Myths, folklore & symbolism
lotus: A flower as meaningful in the southeast Mediterranean region and in Asia as the rose or the lily in Europe...In ancient Egypt the lotus blossom is mentioned in the myth of the creation of the world: it originated from the primordial ooze, and the divine creator of the world ("a handsome lad") arose from its calyx. The blossoms, which open at sunrise and close at sunset, were linked with the sun god and the mythical emergence of light from the slime in which the universe began. The graves of Thebes contain many paintings showing lotus ponds on which the dead person floats in a boat made of rushes, and pillars representing bunches of lotuses are common in the monumental architecture; lotus wreaths were buried with the dead...
In India the lotus blossom is the most important symbol for spirituality and art. Its goddess, Padma, is of pre-Aryan origin and is linked with the conceptual world of water and fertility; in Aryan times, the flower became associated with Vishnu's wife Lakshmi and with Brahma: in Hindu myth, Brahma, the creator of the world, was born from a lotus blossom growing from the navel of Vishnu, who was sleeping on the water. In the Buddhist tradition the lotus is of even greater significance: Gautama Buddha has "lotus eyes, lotus feet, and lotus thighs." The teacher, or guru, who brought Buddhism to Tibet (in the eighth century after Christ) was known as Padmasambhava ("born from out of the lotus")...The lotus is also the great symbol of knowledge: knowledge leads out of the cycle of reincarnation to Nirvana. The formulation "Om mani padme hum" of Tibetan prayer (translated "Om, jewel in the lotus, amen") is interpreted in Tantric Buddhism in terms that we might call "Freudian": the expression is taken as a metaphor for the (spiritual) sexual union of female blossom and male energy...The eighth day of the fourth month of the Chinese calendar was traditionally celebrated as the birthday of Fo (Buddha), "the day that the lotus blooms." Among the Maya of the Yucatan, the lotus-like white water-lily was called "the flower of the water" and frequently depicted on clay vessels and in architectural relief-work... (Biedermann)
The association of the lotus or the water lily with ideas of purity continued into the European Middle Ages in superficial form. Since its seed and root were believed to calm sensual drives, they were recommended to monks and nuns as a medicament. (Herder)