water lily-beals

THE WATER LILY

ELOQUENCE — PURITY OF HEART

In that dusk land of mystic dream.

Where dark Osiris sprung,
It bloomed beside his sacred stream,

While yet the world was young.

William Winter, A Lotus Flower.

' A flower delicious as the rose
And stately as a lily in her pride.

Under the name of the lotus, which some of our
modem iconoclasts now declare to be historically
incorrect, the water lily has drawn around it all the
rich symbolism of the Elast. Long before Homeric
days it was sacred, not only as a symbol, but was
in itself an object of worship as the tree of life.

According to Hindu theology, before the creation
of the world, a great sea existed everywhere. Om,
the Supreme, thought, and behold, Vishnu, the pre-
server, appeared floating in the water. He neither
swam nor walked, but was borne by the gods upon
nine golden lotus plants. From his body arose one
of the blossoms in which was seated Brahma, the
creator, who by his radiant countenance dispelled
the gloom which hung over the waters, and by the
power of his presence caused the earth to rise out



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THE WATER LILY 173

of the sea. The paradise of the Hindu is described
in the Mahabharata, the great Indian poem, as
brilliant with gold and gems, and having many
green valleys and beautiful lakes, upon the surface
of which are myriads of these lilies, white, blue,
and red, some of which have as many as a thou-
sand petals. On a throne covered with them sits
Om, the Supreme, and beside him is enthroned
Lokamata, the mother of the world, who sitting
upon a lily holds another in her hand. The sweet
odor of the blossom is diffused all through the
heavens. Buddha also appeared on earth, floating
on the water in an enormous lotus and carrying
another surmounted by a trident as his symbol.
Many of the sacred images of India are represented
as seated upon one, and it enters conspicuously into
the decorations of their temples.

In Egypt the plant was regarded as under the
especial protection of the gods. It was dedicated
to Osiris, the Apollo of the Egyptians. Dawn was
typified by a youth dancing in a water lily. Like
the Brahmans, their story of the creation was that
a lily appeared upon the surface of the water and
its leaves unfolded under the rays of Osiris, the
sun-^;od. The ancient Egyptian always carried one
of Aese lilies in his hand when approaching a place
of worship, and offerings of them were placed in
the tombs to pacify the anger of the gods. At fes-
tivals the walls of the banqueting halls were deco-
rated, and great vases filled with them stood about



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174 FLOWER LORE

the room and on the tables. Wreaths and neck-
laces, made frotn the stems and blossoras, were
placed by the servants upon the heads and around
, the necks of the guests. While the lotus was rev-
erenced by the inhabitants of Upper Egypt, in
Lower Egypt the papyrus was the sacred plant.
The Indian variety was of a pinkish tinge, while
that of Egypt was pure white. Both the seed and
the root of the latter were used for food. The
root was said to enclose a nut more delicate than
the almond. The seeds were dried and then
powdered into a flour, from which bread was
made.

In sowing the seeds they were enclosed in a ball
of clay aiid thrown into the water. Some of the
commentators suggest that this custom was referred
to by Solomon in Ecclesiastes xi, i, when he wrote:
" Cast thy bread upon the waters, for thou shalt
find it after many days." The Egyptians have
many names for the plant, among them being one
which means bride of the Nile. The surface of
that great river, at the time of its rising, is covered
with thousands of the white blossoms.

The Greeks regarded the water lily as the symbol
of beauty and eloquence. According to their my-
thology, it owed its origin to a beautiful nymph,
named Lotus, who fell deeply in love with Hercules.
When he did not return her affection she died of a
broken heart. Hebe, taking pity upon her, trans-
formed her into the water lily. Long after, when



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THE WATER LILY 175

Hercules went sailing with Jason in search of the
golden fleece, he took with him Hylas, a youth
whom he loved as his own son. When they reached
the Hellespont they landed and prepared to rest.
Hylas was sent to find a spring where they might
■ get some water to drink. He found one near a
pool of water, surrounded by green rushes and
maiden-hair fern. The surface of the water was
covered with white water lilies, each one being the
home of a beautiful water-nymph. When Hylas
put his pitcher down to dip up the water the maids
all clung to his hand and drew him down into the
depths of the pool. Just then one of the Argo-
nauts shouted that the wind was fair for sailing.
Hylas endeavored to go, but the water-nymphs held
him fast. Hercules called him loudly titree times,
and the youth heard, but he could not answer, and
his companions sailed mournfully away. Lotus
was avenged, but the flowers were tinted with gold,
the identifying color of an Argonaut, and the origin
of the yellow water lily is thus accounted for. This
is the source of the botanical name castaUa
nymphaea, the Latin word lutea being added for the
yellow variety.

Some writers insist that the magic food upon
which the lotus-eaters subsisted, and which caused
whoever partook of it to forget everything in the
dreamy languor of the present, was made from the
seed of the Indian species.

When Ulysses in his wanderings came to the en-



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176 FLOWER LORE

chanted island he sent three chosen men to explore
the country. The islanders met them and enter-
tained them hospitably; but after they had eaten of
the food offered them they forgot country and
friends, and refused to leave that happy land " where
all things always seemed the same." Their leader,
having had them bound hand and foot and forcibly
brought on board ship, weighed anchor and hastily
sailed away from the fatal shore.

The Japanese hold the plant in scarcely less
veneration than their oriental neighbors. It is to
them a constant symbol of purity and truth. As it
is associated with death and the spirit world, the
lily is considered inappropriate as a decoration for
festivities. Certain sects believe that it is the flower
of paradise, and when a death occurs on earth a
new water lily appears on the surface of the lake
in Nirvana, while the soul makes its entrance into
the land of the blest at the unfolding of its own
bud.

In China, the Shing-moo^ or holy mother, is rep-
resented holding the lily in her hand. Few of
their temples are without some representation of
it Abbe Hue, who was one of the first writers to
give any account of the Chinese, said that the roots
and seeds of the plant are a great resource in culi-
nary preparations, and that in whatever manner it
is dressed it is delicious and wholesome. The large
leaves are made use of instead of paper for wrap-
ping up parcels. The Chinese poets are very fond



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THE WATER LILY 177

of expatiating upon the beauty of the water lily
gleaming in the moonlight, illmnined by swarms of
glow-worms and fire-flies.

Isis, the goddess of fertility and abundance, was
regarded by the adherents of the Hindu religion
as the Queen of Heaven, and cakes made of com
and lotus seeds were favorite oflFerings to her. In
the conspiracy which arose in British India, in 1857,
and which resulted in the terrible Indian mutiny,
these cakes accompanied by a lotus blossom were
circulated among the Sepoys to notify them that
they must rally to the standard of Buddha. What-
ever other elements entered into that strife, whether
the ambitions of princes, the desire for gain, or the
intrigues of rival nations, the student of history will
not fail to discern that a deeper one was the conflict
between the lotus and the cross.

The Order of the Lotus is conferred upon those
who have attained prominence in the administration
of British India, and the collar of the order is orna-
mented with the heraldic rose of Ei^land alternat-
ing with the Indian lotus.

The beauty of the flower is thus emphasized by
Shelley in the Passing Cloud:

Such luster water lilies throw
Upon the brook that lies below.
Lipping their blossoms with its Sow,
'T would make a landscape painter pine
To wm a hue to match with thine
To make his martyr's mantle shine.



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178 FLOWER LORE

Dr. Halbertsma says that the old Frisians, who
thought the water lily had mystical powers, also
believed that it a person fell with one in his hand
he would become subject to fits.

In several countries it was regarded as an anti-
dote where a person had taken a love potion.

The Wallachians have a superstition that every
flower has a soul, and they say that the lily is the
sinless flower, and when it dies it Uossoms again at
the doors of heaven, where it judges the souls of
the other flowers as they arrive, and solemnly de-
mands of each flower a strict account of the use it
has made of its perfume.

An Eastern sot^ tells the tale of a star that
looked down upon a water lily as the sun stepped
into the golden sea and loved her. But she was
too sleepy to care much about his fond words, and
she tightly closed the great thick leaves about her
beauty. He could not see her in the daytime, be-
cause of the brightness of the sun, and it was only
at evening that he could smile upon her, but then
she was too tired to respond. At last his heart
burst and he shot from the sky into the pond. For
a moment the lily was startled and opened her
leaves to look at the bright glare. But the falling
star plunged into the water and his light and beauty
were extinguished forever.

In our country, also, legends of the pond lily
originated. Many, many years ago, when the In-
dians alone possessed the American wilderness, a



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THE WATER LILY 179

band of warriors were encamped on the shore of a
lake. At night, as they sat and smoked their
pipes, they watched the stars, for in them they be-
lieved dwelt the good who had been taken away by
the Great Spirit. Once they saw a star that seemed
brighter and nearer than any of the others. A
council of their wise men was called to ascertain
the meaning of this wonder. Some thought that
it was an omen of evil; others that it was a mes-
senger of good. A whole moon passed and the
mystery remained unsolved. One night a young
brave dreamed that a radiant maiden stood beside
him and said : " I love your land, its lakes and its
mountains, its birds and its flowers, and I have left
my sisters to dwell among you. Ask your people
where I can live and what form I shall take to be
loved of all." At dawn the warriors were sum-
moned to the council lodge, and the young brave
reported his dream. Three of the wisest were
chosen to welcome the stranger. They were sur-
prised to find that as they went toward the star
it seemed to advance nearer and nearer to meet
them, until it was almost within their reach. They
offered a pipe of peace filled with fragrant herbs,
and it was taken by unseen hands. As they re-
turned, the star followed, and hovered over the
camp until dawn. That night the maiden again
appeared to the yotmg brave to know what form
she should take and where she should live. Nu-
merous places were suggested, but at last it was



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i8o FLOWER LORE

decided to leave it to the maiden to choose for her-
self. At first she chose a white rose on the moun-
tain, but no one could see her. Then she selected
a prairie flower, but the hoof of the buffalo crushed
her to earth. Then she passed into a honeysuckle
on the cliS, but the children could not reach her.
At last the star said : " I know where I will go. I
will be safe and I can watch the canoes as they come
and go, and the children can play with me." So
saying, she dropped gently into the cool water of
the lake, and the next morning thousands of white
pond lilies were blooming there. The Indians called
them wah-be-gwan-nee, meaning the white flower.
Another account of the origin of these lilies comes
from the Caranac tribe. It was summer. All the
spring the young brave chief, Wayotah, or the blaz-
ing sun, with his warriors had been away fightii^
with a neighboring tribe, but they had returned
victorious to their camp on the shore of the lake
of the reflected stars. There was wild feasting and
revelry to welcome them home. Every one was
joyous, save one, and she should have been the hap-
piest of all, for in one week she was to be the bride
of the victorious chief. Oseetah, which means the
bird, or the sweet singer of the tribe, had vowed
a vow, that no one knew of save the Great Spirit,
and she was sad. Silently she withdrew from the
throng, and slipping into her canoe paddled along
the shore of the lake. But her lover had seen her,
and, running to the shore, sprang into his canoe



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THE WATER LILY i8i

to follow. On they went, until beaching her canoe,
she climbed up to the top of a high cliff. She
called to her lover not to follow, but he either did
not, or would not, understand. On he came climb-
ing after her to find out what was the matter and
to persuade her to go back with him. Perceiving
that she could not stop him, Oseetah turned her face
to the sky and leaped from the cliff into the lake
below. The chief sprang in after her, and swam
with giant strokes, searching everywhere for her,
but in vain. She was not to be found, and after
a while he went sadly back to his people. The
feasting was changed into mourning, for the maiden
was loved by all.

The next day a stranger came to the Indian vil-
lage, holding in his hand a new flower. No Indian
had ever seen one like it, and much wonder was
expressed. Their surprise was still greater when
he told them in the lake of the reflected stars there
were many more just like it. Hurriedly they went
to see for themselves, and sure enough, there were
hundreds of great, white water lilies floating on the
water. While they were gazing a man appeared,
dressed in flowing robes, and he told them that
because Oseetah had been true to her vow the Great
Spirit had given her a new form. The white petals
were for her goodness, the yellow center for her
faith, and the green leaves a symbol that she should
live forever. Every morning she would open to
the sun as he rose, and close when he sank be-



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i82 FLOWER LORE

ntiath the horizon in the evening. And so to th«
Indian the pond lily is the emblem of good faith.

In Germany it is believed that the Undines, or
water spirits, make their homes in the heart of the
water lilies. As the night comes on the petals of
the flowers close tightly, shutting them in, and then
slowly sink down into the water to rise and open
in all their beauty with the morning sun. There is
a story of a German knight, who loved one of these
beautiful nymphs and made her his wife. Soon
after the marriage he wanted to take his lady out
on the water in a boat. She begged him not to
go, but he laughed at her fears. Tearfully she
slipped into the boat with him. They had not gone
far when hundreds of little hands dragged the boat
and its occupants under the water. The next morn-
ing two lilies, larger and more beautiful than the
others, appeared near where the boat had gone
down.

The most wonderful variety of the water lily in
the world is the Victoria regia. It was introduced
into England from South America about 1850 and
Professor Lindley, who has written an exhaustive
monograph treating of it and its culture, has named
it after England's great and good Queen. The
blossoms are enormous, while the leaves sometimes
measure nine feet across and can bear up a man.
The plant is night blooming. The first evening that
it opens the blossom is white and the odor is al-
most oppressive. On the second day when it un-



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THE WATER LILY 183

folds it is pink. This remarkable flower is growD
in many puUic and private gardens in the United
States.

There has been almost as much attention paid
in literature to the water lily as to the rose and
the violet. Under the name of the lotus, ancient
authors wrote of its mystical qualities and religious
symbolism, and in later days as an emblem of purity
and beauty it has been a favorite with writers of
both poetry and prose. Thoreau's chapter on
water lilies is cooling to the most fevered mind.
Heine, Moore, Shelley, and Wordsworth have all
paid their tribute to the mystic flower. A recent
laureate of England chose it as an exquisite emblem
of affection.

Now folds the lUy all her sweetness up
And slips into the bosom of the lake ;
So fold thyself, my dearest, thou, and slip
Into my bosom, and be lost in me.

Tennyson, The Princess.

Those virgin lilies all the night
Bathing their beauties in the lake,

That they may rise more fresh and bright,
When their beloved sun's awake,
Thouas Moore, Paradise and the Peri.