Willow symbolism can be explored from its history as a medicinal resource and from the properties of this tree. Willows have been used since ancient times as remedies for aches and fevers, they temporarily relieve head and stomach-aches and other body pains, like rheumatic cramps formerly thought to be caused by witchcraft.
The slender branches sometimes fall down to the ground, like in the weeping willow, and the roots are remarkable for their toughness and tenacity to life, sometimes growing out of the trunk.
Willows have a watery bark, a richly charged sap with salicylic acid, and a soft, usually pliant, tough wood. The leaves are typically elongated, may be round to oval and silvery.
The willow symbolism of tenacity lies also in how the willow is flexible and graceful, bending and twisting under the wind. Its shine under the silvery moon, speaks to its capacity to connect the deeper forces of the earth and the waters. With it all moon symbolism comes in, including witchcraft as its medicinal uses attest. It is the tree that loves water most, again a gift from the Moon-goddess, giver of dew and moisture generally.
Grace, radiance, moon-light, the ability to bend and to turn, to stand to the spirit-wind and the spirit-world, to shield and to give-in, are all called in by the willow. Orpheus was said to have received the gift of mystic eloquence by touching the willow-trees in a grove of Persephone. In China it has become a feminine symbol, connected with mercy and meekness, with good omens . Their 24th constellation of the Zodiac is named after the willow with 8 stars connected with the earth element.
Willows and willow-like trees, like the agnus vitex, the chaste tree, were used at religious festivals. In the Talmud, hosha’nd (written as one word) occurs as a noun denoting the willow twigs used on the Feast of Tabernacles, whence yarn hosha’nd = ‘the day of hosha’nd’, i.e. the seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles.
Its bending and rolling properties connect the symbolism of the willow with that of arcs, and through it with arrows, bows, the rainbow or iris. The form of its leaves and branches, that turn and twist, connects it with the symbolism of the vervain.
One of the seven hills of Rome is called Viminālis, lit. ‘the hill of willows’, so-called from the willow copse that stood there.