Water Lily Flower Meaning and Symbolism

While you may or may not have the space or the means to grow your own water lilies, this doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate them. 

In all likelihood, you’ve seen these captivating flowers in art, religion, or popular culture in some form at some point in time, because they’re so popular. 

Many people consider water lilies to be beautiful, not just for their appearance, but for their sheer size. Most water lily flowers (see also Lily Flowers: Different Color Meaning and Symbolism) can reach 12 inches in diameter. 

There are many varieties of water lilies, which can be grown in ponds, lakes, aquariums, and even containers, if you choose a dwarf variety. 

They’ve also captured the imagination of people all over the world, featuring heavily in art over the span of centuries. 

The genus of the water lily is called Nymphea, which translates to nymph from Ancient Greek. In ancient Greek folklore, nymphs are a type of deity, which are nature personified. 

Within Ancient Greek folklore, there are also different types of nymphs, and in the case of water, Naiads are the freshwater nymphs, and Nereids are the sea nymphs. 

What’s the Symbolism Behind Water Lilies?

These flowers are closely tied to the Greek folklore, where the nymphs signify being close enough to nature to be nature. Water lilies also symbolize chastity, purity, and innocence, and in some religions, many gods have emerged fully-formed from a water lily flower. 

As water lilies live and die in water, they have connections to spirituality, renewal, life energy, and rebirth. They also embody the cycle of life, where they open during the day and close at night, grow, bloom, reproduce, and die.

These plants are admired by all over the world for the beauty that springs from often murky water, bringing rainbows of color onto the water’s surface, and attracting a plethora of wildlife. 

What Makes Water Lilies Special?

If you put aside the obvious reason of their beauty for a moment, these plants also have an interesting ability to ‘spring’ the flower stem underwater when the seed pods are about to form. 

The fruit develops underwater, safely away from most predators, and when it’s overripe, the seeds are released. To start with, they float along the surface, as the seed coating acts as an air pocket.

Eventually, this coating disintegrates in the water, and the seed sinks to the mud somewhere else, and grows into a new water lily. 

Water lilies also grow from off-shoots of existing plants, which will take over the surface of the water. 

They help purify the water, and provide shade to the animals and insects living beneath the surface. They also give thirsty insects a safe place to drink water from, without running the risk of drowning.

The fruit that the water lily grows is also edible, providing food for people in an otherwise inhospitable environment for producing food. 

Water lilies are among the oldest types of plants that we know of, and some fossils which are related to these plants date back to over 60 million years ago.

What are Water Lilies Used For?

The uses of water lilies can range according to the variety of the water lily, as nearly all are poisonous, except for some varieties, in which all parts are edible, and some which need to be prepared before they can be safely eaten. 

European species of water lilies are poisonous, so stay away from these unless you’re only planning to use them as decoration in ponds or containers!

In some parts, water lilies are used to help treat fevers or skin conditions, and they’re widely valued for the relief that they can provide people with. 

Some water lilies can help reduce swelling, inflammation, and irritation of the skin, but it’s worth doing some research before you try this. 

Plants may cause you some irritation if used incorrectly, or using the wrong type, but you also may be allergic without knowing.  

With some varieties, the roots of the lily are used in oils as well as tea, to help fight off sores, coughs, and blemishes of the skin. 

The Cultural Significance Behind the Water Lily

In Ancient Egypt

The white nymphaea lotus flower was particularly important to the ancient Egyptians. The image of this water lily was thought to bestow strength and power, so naturally, it’s widely included in art, as well as adorning ceramics, tombs, and jewelry, among other things. 

The remains of the flower was also found in Ramesses II’s tomb. It’s also been found among other pharaoh mummies, which helps outline the flower’s importance to Ancient Egypt.

In tomb paintings dating back as far as 1500 BC, they depict lotus ponds which were part of a landscape design. 

They were also grown in farms to produce enough blooms to offer to the gods, which gives you an idea of exactly how much they revered the water lily. 

The lotus flower also represents Upper Egypt, and combined with the papyrus flower, was symbolic of the joining of Upper and Lower Egypt. 

In Egyptian mythology, Nymphaea caerulea had a particular importance, as the flower’s characteristic of opening with the sun and closing at night linked it closely to the sun. 

This also meant that the lily was linked to the sun god, Ra, where it was believed that he emerged from a lotus flower, and this was how the world was created. 

In Asia

In Asia, the water lily represents rebirth, as well as unity, as the plant itself is a plentiful source of food, which can provide for a lot of people. Take a look at the next section for more information. 

Water Lilies in Religion

Water lilies have made appearances in religion across the world, and have been sacred to many cultures for centuries. Below are just a few examples of how this enigmatic lily appears:

Buddhism

In Buddhism, water lilies embody enlightenment, as they emerge from often dark or cloudy water, and still the color of the blooms are extremely vivid. The color also informs the meaning, like any flower.

Pink water lilies are revered the most, as they represent wisdom as part of enlightenment. Purple water lilies symbolize power, white connects to ideas of tranquility and peace, and red water lilies represent love.

The Buddha and other deities are usually depicted holding lotuses, or even sitting on them, which further strengthens the connection between enlightenment and the water lily, signifying the divine world. 

Hinduism

In Hinduism, the water lily is connected to both resurrection and creation, and is featured alongside many deities, such as Lakshmi, Brahma, and Vishnu to name just a few. 

The flower also represents the potential for anyone to ‘rise above’ normal existence to achieve enlightenment, or moksha.

Christianity

Water lilies have featured throughout the Bible, and it links the flower to purity and chastity, and love. 

In Mayan Culture

There is an underworld god called the Water lily Jaguar, which has been depicted in numerous surviving artworks.

While archaeologists have several theories about how this god was worshiped or what the god’s favor was hoped to bring, we can’t know for sure.

It could be connected to protecting royalty, or to bring about the rainy season, which is when water lilies typically bloom. 

What does a Water Lily Tattoo Mean?

Water lilies are popular motifs for tattoos. They can represent a myriad of things, and can have a lot of religious symbolism as well.

These flowers can embody spiritual enlightenment and your growth as a person, maybe even representing a time, person or an event which changed your life completely, and shaped you into the person you are today. 

A water lily tattoo also means that you value tranquility in your life, and seek it as much as possible throughout life, and hope to bring the same peace to other people where you can. 

It’s a symbol of rebirth, renewal, eternity, and the divine world. In this form, the water lily is linked to protection and divinity. 

Water lilies can also embody an admiration for the natural world, and a desire to be close to nature and the peace you may find within it. 

Whatever the reasons why you may choose a water lily tattoo, there’s no doubt that it’s an elegant, eye-catching motif. 

Conclusion

Water lilies are one of the world’s most instantly recognizable blooms, which appear in art and religion all over the world, as well as being the national flower for many different countries.

The characteristics of the plant itself are fascinating, especially when you consider that some only flower during the day, and some only bloom at night, and some are only found in tiny corners of the world, making them very special plants that few others can compete with. 

While the flower’s beauty stands out on its own, it’s the symbolism behind the bloom that really makes this flower all the more important. 

The water lily has been embedded with meaning for thousands of years, and there’s nothing to say that this practice will end soon. 

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