Thursday, 11 September 2014

The Language of Flowers, Part 1

Many people consider the meaning and symbolism of flowers to be distinctly Victorian. Indeed, the exchange of sentiment through the language of flowers was at it's height in the Nineteenth Century, but, in truth the subtle and intricate language of flowers is as old as Adam. The Celts, the Romans, and the Ancient Greeks all attributed particular meaning and emotion to flowers. Religion has also borrowed from nature to create Biblical analogies using flowers.

The tale of Snowdrops is one of my favourites. The Victorians used Snowdrops to mean: beauty of spirit // hopefulness // new beginnings // and consolation. 

The Victorians also associated the Snowdrops with death. This is because the little bell-shaped blooms hang downwards, hovering just above the ground where the dead are buried, reminiscent of the way that mourners hang their heads at gravesides.

German folklore views the Snowdrop as a symbol of gratitude. The tale goes, 'God created all things on Earth, but the snow was sad to find itself icily transparent and invisible. God told the snow to ask the flowers if they would give it some of their colour. The snow asked each flower in turn and every one of them refused, leaving the snow sadder than ever. Finally, the snow asked a little white flower, which agreed sweetly to let the snow have some of its pure whiteness. In perpetual gratitude, the snow allows its friend the snowdrop to be the first of the flowers to bloom each year.' 
(Gray, The Secret Language of Flowers, 90)

And it seems to be true, these Snowdrops (pictured) were cut from my childhood garden in the Snowy Mountains. Like it's name suggests, the 'Snowies' has a particularly cold Winter climate, yet these little flowers are happily blooming even with overnight temperatures that fall below zero.

Daisies also have wonderful, if forlorn, meaning. A knight in the Middle Ages wore a double daisy on their shield to proclaim that they had won a lady's heart. Celtic Legend believes the Daisy's very existence was to comfort parents who had lost a child. 
(Martin, The Ways of Flowers, 16)

The English believe that Summer has not truly begun until you can 'set your foot upon twelve daisies.' In European folklore, the appearance of honeysuckle near your home meant that a wedding would occur within the following year. Lilac is symbolic of the first emotions of new love. The Russians believed that cradling a newborn baby beneath flowering lilac would endow the child with wisdom. The Romans believed the sap of the daffodil could heal wounds. And because the daffodil blooms on the Feast Day of St David, it is the floral symbol of Wales.

'The Narcissus, sometimes known as the daffodil, came into being when Echo, a wood nymph, found herself infatuated with Narcissus, a vain mortal who spent his days admiring his own reflection in still waters. Wearied by her unrequited affection, Echo slowly faded away, leaving only the shadow of her voice as a reminder of her misery. The gods, furious over Narcissus's vanity, changed him into the daffodil, a flower that sinks its toes into the damp banks of lazy streams, nodding its flowers downward, always seeming to be taken with its own splendour in the water.'

Retribution is a common theme in the symbolism of plants and flowers. The willow is said to have once been a proud fisherman who steadfastly refused to bow to a passing goddess. As punishment for his discourtesy he was transformed into a weeping tree, condemned to spend forever bowing on the banks of rivers. The willow now represents sorrow and bereavement.

The language of flowers is endlessly fascinating. I could read about it all afternoon long. The two major sources for these fables were, The Ways of Flowers by Tovah Martin and The Secret Language of Flowers by Samantha Gray. There are many, many books dedicated to the history of the language of flowers. Look them up! Finally, in the spirit of today I want to end by asking, R U Ok?
Leave a comment or a question below. 

K xx

Styling and Photographs by Moss & Vine

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