Floral Traditions in Ancient Egypt - from Garden of Eden Flower Shop
Posted on June 01 2021
Happy June, everyone! Hope you are all out in the sunshine, enjoying our break from winter’s cold! This month, we’re going back in time thousands of years to see how floral traditions started in an era and country where flowers permeated every aspect of life and death: Ancient Egypt. Ancient Egypt is one of the places where “florist” became a profession, and florists set up shop in the marketplace, shopfronts, and the Royal Palace. Flowers are seen in bas-relief carvings pertaining to every life milestone, every celebration, and there are even gods who are based on flowers watching over tombs from the walls of time.
Dried flowers, still in vases, have been found in many ancient tombs throughout Egypt. The act of presenting flowers to signify the waxing and waning of life, and enjoying their beauty in the afterlife, was important to the people of Ancient Egypt, citizens and royalty alike.
The main festival that was more than usually abundant with flowers was The Beautiful Festival of Opet, an 11-day festival celebrating the power of the Pharaoh and the fertility of the Nile. A ceremonial platform, or “barque”, would carry statues of the supreme god, Amun-Re, his wife Mut, and their son, the moon god Khonsu, from the temple at Karnak to the temple at Thebes. To signify fertility, flowers were prepared by florists into tall arrangements, floral jewelry, garlands, on-site massive installations, and more. Celebrants carried and wore the eponymous flower of Egypt, the blue lotus, all along the processional route. Their houses had shallow water bowls of floating lotus blooms in every room, and lily, rose, and poppies were made into garlands and draped on staircases, doors, and around people’s necks. The Ancient Egyptians loved beauty and built their lives around the concept, so flowers played an important part.
There was even a god of beauty and perfume – Nefertem, the son of Ptah and Sekhmet. Nefertem was originally a lotus flower at the creation of the world, who had arisen from the primal waters. Nefertem represented both the first sunlight and the delightful smell of the Egyptian blue lotus flower, having arisen from the primal waters within an Egyptian blue water lily, Nymphaea Caerulea. Some of the titles of Nefertem were "He Who is Beautiful"; and "Water-Lily of the Sun", and a version of the Book of the Dead says:
‘Rise like Nefertem from the blue water lily to the nostrils of Ra (the creator and sun god), and come forth upon the horizon each day.’
In art, Nefertem is usually depicted as a beautiful young man having blue water-lily flowers around his head. As the son of Bastet, he also sometimes has the head of a lion or is a lion or cat reclining. The ancient Egyptians often carried small statuettes of him as good-luck charms.
There are so many more floral traditions of Ancient Egypt, way too many to list here – so let’s just say that flowers were a major part of life back then! Join us next month for a trip back to present-time in Hawai’i!