XIV. Laurel – Temperance

Laurel – Temperance – Moderation

Genus: Laurus – Family: Lauraceae

Laurel reminds us to trust our inner wisdom by creating balance in our life. This is a time of self-empowerment and self-moderation.

In 1400 BCE, Pytho was home to ancient Laurel trees by a sacred spring on Mt. Parnassus Greece. It was worshipped as the navel of mother earth (Gaia) and the home of a great oracle, which was protected by a python.

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

In 800 BCE Homer wrote a poem of how Apollo, god of light and prophecy, killed Gaia’s python to claim the oracle for himself. Pytho was renamed Delphi or delphys meaning “womb”. In honor of Gaia’s python, the Oracle of Delphi became known as a Pythia (high priestess who spoke for Apollo). The Pythia ritually chewed laurel leaves, sat on a tripod made of laurel wood and held a branch of laurel. She breathed in vapors that induced a trance-like state before providing prophecies on agriculture, life, death, war and peace. The first temple dedicated to Apollo, was built from laurel, at the site of the Oracle of Delphi.

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

In Greek mythology Apollo’s obsession with the laurel tree began when Apollo mocked Eros, god of love. Eros shot a gold arrow into Apollo that made him fall in love with Daphne, a nature nymph. Daphne was struck with a lead arrow that made her hate Apollo. Desperate to get away from Apollo she cried, “Let me be free of this man from this moment forward!” which transformed her into a laurel tree. Apollo vowed to love her forever, so he used his powers of eternal youth and immortality to render Daphne/Laurel “forever green.”

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

Bay laurel, Laurus nobilis, is an aromatic evergreen, it is the type species for the Laurus genus. To honor Daphne/laurel, Apollo created a wreath made of laurel leaves, which he wore as a crown. Depictions of Apollo as the Sun god, show light radiating from this crown. Apollo’s twin sister Artemis is seen as the Goddess of the moon and lady of the forest, the cypress tree is her symbol. In 586 BCE, athletes began competing in the Pythian games held at Delphi. The victors were given a crown of laurel to symbolize nobility, honor, truth and victory. The titles Poet Laureate and Noble Laureate are directly related to the ancient laurel tree.

Laurel

Over 150 million years ago vast laurel forests known as “cloud forests” lived throughout the Mediterranean Basin. As the climate became less humid these forests dwindled until they disappeared 10,000 years ago. There are only four species of Laurus remaining. Bay Laurel leaves are used for cooking, medicine and smudging.

laurel trees on madeira

Message: Laurel reminds us to exercise moderation and patience by bringing balance into our life. This is not a time of excess or extremes, it is a time of inner stillness as we discover a deeper level of our self. By standing in our light and our dark we can hear our inner voice and connect with our truth. This empowers us to realize that we are the moderators of our life and that no one speaks for us unless we ask them to. Laurel also signals a time of success in our ventures.

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.