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The Language Of Flowers As Seen On Antique Jewelry Caskets
Flowers have been revered since the dawn of civilization. The ancient Egyptians painted them on their temple walls, and dried remains of the flowers have been found in ancient tombs around the world. The colorful and delicate beauty of flowers has given rise to numerous cultural symbolic meanings, and folk tales about flowers have abounded since the earliest times, though not until the late Middle Ages in the Western world. Representations of flowers have been added to all forms and materials of artistic endeavor – paintings, metalware, furniture, fabric and so on. Flower names have graced our girls too. Although less common now, the names Rose, Daisy, Myrtle, Pansy and even Honey were once very popular.
In Europe, correspondence through flowers began in the 1700s, when Charles II of Sweden introduced a Persian practice referred to as the “language of flowers”. The advent of the Industrial Revolution and the reign of Queen Victoria (of England) spread the idea of sentimentality with floral motifs. Victorian houses were decorated with flowers on walls, furniture, paintings, utensils and trinkets. The gift of flowers is of great importance; Each key carries a message. An entire conversation can be expressed through the exchange of flowers!
The many legends associated with flowers can be divided into three categories: mythological, ecclesiastical/historical, and poetic. Mythological legends are often associated with “creation” stories as well as the transformation of hapless nymphs and youths into flowers and trees by gods who named them. Many stories describe the origin of the flower’s color. For example, white flowers are from tears that have fallen, and pink or red flowers are from redness or blood. Ecclesiastical/historical legends are usually due to the venerable ideas of Catholic monks. While tending their flowers in the quiet and solitude of monastic gardens, they may have associated a particular flower with the memory of a favorite saint or martyr and allowed their fancy to weave a fiction to perpetuate that saint’s memory. Many historical legends are associated with the favorite sons and daughters of the Church. Poetic legends include numerous fairy tales in which flowers and plants play an important role, and which may include elves, trolls, and witches. In recent history (Victorian era), flowers became a language of symbolic content.
The following is a brief summary of just a few of the many stories about flowers that were so meaningful in the Victorian era:
Grape: Grape, one of the oldest cultivated fruits, has appeared in almost every culture as an ornamental. In some countries, grapes were believed to be the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. They are said to represent fertility, sacrifice, hospitality and charity. To dream of grapes predicts to a girl that her husband will be happy and an excellent singer. If the dreamer is in love, grapes predict a speedy union and indicate great happiness in married life and success in business. According to another authority, to dream that we have bunches of grapes hanging around us, foretells future progress and honor. For the maid this means marriage to an ambitious man, who will rise to a great station, but die early.
Forget-Me-Not: A young couple walks along the Danube on the eve of their wedding, according to a German tale steeped in melancholy and romance. They found a group of forget-me-nots floating in the current that carried him. The bride praises the beauty of the flower and laments its fatal fate. Her lover drowned in the water to secure the flower. As soon as he caught them, he was seen drowning. With a last effort he threw the bouquet into the bank at the feet of his betrothed, and at the moment of disappearing forever exclaimed, “Vergis mein Nischat!” (Don’t forget me!)
Lily of the Valley: Lily of the Valley, also known as “Tears of the Virgin”, was considered (in the mid-1500s) to be a highly medicinal perfume against “nervous affections”. The water filtered by them was so prestigious that it was kept only in gold and silver vessels. There is also a legend that in the forest of St. Leonard, where the hermit-saint once lived, he and the dragon had a terrible encounter. This holy man finally succeeded in putting the dragon to flight, and the scenes of their battle unfolded afresh each year, when beds of fragrant lilies of the valley appeared wherever the earth had been sprinkled with the blood of the warrior saint.
Daisy: Daisy is called “the poet’s darling”. Shakespeare and Wordsworth and many other poets in between have used the daisy to denote the quality of pure innocence. The ancient English name for this flower was dais’s eye, from which it derives its current name. Chaucer called it the “e of the day,” probably because of its habit of closing its petals at night and in rainy weather. There was once a popular superstition that if you failed to step on the first daisies of spring, daisies would grow on you before the year was out. Another story was that spring had not arrived until you could step on twelve daisies. Today, we apply the popular tradition. “He loves me, he doesn’t love me.” Dreaming of daisies in spring or summer is considered lucky.
Clover: The common clover has rich symbolic folklore–not only about its leaves, but also about its flowers. It was used in the festivals of the ancient Greeks. Hope was depicted as a child standing on tiptoe holding a clover blossom in her hand. Druids used clover in their ceremonies. More recently, to dream of seeing a field of clover means health, prosperity and great happiness. A Cornish fairy tale goes like this: One evening a girl went out to milk the cows later than usual, and before her task was done the stars had begun to shine. The bewitched cow was the last to be milked, and the pail was so full that the milkmaid could not lift it on her head. So she gathered a few handfuls of grass and clover and spread them over her head, so that the milk pot would flow more easily. But, no sooner had the clover touched her head, than suddenly hundreds of little people appeared around the cow, dipping their little hands in milk and collecting clover flowers. When the startled milkmaid reached home, she related this wonderful experience to her mistress, who at once exclaimed, “Ah! you have put a four-leaf clover on your head.”
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