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The Language of Flowers And Their Meanings
Flower Traditions and Customs
Do you know about the language of flowers and their meanings? Flowers are one of the greatest beauties and joys of the natural world, and since antiquity they have been cultivated in gardens and used for decoration in homes and places of religious worship. One of the many wonders recovered from the tomb of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun, were the almost perfectly preserved floral collars that had been placed around the neck of the dead Pharaoh's sarcophagus.
During medieval times flowers were arranged in small posies called nosegays which were carried on the body to ward off any unpleasant smells wafting around. The medieval Catholic Church also associated flowers with saints, and it was believed that when a saint died that their body would not decompose and the beautiful floral scents they exuded were regarded as the odour of sanctity. Even as late as the 19th century St Theresa of Lisieux was known as ‘Little Flower’ and St Theresa of the Roses.
Flowers are important in many cultures around the world, so they have had many superstitions, traditions, myths and legends attached to them. They can be used as a welcome, such as in Hawaii where floral necklaces called Leis are hung around the necks of visitors, used as decorations for both celebrations and sad occasions such as funerals, hung as protective talismans and also used for divination.
The Language of Flowers
Did you know that they have their own language and that the language is called ‘floriography’? During Victorian times there were strong social codes in place regarding how young people could socialise with each other, and young girls from good families were strictly chaperoned and were only allowed to mix with young men in tightly supervised social situations.
The language of flowers was a good way for these young Victorians to subtly flirt and convey their feelings to each other without going beyond the recognised bounds of propriety. It was a common practice in those days for a gentleman to send a posy to the young lady that he favoured before a dance or after a social event, and what blooms that had been placed in the bouquet and even the arrangement of the flowers themselves sent a message to the object of his affections about his feelings.
Most flowers have been attributed a meaning and with some of the very popular blooms like roses, even the different colours carry a different meaning. Roses are associated with love, but be careful which colour roses you send your beloved.
If you want to send a message of deep, passionate love to your inamorata then you would send her a bouquet consisting of velvety deep, red roses with a heavenly scent. This is why deep red roses have become the flower of choice to send on St Valentine’s Day. If you want to show someone affection rather than passionate love, you would send pretty pink roses, yellow roses mean friendship and white roses symbolise purity and chastity.
Likewise orange blossom is traditionally worn by brides at weddings, because the pale colour denotes purity. One of the best known traditions at a wedding is that of the bride tossing her bouquet behind her to the single female guests, and the belief that whichever young woman caught it would be the next one to marry.
This custom is thought to date from medieval France where at weddings the guests would try to grab a piece of the bridal gown. To keep her precious wedding dress in one piece, brides started throwing small pieces of personal apparel, such as garters, to the guests to pacify them, and this evolved into the wedding bouquet throwing tradition of today.
If it is springtime and you know someone who is sad or has been going through hard times, then cheer them up by giving them a posy of snowdrops. These delicate white blooms were thought to have been created by an angel from a snowflake to give Adam and Eve some cheer after they were thrown out of the Garden of Eden. So snowdrops symbolize new hope for the future and comfort when things seem dark. They are the promise that spring always follows even the longest and hardest of winters.
Several flowers are associated with death, graves and even executions. Periwinkles were once woven into garlands that were placed on the heads of condemned criminals as they were on their way to their executions, so were associated with pain and grief. In ancient times it was thought that carnations would spontaneously grow on the graves of lovers and asters were once placed on war graves in France.
Superstitions Connected To Bouquets
There are quite a few other superstitions attached to bouquets. For example, if you are sending a bouquet to a friend or loved one it is important to ensure that it contains an odd number of blooms, because it is considered inauspicious to send a bouquet with an even number of stems. Having an even number of flowers in a wreath or bouquet is associated with funerals and beware of stealing flowers from a grave as very soon afterwards you will be lying in your own.
Lilies are the blooms that are most associated with funerals and death, and this is because lilies are symbolic of the departed souls return to a state of innocence and purity. But if you choose yellow lilies, be aware that although they signify merriment or fun, they also indicate deception and lies.
If you are sending a bouquet to cheer up someone who is sick in hospital, think twice before you send one made up of red and white stems. Red and white flowers have not been welcome in hospitals since the Crimean War, when these colours reminded the nurses of the bloody bandages that they had to deal with every day.
The popular nursery rhyme ‘Ring-a-Ring-a-Roses’ also has a macabre history, as it is believed that the rhyme was based on the symptoms of the Black Death that swept through Europe in the 14th century. Posies of fragrant flowers and herbs were carried to ward off the disease and one of the first signs of contagion was a ring of rosy red coloured spots.
Divination with Flowers
They are also used as omens and for divination. One old wives tale states that the day on which you find your first flower of spring is an indication of your fortune in the near future. If you find your first spring blossom on a Monday it means good fortune, Tuesday shows that ventures will be successful, Wednesday predicts that you will marry, Thursday warns of only making a small profit while Friday will bring great wealth, Saturday brings bad luck and Sunday brings a long stretch of really good luck.
Love is one of the most popular topics for divination and flowers are often used for queries on finding new love or asking whether love will last. If you want to know if your lover is faithful to you, pluck a red poppy petal and place it in your palm. When the poppy petal is hit by your fist, it will make a snapping noise if your love is true.
Daisies are often used in making romantic predictions. According to legend daisies first appeared where the tears of the Virgin Mary fell on the ground as she was grieving after the death of Jesus. If a young girl is unsure as to whether her boyfriend loves her or not, she plucks a daisy and pulls off the petals one by one saying ‘he loves me, he loves me not’. If she is saying ‘he loves me not’ as she pulls off the last petal, she probably needs to start looking for a new boyfriend!
Another daisy tradition is that young girls would pick daisies with their eyes closed and the number of daisies that they picked would show how many years that they would be happily married. If you want to know how many children that you are going to have, blow the seeds off a dandelion clock and the number of seeds that are left attached to the dandelion stem is the number of children that you will have.
So the next time that you are planning on sending a bouquet to someone or arranging flowers in your home, give some thought to the blooms that you are choosing and what colour they are, as they could be sending a message that you were not aware of or could even be bringing you either good or bad luck in the future.
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