The Willow is a very ancient tree and it features in many various different cultures. The meaning of the Willow Tree is perhaps more reputable from the Celtic culture.
The scientific name of the Willow tree is Salix which comes from the Latin word salire and it translates to “to leap” or “bestowed.”
Let’s explore in this blog the Willow Tree in various mythologies and their various meanings.
We will also explore the uses of the Will Tree in various cultures and folklore.
Finally, we will explore the Willow Tree symbolism in Literature.
What does the Willow Tree mean spiritually?
Spiritually the Willow tree means knowledge, optimism, adaptability and spiritual growth. This spiritual meaning comes the Celtic culture. The tree is placed under the dominion of the moon by astrologers and alchemist. It will make a great cancer birth flower.
Willow Celtic Mythology
In Celtic mythology the willow trees were sacred.
They grew mostly on the side of riverbanks and lochs, those place held sacred and spiritual importance to the Celts.
The concept of borders in Celtic culture was important while the Rowan tree regarded as very sacred defined the border between earth and heaven. The Willow tree on the other hand defined the borders between land and water.
In Celtic culture the willow was known for its ability to relocate after being uprooted, either by nature or by man.
Moreover, the ancient Celts also believed that the harp was a sacred instrument because its wood was carved from Willow trees.
Willow Tree Chinese symbolism
The Willow Tree in China was a token of immortality and held aphrodisiac qualities. However, those were not the only meaning of the willow tree in China.
It was also a symbolism of vitality which led the ancient Chinese to wear willow wreaths. This was also a protection against scorpion poison.
In ancient China the farmers would ask for rain by prayers. They were dedicated to the Dragon King named Lung Wang who was the god of rain.
During the ceremonial prayers they would wear willow wreaths as the willows grow in wet countries. The tree was considered as aforementioned was a symbol of immortality and eternity.
They would also adorn their coffins with the branches of the Willow tree and also grow the trees close to the tombs of the deceased ones.
The practice also involved placing the branches of the tree on their gates and in front of their doors in order to ward off evil spirits. They believe those spirits wander during the Tomb Sweeping festival called Qingming.
In Taoism the willow would often be used in carvings made to specifically communicate with the spirits of the dead.
They would then send the image into the netherworld and the spirit would enter it and provide whatever information was need. It was then given to the relatives.
In various mythologies the willow tree was to femininity and also the moon. Those links would also emphasise the willow tree meaning.
Belili was the Sumerian goddess of the moon and she was believed to live in a willow tree but also in springs and wells.
The Greek goddess Persephone who was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter was believed to have a willow grove.
Jason, in his voyage in search of the golden fleece, passed the weird grove of Circe, planted with funereal Willows, on the tops of which the voyagers could perceive corpses hanging.
In the branch of Bhuddism called Mahyana the willow played a prominent role. It was depicted in artworks of the bodhisattva, Kuan Yin. She would use the willow branch to sprinkle the divine nectar of life on her followers.
The Willow Tree symbolised mourning in both China and Turkey as they were planted in burial grounds.
In the Wiccan tradition the willow tree is believed to guide the souls of the dead into “Summerland” which is their afterlife.
Willow Tree Uses
The uses of the Willow tree can be traced back centuries. The ancient Sumerians, Egyptians and the Assyrians made use of both the leaves and bark.
Moreover, the Greek Physician Hippocrates also noted the various medicinal value of the Willow.
Willow caps were presented to people who were disappointed in love in Wales. They were a symbol of grief more specifically related to a disappointed lover.
In Ireland harps were made out of the wood of the willow. They believed that the tree had a soul and they spoke through music.
Another belief in Ireland was that the willow would bestow the gift of an uncontrollable desire to dance.
Another use for the willow comes from Wales it was used to treat toothache. They would use a sharp twig of a willow branch and pick it until it bled. Then the twig was thrown into a running stream.
Since willows were easily cultivated they were also a good source of screening and shelter.
Their interlacing roots and preferences for damp soil made it an excellent plant against soil erosion by riverbanks.
Due to the flexible nature of the willow branches it was a good material to make baskets and furnitures.
It has also been used to make toys, brooms, rope and paper.
The bark of the Willow tree produces salicylic acid. It is known for its anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties. It is now used in aspirin.
The salicylic acid was first discovered in the bark of the willow tree’s salicin.
Willow Tree Native American
Amongst the Native Americans the Willow tree was used for various purposes this also included the medicinal aspect of it. The meaning of the willow tree in native America also helps to emphasise its general symbolism.
Back then the people would either chew or boil both the leaves and barks into a tea. This tea was used to relieve pain caused my toothaches, headaches or even inflammation of the joints.
It was then no surprise that the Willow tree was also referred to as the “toothache tree.”
The versatility and commonality of the Willow tree in Native America made it was a viable wood for other purposes.
They would build arrow shafts, use the twigs into paint brushes, or weave baskets with them.
Additionally, they would also use the Willow tree for making beds, fish traps and backrests on chairs.
The Arapaho (the native Americans living in the plains of Colorado and Wyoming) would use the willow as cradleboards. It would make it easier for mothers to carry their babies.
The Ojibwe tribe who lived in southern Canada and North West America used to craft the willow into dream catchers and also dolls.
Willow Tree beliefs and folklore
There was a ritual in ancient Rome whereby women would be flogged by branches of the willow. This was a ritual to initiate them into motherhood and also wishing them fertility.
The willow was also used in the creation of living sculptures. They were shaped into figures and also other features such as domes.
An Old English folklore states that the willow tree was malicious. It was believed that it had the ability to uproot itself and stalk the travellers walking past.
In Russian folklore there was a belief that if you put branches of the willow tree under the bed of a married couple then it would ensure fertility.
However, in Germany there was a belief that if you drank tea made of willow then it would you barren.
In the region of Luchon in France, on St John’s Eve people would throw snakes on a figure made of willow branches then set it on fire. They would then proceed to dance around the tree. A similar ritual was done at Brie (Ile-de-France).
Willow Tree symbolism Shakespeare
Shakespeare uses the willow symbolism in couple of his plays. He focuses on the symbols of sorrow and forsaken love.
In Much Ado About Nothing Benedick says:
“I offered him my company to a willow-tree, either to
make him a garland, as being forsaken, or to bind him up a rod, as being worthy to be whipped”.
Furthermore, in Hamlet Ophelia climbs a willow tree and falls from it before she drowns.
Lady Bona in King Henry 6 says:
“Tell him, in hope he’ll prove a widower shortly,
I’ll wear the willow garland for his sake.”
The Willow also features in two other Shakespearean plays. In Othello, the song in which Desdemona expresses her lost love features a willow tree.
And the other one Twelfth Night also uses the symbolism of the willow to represent forsaken love.
Literature and movies
A Danish author named Hans Christian Andersen featured a willow in his book entitled Willow Tree around the 19th century.
In 1908 the willow was part of the title for a famous children animal adventure story. It was entitled The Wind in Willow and was written by a Scottish author Kenneth Grahame.
It also appears in different works of literature as a title. One of them is The Willows published in 1907 by the British writer Algernon Blackwood’s.
In the famous book Fellowship of the Ring writted by J R. R. Tolkien, old man Willow is a character representing the embodiment of the willow tree. He casts a spell on the hobbits.
The willow also appears in movies such as Willow a fantasy movie released in 1988. It was directed by the American actor and director Ron Howard.
In the Disney movie Pocahontas the willow is used for Pocahontas’ grandmother. She is named Grandmother Willow.
In both books written by J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the ancient tree that grows on Hogwarts ground is “Whomping Willow.”
Willow Tree Biblical meaning
The weeping willow tree meaning is intimately associated with the Bible. Its scientific name “Salix Babylonica” might has be a biblical reference.
The captive Jews would hang their harps on the willow trees by the rivers of Babylon. The boughs of the willow would be bent with the weight of the harp and the tree would remain weeping willow.
“By the waters of Babylon,Psalm 137
there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there we hungnour lyres.”
Another belief was that a branch of the willow was as Christ;s scourge and since then the branches of the trees have dropped and it wept.
In the Northern European Catholic churches branches of the willow tree would replace the palm. This was for ceremonies that took place on Passion or Palm Sunday.
Palm Sunday was also referred to as Willow Sunday in Poland and in certain parts of England.
During the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, the citron, the palm, the myrtle and the willow would feature in the ceremony each carrying symbolic significance.
What does the weeping willow tree symbolise?
The weeping willows were a symbol of death and mourning. It was used during the Victorian Era. At the end of the century they would feature as tombstone decoration.
The weeping willow is native to eastern Asia and it was first brought into Britain around the 18th century.
It spread very rapidly in various parts like parks and along rivers.
During the Victorian times they took the melancholic symbolism very seriously and it was assimilated into their practices surrounding mourning.
If you enjoyed this ultimate guide on the willow tree meaning then make sure to also find other plants and flowers that fall under the dominion of the moon and is also perfect for the Cancerian Zodiac.
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Deena Bsingh, a UK-born, Mauritius-raised content writer, is a dedicated explorer of the ancient world’s hidden treasures. Armed with classical studies knowledge and a decade of spiritual immersion, Deena delves deep into the wellspring of ancient wisdom. Her illuminating writings on flower meanings and culinary history are imbued with the profound insights she has gathered on her journey. Through her Medium articles, she guides readers on transformative journeys that bridge the gap between ancient cultures and contemporary consciousness, offering a rich tapestry of understanding that endures through time.