The Symbolism of Ivy: A Steampunk Perspective

French Late Victorian Early Art Nouveau Necklace Full Of Love Symbolism

“I will cling to you or I will die”

In the Victorian era, jewellery wasn’t just for decoration. It was another form of communication, like the language of flowers, fan language, and even the placement of a stamp on envelope could send a secret message. The Victorians had something of a fascination with symbology.

As an evergreen, ivy was one of the only plants to remain green during the cold British Victorian winters. Along with the mistletoe, the holly, and the fir tree, it had a major role to play in decorations for the winter solstice and Christmas. So, originally, its meaning was to do with life and eternity. However, over time, it came to represent  everlasting love, deep friendship, fidelity, or wedded bliss. Apart from being an evergreen and its twining growth habit, I suspect much of the romantic symbology was due to some types of ivy having heart-shaped leaves.

Stunning antique carved Whitby jet large ivy leaf mourning bracelet.

Ivy didn’t just decorate jewellery, it was also used on gravestones to convey the same meaning. So Ivy jewellery could function as both a love token or as mourning jewellery. Unlike most mourning jewellery, you could keep wearing it after the mourning period. Unless – of course – it was carved from jet.

Apart from being an evergreen and its twining growth habit, I suspect much of the symbology was due to some types of ivy having heart-shaped leaves. A doubling up of the twining and the heart would have been irresistible. So, if you are writing some romance into a Steampunk narrative, you have this kind of metaphor or analogy to fall back upon.  Maybe there is ivy present in the garden where your lovers meet. Maybe one of them gets a love token with ivy decorating it. Everybody sends roses …  your couple can stand out in a crowd by having ivy as their signature flower.

Ivy, both carved in stone on a cross and planted in the graveyard.

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8 Comments

Filed under Bling, History, Metaphors, Steampunk

8 responses to “The Symbolism of Ivy: A Steampunk Perspective

  1. Kara Jorgensen

    Very interesting article. I got into the language of flowers while writing my second book. I used forget-me-nots (no.

    • Kara Jorgensen

      Another reference to memory. Sorry for the doubl post. Phone spazzed.

    • The language of flowers is fascinating. I find it is the construction of the meanings that delights me the most. Lavender means ‘lying and deceitful’, because lavender was used to disguise unpleasant smells. I particularly like the various meanings given to herbs.

      • Kara Jorgensen

        I tried to leave little hints in book two, using the flowers the men wear on their coats. Forget-me-nots= true love, grass= homosexual love, pink rose= secret rose

      • Traditionally, homosexuals in the Edwardian era pinned a green carnation to their coats. This was due to Oscar Wilde always wearing a green carnation to celebrate his Irish heritage. Which is interesting, because Wilde was bisexual, and not homosexual. He is famous for his trial for homosexuality, and so the green carnation took on this new meaning. So green grass was an excellent choice.

  2. Well, this is just fascinating to me. Though not a writer (except on blogs), I have a love for symbols and history both and even the comments here have opened my eyes. Can someone recommend some good books or sites to me?

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