What does a rosemary sprig symbolize? The use of rosemary in ceremonial customs goes back to early civilizations. Its symbolism crosses different eras and cultures.
It stood for remembrance, loyalty, fertility, purification, and protection.
Rosemary was the herb of choice for many ceremonies in the old days.
What’s so special about rosemary? What part did it play in traditions and customs? Why was rosemary a symbol for both death and marriage? Find out in more detail below about the meaning of rosemary in ceremonies. We’ll also compare those ceremonies with present practice.
Early beliefs and folklore about Rosemary
It was believed that rosemary had powerful effects to the brain and the heart. Here are some accounts about how people used rosemary:
- Greek scholars wore rosemary sprigs on their head during exams. They believed that it improved memory.
- Some Greek artworks depicted Aphrodite and rosemary. Aphrodite is the goddess of love, somehow connecting rosemary to love.
- Hippocrates recommended it for liver disorders.
- Charlemagne ordered that rosemary be grown in the royal gardens.
- Roman herbalists used it to treat jaundice and other diseases.
- Priests used its oil as incense.
- In Germany, it was common to see twigs of the herb inside a baby’s cradle. They believed rosemary kept babies out of harm’s way.
- Many religions used it to drive evil spirits away.
- Even Napoleon Bonaparte was an avid fan of this herb’s fragrance. He used it lavishly with other citrus scents for his signature eau de cologne.
- The Egyptians buried their pharaohs with the herb.
- The Spaniards called it the Pilgrim’s Flower. Folklore has it that a rosemary bush once sheltered the Virgin Mary.
How people use Rosemary in Ceremonial Customs
Shakespeare called rosemary the “herb of remembrance”.
In most ceremonies, rosemary meant remembrance, loyalty, and love.
Here are three of the most important rosemary ceremonial customs:
In the Middle Ages, brides wore rosemary diadems. It was like a charm that brought love and fidelity to the marriage. The bride’s bouquet would include a few stems of the herb. The groom and the guests would wear rosemary on their lapel or collar. These were also decorated and presented as gifts to guests.
Romans used the herb during burial ceremonies. Branches were placed in the hands of the dead. The intent was to ward off evil spirits. In England, mourners would toss sprigs of rosemary on the coffin before it was covered with dirt. This symbolized loyalty to and remembrance of the dead person.
This tradition is very much alive today. Australians and New Zealanders pin sprigs of rosemary on their collars during ANZAC Day. It is a day to commemorate the landing of troops on Gallipoli Peninsula.
It’s a way to honor those who fought and died in all wars and conflicts. Rosemary is used in similar war commemorations and during Remembrance Day.
Rosemary in modern rituals
Modern ceremonies don’t use rosemary as much as in the old days. Except for ANZAC Day, Remembrance Day, and other war commemorations, that is.
There are modern rituals, though, that continue to use rosemary. These rituals make the most of rosemary’s health benefits. These are not formal ceremonies. Yet they are still very much considered rituals or routines.
For some people, rosemary symbolizes purification.
These beliefs have given way to modern rituals.
Some of these are:
- Ritual baths to avert jealousy, cleanse the spirit, or remember past life.
- Charm or amulet to remember dreams or keep bad dreams away. Others are also hopeful that it will help or attract a lover.
- Used as aromatherapy to relax the body, reduce stress, and revitalize the mind.
- Incense to cast away negative energies in a home.
- Purification ritual using bundled dried rosemary sprigs. This is believed to create a sacred space at home.
- Mixed with baptismal water to remember baptism.
- Used as symbolic ornament during Christmas.
- Combined with salt for blessing and cleansing rituals. This has Jewish origins and believed to be a form of sacred art.
The use of Rosemary in ceremonial customs has lived through generations. Its symbolism was based on ancient beliefs relating it with memory and health. Studies show that some of these beliefs have scientific bases. That’s the reason why some rituals remain until today. They have less pomp and mystery in them today than they did in the old days. Nonetheless they hold as much meaning and value as before.