Sacred Trees – Ancient Spirituality and Religions – Wisdom of the Trees

Sacred Trees – Ancient Spirituality and Religions – Wisdom of the Trees

The transition from a rural world to an urbanized one has transformed the relationship that humans have with trees and forests. What was a daily, physical contact has changed into something abstract and metaphysical. But, curiously, the tree has never ceased to be a living totem, serving as both a symbol and a model of organization. Whether describing, interpreting or forecasting, a structure with roots and branching parts is used in many spheres, from genealogy to computing. Do we make these connections just from the outward appearance of the tree, with its branches opening out to embrace space, or is there some more mysterious life principal at work?

The idea that trees are sacred is far from being confined to ancient mythology and primitive religions from remote corners of the planet. The idea of sacred trees runs deep in Western culture. Within Europe, the forests were once places of worship. Gothic cathedrals provide further evidence of this association, with their tree-like arches and pillars. The protective figure of the ancient tree, motionless and silent, embodies knowledge of the past, while the collective nature of the forest evokes the memory of a lost wholeness.

Both individuals and societies need to draw on the resource of trees to get back in touch with their inner selves. The forest is the ideal place to seek to access timeless poetic wisdom, and heavily wooded lands provide the backdrop for countless stories and legends, from the fairy tales of The Brothers Grimm to the epics of JRR Tolkien.

In the so-called primitive religions, where natural phenomena are believed to possess a sacred mystery, trees are often considered to be powerful intermediaries between humans and the supernatural. Spirits are sometimes thought to reside in trees, using the roots and the branches to maintain contact with forces buried in the depths of the earth or flowing through the immense sky.

It is not the tree itself that is worshipped, but the power manifested through it. Some tree varieties are linked to a particular divinity. Greek mythology invested vines, ivy and pines with the attributes of Dionysus, the god of earthly pleasures. Monotheistic religions are more circumspect with regard to trees, though they are often channels of divine will. Depending on whether divine will is respected or flouted, the tree brings prosperity or punishment.

Founding myths have often been connected with specific trees. in the biblical Book of Genesis the apple tree (the genus Malus, from the Latin root for “bad”) Is linked to Original Sin, the first condemnation of humans by God. Judas, once he had carried out his betrayal of Jesus, hung himself from a small tree, which has remained associated with his infamy ever since and is known as the Judas tree. In the seventh paradise of Islam grows the heavenly tree Tuba, whose branches recite chapters from the Quran. Only the greatest mystics are allowed to contemplate it.

In the ancient world,the Greeks thought that every tree, and particularly the oak, was inhabited by a hamadryad, a type of dryad (a form of nymph) who was bonded to the tree, entrusted with its care and would die when the tree died. The dryads and the gods punished mortals who harmed trees. The Marly Courtyard at the Louvre Museum in Paris contains a marble statue of one of these oak nymphs.

Wisdom of the Trees

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