The bay tree symbol dates back to ancient Greece. It is believed that Apollo fell madly in love with Daphne but she did not love him. Daphne thwarted his advances and was turned into a bay laurel tree by her father the river god Peneus in order to keep away from Apollo. Apollo found the bay tree to be so beautiful he used its branches to crown the highest achievers. The bay leaf wreath was used as crowns for heroes and poets in ancient Greece. The Greeks awarded the top prize of a bay leaf wreath to the winner of the Pythian Games, which were believed to be started after Apollo killed the serpent Python at Delphi.
Priestesses who worshiped Apollo would chew the bay tree berries before giving out prophecies. The berries are both a stimulant and a narcotic. People believed that putting laurel berries beneath your pillow would cause you to have prophetic dreams.
The ancient Greeks also believed that it warded off poisons and sorcery so they would plant two bay trees on either side of their front door, a tradition that has spread and continues to this day. The power of the bay tree was still believed in the seventeenth century. It was believed to keep demons and witches away.
In ancient Rome, the Goddess Victoria was drawn and sculpted holding a laurel leaf. There is also a Roman coin with a picture of the god Jupiter holding a statue of Victoria with a laurel wreath. Above Jupiter’s is an eagle carrying a laurel wreath. This is on the back side of a Constantine! coin. Another coin depicts Apollo carrying a wet laurel branch supposedly cleansing the ground. There are other Roman coins showing the bay tree leaves being used in cleansing rituals.
In Christianity, the bay tree symbolizes Christ’s resurrection. It also symbolizes fame, prosperity, and honor.
Today the winners of the Grand Prix are awarded a wreath of bay leaves. In Italy, some college graduates wear bay leaf wreaths instead of mortarboards for graduation. Bay is used in psychic dream pillows and is also worn by healers to help purify a room.