Friday, December 14, 2012

The Willow Tree: what does it mean?

I've had a migraine all day, and what a terrible day to be horizontal on the couch with the television going. The news today was very grim, unspeakable, and it caused me to stop and reflect on the various meanings of the willow tree. In some ways, it is the ultimate symbol of grief, but it's really much more than that.

Around the time the Willow Tree Quilt would have been made, in the late 18th or early 19th century, the motif was most likely a symbol of sadness and mourning. It was a "weeping" willow. In other cultures, it was more of a hopeful symbol, representing fertility, new life, and rapid growth. As divergent as these meanings may appear, there is something that connects them. It is the whole process of life and death, and with the death of a loved one, first we weep, then we heal and grow.

The importance of the willow tree as an icon is matched by its medical significance. The bark of the willow tree is a source of acetylsalicylic acid, or aspirin - and I've had a couple of those today. This blog post is really just the tip of the iceberg, and there is much more research to do on the iconography of the willow tree. For all the various things it represents, it seems like an appropriate symbol for today.


  1. I have wondered who would have given so much time to the making of this quilt.... any one motif would have been a statement on a quilt and yet: there is a whole quilt of statements. The idea of a memory quilt of a dead loved one..... that makes sense and could motivate a person to stick to finishing a very labor intensive project.

    Prayers for all touched by the horrific event in CN.