“Well, as I remember it, the flowers that were at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified, when his blood dripped from him and fell on these flowers they took on his blood and became a pansy. So it was a Christian based symbolism. And when you go through initiation, you find out the ideals that the sorority was founded on and those were Christian, like let us steadfastly love one another, and I don’t know the other ones but they were Christian based ideas.”
The Informant: The informant is a mother of three currently living in Dallas, Texas, to where she moved from Chicago at the age of three. She attended the University of Texas at Austin, and was a member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority. She graduated in 1983 with a Bachelor’s degree in Advertising and has lived in Dallas ever since. She has a younger brother and a younger sister.
The association of the Pansy with Christian ideals as representative of a sorority is especially interesting. The pansy is known for its distinguishable characteristics, specifically the white and purple version. This five-petal flower has two colors, and the red/purple color looks as though it has been splashed upon the whiteness of the flower.
As the sorority tries to uphold Christian values and ideals, it is not surprising that they would associate the pansy with such depictions. The association of the red in the middle of the pansy as representative of Jesus’s blood is very significant. However, the story of the pansy can also be associated with pagan beliefs of the druidic tradition. This is evident in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In Act 2, Scene 1, the fairy king Oberon describes the origin of the flower as:
“Yet mark’d I where the bolt of Cupid fell:
It fell upon a little western flower,
Before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound,
And maidens call it love-in-idleness.
Fetch me that flower; the herb I shew’d thee once:
The juice of it on sleeping eye-lids laid
Will make or man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees.”
This demonstrates the traditional belief among the people that the pansy received the color from cupid’s arrow. The arrow pierced the heart of the white pansy, causing it to bleed “purple with love’s wound.”
In this depiction, the pansy is associated with pagan beliefs, namely that of ancient Greek mythology, in order to describe its countenance. In Shakespeare’s time, many people still associated with these beliefs, as they were related to the Celtic and Druidic traditions and beliefs about nature. The fairies themselves represent pagan beliefs associated with nature within this play. Therefore, it is very interesting how the pansy came to adopt a story of Christianity and its relation to Christ’s blood. Perhaps as pagan beliefs and notions were diminished, people adopted the general framework of the myth of the pansy, but instead of Cupid, they chose Christ to be the source of love. This would be in accordance with the Catholic faith as they believe that Christ is the source of all love, so it would make sense to replace Cupid with Christ in that sense. However, in doing so, the pansy seems to have lost its association with romantic love, as it once had with its association with Cupid in that a single drop of its juice would cause love sickness. That is why the pansy was once called “love-in-idelness.” Overall, there is a very interesting connection with the transformation of the story about the Pansy from pagan beliefs to Christianity.