Flowers have always held a wealth of lore and symbolism for us humans. Throughout history they have been associated with various gods, qualities and symbolic relationships. This can be seen from the earliest myths of indigenous cultures, throughout the classical world and the Bible, right into the plays of Shakespeare.
The so-called Language of Flowers, or Floriography, was largely invented in the Victorian era, though it is at least partly based on snippets of mythology, folklore and sometimes the growing habits of plants – the clinging ivy signified faithfulness, for example, and the hidden violet for modesty. It became extremely popular, and most Victorian homes had a copy of one of the many books available on the subject.
The main purpose of Floriography was to send covert messages, usually to a would-be lover, via the sending of flowers. A red rose might be sent to express love, or bachelor’s buttons to convey that the sender is happy being single, thank you very much. The colours of flowers were important too; while a red carnation declared love, a yellow carnation signified rejection. However, there were several different systems, and various books give conflicting meanings, which must have caused some confusion and the occasional disappointment.
By 1935, when the reaction against all things Victorian was at its height, a writer in the Gardeners’ Chronicle remarked of the old language of flowers books “how antique in spirit they seem – how remote from the thought of the present age”. But fashions go in cycles, and in the 1960s and 1970s there was a revival of interest in Victorian culture, and this saw the republication of early books on the subject, such Mrs Burke’s Language of Flowers, and Kate Greenaway’s Language of Flowers. When Prince William married Kate Middleton in 2011, the flowers in her bouquet were chosen for their meanings – lily of the valley to symbolise the return of happiness, sweet William flowers for gallantry, hyacinths for constancy of love, ivy for fidelity and myrtle as the symbol of love and marriage.
Anna Franklin is the High Priestess of the Hearth of Arianrhod, which runs teaching circles, a working coven, and the annual Mercian Gathering, a Pagan camp which raises money for charity. She regularly speaks at conferences, moots and workshops around the country. She is the author of many books on witchcraft and Paganism, including the popular Pagan Ways Tarot, Sacred Circle Tarot, The Fairy Ring, Herb Craft, Magical Incenses and Oils, Personal Power, A Romantic Guide to Handfasting, Familiars, The Oracle of the Goddess, Hearth Witch, The Path of the Shaman and The Hearth Witch’s Compendium. Anna’s books have been translated into nine languages.
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