History and Meaning of Lilies

Lily (lilium candidum) Purity

” My beloved has gone to his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, 
and to gather lilies”
– Song of Songs 6:2 –


The lily, regarded as the symbol of purity, is one of the oldest flowers in the world. It can be found painted on the walls of ancient Greek palaces where it was the personal flower of Hera, the moon goddess.  Legend has it that the first lily sprang from the tears dropped by Eve when she left the Garden of Eden. A garden is portrayed as the dwelling place of the gods in the religions and mythology of nearly every ancient nation in the world.  Indian literature states that the gods resided in the Garden of Indra, among fruits and flowers giving immortality to all who visited. Many sacred meanings – handed down from generation to generation – have been given to the plants that first grew in these incredible gardens, and since dedicated or symbolic to the gods and prominent figures of the world’s religions..

In biblical times all the way through the Middle Ages, the emphasis of flowers was for their fragrance, their healing powers, not for decorative purposes, and perhaps more so for their sweet smell since bathing was not a regular activity. Decorating with flowers is a relatively modern term. The bible only mentions picking of flowers once, as referred to in the above sited verse from Song of Songs.  And the Mishna speaks of the picking of lilies (Toh. 3:7). According to the Mishna, rose gardens existed for their fragrance and were used in preparation of perfumes.

Some of the flowers mentioned in the Talmud are the narcissus, jasmine and saffron, each widely used both for aromatic and medicinal purposes.

Abraham Ibn Ezra probably had the White lily in mind when he stated that the names Shoshan and Shoshanna are derived from the Hebrew word “Shesh,” which means six.  The white lily has six white petals, as well as a pistil and five staman – six in total.  This large, beautiful flower is often referred to today as the White Mountain Lily or Casa Blanca Lily and can still be found in forests in Galilee and Mount Carmel areas of Northern Israel.

“And the stately lilies stand
Fair in silvery light
Like saintly vestals, pale in prayer;
Their pure breath sanctifies the air,
As its fragrance fills the night.”

– Anonymous – 

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To read more about the Language of Flowers visit Eden Florist’s Language of Flowers 

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