Lilies are my flower. I fell in love with them at a young age, so much so that I named my first pet after the flower, after debating changing my own name to Lily. When I hit my teen years, I learned they had a spiritual significance to me, and their symbolic meaning spoke deeply to me. Hope. Purity, chastity, death, rebirth, union, beauty. Safety, sanctuary, innocence. All things I felt drawn to, even back then.
Lilies became a kind of calling card for me, in the same way that grapes were a shorthand for Dionysus, the scent of a particular kind of marigold was a nod to Thanatos, and the smell of roses and smoke was a warning that Hades was near. Others who interacted with me out of body said that the scent or sight of white lilies accompanied me, before I ever mentioned my ties to the flower.
It was one of these occasions that I became curious if the kind of lily I saw in my head, had a particular name. I did a search, and not only did I find the name of the flower on a gardening site, but the page also said:
Early representations of the lily were discovered in a villa in Amnisos, Crete, which dates from the Minoan Period, about 1580 B.C. The lily was the Minoan sacred flower, a special attribute of the Great Minoan Goddess Britomartis or Dictynna who had her origin in Neolithic times. She maintained her supremacy in Crete until the mysterious cataclysm that befell Minoan civilization in the middle of the sixteenth century B.C. when her cult was gradually assimilated into the religion of the Greeks and she became the precursor of Greek Artemis.
That, dear readers, is what my circle of friends has come to refer to as a “brick”. Because sometimes the Universe is as subtle getting information to you, as a brick to the head. (A slightly more formal definition of a brick in this context: a piece of external, often textual information that coincides with one’s UPG [unverified personal gnosis], thus making it CG [confirmed gnosis]).
And I would like to take a moment now to say I do not fully agree with that site, and feel they are conflating multiple deities into one and giving her more overarching authority than she actually had. But I did find other sites that also tied white lilies to Britomartis, so the point still stands.
Another site also points out that lilies lined the walls of the throne room at Knossos, leading the flower to be a symbol of the ruling class. And on Thera, there existed a room where three walls were covered in stylized lilies, believed to be a bridal chamber. There, lilies were also associated with the worship of Ariadne.
The lily is a stand-in for not just one thing, but many seemingly contradictory ideas. The tug-of-war that is created when pairing fertility with chastity, of life with death. Some may see that as impossible. But I see it as creating a beautifully nuanced web of energy, whose attributes may seem paradoxical, but really are complimentary. All of the symbolic meanings of the lily are descriptors, trying desperately to point to something larger that contains all of them, and more. Something that is fragile, but draws its greatest strength from that very fragility. Something that is divine.
Nice, well researched article, LIly. This flower is all over the place in ancient art, but unfortunately it’s not noticed much. I also wrote about the lily this week! http://hearthmoonblog.com/lily-of-the-goddess/ This flower also keeps coming to my attention.
I have really only focused on studying the flower in Minoan and Greek contexts, only lightly dabbling in more Semitic contexts. I enjoyed you article as well! I like the cross cultural examination you provided.