- Restful sleep and recovery
- Consolation for a loss or death in the family
- Remembering the fallen of various wars and armed conflicts
- A lively imagination
- Peace in death
- Messages delivered in dreams
- Resurrection and eternal life
- Beauty and success
- Extravagance and luxury
Poppies have long been used as a symbol of sleep, peace, and death: Sleep because the opium extracted from them is a sedative, and death because of the common blood-red color of the red poppy in particular. In Greek and Roman myths, poppies were used as offerings to the dead. Poppies used as emblems on tombstones symbolize eternal sleep.
This symbolism was evoked in the children’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, in which a magical poppy field threatened to make the protagonists sleep forever.
The most common opiates – heroin and morphine – come from the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum. Morpheus, the Greek God of sleep, counts these drugs among his attributes, as does Demeter in her guise as Goddess both of the harvest and of death.
The story goes that Somnus, the God of Sleep, made the poppy specifically for Ceres because she could not sleep after she lost her daughter, Persephone. Ceres was so wearied by the search for her lost daughter that she could not get the corn to grow. To save mankind from starvation, Somnus gave her poppies to make her sleep. After she had rested, her strength returned, and the corn grew again. Because of this, in ancient times, it was thought that the presence of poppies in a cornfield was essential to the welfare of the corn. It is still counted as good luck to see poppies in a cornfield.
Because of its reputation as a flower that can either cure or kill, there is an ambiguity about the poppy; some see it as a good influence, and some as evil.
In Oxfordshire, it was said to be unlucky to bring wild poppies into the house and, according to some, it was better not to pick them at all. The ban on their presence indoors does not seem to be a general one, but the flower has an evil reputation in many areas as a cause of minor ills.
In the old days, in England, children would say that if anyone looked into the heart of a poppy, he or she would go blind, temporarily. In Yorkshire, where it was sometimes called Blind Bluff, this was said to be due to the dazzling effect of the intense scarlet color. Another Yorkshire name was Head-waak, because the smell of the flower was supposed to cause headaches. They were also said to produce a violent earache if held against the ear.
Where the poppy head appears in paintings, it often symbolizes fertility. Poppies are associated with fertility because of their many seeds, and the same seeds were used to flavor foods, and given with wine and honey to ancient Greek athletes training for the Olympic Games.
Following the trench warfare which took place in the poppy fields of Flanders during World War I, poppies have become a symbol of remembrance of soldiers who have died during wartime.
This form of commemoration is associated with Remembrance Day, which falls on November 11. In Canada, Australia and the UK, poppies are often worn from the beginning of November through to the 11th, or Remembrance Sunday if that falls on a later date. In New Zealand and Australia, soldiers are commemorated on ANZAC day (April 25), although the poppy is still commonly worn around Remembrance Day. In November, around the time of Remembrance Day, paper poppies are often sold to raise funds for bereaved families.
The poppy as a symbol of grief for lost warriors is not new; in the Iliad, written in the eighth century BC, a description of a dying warrior compares him to a poppy.
A second interpretation of poppies in Classical mythology is that the bright scarlet color signifies a promise of resurrection after death.
The leaves of the poppy are a divinatory tool; when placed beneath the pillow they are said to give the sleeper dreams of the future.
According to the Language of Flowers, sometimes called florigraphy, a Victorian-era means of communication in which flowers and floral arrangements were used to send coded messages, allowing individuals to express feelings which otherwise could not be spoken, poppies have the following meanings:
- Poppy (general) – Eternal sleep, oblivion, imagination
- Poppy (red) – Pleasure
- Poppy (white) – Consolation, Dreams, Peace, Sleep of the heart. Oblivion. My bane. My antidote.
- Poppy (yellow) – Wealth, success
Information collected from various sources.
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