Where have all the flowers gone? Long time passing; long time ago. Young girls have picked them everyone; oh, when will they ever learn? Gone for husbands everyone; gone for soldiers everyone; gone to graveyards everyone. Gone to flowers everyone; oh, when will they ever learn? This song by Peter, Paul, and Mary; stuck in my head this Holiday week, two days before Thanksgiving. Maybe because I have been thinking about flowers, and centerpieces. Likely, missing family for whom have embarked through the veil and now firmly implanted upon the “other-side”. Thinking about their symbology, significance, and long-ago scented reverences.
I have to retract my old, outdated views on flowers and all things foliage. My complete ignorance wasn’t bliss and made me a “numb-nut”; a term my brother would jokingly call me while acting a “buffoon”, instead of a “green-thumb” used for all that blooms. “The symbolic language of flowers has been recognized for centuries”, and just by their miraculous transformations before our very eyes, I presume the first inklings placed on our planet millions upon millions of past years ago.
“The first traditionally recognized herbalist is Shénnóng (神农, lit. “Divine Farmer”), a mythical god-like figure, who is said to have lived around 2800 BC. He allegedly tasted hundreds of herbs (rumored to visibly see the contents digesting in his stomach and their “chemical” reactions) and imparted his knowledge of medicinal and poisonous plants to farmers. His Shénnóng Běn Cǎo Jīng (神农本草经, Shennong’s Materia Medica) is considered as the oldest book on Chinese herbal medicine (We still reference today!).”
“The use of Chinese herbs was popular during the medieval age in western Asian and Islamic countries. They were traded through the Silk Road from the East to the West.” “For many plants, used for medicinal purposes; detailed instructions have been handed down not only regarding the locations and areas where they grow best, but also regarding the best timing of planting and harvesting them.” ~ Wikipedia
“Flowers even play a large role in William Shakespeare’s works”. “Mythologies, folklore, sonnets, and plays of the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Chinese are peppered with flower and plant symbolism; and for good reason”. “Nearly every sentiment imaginable can be expressed with flowers”! “The orange blossom, for instance, means chastity, purity, and loveliness, while the red chrysanthemum means “I love you’.”
“Learning the special symbolism of flowers became a popular pastime during the 1800s”. “Nearly all Victorian homes had, alongside the Bible, guidebooks for deciphering the “language,” although definitions shifted depending on the source”. “In the Victorian era, flowers were primarily used to deliver messages that couldn’t be spoken aloud”. “In a sort of silent dialogue (secret language), flowers could be used to answer “yes” or “no” questions”. “A “yes” answer came in the form of flowers handed over with the right hand; if the left hand was used, the answer was “no.”
“How flowers were presented and in what condition were important”. “If the flowers were given upside down, then the idea being conveyed was the opposite of what was traditionally meant”. “How the ribbon was tied said something, too: Tied to the left, the flowers’ symbolism applied to the giver, whereas tied to the right, the sentiment was in reference to the recipient” (I’m all turned around). “And, of course, a wilted bouquet delivered an obvious message” (waa waa)!
“Plants could also express aversive feelings, such as the “conceit” of pomegranate or the “bitterness” of aloe”. “Similarly, if given a rose declaring “devotion” or an apple blossom showing “preference,” one might return to the suitor a yellow carnation to express disdain”. Who knew, there’s so much to learn!? I’m thrilled when I receive any flowers!
“More examples of plants and their associated human qualities during the Victorian era include bluebells and kindness, peonies and bashfulness, rosemary (awesome for cooking) and remembrance, and tulips (perfect puckers for heaven) and passion”. “The meanings and traditions associated with flowers have certainly changed over time, and different cultures assign varying ideas to the same species, but the fascination with “perfumed words” linger just the same”.
I’ve picked and plucked from a few flowers and present a beautiful and haunting bouquet of an origin story for your afternoon delight of scented history. I will begin with my favorite and what captured my inquisitive “senses”, so many moons ago, the myth of Hades and Persephone. “Hades was known for rarely ever leaving the underworld, but one of the few times he did venture above-ground, he came across Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, and he fell instantly in love”. “When Hades consulted his brother, Zeus, who had previously promised him a choice of his daughters in marriage, he accepted Hades’ request”. “Still, he knew that Persephone’s mother, Demeter, would never allow her daughter to marry the god of the underworld”.
This is where I need to interject, yes; they’re all related, cross pollinated, and totally gross! It’s best to try and look past that fact for the story’s purposes. Sadly, all of history is like this and families breed within the same lines, thinking a pure blood line was royal and untainted. We now understand, science and genetics, have come a long way from procreating with our brothers, sisters, or worse uncles. You never hear of auntie’s doing this; but I digress, back to the story.
“In ancient Greek religion and mythology, Demeter is the Olympian goddess of the harvest and agriculture, presiding over grains and the fertility of the earth”. She was also called Deo. “Though Demeter is often described simply as the goddess of the harvest, she presided also over the sacred law, and the cycle of life and death”. “She and her daughter Persephone were the central figures of the Eleusinian Mysteries, a religious tradition that predated the Olympian pantheon, and which may have its roots in the Mycenaean period c. 1400–1200 BC”. “Demeter was often considered to be the same figure as the Anatolian goddess Cybele, and she was identified with the Roman goddess Ceres.” ~ Wikipedia
Ever heard of Mother-in-laws snare or tongue? Heartbroken at the idea that he would never be with Persephone, the two brothers hatched a plan that would allow Hades to marry Persephone, against Demeter’s wishes. “The next morning, Demeter and her daughter descended upon the earth, and Persephone was left with the nymphs of the sea as her guides and Watchers while her mother tended to the earth”. “Knowing that the nymphs would never let Persephone out of their sight, for fear of Demeter’s wrath, Zeus had Gaia plant a narcissus flower in a nearby garden.” The narcissus flower, another fantastical twisted tale, and rooted for another day and discussion about love, vanity, echoes, and revenge.
You ask, “who is Gaia”? “In Greek mythology, Gaia; from Ancient Greek Γαῖα, a poetical form of Γῆ Gē, “land” or “earth”), also spelled Gaea is the personification of the Earth and one of the Greek primordial deities”. “Gaia is the ancestral mother (sometimes parthenogenic) of all life”. “She is the mother of Uranus (the sky), from whose sexual union she bore the Titans (themselves parents of many of the Olympian gods), the Cyclopes, and the Giants; as well as of Pontus (the sea), from whose union she bore the primordial sea gods”. “Her equivalent in the Roman pantheon was Terra”. ~ Wikipedia
“Wandering into the garden alone, Persephone saw the narcissus flower and was immediately drawn to its beauty”. “When she stooped down to pick the flower, the earth beneath her began to quake, and a gaping chasm soon appeared”. “From that chasm emerged Hades and his chariot of black horses”. “He grabbed Persephone before she was able to scream for help”.
“The nymph Sion had seen the abduction, and she attempted to rescue Persephone, but she was no match for Hades”. “Upon seeing her friend descend deep into the underworld, she began to cry until she melted into a pool of her own tears, to form in the river Sion”. “When Demeter returned, her daughter was nowhere to be found”.
“When Demeter asked the Nymphs that she had left to watch over her daughter, they had no answer”. “Furious that they were unable to protect her daughter, she cursed them with plumed bodies, scaly feet, and wings; they would now be called The Sirens”. “It was when the river Sion washed up the bells of Persephone that Demeter knew something dreadful had happened to her daughter”. “Demeter was driven mad (I would diagnose; worry and grief) by her daughter’s disappearance”. “She roamed the earth for days on end, searching and not fulfilling her duties as goddess of the harvest and fertility”. Today “we” are given a three-day grace period for grieving; no more, or less.
“The Earth began to dry, harvests began to fail, plants withered, and animals died; because of the lack of food, famine spread across the earth”. “The actions of Demeter resulted in untold misery”. “The cries of those suffering could even be heard on Mount Olympus, and Zeus knew that if he did not stop Demeter’s wrath, humanity would disappear”. “Zeus then promised to bring Persephone back from the underworld if it could be proved that Hades was holding her against her will.”
“During her time in the underworld, Hades had beautiful gardens built for Persephone, and she was treated with respect and compassion”. “She saw a side to Hades that no one else had seen before, and she began to fall in love with him”. Can you say Stockholm’s syndrome (“Stockholm syndrome is a condition in which hostages develop a psychological bond with their captors during captivity.)?
“Hades had heard what Zeus proposed and readied his chariot to return Persephone.” “Hades was terrified that Persephone would not return to him when given a choice”. “So, (devised another scheme) he gave her one last gift, a pomegranate (in Greek mythology, it was believed that if one ate the food given to them by their captor, they would always return to that person).
Sounding like a custody arrangement; “When Persephone was asked where she would like to live, she told Zeus and Demeter that she wished to stay in the underworld with her husband”. “Demeter was infuriated with the response, and she was convinced that Hades had somehow tricked (woman’s intuition) her daughter”.
Ultimatums never bode well, just a bit of advice pro bono. “After a heated discussion, Demeter made it known that if her daughter did not return, she would never again make the Earth fertile”. “Zeus decided that Persephone would spend a portion of the year with her husband Hades in the underworld and the rest of the year with her mother on Olympus”. I would have suggested a non-bias mediator or submit a request for an all-together different court appointed judge for this matter. Where’s Judge Judy when it counts!?
“The portion of time varies depending on the story”. “In some depictions, Persephone spent a third of the year in the underworld and the rest on Mount Olympus”. In other stories, because Persephone ate six pomegranate seeds, she would then spend six months with Hades and the rest of the year with her mother, Demeter”. And just like all court, custody, proceedings and battles; neither were happy with the arrangement, and neither would be happy if you split the girl in half. Forced to accept and thusly forced to endure.
“Many believe that this story could explain the seasons of the year” and that’s exactly how I immersed myself into Greek mythology and the origin stories of olden times. “In the six months that Persephone was not with her mother, the land was not fertile, and crops struggled to grow because, in her sadness, Demeter neglected her duties.” “These times of year became autumn (I say Fall; west coast thang) and winter”.
Now it’s Thanksgiving and I know many who have custody arrangements, court orders, medical substantiations, and stipulations as to why they’re the better parent and should exclude the other side of the family, that “we” don’t recognize. Can you imagine their holiday get-together’s? It’s tragic for all involved, especially those directly in the crossfire or tug-a-war (i.e., the kids; hell is for children and love is a battlefield said, Pat Benatar). The entire reason for the season’s objective; lost, confused, and likely deranged. So, in lieu, I propose flowers for your arrangements, tokens, and sentiments be of the floral variety. Mums the word! Less talk and more sprouts about the blossoms’, better accompaniment. You can learn a lot of things from the flowers!
Thank you for tending to this garden of historical “fox” tales; you are a sight for bright eyes! “I fall in love with you a lily more every day.” Thank you to Mythology Explained .com and hope you enjoyed a stroll through the gardens of our collective mind’s eye. Happy Holidays! More sunshine too sprout …