Sing willow, willow, willow. — Shakespeare (Othello)
Spring has sprung when you see the coastal willow’s catkins. The willow tree appears around the world in myths and legends related to the spring. Long before it was associated with weeping and sorrow, the willowy willow was most connected to ghosts, travel, the underworld, and the moon.
In China, the willow is important during the Qingming Festival, also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day. Influenced by buddhism, willow trees were also called guibumu, which means "the tree which makes ghosts afraid.”
And in ancient China, presenting a willow twig to another person was a way of expressing that you want them to stay. This custom dates back to the days of trade and travel on the Silk Road. Before the trader set out, they would be presented with a willow wreath. This wreath represented a full circle journey—and the hope that they would return safely home.
The moon and willow are closely associated because the willow grows near water, and of course the movement of water is intimately tied to the moon. Hecate was the powerful Greek goddess of the moon and of willow. The willow is associated with many underworld goddesses, including Persephone, Circe, Hera and Hecate. For this reason, Greek poet Orpheus carried willow branches on his adventures in the Underworld.