A chapter from the book of the remarkable biologist and teacher Nikolai Fedorovich Zolotnitsky (1851-1920), "Flowers in legends and traditions." The first edition of this book was in 1913 (After that, the book was reprinted several times).
White, wonderful lily, this symbol of innocence and purity, has its own interesting legend in mythology. The Greeks attributed her divine origin; according to them, it grew from the milk of the mother of the gods - Hera.
They say that the queen of Thebes, the beautiful Alcmene, mother of Hercules, fearing the revenge of the jealous Hera, in order to hide Hercules, whom she had born of Zeus, put him under a thick bush. But Athena, who knew the divine origin of the baby, deliberately led Hera to this place and showed her the poor child abandoned by her mother. Hera really liked the healthy, adorable little boy, and, as the protector and patroness of all newborns, she agreed to let the thirsty baby suck her milk. But the boy, instinctively feeling his enemy in her, bit her so hard that she, screaming in pain, brutally pushed him away. Milk splashed and, spreading across the sky, formed the Milky Way, and a few drops of it, falling to the ground, turned into lilies. For this reason, these flowers among the Greeks were also called the roses of Hera.
Another version of the legend says that Zeus, wishing to make Hercules immortal, ordered Sleep to prepare a sleeping pill for Hera, and when, having drunk it, the goddess plunged into a deep sleep, then he sent the swift-footed Hermes to put his little pet under her chest. A healthy, hungry little boy began to suck greedily, and from a few drops of milk he spilled on the ground those lovely white flowers, which were called lilies, grew.
But much earlier than the Greeks, the lily was known to the ancient Persians, whose capital was even called Susa, that is, the city of lilies. For the same reason, lilies were depicted in the city's coat of arms as a symbol of immaculate beauty.
It is known that even among the ancient Jews this flower enjoyed great love and the glory of purity. According to Jewish legends, he grew up in paradise just at the time of the temptation of Eve by the devil and could be defiled by him; yet he remained as pure as he was, and no dirty hand dared touch him. The Jews decorated with them not only the sacred altars, but often the cheeks of their crowned heads, for example, King Solomon. And the architect who built the Temple of Solomon gave a graceful lily shape to the wonderful capitals of the huge columns of this temple and decorated its walls and ceiling with images of lilies, sharing with the Jews the opinion that the flower with its beauty will help create a deeper prayer mood among believers. For the same reason, probably, Moses ordered to decorate the seven-branched candlestick with the image of a lily and to give the shape of a lily to the font where the high priest washed himself.
There is also a legend that the cradle of Moses stopped under the lily, but, of course, not under the white one, but under the yellow one, which usually grows among reeds and reeds.
Lily is also found among the Egyptians: her image now and then comes across in hieroglyphs and denotes either the short duration of life, then freedom and hope. In addition, the bodies of the dead young Egyptian girls were apparently decorated with white lilies; at least a similar lily was found on the breast of a young Egyptian mummy, now kept in the Louvre Museum in Paris. From the same flower, the Egyptians prepared the fragrant oil famous in antiquity - suzinon, which is described in detail by Hippocrates in his treatise On the Nature of Woman.
The lily also played a significant role among the Romans, especially in their festivities dedicated to the goddess of spring - Flora.
The festivities took place annually in the last days of April and were games where women, to the sound of trumpets and timpani, competed in wrestling and running. The winners received wreaths of flowers as a reward and were covered with a whole rain of flowers. When the wreaths were offered, a statue of the goddess herself appeared, decorated with flowers and garlands and covered with a pink veil. During the games, peas and beans were scattered in handfuls as a treat for the Roman mob. The festivities were founded by the beloved of the Roman commander Pompey, Akka Laurentia, whom, for her extraordinary beauty, her other admirer, Caecilius Metellus, even ranked among the host of goddesses, placing her image in the temple of Castor and Pollux.
In addition to the statue of the goddess, boxes, amphitheater, arena and public places were cleaned with flowers at these festivities. All this required such a mass of flowers that they were even artificially driven out by this time in hotbeds and greenhouses.
Among the flowers, the rose played the leading role, but the white lily served as a sign of true taste. It was a flower of luxury, a flower of grace, a flower that wealthy patricians and patricians constantly tried to show off, removing themselves and their boxes and even chariots with them. The white lily was considered by the Romans a symbol of hope, and its image was even placed on Roman coins, where it was accompanied by the words: spes populi, spes augusta, spes populi romani.
The Greeks and Romans crowned the bride and groom with wreaths of lilies and ears of wheat as a sign of the wish of a pure and full of abundance of life.
Lily was also found in ancient Germanic mythology, and the god of thunder Thor was always depicted holding a lightning bolt in his right hand, and a scepter crowned with a lily in his left. She also adorned the ancient inhabitants of Pomerania during the festivities in honor of the goddess of spring, and her fragrant corolla served in the Germanic fairytale world as a magic wand for Oberon and the dwelling place of small fairy creatures - elves.
According to these legends, each lily has its own elf, who will be born with her and die with her. The corollas of flowers serve as bells for these tiny creatures, and by swinging them, they call their pious brethren to prayer. These prayer meetings take place in the late evening hour, when everything calmed down in the gardens and fell into deep sleep. Then one of the elves runs to the flexible stem of the lily and begins to swing it. The lily bells ring and wake the sweetly sleeping elves with their silvery ringing. Tiny creatures wake up, crawl out of their soft beds and silently, with importance, go to the corolla of lilies, which at the same time serve them as prayer houses. Here they kneel down, piously fold their hands and in fervent prayer thank the Creator for the blessings bestowed upon them. Having prayedthey also silently hurry back to their flower beds and soon fall asleep in them again in a deep, carefree sleep …
But nowhere did the lily have such a historical significance as in France, where the names of the founder of the French monarchy Clovis, the kings Louis VII, Philip III, Francis and the whole legend about its appearance on the flag of the French kings are associated with it. Ancient legends tell about the appearance of the famous three golden lilies as follows.
Clovis, while still a pagan, seeing during the battle of Tolbiak that the Alemanni, with whom he was at war, were gaining the upper hand over his soldiers, exclaimed: “Christian God, God worshiped by my wife Clotilde (daughter of King Chilperic, a Christian), help I will win, I believe in You! " Then suddenly an angel of God appeared to him with a branch of a lily and said that from now on he would make this flower his weapon and bequeath it to his descendants. At that very moment, Clovis's soldiers were seized with extraordinary courage, with renewed forces they rushed to the enemy and put him to flight. In gratitude for this, Clovis went to Reims in 496 and, with all his fellow Franks, their wives and children, received holy baptism. Since then, the lily has become in France the emblem of royal power under the canopy of the church.
But the lily received from the angel by Clovis was, according to many theologians, not white, but fiery red. It was, in their opinion, the same flower that grew in eastern Flanders on the banks of the Li River, which flows into the Scheldt, in the places where another battle of Clovis took place, after which his victorious soldiers, picking lilies, returned to their homeland with wreaths of these flowers on the head. From the name of this river, the French name for the flower, Lee, probably also originated.
There is even a special legend about this red lily. It is said that she turned red from pure white on the night before the suffering of the Savior on the cross.
When the Savior, the legend says, tormented by heavy anguish, walked that night through the Garden of Gethsemane, all the flowers bowed their heads to Him as a sign of compassion and sorrow. But the lily, glittering in the darkness with its incomparable whiteness, said to herself with pride from the consciousness of her beauty: “I am so much more beautiful than all my fellows that I will stand right on my stem and stare when He passes me so that He can thoroughly enjoy my beauty and my smell”.
And the Savior really stopped for a minute, perhaps even to admire her, but when His suffering gaze fell on her in the moonlight, the lily, comparing its pride with His humility and seeing how all the other flowers bowed their heads in grief before Him, suddenly felt such a pang of conscience that the blush of shame spread over all her petals … The blush remained on her forever.
That is why, the legend concludes, red lilies never stand with their heads raised up and by nightfall they always close their petals.
However, the opinion that Clovis' lily was red is not further confirmed, since the royal French lilies, which became the emblem of kings, were always white.
The conversion of Clovis to Christianity took place, as we have seen, in the 5th century, and since then, for many centuries, nothing else is said about the lily in the French chronicles. The only memory of her during this time is the scepter of the first French kings, crowned with this flower, kept in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the oldest of the churches in Paris, built in the 12th century.
In the 12th century, Louis VII also chose the lily as his emblem, when, going on the second crusade at the head of a separate detachment, he, according to the custom of that time, had to choose a motto for the banner.
Louis VII chooses her, on the one hand, because her name, then pronounced "Lei", bears some resemblance to his name - Louis, and on the other - because he wanted to thank her for her help to King Clovis in the fight against the enemies of Christianity; he, too, goes to fight the infidels. In addition, these lilies were supposed to remind his soldiers of the heroic feat of Clovis, who drove the Romans out of their homeland and was the founder of the French monarchy.
Thus, here for the first time appears that white banner with three golden lilies, which later becomes the emblem of royal power and devotion to the papal throne.
Lily is also found in the coat of arms of Saint Louis IX, but only together with a daisy, which he added in memory of his beloved wife Marguerite. Three lilies also flaunted on his banners during the Crusades undertaken by him; they meant: compassion, justice and mercy - the three virtues that distinguished the entire reign of this king.
The shape of a lily was given in the same way, as we have already said, to the end of the scepter, and France itself was called the kingdom of lilies, and the French king was called the king of lilies.
They said about lilies: "Ies lys ne filent pas" (Lilies do not spin), indicating that there can be no woman on the French throne, and the expression: "etre assis sur des lys" meant "to occupy a high position", since the flowers of lilies not only all the walls of the courts were decorated, but even all the seats of the chairs.
Philip III the Bold, who inherited Louis IX, was the first of the French kings, whose personal seal consisted of just three lilies, and under Charles VII, who lived in 1422-1461, that is, almost 200 years after Philip III the Bold, this seal becomes the state emblem … The same king, wishing to honor the memory of Joan of Arc, finds nothing higher and noble than to elevate her family to the nobility under the name du Lys (Lilievs) and give them the coat of arms, which is a sword depicted on a blue field with two lilies on sides and a wreath of lilies at the top.
Under Louis XII, the lily becomes the main decoration of all gardens in France and is called the flower of Louis, because, according to contemporaries, nothing better than a pure, flawless flower could convey the purity of the soul of this "father of the people".
The lily also played a significant role in the depiction of order signs. Louis XVIII, returning to the throne after the 100-day reign of Napoleon I, established the Order of the White Lily, which consisted of a silver lily suspended from a white silk ribbon. The order was distributed to them in such quantity that it became, as it were, the emblem of the Bourbon party, in contrast to the followers of Napoleon, whose emblem was the violet.
Let us note, by the way, that in 1793 the republican authorities tried in every possible way to humiliate this emblem of royal power and even ordered to brand the convicts with the image of the lily.
On military banners, the lily sign was replaced by an eagle with outstretched wings, and in 1830-1848 by a Gallic rooster.
In those days, the famous Tuileries Garden in Paris was always full of wonderful white lilies, but one day they all suddenly disappeared. They say that this happened by order of King Louis Philippe, who ordered them to be cut off. How true this is is unknown, but since 1830, lilies in this garden no longer bloom.
Another insignia depicting a lily was established in 1048 by the king of Navarre Don Garcia IV. Further, Pope Paul III also established in 1546 the Order of the Lily, which it awarded mainly to the champions of the church and the papal throne, and Pope Paul IV approved it and placed it above all other orders. The image of the lily can also be seen on the highest Italian order of the Annunziata, founded in 1362 by the Duke of Savoy Amedeus VI.
In addition, the lily was generally considered a very honorable sign in French coats of arms and was also found on coins. Louis XIV put into circulation in 1655 coins that even bore the names of gold and silver lilies. The golden lily was worth 7 livres (pounds of silver) and contained 23 carats of gold. On one side of it there was an image of a king or a cross, decorated with lilies and crowned at the ends with crowns, and on the other - the coat of arms of France with lilies, supported by two angels.
The silver lilies were of three denominations: 20, 10, and 5 sous. They had on the obverse an image of a king with a crown, and on the reverse - an image of a cross of 8 intertwined letters L, topped with a crown and surrounded by four lilies. These coins were circulating for a very short time: the silver ones were abolished the next year, and the gold ones lasted until 1679. Now they represent, especially silver ones, of great rarity and are absent even in many of the largest numismatic collections.
Other French coins also had the image of a lily - florins, introduced for the first time in France and receiving this name from the Italian word: florino (flower), which often meant the lilies that adorned the coat of arms of Florence. The first florins appeared in France during the reign of Louis IX. On one side there was an image of a king or John the Baptist, and on the other, a cross surrounded by lilies with the inscription: Christus vincit, Chr. regnat, Chr. imperat (Christ wins, Christ reigns, Christ rules).
Lily in France generally enjoyed great love. From time immemorial, a flower was considered an expression of the highest degree of benevolence and respect, and therefore in aristocratic families it was customary for the groom to send his bride every morning, right up to the wedding itself, a bouquet of fresh flowers, among which there must certainly be several white lilies.
The lily enjoys the same love among the southern neighbors of France: the Spaniards and Italians. Among these peoples and in general in all Catholic countries, it is considered mainly the flower of the Blessed Virgin, as a result of which the image of the Mother of God is always surrounded by a garland of these flowers. Girls wearing lily wreaths go for the first time to Holy Communion; this should remind them that girls were supposedly baptized with the same wreaths in the early days of Christianity.
In the Pyrenees, moreover, from time immemorial, there has been a custom every year on June 24, on Midsummer's Day, to bring an enormous amount of cut lilies to the church and put them in large elegant vases for consecration. Here they remain throughout the mass and are sprinkled with holy water, and then they make bouquets of lilies and, placing them crosswise, are nailed over the door of each house, which from that moment is considered to be under the protection of John the Baptist. Here bouquets remain until the next Ivanov's day.
There is a legend that with a lily in his hand he appeared on the day of St. Archangel Gabriel of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin, and therefore in all our icons representing this event, he is always depicted with a branch of these flowers. With the same branch - a symbol of purity and purity - are depicted among the Catholics of St. Joseph, St. John, St. Francis, St. Norbert, St. Gertrude and some other saints. Lilies are also cleaned in the underground Roman catacombs and the tomb of St. Cecilia.
Germany was also quite fond of lilies.
We have already spoken above about the role of this flower in ancient Germanic mythology; but, in addition, there are still many different legends and simple tales about him.
Lily, I must say, was bred in the Middle Ages in huge numbers in the monastery gardens and reached such a size and beauty there that it caused general surprise and therefore gave birth among ignorant people many legends associated with the life of monks.
In the Corveys monastery, which existed in the Middle Ages on the Weser River, it is said in one of these legends that the lily was the flower of death. Every time one of the brethren found a white lily on his chair in the church, he was sure to die in three days.
And so one of the ambitious monks supposedly once decided to take advantage of this in order to get rid of the annoying old abbot of the monastery and take his place. Having secretly obtained a branch of lilies, he put it in the place of the aged prior, and the old man, frightened, did not hesitate to really give God his soul. The ambitious desire was fulfilled, and he was elected abbot. But, having thus taken the place that had seduced him, from that time on he could not find rest. He was tormented by remorse, all joys, peace of mind disappeared, he gradually began to wither and, confessing at his deathbed confession of the crime he had committed, he died …
Also interesting is the legend "About a lily blooming at night" in the Harz mountains.
The case took place near the town of Lauenburg. The adorable peasant girl Alice went with her mother to the forest for brushwood, when suddenly on the way they met the ruler of this land, Count of Lauenburg, a big Don Juan and red tape. Having been seduced by the girl's beauty, the count immediately invites her to come to his castle, promises to enrich and make the happiest of mortals.
Knowing his cruelty and stubbornness, the mother, for the sake of appearance, also persuades Alice to agree to the count's proposal, but as soon as he leaves, she runs with her daughter to a nearby monastery and begs the abbess to hide them from the count's persecution.
Soon, however, the count learns about their refuge, takes the monastery with his knights by attack and kidnaps the unfortunate woman. Grasping her tightly, he rushes with her on horseback to his castle and at midnight drives into his yard. But the mountain spirit stands up for the girl, steals her soul, and the count brings the already dead Alice to him.
The girl is removed from the horse, and in the place where her feet touched the ground, a wonderful white lily grows, which is popularly called the Lauenburg lily ever since.
In Norman folk tales, there is an equally beautiful legend about the lily.
One knight, having lost faith in the love of women and not being able to find a wife for himself, began to spend all day in cemeteries, as if asking death: would she not show him the way to happiness?
And so, wandering among the graves, he met one fine morning a woman of such beauty that he could not even imagine. She sat on one of the marble slabs, dressed in a sumptuous dress with wonderful shiny jewels at the waist. Her hair was golden, like the pollen of a lily she held in her hands.
Such a wonderful fragrance spread around her, and she herself was so captivating that the knight's soul was filled with some kind of reverence, and he, kneeling down, kissed her hand.
The beauty seemed to awaken from this kiss and, smiling at him, said:
“Would you like, knight, to take me to the castle with you? You have been waiting for me for a long time, and here I am, because at last the hour has come when I can have myself. I will give you the happiness that you have been looking for. But before going with you, I must receive a promise from you that you will never speak of death in my presence, and that even the word "death" will never be spoken in your house. Think of me as the personification of life on earth, as the flower of youth, as tenderness and love, and constantly think only in this way.
The delighted knight put the beauty on his horse, and they galloped off. The animal set off at a trot, as if not feeling any weight gain, and when they rode through the fields, the wild flowers tilted their heads, the trees rustled softly with leaves, and the whole air was filled with the wonderful smell of lilies, as if from some invisible incense burner.
And so they got married and were very happy. And if sometimes the melancholy characteristic of a knight took possession of him, then it was only necessary for a young wife to put a lily in her hair or pin a lily on her chest, all the sadness he was removed as if by hand.
Christmas has come. The young people decided to invite neighbors and make a feast for glory.
The tables were decorated with flowers, the ladies smiled cheerfully and shone with beauty, their dresses were strewn with precious stones, and the men were in the most cheerful mood, they laughed and joked.
While everyone was feasting, the guest troubadour singer sang now about love, now about tournament and knightly
exploits, then about nobility and honor. Then, inspired, he moved on to even more sublime themes and sang about heaven and about the transmigration of souls into them after death.
And suddenly, at these words, the beautiful wife turned pale and began to fade like a flower struck by frost.
In despair, her husband grabs her into his arms, but with horror sees how she shrinks and shrinks, and now the knight is holding in his hands not a woman, but a lily, whose wonderful petals are falling to the ground. Meanwhile, heavy sighs were heard in the air, reminiscent of sobs, and the whole room was filled with the same wonderful smell that he inhaled when he first met her.
With a desperate wave of his hand, the knight leaves the hall and disappears into the darkness of the night, never to appear again …
Changes took place in the courtyard: it became cold, gloomy and the angels, like snow, covered the earth with lily petals from the sky.
In Germany, many legends about the afterlife are also associated with the lily.
For the Germans, the lily, like the gravestone rose, is evidence of either the dedication or the posthumous revenge of the deceased. According to popular belief, she is never put on the grave, but she herself grows up here under the influence of some invisible force and grows mainly on the graves of suicides and people who died a violent and generally terrible death. If it grows on the grave of the murdered, then it serves as a sign of impending revenge, and if it grows on the grave of a sinner, it speaks of forgiveness and atonement for sins. This belief formed the basis of the famous medieval ballad "Der Mordknecht" ("Assassin Servant").
The ballad tells how one noble lady, at the request of her lover, persuaded her devoted servant to kill her husband, attacking him by surprise in the middle of the field. The servant carries out the assignment, the beautiful lady praises him and rewards him generously. But when she rides on her gray horse across the field where the murder was committed, then suddenly the white lilies growing there begin to nod their heads threateningly. Fear and remorse take possession of her, day and night she finds no more peace and goes to the monastery.
On the lilies, expressing the atonement of sins, there are always some words written in gold letters. Such words, for example, are spoken of in medieval songs about the robber knights Schutenzam and Lindenschmitt, caught and executed by the Nuremberg people, as well as in the song about Count Friedrich, who killed his bride with a sword that accidentally fell from his scabbard. The girl's desperate father kills him, and the song ends with the words: “Three days passed, and three lilies grew on his grave, on which it was written that the Lord had received him to Himself,“to His holy abodes”.
Finally, the lily serves as a kind of greeting from the deceased to the creatures dear to him who remained on earth, as a result of which there is even a belief that this flower is planted on the grave by the spirit of the deceased.
Let's also say that some Caucasian lilies can turn yellow and red under the influence of rain, and therefore Caucasian girls use them for fortune telling.
Having chosen a lily bud, they open it after the rain, and if it turns out to be yellow inside, then their betrothed is not faithful, and if red, then he still loves.
This belief was based on a very interesting legend that arose back in the 11th century.
Once, says this legend, one horseman, returning from a raid, brought with him a young man, the son of a comrade who died during the battle, and adopted him.
The young man, settling in the house of his second father, met his daughter, the beautiful Tamara, and fell in love with her. She answered him in kind, and the young people decided to get married.
But then it turned out that the father had already married his daughter to another.
Then the young man invites her to run with him, but the girl, obedient to the will of her father, does not agree to this and promises only to pray for God's help. She is sure that everything will be all right, if she only has to go to the holy hermit who lives in the mountains and ask him about it.
And so, having gathered several servants and relatives, Tamara goes to the hermit in the mountains. The escorts remain outside, while she enters his cell. At this time, a terrible thunderstorm breaks out. The rain pours from the bucket, the lightning sparkles, the thunder continues to thunder. The beauty's retinue barely manages to hide in a nearby cave.
The thunderstorm passes, the retinue waits for an hour, then another, evening comes, but Tamara is still gone.
Then the relatives go to the monk and ask: what's wrong with Tamara, why doesn't she appear? The hermit answers them: “The Lord has heard our prayer. Tamara no longer languishes in soul, no longer suffers. Look here! " The attendants, following the monk's sign, look and see in his garden a lily of such beauty that they have never seen. Her wonderful smell reaches them like heavenly incense.
Doubt takes possession of them. They do not want to believe in a miracle: they drag the hermit out of his cell, search the entire dwelling, the entire garden, and, having come to indescribable anger, attack him and kill him.
Not content with such revenge, they burn everything that can burn, destroy the house, smash the images of saints, break old trees, destroy his entire library - in a word, when they finally come to Tamara's father to report her mysterious disappearance, then on in the place where the cell was, amid the conflagration and destruction there is only one lily.
Having learned about the death of his dear unforgettable daughter, the father dies, but the young man hurries to the flower and, stopping in front of him, asks: "Is it true that it is you, Tamara?" And suddenly there is a quiet whisper, as if from a breeze: "Yes, it's me."
© Stan Shebs
In despair, the young man leans towards her, and large tears fall to the ground near the lily. And he sees how the petals of a white lily begin to turn yellow, as if from jealousy, and when drops of tears fall on the flower, the petals turn red, as if from joy.
He understands that this is his dear Tamara, that she likes his tears, that she longs to drink them.
And he pours them, pours endlessly, so that by nightfall the Lord, having taken pity on him, turns him into a rain cloud so that he can refresh his lily-Tamara with raindrops as often as possible, as with his love.