“You’ll find more in the woods than in the books. Trees and stones will teach you things
that no man will tell you”.
( by Bernard of Clairvaux)
Nature is man’s best teacher. It exists and develops according to innate laws and principles. Fulfills and follows cosmic archetypes.
One manifestation of the divine powers is the trees, deeply revered in all cultures and all times. Tree life has always been closely linked to human life. The trees represented the manifestation of the sacred, the hierophany, the expression of the cosmic creative powers and the unity of universal life.
Europe was once covered with rainforests. Here, rare clearings seemed like an island in the green sea. The life of the people of that time was closely linked to the forest and trees. The tree fed the fire. Until now, wood and lignite were the only fuels. Wood is an ideal raw material. Easy to process and usable for a variety of purposes. There were bees in the trees that gave wax and honey; the tree gave food (fruit) and cones that were ground into flour and baked as bread. The resin was processed into glue, tar, incense like incense and spices.
The man has long lived in a narrow symbiosis with trees. He believed he thanked him for his survival. In it he saw the origin of the world. Universal cosmic principles were expressed through the trees. The trees embodied the power of life. It represented aspects of the divine, the sacred. It was never worshiped only as a tree, but because of what was expressed through it and what it meant and meant.
Meaning and Tree Symbolism
In many mythologies, a tree (or tree) is a symbol of the center of the world. It is the link between heaven and earth as its roots penetrate deep into the earth. The branches extend high into the sky.
The cosmic tree is very common, the so-called inverted tree or arbor inversus. It represents creation as a movement coming from above. The spiritual roots of that tree lie in heaven, in the divine world. His canopy is spreading over the world. It connects three levels of the cosmos: the sky – the world of the gods, the earth – the world of humans, and the underworld – the world of the dead.
The cosmic tree stands at the center of the world; it is the central pillar, the axis mundi, that supports the world. It is in a holy place. To the ancient man, the holy places were represented by a microcosm: a landscape of stone, water and trees. The stone indicates durability, indestructibility and static. With its periodic renewal, the tree represents the sacred power of the living. Water and the source of water represent the secret forces of the interior, germination and purification. This microcosmic landscape has, over time, been reduced to a single essential element: a tree or a sacred pillar symbolizing the cosmos.
Tree of Life
The tree is a manifestation of life. Through it the universal (vital) principle is proclaimed. Some tree species reach thousands of years old. For man, the tree embodies eternal life. The soma tree in the Vedas or the haoma in the Avesta are portrayed as the source or holy potion of immortality.
The fruits of the Tree of Immortality are always difficult to deal with. It is found all over the world or in the sky – like the Chinese peach tree, P’an mou, whose fruits give immortality – or some other inaccessible place. They are guarded by monsters (Hesperid apples) or the Tree of Life in Paradise. The symbolism is clear: a man or a hero must find a way, victory over a monster has initiating meaning. We find similar or similar settings in many stories.
The Tree of Cognition
The Tree of Life and the Tree of Cognition are in close relationship. Wisdom and cognition are hard to attain as immortality. One has to endure great sacrifices and win great victories. It must come into direct contact with the Tree of the World, which, as an axis mundi, enables the ascent to the spiritual world and mystical seeing. The tree serves as a channel of cognition, the axis of intuition. It is a source of inspiration.
Trees in the traditions
Sicomora (Egyptian tree of world and life) grows from the “waters of the deep.” From her crown, the goddess provides people with food and drink of immortality, thus giving them an eternal life force.
In Egypt, trees have always been an object of respect because it was rare.
In the eastern sky is a tall sycamore (cosmic tree) on which the gods sit. In the west dwells the divine cow Hathor (Mistress of the sycamore), who created the world and everything in it. Full sympathy comes down from the canopy. Welcomes the recently deceased. It provides them with food and drink, thus providing them with an afterlife. The souls of the dead in the shape of birds sit on the branches of the sycamore. Through this sacred tree, souls returned to the bosom of the divine world of eternal beings who left only during one human life.
In Egyptian representations, the motif of the Tree of Life is often found, from which the divine hands flow out with gifts and pouring out the water of life from the vessel.
In the Prahelean Aegean world, the goddess Rea, the goddess, is associated with the cult of trees. The tree is an inexhaustible source of fertility. The rea is displayed next to some symbolic plant or under the Tree of Life. The great goddess is the personification of the inexhaustible source of creation. The tree represents the Universe in continuous regeneration. The tree is always a symbol of the center of the world, eternal life or wisdom. The symbolic connection between the goddess and the tree indicates that life, fertility, growth, and immortality all originate in the universal vital principle. One aspect of the Great Mother is the wise woman, from which the connection with the Tree of Cognition is evident.
In classical mythology, individual gods associate with certain trees. The connection between a particular tree and the characteristics of a deity belonging to it is always meaningful. Some examples of these connections are: Zeus – Oak; Poseidon – clear; Apollo – laurel; Hades – myrtle, poplar; Hera – pear, willow; Athens – Olive.
In Epirus (northeast Greece) was the oldest Greek oracle – the sacred oak forest in Dodona. The oracle was led by three priestesses, the Pleiades or the Peristers (“doves”). According to Plato, the priestesses prophesied in ecstasy, interpreting the rustling of the leaves. The oracle at Dodona was attributed to the Greeks by a very old age. They thought it came from Pelazg. According to myths, this prophecy prophesied to Heracles the end of his works and death.
The oak cult and oak mythologies were widespread throughout Europe during the pre-Christian era. In archaic times it was thought that man was born of oak. Thus the Arcadians claimed that (before they became humans) they were oaks. At German we find a similar tradition: the first people there are made of two stumps. The idea that man originated from wood belongs to the Indo-European heritage. This is related to the fact that the friction of two pieces of wood can produce fire. Thus was born Agni, the Indian god of fire. Man carries within him the divine spark, the fire Prometheus brought from Olympus.
Olive is the most useful fruit for the Greeks. That is why it played a symbolically important role. It was dedicated to Athens, which planted the first olive tree in the Acropolis. To the Jews, the olive tree is a holy tree. They regarded her as the most valuable gift of the LORD. Of these, the worship of the olive was taken over by the Arabs. In Islam, the olive tree is the center, the supporting pillar, and the Tree of the World.
Oak and Romans
Oak was revered in Italy. There are numerous traditions about sacred oaks. The seven hills were reportedly covered with oak forests dedicated to Jupiter. The eternal fire (maintained by the vestals) should only be burned with oak wood. An oak leaf wreath was bestowed in victory.
Ovid’s Metamorphoses are a collection of many traditions. Several of them talk about the magical conversion of nymphs into trees. Nymph Daphne was persecuted by Apollo for unrequited love. She found her rescue by turning her father, the river god Peney, into a laurel tree. Leuku was haunted by Hades. It was turned into a silver poplar. To the godfather of Ocean, who gave birth to Kronos the centaur of Chiron, was turned into a linden tree at her request. Kariya, who died of mourning for her sister, was turned into a nut tree by Dionysus. Poor Philemon and his wife Baukida offered Zeus and Hermes hospitality. After the death, they were turned into oak and linden after the entrance to the temple.
In Ovid’s time, these traditions were known only as fairy tales. They certainly reflected old religious content. We assume that these narratives are based on an ancient knowledge of the spirits of nature. Geniuses who reside in trees and plants in general.
The fig plays an important role in mythology. Several holy fig trees were revered in Rome. Special honor was given to a fig tree in the Forum Romanum, which, according to myths, nourished the founders of the Empire. It was dedicated to Mars. He conceived the twins Romulus and Remus with the vestal Reo Silvia.
Trees and plants were of great importance to the Celts. For them, everything in nature had a soul. It was imbued with strength and energy.
The temples of the Celts were sacred groves or forests. Prior to Roman rule, the Celts had no built temples. Many writers have reported on shrines. This always referred to some place in the forest or clearing. In his work De bello gallico Caesar reports on the locus consecratus (“consecrated place”). These are sacred groves for which the term nemus, “grove” or “forest” is used. The typical Celtic sanctuary was therefore non-methane, holy or celestial forest clearing. Nemeton was the point of contact between the divine and the human world. Each is non-methane and omphalos – the center of the world.
At the center of the Druid rites were the oaks on which mistletoe grew. The mistletoe harvest took place on the sixth day of the lunar cycle. The Druid, a Celtic priest, cut off the mistletoe branches with a golden sickle symbolizing the sun and moon: the golden sun and the sickle moon. The branches were collected in white cloth. The Druid wore a white uniform.
Oak is a symbol of knowledge and power. If mistletoe is still growing on it, it means that a deity is present in it. The mistletoe was a symbol of the fresh power of life. While all other plants look dead during the winter, mistletoe bears its white fruits, symbolizing the youthful power of eternal life and immortality.
The cult trees of the Druids were also yew, hazelnut, pomegranate and apple.
The apple tree played an important role. The island of Avalon (a mysterious and mystical island in the west) was, according to the myth, completely covered with apple trees that impart immortality, knowledge and wisdom, like apples from the gardens of Hesperides in Greek mythology.
The famous Celtic motif is the so-called “Battle of the Trees” (Cad Goddeu), which is also recognized in The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. The current interpretation of this myth speaks of Gwydion, who keeps the island Bretons from a terrible defeat (by turning them into trees and shrubs and defeating the enemy in this form).
It is well known that tree names have been downloaded in all Celtic languages for the letters of the alphabet. The name of the oldest Irish alphabet, Beith-Luis-Nion, comes from the names of three trees: birch, prune and ash. The initial names of the trees form a sequence of letters of that alphabet. It consists of five vowels and thirteen consonants. The number of consonants is equal to the number of lunar months, calendar months measured by the lunar changes in one solar year, so this alphabet is also a sacral calendar. The summer solstice drops into the oak month. Solstice fires have always had to burn with oak wood.
Prayer to the trees
My ancient brothers,
Learn the heart of my steadfastness
And how to draw strength from the earth
And grow upright in height
Where I leave my leaves
You call the birds and touch the sky.
(by Mrs. Branka Kovacevic)
In the 21st century, forests for man are losing their magic. What began through an attempt to eradicate all “pagan customs” is completed by rationalism and positivist-materialist atheism.
Man exploits nature with techniques that are destructive to forests: he builds roads through them, poisoning water and air, depriving them of the source of life. Man is destroying the ozone layer so that forests are no longer exposed only to the beneficial rays of sunlight.
The deep and mystical connection between trees and the human being has existed for millennia. All we have to do is ask ourselves: what will happen to humankind, which has broken this particular connection in a crude way?