XIV. Laurel – Temperance

Laurel – Temperance – Moderation

Genus: Laurus – Family: Lauraceae

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

In 1400 BCE, Pytho, an area of land over a sacred spring on Mt. Parnassus Greece, was worshipped as the navel of mother earth (Gaia) and the home of a great oracle.

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

Homer (Greek poet c.800 BCE) wrote of Gaia’s python and how it protected this oracle. Apollo, god of light, prophecy, harmony and order killed the python and claimed the oracle for himself. Apollo renamed Pytho (python) to Delphi (dolphin). He honored Gaia’s python by calling the Oracle of Delphi a Pythia (high priestess who spoke for Apollo). The first temple dedicated to Apollo, was built from laurel wood at the site of the Oracle of Delphi. The Pythia ritually chewed laurel leaves, sat on a tripod made from laurel wood and held a branch of laurel. She breathed in vapors that induced a trance-like state. The Pythia provided prophecies for agriculture, life, death, war and peace.

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 to explain Apollo’s undying love of the laurel tree originally known as Daphne. Daphne, a nature nymph, was desperate to get away from Apollo’s unending desire. She cried out, “Let me be free of this man from this moment forward!” This transformed her into the noble laurel tree.

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

Undeterred, Apollo vowed to love her forever and used his powers of eternal youth and immortality to render Daphne “forever green.” Bay laurel, Laurus nobilis, is an aromatic evergreen and is the type species for the Laurus genus.

Laurel

To honor the laurel (Daphne) 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 his 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 as symbols of nobility, honor, truth and victory. The titles Poet Laureate and Noble Laureate are directly related to the insights of the laurel tree.

laurel trees on madeira

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 leaves can be used for cooking, medicine and smudging.

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.