While working on an upcoming project, I was going through my photo archive and found myself frequently stopping on the images of weeping willows. I have captured an interesting variety in the last few years. I love weeping willows, they have a very unique look. They are not common in my area, in the forests, or on graves.
So for today’s collection, I wanted to take a closer look at this cemetery symbol and share some of the different versions I have found and photographed during my cemetery walks.
As the name implies, weeping willows commonly symbolize grief and mourning. They are a very common Victorian-era cemetery symbol. Adopted from the Ancient Greeks, the weeping willow can represent immortality and life after death. Weeping willows are sometimes associated with the Underworld because, in Greek mythology, Orpheus brought with him a willow branch on his travels to the Underworld to save Eurydice from Hades.1 The symbolism of immortality stems from the fact that willow trees are very hardy, and can survive heavy damage.
A variety of the weeping willow motif you might find is a weeping willow standing beside a gravestone. I love the idea of a gravestone on a gravestone.
Another variation you might come across is of a weeping willow and urn. The urn represents death itself, and the willow again symbolizes grief.2 This motif was a popular gravestone symbol of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. You might also see weeping willows paired with a lamb or a cross.3 I have yet to come across these variations.
I noticed that the majority of the ones I found were in Southern Ontario. As I explore more Ontario cemeteries this summer, I hope I will come across a few more to photograph. I would love to find some more variations on the symbol. If you have any suggestions for where I might look, I would love to hear about them in the comments.
Thanks for reading!
- Understanding Cemetery Symbols: A Field Guide for Historic Graveyards by Tui Snider
- Mastering Cemetery Iconography | The Academy at Penguin Hall
- Stories in Stone: The Complete Guide to Cemetery Symbolism by Douglas Keister