The Red Spider Lily And Why Its Name Is Synonymous With Death

The red spider lily goes by many names including the death flower, red magic lily, and many other fun and creative names that are derived from their richly steeped history with humans.

The Red Spider Lily And Why Its Name Is Synonymous With Death

They originated from Nepal, China, and Korea but over the years they have spread to and been introduced to Japan and even the United States.

In fact, if you have ever heard about this plant it is probably from Japanese culture and the anime industry where they are used as symbolism quite frequently. 

The red spider lily is a gorgeous flower that has a unique way of blooming, which we will cover later on in the article.

On top of that, we are going to talk about the symbolism, names, and representation of this flower in anime. Exciting, right? 

Now that we have the introductions out of the way and we have sufficiently caught your attention, it is finally time to delve into the folklore and natural information surrounding this plant. So, without further ado, let us get started!

The Death Flower Also Known As The Red Spider Lily

The red spider lily is synonymous with abandonment, loss, death, and separation. But where did this symbolism come from?

They are absolutely gorgeous in the early Autumn months and the vast fields that you seed around the Buddhist holiday known as Ohigan are yet another clear link to the symbolism of this flower.

This festival is known as a time for people to go back to their homes and visit the graves of their ancestors. This allows them the time to pay their respects to their loved ones.

But this festival also happens at the same time that the red flower lily blooms. These flowers will bloom for about two weeks before they die and they start their lives over again.

Because these flowers bloom around the time of the Ohigan festival they are naturally associated with the holiday and the Autumn equinox. 

The fact that these flowers bloom only in the Autumn is not the only odd thing about these death flowers. Before the leaves grow the flower will bloom and you will see fields of striking red clusters of these long spidery flowers.

They bloom atop long slender stems which is why when they bloom in fields you will see a gorgeous red carpet of these flowers which can look both beautiful and ethereal.

But the beauty of these flowers does not last and they quickly go brown and die, leaving the plant without its browning glory.

At this point, the leaves will start to grow, and the plant will start to look alive again before the leaves also turn brown and die just like the flowers. 

The fact that these flowers have such a short life span and grow somewhat curiously in comparison to other flowers has baffled people even today.

But in Chinese Myth, there were supposed explanations for this phenomenon. It is said that the Sun Goddess named Amaterasu gave two elves the job of guarding the leaves and flowers independently.

The guard named Mañju guarded the petals and the guard named Saka guarded the leaves. Both guards knew of the other but they were forbidden to ever meet.

But as with any good story, curiosity got the better of them and they defied the Sun Goddess. The elvish guards met each other and fell in love.

But, Amaterasu was not happy with them and decided that they needed to be punished. So, she cursed them to never meet again.

This is why Saka’s leaves will only grow after Mañju’s petals have died. They were cursed to live their lives over and over again, eternally separated.

It is because of this story that this flow is also known as the Mañjusaka which is a Chinese name. 

The Death Flower Has Many Names 

Despite what you may think, the red spider lily has many names. In fact, there are over one thousand names associated with this one flower.

The majority of those names come from the lore and mythology surrounding this flower and of course its association with death. 

For example, these plants are often seen in and around graveyards and will even be brought to the tombstones of loved ones as memorials.

But although this might seem like a sweet sentiment or like some poetic tale the real reason that this happens is because of the plant itself and the truth is more macabre than you might think.

You see, the whole red spider lily is poisonous. The leaves, flowers, and bulbs could all kill you in the right doses. 

The Red Spider Lily And Why Its Name Is Synonymous With Death

The origin of this tradition goes back to the old days in Japan.

You see, there is information that suggests that when human bodies used to be buried in the ground without a casket they would be disturbed by wild animals like moles, foxes, and even wolves.

They were doing what animals do and scavenging for food. But this became a problem for the people that wanted their loved ones to rest in peace undisturbed.

So, in order to make sure that the bodies of their friends and family were not dug up and eaten people would plant the bulbs of this poisonous red spider lily on top of the burial sites in order to deter any scavenging animals that were looking for a quick meal.

As you can see, early on in history this flower became associated with death and earned the name ‘Death Flower or ‘Corpse Flower’. 

But this method of deterring animals from areas and the superstitious ties to this flower became popular and people started planting them on and around farms to keep the animals away.

But there were plenty of superstitions tied to this death flower. For example, if you were to pick a red spider lily and bring the flower into your home your house may burn down and you would be homeless.

Or worse, dead. Whether people believed this or it was used as a way to deter children from touching this plant is unknown.

But what we do know for sure is that it has a lot of negativity and death tied to it. 

But there is more superstition attached to these flowers. As we have said, they were often planted on graves as a deterrent.

But when these red flowers finally bloomed in the Autumn they were a bloody shade of red which lead people to believe that they sucked up the blood of the dead.

This is yet another reason that this flower is so closely tied to death.

On top of that, when the red spider lily blows in the wind many people think that they look a bit like ghosts which lead to them receiving yet another death-related name. The ghost flower. 

In Buddhism, the red spider lily goes by the name Manjushage and the connection this flower has to the Buddhist faith is more than the flowers blooming at the time of the Ohigan holiday.

The name manjushage originated from the Buddhist scriptures. It is a heavenly flower that does not grow in the human world.

The red spider lily was planted by the monks and because of this, it has been associated with Buddhist temples ever since.

But there are also white spider lilies which are more commonly called manjushage. 

This flower also goes by the name higan which is important because this flower is seen as symbolic of the path spirits must take across a river in order to become enlightened.

As a result of this link, the red spider lily is often a symbol of the dead crossing over. The red spider lily also grows near the Sanzu river where they greet the people that have just died. 

Buddhist texts speak of the Lotus Sutra which is synonymous with Diyu or the realm of the dead. In some translations, this is also called hell.

Some people think that the red spider lily grows in this realm of the dead or in hell and highlights a path to show spirits the way to reincarnation.

This symbolism is where the red spider lily gets yet another macabre name. Hell Flowers. 

The Red Spider Lily In Anime

If you are a fan of anime you will likely have seen the red spider lily feature in a few movies or series. You see, this death flower is often used in media, art, literature, animation, film, and music.

So even if you have only watched anime in passing you will likely have seen this famous flower before. You are most likely to have seen the red spider lily in the odd image or as a symbol of death.

But just know that it is never there just because it is a pretty flower. There is always a reason for the death flower to make an appearance in an anime. 

The Red Spider Lily And Why Its Name Is Synonymous With Death

Japan has many flowers that have meaning or that are symbolic of certain things. This meaning or symbolism attached to flowers is known as hanakotoba.

Flowers like the red flower lily, chrysanthemums, plum, and wisteria are just a few varieties of flowers that have been given poignant meanings in Japanese culture.

So handing over a bouquet of flowers is very rarely what it is at face value. There are often small meanings hidden in each one that can be an important clue to what someone is thinking or feeling.

So in anime when you casually see a flower it is hardly ever just a coincidence and there is very likely to be symbolism or meaning attached to it.

In anime when you see a red spider lily it is often used as a way to foreshadow that a character is going to die or is near death. 

For example, in the anime Demon Slayer, you will see this flower make an appearance in the credits.

This show has death as one of its key plot points and because of this, the flower has an important part to play in symbolizing that and also promises death to the villain. 

In Tokyo Ghoul the red spider lily also makes an appearance and symbolizes death in a more poignant way. This is another story where death is a constant and will inevitably happen.

In the story itself, the main character is tortured brutally and in one of these scenes, you will see that there is a field of white flowers switch transform into the red spider lily.

This metamorphosis is used as a way to symbolize the death of the person that he once was. 

In addition to these two anime, you will see the red spider lily used in an anime called Dororo. The story is about an orphan.

In episode nine you will see a lot of red spider lily symbolism used to trigger flashbacks. But instead of symbolizing death, this flower is instead used to show that the child was abandoned.

You see, the red spider lily goes by yet another name. The Abandoned Child Flower. This flower is used throughout the anime to symbolize a sense of abandonment and slow death.

It really is done quite beautifully and in a way that is sure to tug at your heartstrings. This is especially the case if you understand how important the symbolism of this flower is and what it tends to mean. 

Final Thoughts 

We hope that you have enjoyed this article and learning all about the death flower. It is really quite a stunning plant that has a fascinating history steeped in lore and history.

If you take the time to read more about the names that this flower goes by and the fascinating stories surrounding them you will find a plethora of amazing and fun information that we have simply not had the time to cover in this article. 

Have a fantastic day and we hope to see you soon!

Mindy Russel
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