superstition and magic and shed light of their true and I believe very ancient history.