Updated: May 1
"Floriography" ~ the language of flowers.
An ancient, practice of coded communication using flowers, trees, herbs, vegetables and even mushrooms!
Interest in the use of floriography and botany was heightened in England and the USA during the socially-austere days of the Victorian era (1837-1901). Any public display of affection would be frowned upon by the "mannered" middle and upper classes (and those who aspired to join their ranks), but a bouquet of blooms could speak volumes in silence.
The talking-bouquet, also known as a nosegay or Tussie-Mussie (I love that phrase!) could convey words of love, sadness, regret, concern or threat!
"My happiest days are past" - says the Meadow Saffron
For thousands of years flowers and plants have been considered to hold special properties and messages, our poets and playwrights have referred to them for centuries. We may use them in our craft for magical purposes, to enhance the efficacy of a spell or ritual.
The Victorians required a 'floral dictionary' to decipher their coded-bouquets. Many of us associate roses with love and affection, but did you know that the different varieties and colours hold different meanings? For example:
~ Austrian Rose "Thou art all that is lovely"
~ Christmas Rose "Tranquilise my anxiety"
~ Dog Rose "Pleasure and pain"
~ Japan Rose "Beauty is your only attraction"
Yellow Rose for jealousy - York and Lancaster Rose for War.
Even the position of the blooms within the bouquet, or the direction they faced (reversed), could hold special meaning, i.e. "A full-blown rose placed over two buds" to indicate secrecy.
"The modest Rose puts forth a thorn,
The humble sheep a threat’ning horn:
While the Lily white shall in love delight,
Nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright."
~ William Blake
Upon receipt of a tussie-mussie one must then learn how to 'reply' to the message, by choosing where on the body to wear the corsage. Wearing it upon the cleavage area of the bosom would indicate that you preferred the relationship to remain as "just friends"(disappointing for the giver) - whereas wearing it over the heart would imply reciprocal love.
The type of flower, the colour, the number of blooms, the arrangement ~ all conveyed a particular message; a declaration, a question, an accusation or an apology.
The meanings and symbology of the flowers and plants may vary slightly across different cultures, for example, the red rose, usually a symbol of love in many cultures, is often given at funerals in Latvia.
Likewise, white flowers are often present at weddings or funerals, being symbols of both purity and death.
Some cultures believe it unlucky to bring certain flowers into the home, whilst others may consider it to be a symbol of good fortune. Many of these beliefs still exist today (so be careful next time you send flowers to someone with a cultural background other than your own!.....just sayin'!)
Since the dawn of time our wise and "cunning" folk, across the globe, have known of the magical or healing properties of their local flora, along with it's symbology. Some of the meanings may have changed a little over the years, many of the flowers themselves may no longer be easily available, but they all still speak the language of nature (including human nature).
Many plants are named after their appearance, suggesting their meaning or potential healing properties (often incorrectly). The 'Wort' family is a good example i.e. Lungwort, Liverwort, Bladderwort, due to their likeness to human internal organs. (Wort is taken from the old English word 'wyrt', meaning plant or root). Unfortunately, many of these plants were found to hold unpleasant toxins, so their medicinal use was either ineffective at best or deadly at worst!
The history of the language of flowers and plants is fascinating, and almost infinite it seems. I found myself delving down the rabbit-hole of 'flower language' on a rainy Sunday afternoon after being given the little book shown in photo's. Therefore, I feel I should end with a note regarding the book that inspired me....
This small treasure is approximately five inches tall, three and a half inches wide, and dates from 1880 - the Victorian period referred to in this post. It has a few 'floral illuminations' all of which I have shown here. In the front there is a hand-written inscription dated 1881.
My partner managed to save the book from a box left outside a junk shop (knowing that I would be most appreciative of it). Had it rained, as it is frequently wont to do in the UK at the moment, the book would have been lost to the water and probably thrown in a bin. Instead, it has kept me entertained on a damp day, fired my imagination and will now become a beloved addition to my brimming bookshelf!
I am very happy that it chose to come and live with me, I will take good care of it.
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