Willow Tree Symbolism and Meanings

 8 min read

Even his name, “willow”, is musical and suggests every beautifully complex detail of the tree’s gracefulness at night. In literature, folklore, and art—which occurs often throughout cultures and continents—he seems to be shrouded in mystery and magic.

Willow is masculine while the moon is feminine; he might be thought of as the moon goddess’s devoted ethereal priest who excels in his vocation.

Ruled by the moon and water, willow tree symbolism includes divination, predictions, intuition enhancement, love, rebirth, healing and protection.

Symbolism:Resonance, harmony, divination, love, rebirth, protection
Divine Associations:Belili (Sumerian), Persephone (Greek)
Astrological Association:Moon
Superstition:For generations, European poets have interpreted the willow tree as a symbol of mourning after reading Psalm 137, which says, “By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept … On the willow trees there we hung up our lyres”.
Historical Spotlight:The willow tree has intense personal and religious significance in Jewish tradition, specifically during the Feast of Tabernacles., thanking God for His provisioning through the harvest. This feast includes taking “the fruit of citrus trees, palm-fronds, leafy branches of myrtle, and willows from riverside” and rejoicing wholeheartedly before Yahwehfor seven days (Leviticus 23:40).

About Willow Trees

Tall willow tree
Tall willow tree

The Salix genus contains 300 or more species of shrubs and trees that grow quickly and they vary in size and shape, from tiny alpine plants to large lowland trees. Most of the Salix species are found in the northern hemisphere, in temperate zones.

Willows usually prosper in watery areas like meadows, and they can tolerate other moist habitats such as chalklands or similar damp conditions. Also, most willow species have male and female flowers on different trees; you cannot tell the difference by looking at them.

The small flowers grow in dense clusters called catkins that open before or after the leaves appear, depending on the type of willow tree. Lastly, pruning generally stimulates growth for most types of willows.

The white willow tree is a beautiful sight in meadows and by rivers, as it can grow up to 75ft tall. Its lanceolate leaves are finely toothed and silky white on the underside, with each leaf reaching up to 4in long. White willows also have catkins that appear alongside their leaves.

Another type of willow tree is the goat willow or great sallow, which gets its name from its large yellow male catkins that become visible in early springtime.

The female trees with their silver catkins are appropriately called “pussy willow” (don’t confuse this European tree with the American one of the same name, S. discolor). The American tree doesn’t grow as tall as the goat willow and has leaves that are ovate to oblong shaped, approximately 4 inches long.

Practical Uses

Willows are usually grown as ornamentals or for screens, shielding, and stabilizing riverbanks.

However, willows have many other practical uses because their branches are long and flexible. For example, wickerwork can be used to make baskets, furniture, wattle-and-daub walls, and fences from willow twigs.

In addition, “reed beds” made from plants such as willows help purify water naturally while also providing a habitat for wildlife according to modern “green” technology.

Natural Healing

Willow bark has been used for centuries to treat various ailments, thanks to its main active ingredient: salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is an anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving agent, similar to aspirin.

Although willow bark does not have all the same properties as aspirin (for example, it does not thin the blood), it is still used today for treating arthritis, musculo-skeletal pain and fevers.

The tree essence of the white willow also enhances our awareness of our deeper selves and has a spiritually cleansing effect.

Folklore, Myth and Symbol of Willow Trees

Light brown willow bark with vertical furrows and ridges
Light brown willow bark with vertical furrows and ridges

For centuries, willows have been connected to the moon and females. The willow’s sphere contains activities that are introspective and responsive.

Moreover, prophecy and divination (particularly with water as an aid, for example by staring into a well or bowl of water while in a dazed state), healing, white magic, poetry-writing and music-making were all under the domain of moon priestesses who resided among the willow trees.

The Sumerian goddess of love, the moon and the underworld, Belili resided in willow trees, springs and wells. In ancient Greece, Persephone had a grove of aged willows; meanwhile, the priestess Kirke guarded a Hecate-dedicated willow grove – Hecate being the goddess of death and transition.

Furthermore, an image of Artemis (the moon goddess) was found in a Sparta willow thicket; Queen Hera was said to have been born under a Samos willow tree too – where annual appropriate rituals were held.

The willow tree has always been a sacred symbol for poets. The Nine Muses, who were priestesses of the moon goddess, resided on Mount Helicon–a mountain named after Helike (which is Greek for “willow tree”). It’s reasonable to assume that similar associations between the willow tree and poetry existed in Celtic, Germanic, and Slavic cultures.

However, because these traditions were transmitted orally instead of through writing, we have no record of them if they died out before anyone thought to write them down.

The willow tree has always had a place in Irish legend and history. In Celtic Europe, the bardic tradition held that the harpist was an entertainer/historian and their instrument was a sacred object. Bards would undergo extensive training in various areas such as natural law, philosophy, language, poetry composition and music – similar to druids though not as complex or lengthy.

The harp was the ancient Celts’ method of keeping alive an understanding of their myths, legends, and ancestry among the people. The beautiful sound of the harp instilled a sense of belonging, gratefulness, and respect for all life in its listeners.

The willow wood has been utilized to construct harps throughout history as evidenced by many archaeological findings. One of the most famous Celtic harps referred to as the “Brian Boru”, is now on display at Trinity College in Dublin. It is named after a high king of Ireland and is estimated to date back to the 15th century.

The construction of this ornate piece includes an oak pillar and headpiece, a willow sound body, and brass strings. Just as the willow tree resonates with Feminine energy, so too does music created from this particular instrument.

In Chinese culture, attributes such as gracefulness and vulnerability are attributed to willows which represent Yin (the passive/negative principle of Yin and Yang).

Willow Tree Meanings and Symbols

Willow tree branches
Willow tree branches

Personal Empowerment

Willow is one of the original thirty-eight flower remedies developed by homeopathic medicine pioneer Dr. Edward Bach. It’s employed to support taking full responsibility for your life and feeling empowered to create positive change.

It also helps you to release the belief that other people or situations have power over you, as well as the belief that the success and happiness of others somehow create a shortage of these qualities.

In general, willow helps you to know that there are plenty of positive living conditions for everyone and supports you in becoming the master of your destiny.

Pain Relief

The willow tree has a long history of medicinal use, dating back to ancient times. The sap of the willow tree is rich in salicylic acid, which is an effective pain and fever reducer.

Aspirin—one of the most common medications used for these purposes today—is derived from this natural ingredient.

Willow can also be used energetically to help relieve all forms of pain, including grief and emotional pain.


In Japan, willow trees are commonly linked to ghosts. For example, in the book Ancient Tales and Folk-lore of Japan, author Richard Gordon Smith writes that “In Japanese pictures of ghosts there is nearly always a willow tree”.

On the other hand, in China during the spring festival Qingming or “Tomb Sweeping Day”, people place willow branches on doors and gates to stop wandering spirits from entering.

Directing Energy

Willow wood is a strong and flexible conductor of energy, making it a natural choice for magic wands. Willow is often referred to as the tree of enchantment because of its ability to conduct energy.

This makes willow a popular choice for people who feel a strong connection with nighttime, emotions, and the moon.

Willow can also be used to sweep away negative or stagnate energy. Willow is a traditional addition to witches’ brooms, and the goddess Quan Yin is often pictured with a willow branch to wave away demons.


Willow trees have been used for centuries to ease the pain of those grieving. The water element is also closely associated with willow trees and is linked to sunset, autumn, and endings. In ancient Rome, willows were often seen adorning gravesites and headstones during the Victorian era.

There are multiple deities across cultures that death and willow trees have been associated with throughout history.

This includes Hecate, Persephone, Orpheus, Loki, Ishtar, Cerridwen, Circe, Belili, and Poseidon just to list a few. In sabbat fires specifically, willow wood is meant to represent death.


Given all of these potential meanings, it’s no wonder that the willow tree has been a popular symbol in art and literature for centuries.

And if you’re looking for a way to add some symbolic meaning to your life, consider adding a willow tree tattoo or painting to your collection.

Who knows – maybe the resonance and harmony of the willow tree will help encourage new growth in your life as well.