XIV. Laurel – Temperance

Laurel – Temperance – Moderation

Genus: Laurus – Family: Lauraceae

Laurel reminds us to bring balance into our lives through moderation and self-restraint.

The laurel tree shares an ancient and sacred connection with the Oracle of Delphi on Mount Parnassus in Greece. As early as 1400 BCE, Delphi was known as the site of an important oracle dedicated to Gaia, the primordial earth goddess.

Ancient greek ruins of Delphi with wooded landscape
Archaeological site of Delphi in Greece.

Greek poet, Homer (700–800 BCE) wrote of Gaia’s python that protected the oracle, and how it was slain by Apollo who claimed the oracle for himself. From that point on the Oracle of Delphi was referred to as Pythia. The first temple dedicated to Apollo, was built from laurel wood at the site of the Oracle of Delphi. The Pythia ritually prepared herself by chewing laurel leaves while sitting on a tripod made from laurel wood and holding a branch of laurel. As she did this she would breath in vapors from a fissure that induced a trance-like state.

john-collier-priestess-of-delphi_a-l-386537-0
Priestess of Delphi (1891) by John Collier, showing the Pythia holding a Laurel branch.

Hellenistic and Roman poets such as Ovid wrote stories of Apollo’s love of the Laurel tree and how he was cursed by Eros/Cupid to forever lust after the nature nymph Daphne.

Antonio_del_Pollaiolo_Apollo_and_Daphne
Apollo and Daphne by Antonio del Pollaiolo. 1470-1480.

Daphne, desperate to get away from Apollo, sacrificed her body by transforming into a Laurel Tree. “Let me be free of this man from this moment forward!”  In spite of Daphne’s rejection, Apollo vowed to love her forever. Apollo used his powers of eternal youth and immortality to render Daphne “forever green.” For this reason, it is said that the leaves of the bay laurel do not decay. Apollo then created a wreath/crown of laurel branches, turning her self-sacrifice into a symbol of victory.

Laurel

In 586 BCE, athletes began competing in the Pythian games held at Delphi. The victors were given a crown of laurel. The titles Poet Laureate and Noble Laureate are directly related to the disciplined insights of the laurel tree.

laurel trees on madeira

Bay laurel, Laurus nobilis, is an aromatic evergreen native to the Mediterranean region. Its bay leaves are a prized culinary seasoning. There were vast laurel forests throughout the Mediterranean Basin 150 million years ago, but as climate changed it became less humid and the forests dwindled. Most of the forests disappeared 10,000 years ago. There are now only four species of Laurus remaining.

Message: Laurel reminds us to exercise moderation to create balance in our life. If life has felt shaky this is the time to find our footing and get grounded. If we are weighed down by physical or emotional excess now is the time to lighten up. As we listen to our inner voice we are better able to connect with our truth. This in turn empowers us to use self-restraint, as we become the moderators of our life.

Challenge: Extreme actions that throw us off balance. Following false truths, people or causes. Giving our power away to others. Avoiding conflict that is causing stagnation.