The lotus is one of my favorite flowers, and what many people don’t realize or know is that, while it’s a common symbol found in Buddhism and other far Eastern religions/cultures, it’s also a symbol of Kemeticism (Ancient Egyptian religion).
There are two types of lotuses that grow natively in Egypt: the nymphaea caerulea or blue lotus and the nymphaea lotus or white lotus. Plot twist: technically (well, scientifically), these flowers aren’t actually lotuses – they’re water lilies. Due to their identical appearances, however, they are often mistaken for lotuses…and since I’m no botany expert, for the purposes of this blog post, I’ll be referring to them as lotuses as well. Really, it’s all the same family of flower, if I’m not mistaken.
The blue lotus is the more popular, and more important of the two (religiously), however, because the lotus (in general) is a flower that sinks into water during night-time and re-emerges on the surface, blooming once again, during the day, it understandably became a symbol of birth and re-birth in Kemetic religion. There are several creation myths in Kemeticism (all equally valid and true), and in one of them, the Hermopolis myth, Ra, the Sun God and King of the Gods, is said to have been birthed from a giant lotus blossom that emerged from the primordial waters of Nun. Even the way the flower looks seems similar to the sun – a yellowish center, with colorful flower petals shining outwards from it like sunbeams. Not to mention, the sinking and rising of the lotus also mimics Ra’s journey through the Duat in his bark during night-time, only to re-emerge on the horizon at dawn, surviving and destroying the evil of
Apep to rule a new day.
In addition to its solar imagery, the lotus was also a symbol of the cult of Wesir (Osiris) due to its connection to the cycle of death and life (since it is a flower of rebirth). In Egyptian art, the lotus was often pictured with Wesir – famously, the Sons of Heru (the Gods of the canopic jars – Imsety, Hapy, Duamutef, and Qebehsenuef) are often pictured standing on a blue lotus in front of Wesir’s throne. The Egyptian Book of the Dead (or Book of Coming Forth by Day), which is essentially a guide for deceased souls for making their way through the Duat and into the Beautiful West (or afterlife), has a spell (spell 81) for transforming the self into a lotus – another way of depicting the rejuvenating powers and rebirth symbolism of the lotus:
I am this pure lotus which went forth from the sunshine, which is at the nose of Re; I have descended that I may seek it for Heru (Horus), for I am the pure one who issued from the marsh.” (spell 81, Papyrus of Ani)
According to Henadology:
Here [in spell 81] the lotus of Nefertum is an intermediary between Re, the principle of cosmic order, and Horus, the principle of social order, vindicator of his father, that is, of the mortal as such. To identify with the lotus in this context is thus to identify with what is most noble and holy in mortal being, and which gratifies the Gods themselves.”
The blue lotus was so important to the Ancient Egyptians, it even had its own God – Nefertem, Who’s name means “that which is beautifully completed.” Nefertem was said to have brought healing to Ra in the form of a blue lotus. Nefertem is often depicted as either a man with a lotus headdress or a child sitting in a lotus, or, sometimes, as a more violent lion-headed man devouring enemies. He is sometimes referred to as a son of Sekhmet and Ptah, but also sometimes a son of Bast. Either way, the feline-associations are clear.
In addition to its mythical healing abilities, the Ancient Egyptians also used the lotus for in-real-life Shamanistic healing and other medical practices, as well as for decoration and perfume – the scent being extremely pleasing to them. The blue lotus was also given as an offering to the Gods, understandably so. Some have guessed that the Ancient Egyptians used the lotus for narcotic purposes, as well, but this is still debated – images and ancient art show Egyptians smelling the lotus in relation to sensual pleasure, but nowhere do we have definitive evidence that it was used like a drug. The flower wasn’t just used for celebrations of life, however, it was also used during funerary rites (likely due to its connection to the Sons of Heru and the Book of the Dead, as mentioned above).
Nowadays, we modern Kemetics might find it a bit harder to procure living lotuses (especially blue lotuses), but that doesn’t mean we can’t replace the living version with sweet-smelling lotus incense accompanied by images, drawings, or fake-versions of the Egyptian lotuses. I often use a blue lotus-scented incense for feast day celebrations, for example. When I move to my new apartment, I plan to look for lotus-shaped candle holders, as well as fake lotus flowers to decorate my new apartment with (and to collect for ritual purposes).
If you feel lost, disappointed, hesitant, or weak, return to yourself, to who you are, here and now, and when you get there you will discover yourself, like a lotus flower in full bloom, even in a muddy pond, beautiful and strong.” –Masaru Emoto (The Secret Life of Water)