The Lore & Magic of Lilacs

(Syringa spp.)

Planetary ruler: Venus

Element: water

Magical Virtues: renewal,apotropaic, warding, banishing, death and mourning

The sweet scent drifting across the evening air in the garden tells me that my lilacs are starting to bloom – a brief gift, as they only flower for two or three weeks.   To me there is something in it that stirs the blood, for the lilacs are a sign of renewal and the year opening up, and the perfume carries with it the promise of things to come – the drone of humming bees, lazy, balmy days and the taste of heady, lilac wine. 

Lilacs (Syringa spp.) are found in old gardens all across Britain, America and Europe, so we think they have always been with us, but both the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) and the smaller Persian lilac (Syringa persica) were only introduced into northern European gardens in the sixteenth century from Ottoman gardens, and the name lilac comes from an Arabic word lilak, which means ‘dark blue’.  The plant was certainly not known by the Celts and Greeks, despite what I occasionally read on the internet, and even in sixteenth century Europe it was a rarity, though the English herbalist John Gerard was able to obtain some specimens and wrote about them in 1597.   Lilacs quickly became immensely popular and were carried by colonists to the Americas in the eighteenth century. 

The genus name, Syringa, comes from the Greek word syrinx, which means a ‘pipe,’ referring to the pith-filled stems – pipes and flutes used to be made by hollowing out the stems of wood or reeds, and our word ‘syringe’ (another hollow tube) comes from the same root.  The botanist Carl Linnaeus bestowed the genus name on the plant, based on this attribute of pith-filled stems, in 1753.  Sadly, it doesn’t come from an ancient association of lilac and the Greek nymph called Syrinx, transformed into reeds to save her from the amorous attentions of the god Pan, from which he created his famous Pan pipes, the syrinx[1]  This story refers to reeds, and there is no ancient association of Pan, Syrinx and the lilac.   It turns out that the lilac is not good for making flutes either as the limited size of the shrub makes it only suitable for making very small woodwork projects, and even then, the wood has a tendency to twist and crack as it dries. 

The lilac has heart shaped leaves, and this, along with the sweet scent, associated it in Victorian flower lore with love.   In the Language of Flowers, by which sweethearts could pass coded messages to each other, the giving of a lilac was meant to be a reminder of an old love; widows often wore lilacs.   In modern lore, each lilac colour has its associations.   According to the International Lilac Society: white is purity, innocence and childhood, violet is spirituality, blue is happiness and tranquillity, a pale purple is first love, magenta is love and passion, pink is love and friendship, and a dark purple is for mourning. 

However, the older folklore is somewhat different.  In Britain, taking lilac flowers indoors was considered unlucky, and to ‘take death into the house,’ from its association as a funeral flower; [2] since strong scented flowers and herbs were often used to cover up the scent of death.  The colour purple associates it with mourning.

It was used for apotropaic (evil repelling) purposes in many places.  In Bulgaria it was included in wedding bouquets to protect the bride and hung above Russian cradles to safeguard infants.  [3] In New England, lilacs were planted to keep evil away from properties, or used to drive out ghosts.  

Lilac is used by modern witches for warding magic.  To protect your home, plant a lilac near your door, place vases of lilac flowers in the windows, or use Macerated Lilac Oil as a protective barrier smeared around the beading of your window frames.  To prevent negativity entering your door, scatter lilac petals on the doorstep. 

Just as the energy of spring drives away the gloom of winter and brings regeneration to the land, the spring-blooming lilac drives away negative energies, replacing them with the power of renewal and new beginnings.  When you are trying to shake off situations and feelings that drag you down or hold you back, the energy of lilac can help.  Take Lilac Flower Essence, or a cup of Lilac Tea, to unblock stuck energies and shake off your hibernation, and move into new growth and self-realisation.  

Lilac Tea

2 tsp fresh lilac flowers

250 ml/ 1 cup boiling water

Pour the boiling water over the flowers.  Infuse 15 minutes, strain and drink, with a little honey if desired.  This makes a good after dinner digestive.

Macerated Lilac Oil

Pack a glass jar with lilac flowers.  Cover with vegetable oil (sunflower, olive etc.).  Leave to infuse for 2-3 weeks, shaking daily.  Strain into a clean bottle.  You can make the scent stronger by infusing the oil a second, third and fourth time.  Use as a facial, body or hair oil or add to any of your home-made bath or skin recipes that call for a carrier oil. 

Lilac Flower Essence

Gather a few mature flowers.  Float them on the surface of 150 ml spring water in a bowl and leave in the sun for 3-4 hours.  Make sure that they are not shadowed in any way.  Remove the flowers.   Pour the water into a bottle and top up with 150 ml brandy or vodka to preserve it.  This is your mother essence.   To make up your flower essences for use, put seven drops from this into a 10 ml dropper bottle, and top that up with brandy or vodka.  This is your dosage bottle.  The usual dose is four drops of this in a glass of water four times a day.  When making flower essences it is important not to handle the flowers – it is the vibrational imprint of the flowers you want to be held by the water, not your own imprint. 

© Anna Franklin, The Hearth Witch’s Garden Herbal, forthcoming, Llewellyn, 2023


[1] Ovid, Metamorphoses 

[2] Jaqueline Simpson & Steve Roud, A Dictionary of English Folklore, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000

[3] Zoja Karanović and Jasmina Jokić, Plants and Herbs In Traditional Serbian Culture, Handbook of folk botany, University of Novi Sad, Faculty of Philosophy, online at https://www.scribd.com/document/353639787/Zoja-Karanovic-Jasmina-Jokic-Plants-And-Herbs-In-Traditional-Serbian-Folk-Culture-I-pdf, accessed 10.9.21

Author: annafranklinblog

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.

4 thoughts on “The Lore & Magic of Lilacs”

      1. I definitely will! Ours are only starting to get leaves so it will be a while before I’m able to try them. I was excited to see your recipes, I experimented last year with lilac but it was an epic fail! Lol

        Liked by 1 person

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