(virtuous) lily


Virtuousness, wisdom, purity, impartiality, peace, austereness

About the meaning: Before you read on, know that there are two different schools of thought concerning the Lily's meaning. According to one the Lily is about purity and virtuousness. The other says the Lily is about sex and sensuality. I don't think these two meanings are incompatible; virtuousness and sensuality can definitely coexist. But I think they are not part of one superordinate category. They are not two points on the same spectrum; one is not a weak form of the other, or an exaggerated experience of the other. I believe they are completely separate issues. This is the reason I don't use both meanings for the same card in my readings, and why I found it impossible to paint an image that eloquently illustrated both. So I decided to paint two separate Lily cards. I personally use both (I read with 37 cards), but you can choose just one if you wish, the one with the meaning you are used to.
The version you're looking at now is (Virtuous) Lily. (Sensual) Lily you can find >> here!

Virtuousness / Virtues: First and foremost, the Lily represents virtuousness in general, and any specific virtue you can think of. The Lily can for example stand for the classic cardinal virtues temperance, prudence, justice, and courage. But there are many other qualities which have also been considered virtuous - mercy, dignity, tenacity, discipline, frugality, refinement, dutifulness and truthfulness, for example, to name just a few of the Roman ones. Basically, the Lily represents anything the querent themselves considers a virtue, anything which they believe makes a morally good human being, and which is relevant to the question asked.
Now, being a virtuous person is a great thing. However, sometimes we become overly proud of our virtuousness, or preach about morality to others. The Lily can also stand for that type of behaviour, or for a goody two shoes. The Lily can be interpreted as a prompt to get rid of a holier-than-thou attitude, or to stop being a self-righteous moraliser.

Wisdom: Aristotle's approach to virtues shows something interesting about the nature of true virtuousness: it necessitates a certain degree of wisdom. Aristotle said that a truly virtuous act is to not just do the right thing but to do it at the right time, towards the right person, in the right way, and for the right reason. What if, for example, we give money to a beggar to impress someone else. Was this act of giving money an act of generosity? Or what if we tried to comfort a grieving person by sharing our own grief, making them feel not one little bit better. Well-intended as it was, was this really an act of compassion? Aristotle's complex definition of virtue shows that in order to be truly virtuous we need quite a lot of self-awareness and knowledge of the world, and the ability and willingness to apply them correctly to a specific, morally relevant situation. In other words: In order to actually be virtuous we need to have at least a certain degree of wisdom. Maybe this is the reason why wisdom is also an important part of the Lily's traditional meaning.

Purity / Righteousness / Cleanliness: Another important traditional meaning of the Lily is purity. I suspect that "purity" was traditionally often understood as virginity. Personally, I really don't like the idea that having sex would somehow "taint" a person, make them unclean. So especially in the rare cases were virginity might be relevant in a reading I rather look for it in the Child, where it just means that the person is "inexperienced" but there is no connotation of "untainted" as there is with the Lily. But I can see that purity could also mean purity of heart and thought - to have no hateful thoughts, to bear no ill feelings, basically: to have good, well-meaning intentions. Someone can also be pure in the sense that they are innocent, blameless, that their conscience is clear. The Lily can also represent pureness in the sense of honesty and righteousness. It can mean that someone is honest and open about their thoughts and feelings, upfront about their motives. And in a very material way, "purity" can also simply mean cleanliness. The Lily could then represent anything that's physically clean, unstained, free of dirt.

Unassumingness / Impartiality / Humility: Thinking about all the different ways a person can be "pure" lead me to another sub-dimension of the Lily's meaning which I have very often found highly useful: unassumingness. Our mind can be "pure" in the sense that no preconceived opinions colour our perception of the world too much. If we have no bias, if we are unassuming, impartial, we'll be much better able to see what is true and real, and act to the best of all involved efficiently. Thus, impartiality is morally very relevant, and I personally would consider it an important virtue. Directly connected to impartiality is humility - in order to even understand why we need to practice impartiality we need to be humble enough to recognise that we are not perfect; that our view might be wrong; that we might be overlooking something or be blinded by something. We need the meekness to accept when this is the case and then adjust our thinking and behaviour accordingly. Thus, if the Lily turns up in a reading, it can also be interpreted as a suggestion to look at one's biases; to become more impartial. The Lily can represent a humble disposition or standpoint.

Peacefulness / to be at peace with something / contentedness: One sub-meaning of Virtuous Lily, peacefulness and contentedness, was an interesting find for me, because it is the one theme which is also an important part of Sensual Lily's meaning. But whereas the feeling of contentedness and peace in Sensual Lily's case stems from contentment with the pleasures the present moment has to offer, the peacefulness of Virtuous Lily comes from a completely different place. It comes from an absence of something: from the absence of cravings. The peacefulness of Virtuous Lily is the peacefulness of a person free of inner disturbances, of a person who is not driven by any strong passion - who is, in a positive sense, dispassionate. And the contentedness of Virtuous Lily comes from not wishing that things were different to what they are now. Virtuous Lily asks us to make peace with how things are now even if they are not perfect. It doesn't necessarily say that we shouldn't try to make things better. But it definitely says that in the end what will bring us contentment is not the fulfilment of our most important wishes (because as soon as that happens we're likely to find something else we really want) but the ability to be contented even with very little.

Restraint / austereness / self-chastisement: The aforementioned freedom from cravings is a great thing. Especially in the loud, noisy, hedonistic world we live in, restraint is an important defence against excess. The Lily represents restraint in all its forms: moderation, modesty, sobriety, fasting, celibacy, frugality, etc. In other words: the Lily can stand for a lifestyle (or certain periods of time) in which we restrict sensual input to a minimum in order to rest. But: a person might also become inhibited and uptight - be unable to enjoy pleasures wholeheartedly, or even avoid pleasure at all costs. While celibacy, or fasting, for example can definitely be good and productive things, they are probably not when they are motivated by fear of one's sexual nature, or by an idea of self-punishment. The Lily can represent that: the harmful avoidance of any comfort, of any pleasure; it can represent draconian austereness. The Lily can represent a lack of passion, frigidity, and cold. So the Lily can warn us that we're too hard on ourselves, that we chastise ourselves too much. In this regard, there is another bridge from Virtuous Lily to Sensual Lily. If Virtuous Lily's properties are too prominent, Sensual Lily's qualities are desperately needed for balance!

See also the annakblogs article >> So, is the (virtuous) Lily a positive or a negative card?

About the Image: The illustration of Virtuous Lily shows the clear, cold atmosphere of an icy winter morning on which everything is quiet yet. The Lily in this illustration is the traditional white, to symbolise purity and lack of cravings, the lack of inner disturbances. The background is very clear and sober - rather modest; nothing boastful. The tabletop is clean, almost empty with only a jug and glass with fresh, clear water. The window panes are covered with beautiful but cold frost patterns: someone is living frugally, not heating much. Everything is clean and clear, peaceful and rather beautiful. There is no stain, everything is pure. But it is also cold. There is little input for the senses, nothing to invoke passion. There are no strong colours to distract the eyes, no objects that are supposed to produce any sound. There is only cool, clear water to taste, and the frosty patterns on the window panes to touch.

If you haven't done it already I highly recommend to now compare both the illustration and the meaning of Virtuous Lily with the ones of >> Sensual Lily. They are like ice and fire, literally!

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