Spring is upon us. It is a time of rebirth and renewal, physical as well as spiritual. One of
the signs of this renewal and the earth waking up from the darkness of the winter
months is the blooming of flowers. One of the earlier blooms we see is lilies. Lilies are a
flower closely associated with the Easter holiday because they are often pictured as
part of the images shown of the resurrection of Jesus. They are also often tied to the
Blessed Mother due to their association with purity.
The iconography of lilies is one of purity and renewal. In part due to their association
with the holy mother and in part their association with Jesus’s transition into eternal life.
But this symbiology actual predates the Christian narrative and goes back into before
the common era into the ancient Greek mythologies involving Zeus, king of the gods,
and Hera, his wife. Zeus, as he was prone to do, fathered a child with a mortal woman.
Zeus then tricked Hera into nursing it because she thought it was her own. When Zeus’s
deception was discovered, the infuriated Hera cast the baby aside. In the process, drips
of milk fell from her bosom onto the earth, and from that sprung the first lilies. They
literally grew from one of the purest and most natural sources of nourishment in the
world: a mother’s milk. And that of a goddess, no less. One has to wonder how the story
of Hera’s rejection of a half mortal/half god child in any way parallels the Easter story of
the world’s rejection of a god who was both true god and true man and was also the son
Lilies are also found in cultures and mythologies other than ancient Greece, such as in
Mesopotamia, where they are closely related to the fertility goddess Ishtar. What this
indicates is several things: That lilies are ancient, that they have a long history of
symbolism, and different cultures have different ways of viewing things. It is a striking
dichotomy to see how in ancient Mesopotamia, that lilies were associated with a fertility
goddess and in the common era they were associated with the Blessed Virgin, who was
basically a symbol of perpetual sexual purity. Fertility cults and goddesses do not have
a place in the Christian world. That archetype did not exist and was replaced by the
image of the sinless, pure, virgin mother of God.
One can see that long before the Christian religion took on the flower the lily played a
role in religious mythology. Like many things (holidays, customs, traditions) it was
adopted and adapted to Christianity in order to mesh with the cultures that already
In addition to being a symbol of purity, and symbol of renewal, and of spring in general,
the lily has a lot of iconographies associated with it around death. That indelible image
of a body in a coffin, arms crossed, white lily between the folded hands is such a trope
that I can recall seeing it even in cartoons as a child. This is such the case that lilies are
often part of funerary flower arrangements and given as part of a condolence gift as
well. The reason behind this association of the lily and dying is that the lily represents
the moment the soul separates from the body. The way I see it, the reasons for this are
a couple: Given the other symbiology tied to the lily it would not surprise me at all if that
is seen as a purification of the soul. Separation from the baser, more earthly component
of its being that is the physical body. And, as they are often pictured as present at the
resurrection of Jesus, perhaps, just maybe, they are meant also to be seen as the
promise of eternal life for the pure soul.
So next time you see a lily, know that there is a lot of weight and gravitas behind those
delicate petals. You do not need to speak to send a powerful message.
by Julie Morse
Feel free to answer any of these questions or ask your own question below!
1. What is your favorite spring flower?
2. How can we incorporate the spiritual meanings of flowers into our daily lives and rituals?
3. How can we use flowers to connect with our spirituality and inner selves?