According to the famous story, Daphne, prophetess of the Oracle at Delphi, was allegedly transformed into the first bay laurel tree when she tried to escape attempted rape by Apollo. The truth is more complex than that legend:

Daphne was more than a priestess; she was an oracular goddess herself. Daphne was the presiding spirit of another famous oracle, one named in her honour. The Oracle of Daphne was near the cities of Tarsus and Antioch, now in modern Turkey, where the bay laurel tree is believed to originate. The oracle was obtained by dipping bay laurel leaves or branches into a sacred spring.

Her shrine was contained with lush, luxurious groves, which formed sort of a public park so that secular pleasure and spirituality were merged. Heracles allegedly planted the ancient cypresses himself. Daphne’s springs were the main water source for the city of Antioch. Her shrine and groves were renowned (or notorious, depending on perspective), for licentious rites and carnal pleasures.

The shrine was dedicated to Daphne. She was venerated alongside Nymphs. Apollo was eventually enshrined there with her. Prior to his arrival, the site of his temple was dedicated to Heracles, although some scholars theorize that the male deity enshrined at Daphne was actually Ba’al, whom the Greeks identified with Heracles.

Before Apollo arrived at Delphi, the oracle belonged to Gaia the Earth. Daphne is the daughter of Gaia and Ladon, the river spirit. According to another version of her myth, when Apollo aggressively pursued her, Daphne called upon her mother for help. The Earth swallowed Daphne up; a bay laurel tree sprang up to mark the spot. Laurel leaves became identified with Apollo. He wore them as a crown. They remain symbolic of victory.

Bay laurel leaves have many magical purposes, including protection. The tree offered Daphne her avenue of escape when fleeing attempted rape. Bay laurel leaves reputedly have spiritually protective properties: place at least one in each corner of a room to create a zone of safety and security.

Daphne was not a virginal spirit: she presides over erotic rites. Whatever objection she had to Apollo had nothing to do with maintaining chastity. Her own shrine and its beautiful groves were an early casualty of Christianity. Bay laurel is still popularly used in divination, albeit at home rather than in shrines. Divination by bay laurel leaves is known as daphnomancy. There are numerous methods: the simplest involves placing bay laurel leaves beneath your pillow when seeking psychic dreams.

Daphne shares the characteristics of her sacred tree. She is a goddess of divination, prophesy, intoxication, spiritual protection and sensual pleasures.


Greece; Anatolia


She is described as the Nymph of lawless locks, so her hair is unruly. She is allegedly very sensuous and beautiful.


What else? Bay laurel


Fresh water; bay leaves; divination devices and intoxicants


  • Apollo
  • Ba’al
  • Gaia
  • Heracles
  • Ladon
  • Nymph


Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by : Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.