The lily was dedicated to the goddess Hera, the wife of Zeus. Legend has it that when Zeus fathered Hercules with the mortal woman Alceme, he wished his son to partake more fully of divinity. To this end he had the baby brought to Hera after he drugged her to sleep. He had the baby placed at her breast and Hercules nursed. Hera awoke in horrified surprise and flung the baby from her. Some of her milk gushed across the heavens and formed the milky way. A few drops fell to earth and from those drops sprang the first lilies.
Roman legend has it that when Venus rose from the sea-foam she saw a lily and she became filled with jealousenvy at the whiteness and beauty of it.
Seeing it as a rival to her own beauty she caused a huge and monstrous pistil to spring from the lily's snow-white center. This myth accounts for the the lily being associated with Venus and the Satyrs who are the personification of lustful ardor.
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.
It was also a popular flower in ancient Jewish civilization. It is mentioned in the old testament as well as the new. With the advance of Christianity, the lily became the symbol of chastity and virtue. The lily became closely associated with the Virgin Mary, one of the many instances where an attribute of a pagan deity (Aphrodite, Hera, the Triple Hecate) was adopted by Christ's Mother. Through its association with the Virgin it also became the symbol of virgin martyrs and numerous saints. In both the Christian and pagan popular tradition, the significance of the lily as a fertility symbol coincides. St. Anthony of Padua, the protector of marriage is also the patron of procreation. In Greek marriage ceremonies the priest places over the brides head a crown of lilies garnished with ears of wheat ,as a symbol of purity and abundance.
Lilies are also a symbol of death, and at one time lilies were placed on the graves of young innocents. The lily has no true medicinal value although at one time it was thought to posses certain medicinal virtues. It was thought to have magical properties and there were thousands of recipes in Elizabethan times for the use of lilies in the treatment of fever or as a unguent containing lily root for cleaning wounds,burns and sores. as well as relieving rheumatic and arthritic symptoms.
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