The seasons are turning and, once again, the poppies are in bloom. These vibrant red wildflowers dot the English countryside and peek over the sides of the pavement every year, beautiful and delicate with their paper-thin petals, inspiring art and stories everywhere they bloom.
Here are some of my favourite poppy stories from myth, folklore, and today’s symbolism:
Daughter of the Fields
Because they often grow alongside important crops, the poppy is sometimes known as the Daughter of the Fields, bringing vitality and nourishment to the countryside with it’s blood-red petals. This moniker is prominent in early Assyrian mythology, which viewed the poppy as an important symbol of life, death, and rebirth with the natural turning of the seasons and growth of the land. The association to growth and crops can also found in Greek mythology, as the poppy is a sacred flower for Demeter, goddess of agriculture.
Sleep and Dreams
Remember that scene in Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy falls asleep in the field of poppies? In addition to being a visually stunning scene, it was also a great representation of the medicinal and mythological sleep-inducing properties of the poppy. Certain varieties of poppy, different from the iconic red ones, have been cultivated for use in different sleep-inducing and pain relieving medicines. From the land of Oz to Sansa’s “Milk of the Poppy” in Game of Thrones, this association isn’t going to be forgotten any time soon. If we return once again to the ever-popular Greco-Roman mythology, the poppy is used by Hypnos and Morpheus, gods of sleep and dreams and, in some tales, was actually Morpheus’ gift to Demeter to help her sleep when her daughter Persephone disappeared.
Honouring the Fallen
In modern times, the poppy is a poignant symbol of remembrance and reverence for those who gave their lives in war, first adopted after the Great War and used today across the UK, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Pakistan, Ukraine, and Albania. Its use was inspired by the poem In Flanders Fields, which paints an image of the poppies blooming on the graves of the fallen soldiers. The petals represent the blood shed in defense of one’s home and fellow countrymen, but also the hope for new life and the future, completing the life-death-rebirth cycle as the Daughter of the Fields.