Earth Goddesses – FLORA
Flora (“flourishing one”) in the Roman and Greek goddess of flowers, youth, fertility, and springtime. She is also identified with the Greek Goddess Chloris. It was said in the Greek myths that when Chloris (originally a nymph) was captured by Zephyrus, he gifted her with the realm of flowers in return for marrying him. So Chloris became known as the Roman Flora.
Flora was thought to give the charm to youth and the sweetness to honey and to protect the petals and give the fragrance to blossoms. She was particularly important in Roman society. Her cults are among the oldest found in Rome, and she was one of the few deities that had her own priests, who were known as the Flamen Floralis. Her bounty was the precursor of modern medicine, as Flora was not only responsible for flowers but was originally responsible for all crops. All gardens fell under her protection, and iron was strictly prohibited within them to allow the plant devas and nature spirits to prosper peacefully. Fairy folk are known for their aversion to iron.
Flora had a special garden of her own, which featured all of the mythological creatures that turned into flowers upon their deaths. Among the blossoms were Narcissus; Ajax, who became a larkspur; Clytie, who became a sunflower; Hyacinth, who had been Apollo’s lover; and Adonis, who became the anemone.
Greek myths also relate a tale where Flora was responsible for the rose. While on an early morning walk through the woods, she stumbled upon the dead body of a beautiful young girl. Saddened to see such a lovely creature dead, she decided to restore her life by transforming her into the most delicate and beautiful of all flowers. In order to accomplish this, she called upon her husband, Zephyrus, god of the western wind, to blow away all of the clouds from the sky. She then called upon Apollo to send his warm rays of sunlight down as blessings. She called upon Aphrodite to add beauty and grace and Dionysus for nectar and fragrance. Everyone agreed that this was the most beautiful of all the flowers.
Flora went to work gathering dewdrops to restore life to the flower and crowned her queen of all flowers. She then called upon Aurora and Iris in spread the word about this new flower. Iris borrowed just a touch of the flower’s color to spread among her rainbows, and Aurora painted the morning sky with the rose-tinted hue.
Aphrodite named the flower the rose in honor of her son Eros, the Greek god of love. Hence, roses are associated with love. Flora presented Eros with the rose as his own in the hope that it would maintain the romantic associations. Eros shared it with Harpocrates, the god of silence, as a bribe to keep secret the indiscretions of his mother, and the rose became associated with silence and secrets as well as love.
According to Roman legend, Flora also had a hand in the creation of Mars, the god of war. Juno, the wife of Jupiter, was jealous that Jupiter had given life to Minerva on his own, so she enlisted the aid of Flora to help her create a son of her own. Flora reluctantly agreed after Juno swore by the river Styx to never tell Jupiter that Flora had taken part. Flora touched Juno with a magickal flower, and Mars began to grown in Juno’s womb. Mars was born and went on to sire Romulus and Remus, who became the founders of Rome.
There was an ancient and somewhat infamous, Roman festival held in Flora’s honor, called the Floralia. It was celebrated annually from the end of April through the beginning of May. The dates suggest that the original purpose of the festival was to beseech Flora to refrain from allowing mildew to fall upon the crops. It is further believed that the Floralia was the inspiration for the Maypole and Mayday celebrations known today as Beltane. The floralia featured chariot races, theater shows, games and lavish banquets. Altars and temples were decorated with every type of flower known to humankind. The participants wore wreaths of flowers in their hair and left offerings of milk and honey.
The Floralia was also a festival known for its unrestrained pleasures. During the celebrations, marriage vows were temporarily forgotten and the celebrants allowed themselves a wide range of a sexual partners. Prostitutes claimed Flora as their matron deity and celebrated her festival vigorously.
Later, as Beltane traditions evolved, Flora became known as a companion of the fairies. This eventually evolved into legends of Flora as a fairy herself. However, it is believed that was borne of some confusion between the Goddess Flora and the fairy Florelia, who is mentioned in tomes of old as a treasure of the Earth akin to Queen Mah.
The role of the flower, and therefore that of Flora, is as important today as it was in ancient times. Almost all holidays and customs include an appropriate flower. We often send flowers to cheer those who are sick, to say farewell to those who have passed, and to celebrate mile-marker events such as birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries. We make use of the scents in perfumes and potpourris and bathing products. We make candles, jellies, wines, and salads from the petals. Flora’s bounty covers everything from poisonous to healing flowers. Chamomile, jasmine, and linden flowers are commonly added to herbal teas. The purple foxglove is the base of the medicine digitalis, which is used in the treatment of heart conditions.
Flowers also have magickal qualities, many of which are steeped in superstition. For instance, the daisy is often used as a divination tool in love matters by plucking the petals off while reciting, “He/she loves me, he/she loves me not.” The dandelion is often used as a tool to bring one’s wishes to fruition by flowing the seeds to the wind. As the wind carries the seeds, it carries one’s wishes to the Goddess as well.
In the Victorian era, flowers were given their own language. A certain type of flower had a specific meaning, which was further sub-divided into categories determined by the color of the flower. For instance, to send a red rose meant “I love you,” whereas to send a yellow rose meant friendship or jealousy. The number of flowers sent also had a specific meaning. It was said to be bad luck to send an even number of flowers.
When the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon landed in Florida, he looked around at all the many flowers and thought he had found the land containing the Fountain of Youth. He then name the state Florida in honor of Flora.
While we may not choose to celebrate Flora the same way the Romans did, we can honor her on her special days with simple things that remind us of her presence. We can drink flower teas, add flower petals to our baths, prepare meals with edible flowers, decorate our homes and altars with garland and wreaths, wear floral colors, or perform a ritual, or even simply take a walk through flower-strewn fields.