“Rue”ing the Day
A friend of mine lost her grandmother recently. Her coffee shop is now filled with plants and flowers. Several people brought food to her and her family.
This has made me think about our mourning and consolation rituals. This is what we do. We bring the family food and flowers. Why food? Well, because usually a funeral means lots of company and they’ve got to eat. Bringing food frees up the grieving family from having to cook. Why flowers and plants? Well, that’s more complicated.
Bringing new plants does help a smidgen in filling the void left by the passing of a loved one. A new plant fills a room with new life. Greenery is refreshing. Flowers smell good and give us some sensory satisfaction during our anguish. I always prefer to give someone a living plant rather than cut flowers. Cut flowers don’t last long, and when they die, sometimes that just makes you feel sadder. A living plant lasts for a while – provided your thumb is even a teensy bit green – and lets you bask in the small sense of the pleasant for a bit longer.
Plants also have their own traditional and historical meanings. Aloe is thought to bring luck. (It certainly brings healing.) Basil brings wealth and is thought to exorcise evil. (I am thankful for that. I have a lovely lemon basil plant in my kitchen window.) A white chrysanthemum is for truth; orange is for friendship. Clover represents the Holy Trinity. The yellow spring forsythia bush is for anticipation. (Or as they say in Rocky Horror: antici . . . . . . . pation.) One of honeysuckle’s attributes is supposedly psychic powers. (Gotta remember that one for my novel….) Ivy is for fidelity and affection. (Except poison ivy, of course, which is clearly for animosity and hatred.) And lavender is for longevity. [You can find all of these and more at Plant Meanings by Helen Kirkup, Master Gardener.]
When considering plants, I am, of course, reminded of Ophelia’s mad discourse on the subject after Hamlet casts her off and her father dies: There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies. that’s for thoughts. There’s fennel for you, and columbines: there’s rue for you; and here’s some for me: we may call it herb-grace o’ Sundays: O you must wear your rue with a difference. There’s a daisy: I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died: they say he made a good end,—
As a writer I am fascinated by the meanings behind everyday things, especially living things. I like that the dogwood, with its reddish brown stains on each white petal symbolizes Jesus and his crucifixion wounds – which is especially interesting since it is nearly holy week. The pomegranate recalls the story of Persephone, Hades and Demeter, from Greek mythology – and the determination of the seasons. And according to some practitioners of feng shui, many fruits have important properties: peach = immortality & luck (have you seen the artificial peach trees in Chinese restaurants?), grapes = abundance & wealth, apple = peace, health & harmony (an apple a day, anyone?). Don’t even get me started on the various cultural and historical meanings behind onions and garlic! (They both do much, much more than ward off vampires!)
Consider the popularity of the new Hunger Games movie. Those of us who have read and studied the books know that Suzanne Collins formed a vital contrast between the characters from the districts, who had natural names (many of them based on plants and flowers = good), and the characters from the capital, who had Roman names (to symbolize “civilization” and its bad, as well as good, elements).
I find it interesting that we do more than appreciate plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables for their own sake, for their own beauty, health and freshness; we have also given them deeper, richer and symbolic meanings. These meanings may come from our primitive earth religion roots, but they are still very much alive today in one form or another, as we give living things to our friends who are sad, or beautiful things to the people we love.
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying. (Herrick)
Posted on March 27, 2012, in My Life, Family & Friends, Reading, Writing and tagged Christian symbolism, feng shui, flowers, meanings of plants, mourning rituals, mythology, plants, The Hunger Games, writing. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.