Funerals

ALMONDS, usually associated with weddings, can, under certain circumstances, appear at a funeral in Greece. It would have to be that of a spinster, the symbolism being the same. At such a funeral the almonds are for a parody of a wedding that did not take place in life, and also to mark her wedding to Christ (Edwards). BROAD BEANS, because they were the food of the dead, came to be used at funerals in classical times, and the tradition in the northern counties of England, used to be (at least in the 1890s) that broad beans should always be buried with the coffin (Pope). Children used to recite:

God save your soul,

Beans and all.

BOX is evergreen, with many of the associations shared with other evergreens, notably its use at funerals. In the north of England, a basin full of box sprigs was often put at the door of the house before a funeral, and everyone who attended was expected to take one to carry in the procession and then to throw into the grave (Ditchfield). Or a table would be put at the door, with sprigs of rosemary and box, for each mourner to pick up as he came into the house (Vaux). Box grown in Lancashire gardens used to be known as Burying Box (Vaux). It was thrown into the grave in Lincolnshire, too, as a symbol of life everlasting. Small sprigs are sometimes found when old graves are disturbed; though dry and brittle, they are usually quite green (Gutch & Peacock). They have even been found associated with Romano-British burials in Cambridgeshire and Berkshire (Vickery. 1984). Presumably, this practice led to the Dorset superstition that a sprig of box in flower brought indoors meant that death would soon cross the threshold (Udal). Jersey burial customs required the coffin to be covered with BAY and IVY (L'Amy), and there was once a custom in parts of Wales for a woman carrying bay to precede the funeral. She would sprinkle the road with the leaves at intervals (J Mason). ROSEMARY, the symbol of remembrance, must also be the emblem of funerals. Its use by mourners at funerals made it a token to wear in remembrance of the dead, and in the 1930s there was a demand for it for Armistice Day ceremonies (Rohde) along with the more conventional symbolic poppies. In the north of England, mourners at a funeral carry a sprig of the shrub. It was "breach of decorum" for a mourner to attend a funeral without it. The Lincolnshire custom was to put rosemary on the breast of the corpse, and it was buried with him (Gutch & Peacock), just as in France it was once the custom to put a branch of it in the hands of the dead (Thompson. 1897). Around Northwich, in Cheshire, mourners were given funeral biscuits, wrapped in white paper and sealed with black sealing wax. A sprig would be tucked in the folds of the paper, and this was thrown onto the coffin as it was lowered into the grave (Hole. 1937). It is odd to find one herb to have marriage associations, and at the same time to be a funerary herb; there is a story that Hartland has of a widower who wished to be married again on the day of his former wife's funeral, because the rosemary used at the funeral could serve at the wedding too. That reminds one of Herrick, Hesperides:

The Rosemarie branch

Grown for two ends, it matters not at all,

Be't for my Bridall, or my Buriall.

CARAWAY seed cake was always given at funerals in Wiltshire (Clark), and in Lincolnshire, seed bread, made with either caraway or tansy seeds, is still traditional at funerals (Widdowson). PARSLEY, in modern Greece, is still a ritual ingredient of funeral food (Edwards). Ancient Greeks put wreaths of it on tombs, for it was said to have sprung from the blood of the hero Archemorus, the forerunner of death. It was used in cemeteries dedicated to Persephone, too (Sanecki). MYRTLE, Aphrodite's plant, was also the tree of death, particularly, in Greek mythology, the death of kings (Graves). Perhaps that is why there is such a prejudice against it in America. It is rarely seen outside cemeteries.

CHRYSANTHEMUMS, favourite flowers in most places, are very unlucky, particularly in Italy, for they are funeral flowers there, and associated with the dead (hence a connection with All Souls' Day). They say that if you give chrysanthemums to anyone it is the equivalent of saying I wish you were dead (Vickery. 1985). So too it is not a flower to take indoors, for it would bring bad luck with it (Vickery. 1995). ARUM LILY is another flower associated with funerals, and so an unlucky plant, not to be taken indoors (Deane & Shaw), and never brought into a hospital (Vickery. 1985). RAMPION BELLFLOWER has funeral associations, too. It is not a lucky plant, especially among children. It was said in Italy to give them a quarrelsome disposition, and could even lead to murder (Folkard). There is some mention of strewing MARIGOLDS on a grave at a funeral (Bloom, F G Savage). WILLOWS, besides being symbols of grief and mourning, can be looked on as symbols of resurrection because of their association with water (Curl), and that may be the reason why branches of willow are carried by mourners at a mason's funeral (Puckle).

Solitary HAWTHORNS are often associated with the dead, and they frequently mark graves, or they may mark the spot where a coffin has rested, or where a death had taken place in the open (J J Foster). Some thorns are dedicated to Irish saints, and these figure in burial ceremonies. When funerals pass by, they halt, and stones are placed beside the thorn until they have become cairns. On thorns at crossroads it was the custom in County Wexford to hang small crosses, made of coffin wood, as the funeral procession passed by (E E Evans). BLACKTHORN seems to have been buried with corpses in Ireland (O Suilleabhain).

ROSES have connections with death as well as with love (see under DEATH). It was the custom in parts of England for a young girl to carry a wreath of white roses, and walk before the coffin of a virgin. The wreath would be hung in church after the funeral, above the seat she had used during life, until the flowers faded (see also MAIDEN'S GARLANDS). THYME is an unlucky plant, connected with death, and especially with murder. But it is also used in funeral ritual sometimes. A sprig of it is carried by the Order of Oddfellows (Manchester Unity) at the funerals of one of their brothers, and then cast into the grave. That was a common custom in parts of Lincolnshire, notably at Massingham, when sprigs were dropped on to the coffin (Gutch & Peacock). It is planted on graves in Wales, too (Gordon. 1977). SAGE is a funerary plant in some areas, and graves were planted with it (Drury. 1994), something that Pepys noticed in April, 1662: "To Gosport; and so rode to Southampton. In our way ... we observed a little churchyard, where the graves are accustomed to be sowed with Sage". At a gypsy funeral, according to one description, five bulbs of GARLIC were among the articles placed beside the body in its coffin (Sanderson). SWEET SCABIOUS bears such names as Mournful Widow, or Poor Widow in southern England, and it is interesting to find that, under the name Saudade, this plant was much used in Portugal and Brazil for funeral wreaths (Coats).

YEW branches were used at funerals - branches were carried over the coffin by mourners (Ablett), and in Normandy a branch was sometimes put beside a corpse awaiting burial (Johnson). Shakespeare speaks of a "shroud of white, stuck all with yew" (Twelfth Night, II. 4). In fact, sprigs of yew were tucked into shrouds at late medieval funerals (Morris). Thomas Stanley, in 1651, wrote:

Yet strew

Upon my grave

Such offerings as you have,

Forsaken cypresses and sad Ewe

For kinder flowers can take no birth

Or growth from such unhappy Earth.

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