Lilac Myth, Magic, Folklore, and History

lilac on tree stump

Lilacs lined the back of my first grade school playground. In spring, we were admonished to not pick their flowers because the people who lived in the adjoining house where those towering shrubs grew didn’t want to lose the abundance of sweetly-scented blossoms. Alas, I cannot say the sweet fragrance and flashes of delicious nectar were foreign to me and mine. We partook of lilac flower treats all spring, although we were wise enough to share in a single spray of flowers rather each of us picking our own lot.

As it turns out, we were not alone in appreciating the medicine of lilac in the spring. Humans have been partaking of lilac flowers and medicine for centuries. Greek mythology claims a divine heritage for lilac, aka Syringa vulgaris. According to legend, the nymph Syringa turned into the lilac we know today to avoid pursuit from an overly amorous Pan, the wild half-goat God of Field and Flock…who is closely tied to an enormous sexual appetite. Although she’d ended her life as a nymph to become the lilac we know today, she didn’t entirely escape Pan’s notice. He was intrigued with the hollow quality of her stems and turned them into his first set of Pan’s Pipes, the reed pipes he carried and played upon from then on. From Syringa’s death was born new fragrance and new music, connecting Syringa vulgaris firmly to endings and beginnings.

Syringa vulgaris is connected to both endings and beginnings, functioning like a doorway between life and death in folk tradition. Through Northern Europe, Lilacs have been connected with funerals, being the flower most often laid upon the casket before burial in ancient times. They have long been connected with ghosts in Traditional Chinese culture, being said to dispel and chase away the spirits of the dead. This may be in part seen in how the flowers don’t fade when you put them into hot water, or it could be connected with the strongly draining, drying nature of Yuan Hua, the TCM name for Lilac medicine.

Lilacs have long been a favored spring flower that helps us awaken after a long winter. As such, they’re also connected to lucid dreaming and more vivid dreaming, quite possibly because they are one of the first flowers to bloom in spring or because of their connection to the doorway between life and death, endings and beginnings. In Greece, Lilacs are now associated with Easter in part because they are one of the only flowers in full bloom that early in spring. Here, too, they’re connected with both endings and beginnings through their association with the death of Jesus in his Earthly form and the Rising of Jesus in his Christ form.

Lilacs enjoyed a romantic connection to beginnings in Victorian England, being a symbol of innocence and first love or romantic love. Today, we are quite thankful for this happy shift in Lilac’s associations. Previously, lilac was connected to celibacy and spinsterhood as well as funerals. It was said that any woman wearing lilacs on her dress was destined for a single life, and receiving lilacs from your sweetheart meant break-up was eminent. Today, lilacs have held onto their Victorian garb, being a symbol of youth, innocence, Easter, and beginnings.

Lilac Magic

Lilac Magic is the magic of doorways, particularly those leading one into and out of the deeper realms. In the North, where Lilacs thrive, winter is long and often harsh. There, Lilac and her neighbors slip deep into slumber for many months, much like Bears hibernating. As soon as Spring’s sun kisses Lilac’s boughs, she blooms. A little snow won’t stop Lilac. She’s ready to climb out of slumber, eternally optimistic that Summer’s warmth will arrive in good time, carrying armfuls of new fragrance, gloriously soft colors, and all the stories she gathered as she rested through the cold months.

Moving between worlds, from life into death and death into life, is part of Lilac’s expertise. With wiry roots and hollowed stems, lilac shows us how to carry our knowledge, expertise, and wisdom from one place to another. Lilac magic is the magic of carrying with us what’s really important.

Lilacs love full sun and good drainage. They have no time for wallowing in swampy, sorrowful places. They’re picky that way. Lilac Magic is the magic of discernment, recognizing the right conditions and holding out for them. They just won’t bloom if they don’t have what they need. Lilac Magic is also the the magic of Wise choices.

Lilacs set their buds on old wood, preferring to express their delicate beauty and haunting fragrance after a bit of aging. With Age comes Wisdom, and Lilac thrives by that adage. Lilac Magic reminds us that older woods has the experience needed to weave together the sweetness of youth and the sturdiness of experience into whatever we are creating.

Lilac projects are those we bring into being after we’ve spent a bit of time learning, living, and digesting our experiences. Lilac can grow up from a wisp of a sucker planted in new soil. It’ll take a few years of growing, testing, expanding, and living for Lilac to share those first blooms. Lilac gives herself plenty of time to dig in and adjust to her new surroundings before blooming. Projects blessed with Lilac magic may well take time to grow, but once they blossom they carry the combination of wisdom and innocence, beauty and sweetness that touches our inner child deeply and profoundly.

Lilac flowers are bitter, acrid, cold and moving and the bark is bitter, acrid, and moving. Lilac has an affinity for the Kidney, Spleen, and Lung channels, is connected to Spring, and its element is water.


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