Largely as a result of colonization, Marigold plants traveled through continents and centuries, inadvertently impacting people spiritually, economically, and in the collective conscious of different parts of the world. Native to the Americas, all varieties of marigolds have roots in the heart of present day Central and South America. The Aztec people held these flowers in high regard, calling them " Cempasúchitl," which translates to “twenty-flower” in reference to the many petals. These sacred blooms played a central role in the ancient tradition of the Day of the Dead, celebrated and cultivated by indigenous cultures in Mesoamerica for thousands of years and to the present day. The brilliant colors of marigolds were believed to symbolize the sun's life-giving energy. The people used the flowers as medicine, in companion planting to suppress pests from crops, and in ceremonial rituals. Marigolds graced intricate floral displays, altars, and offerings to guide the spirits of deceased ancestors back to the realm of the living. When Spanish colonizers arrived in the Americas in the early 16th century, they encountered the use of marigolds by the indigenous people there, and recognized the value this golden bloom held while also condemning the sacred uses of the flower in ritual and healing as sacrilegious. Despite this, and recognizing the potential for this vibrant golden bloom, they brought marigold seeds back to Europe. This marked the beginning of their journey across the seas. Marigolds were enveloped into European gardens.
In medieval and Renaissance era Europe, Marigolds toed the line between superstitious and religious uses. Marigolds were often planted near homes and entrances because they were believed to have protective properties. It was thought that they could ward off evil spirits, witches, and other malevolent forces. The name "marigold," is linked to the use of the flower as an offering to honor the Virgin Mary and was often planted in monastery gardens. Later in time during the Victorian period, marigolds took on a somewhat different symbolic meaning. They became associated with grief and mourning, and symbolized the pain of loss and remembrance of the deceased. Giving someone a marigold was seen as a way to comfort and show solidarity in grief with them. Marigolds spread widely to other parts of the world, including Africa and, eventually, even farther east to Asia. Upon their arrival in Southern Asia, marigolds were embraced wholeheartedly, becoming an integral part of the region's culture. They were given as offerings to Hindu gods and deities, used as adornment during significant life events like weddings and funerals, and featured prominently in festivals and gatherings as a symbol of positivity, new beginnings, and divine energy.
The marigold's story is an invitation to remember and reflect on the tangled web of human history, and the ways these humble flowers link together cultures, beliefs, and traditions around the globe. I found myself growing more marigolds than ever this year, and they have become a poignant marker of the passage of time for me in my practice. Their fading blooms signal the onset of winter, and in their eventual loss, I find myself pondering the collective grief that envelopes our world now. In a marigold, we find a silent companion that stands in steadfast witness to our complexities, a friend for both joy and sorrow.