• IVY-HEDERA HELIX - meaning

IVY-HEDERA - meaning

This is the plant of the god Dionysus, or rather, we could say that it is Dionysus himself, and so thought the ancient greeks.

(taken from the book of Alfredo Cattabiani "Florario. Myths, legends, and symbols of flowers and plants", Editions of Oscar Mondadori. A book to read and consult ! )


The ivy (Hedera helix) was another of the symbols of Dionysus; indeed, he was also called Kissós, the Greek name of the plant.

The myth tells that it appeared immediately after the birth of Dionysus to protect the child from the flames that burned the maternal body: he would have wrapped the entire house of Cadmus, attenuating the shock of the earthquake that had accompanied the passing of the lightning of Zeus.

To this the theban considered sacred to the god a crown of the branches of ivy and called out to perikiósos, "winder of the columns".

From the plant took the name also the source Kissoussa at Thebes, where the nymphs would wet the baby Dionysus after his birth.

The imagination of history the greeks, he conceived of other sources.

It is said that one day Dionysus, abandoned by his mother Semele, was a refugee under a plant of ivy, who gave him the name.

Another Greek myth, however, reported that Kissós he was a son of Dionysus: he died at the improwiso while dancing in front of the father.

The goddess Gaea, or the Earth, moved to pity changed it in the ivy, which from then on bore his name.


We can ask what relationship there is between the ivy and the other plant dionysian, the screw.

The most convincing answer was given by Walter Friedrich Otto:

"The vine and the ivy are sisters, that although you have developed in opposite directions, can not conceal their kinship.

Both lead to the end of a wonderful metamorphosis.

In the cold season, the vine lies as dead and in his rigidity like a useless trunk, until, under the renewed heat of the sun, it releases a lush fruits and a wonderful juice burning.

No less surprising is what happens with ivy: its growth shows a dualism that may very well remember the dual nature of Dionysus.

First, it produces the so-called sprouts shady, the branches climbing with the well-known leaves lobed.

Later, however, appear the shoots of light grow rights, the leaves of which have a shape at all different, and at this point, the plant also produces flowers and fruits.

You could call it, like Dionysus, the "born twice".

His flourish and his cover of the fruits are, however, in a unique relationship of correspondence and opposition with respect to the screw.

The ivy blooms, in fact, in the autumn, when the screw is time of harvest, and produces fruit in the spring.

Among its flowers and its fruits is the time of the epiphany dionysian in the winter months.

So in a way the ivy pays homage to the god of the intoxicating festivities of the winter after the buds have pushed up in the air, almost as if it were transformed by a new spring.

But even without such a transformation it is an ornament of the winter. While the screw dionysian needs of the light and of the heat-skiing, ivy
dionysian has a need surprisingly limited light and heat, and makes it bring forth its fresh green even in the shade and in the cold.

In the middle of winter, when you celebrate the earth-shattering parties, it widens confident with the jagged leaves on the ground of the woods, or climbing on the trunks as if she wanted to, like the Maenads, hail the god, and surround him in the dance.

It is compared to the serpent, and in the cold nature attributed to both is found the reason why they belong to Dionysus".


In the ivy manifests a particular trait of the zoé, life: the less warm, for maximum tranquility, which is also found in the snake, another symbol of the dionysian, whose cold blood is opposed to the heat of the bull or of a goat.

On the other hand, in the classification of botany, modern the screw is placed next to the ivy because they are considered to be similar.

"But for the worshipper of Dionysus," says Eight, "their affinity is rooted in the very essence of god by the double figure of light and darkness, warmth and coldness, and exhilaration of life and the breath of death that everything dries up; the multiplicity of the aspects of the dionysian in the fight between them, yet in one of their relatives, is manifested here in the form of vegetable, stands in the struggle with herself and miraculously pierces from one form into another".

Since Bacchus was considered the god of the mystical, but also of the loving, the plant became in the vocabulary of popular love, a symbol of the Passion that drives us to join closely in an embrace that you would like to the lord, with the loved one or the loved one: an embrace similar to that of the ivy around the trunk of a tree.

For this reason, in India the plant is considered also the emblem of Lust.

To its freshness is attributed to the virtue of dispelling the heat of wine; therefore, it was believed that Dionysus had ordered his faithful incoronarsene.

The god himself was depicted with a crown of ivy in the head, and in his hand the thyrsus, a staff, gnarled and twisted, which was wrapped by its leaves.

Perhaps for this reason was born in the West a custom, alive even today in some osteria paesana, to hang outside the door and a vine of ivy to signal the pouring of the wine.

That twig is like a amulet that would make the wine innocent and harmless.

In reality, it is a poisonous plant, especially the berries black, so if they recommend only external use in ointments, extracts and poultices, which have an analgesic effect on pain caused by rheumatic diseases and promote the healing of wounds and sores.

The ivy is also used in central and northern Europe along with holly as christmas decoration.

The custom was born from a superstition according to which the elves of the houses they loved concocting many jokes during the Christmas holidays.

To defend themselves, they began to hang sprigs of ivy and holly on the doors, in the rafters of the houses and on the chimneys.

The alleged magical powers of these plants changed depending on the location.

In Scotland, for example, the ivy had the duty to protect from the evil eye the cows and their milk.