Reed (Common)


Reed (Common)


Phragmites australis

Secret Meaning

Music, Complaisance

Alternative Names:

Norfolk reed, Water reed

Facts & Folkore:

In the British Isles, common reed used for thatching is known as Norfolk reed or water reed. However "wheat reed" and "Devon reed", also used for thatching, are not in fact reed, but long-stemmed wheat straw.

Throughout history, reeds of different species have been used to make the vibrating portion of musical instruments, including the double reed of the bagpipes.

"Whispering reeds" figure in the ancient Greek mythology of King Midas, remembered for his ability to turn everything he touched into gold, "the Midas touch," a magical power granted him that eventually became a curse.

Later on, hating his wealth and splendour, Midas moved to the country to become a worshipper of Pan and a student of music.

Pan had the audacity to compare his music with that of Apollo, and challenged Apollo to a trial of skill. Pan blew on his pipes and, with his rustic melody, gave great satisfaction to himself and his faithful follower, Midas, who happened to be present.

Then Apollo struck the strings of his lyre. The victory was awarded to Apollo, and all who listened agreed with the judgment, except Midas, who dissented and questioned the justice of the award.

Apollo would not suffer such a depraved pair of ears any longer, and said "Must have ears of an ass!", which caused Midas's ears to become those of a donkey.

Mortified, Midas attempted to hide his misfortune under an ample turban or headdress, but his barber of course knew the secret, so was told not to mention it.

However, the barber could not keep the secret; he went out into the meadow, dug a hole in the ground, whispered the story into it, then covered the hole up. A thick bed of reeds later sprang up in the meadow, and began whispering the story, saying "King Midas has an ass' ears."

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