Flowers of the Gods: The Use of Flowers in Our Relationship with the Divine
In ‘Flowers of the Gods‘ I take a look at how flowers have often been either woven into the stories about the gods, associated with them or given as offerings to them.
The Egyptian Goddess Isis
Diadem of Life, Divine Mother, Giver of Life and Mistress of the Earth
Her name means “Throne” and she was revered and worshiped throughout Egypt. An important representation of Pharaoh’s power.
She was the daughter of the god of Earth and the goddess of the sky. She married her brother, Osiris, and she gave birth to Horus. When Osiris was slain by the god of the storms she used her magical powers to restore his body to life.
The first large temple dedicated to her was in Behbeit el-Hagar called the Iseion. Priests and priestesses waited on her and gave her daily offerings of white lotus flowers and blue water lilies for which she was inextricably linked.
Her associations were many. She was seen as the ideal mother and wife. A patroness of nature and magic. A protector of the dead and goddess of children. She welcomed all manner of people from slaves to the Pharaoh himself.
Her tears are attributed to making the Nile rise and irrigate the fields.
On ancient Roman coins she was often portrayed with lotuses, and there were even some depictions of her son Harpocrates wearing a lotus crown on his head.
Greek Goddess Aphrodite
Olympian Goddess of Love and Beauty, Pleasure, Joy and Procreation
The Greek goddess Aphrodite was the personification of sublime, sensual beauty much like the roses that delighted her. Flowers sprang up upon her every footstep. She wore rich, brightly-colored clothing and adorned herself with fabulous jewelry. She is often depicted though as naked or partially disrobed.
Her cult was very popular in ancient Greece with numerous shrines and temples. The temple of Aphrodite in Corinth became so rich that it owned more than a thousand temple slaves and courtesans who had been dedicated to the goddess. She was worshiped with private rituals and prayers.
Her creation must be one of the most bizarre in the pantheon of gods and goddesses. According to Hesiod’s Theogony, Cronus and Uranus had a ‘little dispute’ and Cronus ended up cutting off Uranus’s genitals (ouch!) and throwing them into the sea. From the sea foam arose Aphrodite. She sailed to shore on a large scallop shell.
The goddesses of the seasons (Horae) welcomed her to step ashore and presented her with the finest gold ornaments and clothes. Then she was promptly brought to Mount Olympus to be introduced to Zeus and the other gods and goddesses.
Zeus was alarmed when he saw her. Irresistible desire, the rapture of love and sexual ecstasy radiated from her. He discerned that her purpose was to make love. Such beauty and purpose could have dire consequences among the gods and goddesses. To avoid possible fighting from breaking out he immediately married her off to his son, Hephaestus, god of the forge.
Hephaestus treated her well. He built her a palace and made her beautiful jewelry. She was given a jewel-encrusted, golden chariot that was pulled by doves. He made her a girdle which made her even more beautiful and irresistible. He would later no doubt regret it as she proved to be the most unfaithful wife having many lovers and children that weren’t his. Eros, the god of love, was her most famous son who helped his mother bring love into the world.
One of Aphrodite’s lovers was the mortal, Adonis. One day when he was attacked by an enormous wild boar and mortally wounded he cried out to her. She was by his side in an instant but he was fading fast. As a memorial to his love she turned his dripping blood into a wildflower.
“‘Your blood shall change into a flower . . . and ere an hour had passed a blood-red flower arose, like the rich bloom of pomegranates . . . yet is its beauty brief, so lightly cling it petals, fall so soon, when the winds blow that give the flower [anemone] its name.’
Ovid, Metamorphoses (Published in A.D. 8)
The Aztec God Xochipilli
God of Art, Games, Beauty, Dance, Flowers, Pleasure, Painting, Feasting and Songs
Xochipilli’s name means “flower prince”. He was one of the gods responsible for fertility and agricultural produce in Aztec mythology. Festivals were held in his honor early in the growing season and during Tecuilhuitontli when pulque alcohol was drunk in large quantities. During these times flowers were put on his statues and he was given corn offerings.
One thing is for sure, he knew how to have a good time. He was a god of excess. A care-free pleasure seeker who was known to overdo it at times. A 1.2 meter high statue of him was found that is decorated with butterflies, flowers and clusters of four dots representing the sun (not the one pictured above). He’s sitting cross-legged, playing a rattle and singing. The patterns on his body are revealing. He’s covered in flowers from psychotropic plants, hallucinogenic mushrooms and animal skins.
Can you think of anything to add to ‘Flowers of the Gods?’
By Aaron J. Atsma, Theoi
Isis, From Wikipedia
By Mark Cartwright, Ancient Encyclopedia History
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