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Thread: Tree Worship: The Oldest Sanctuaries were the Natural Woods

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    Senior Member Alfadur's Avatar
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    Tree Worship: The Oldest Sanctuaries were the Natural Woods

    After reading the "Blood and Soil" thread, it made me think about people's spiritual link to the natural environment where they lived. Trees seemed to be of a special importance in Europe during ancient pre-Christian times - the inherent respect for life manifesting itself as a reverence ("worship") for nature, even things beyond human scope. To me, it's a very interesting aspect of the pagan religions.

    I found this interesting passage in Frazer's The Golden Bough:

    From an examination of the Teutonic word for "temple", Grimm has made it probable that amongst the Germans the oldest sanctuaries were the natural woods. However that may be, tree worship is well attested for all the great European families of Aryan stock. Amongst the Celts, the oak-worship of the Druids is familiar to everyone, and their historical word for "sanctuary" seems to be identical in meaning with the Latin nemus, a grove or woodland glade, which still survives in the name of Nemi. Sacred groves were common in the ancient Germanic tribes, and tree-worship is hardly extinct amongst their descendants at the present day. How serious that worship was in former times may be gather from the ferocious penalty appointed by the old German laws for such as daring to peel the bark off a sacred tree: the culprit's navel was to be cut out and nailed to a part of the tree which he had peeled, and he was to be driven round and round the tree till all his guts were wound about its trunk. The intention of the punishment clearly was to replace the dead bark by a living substitute taken from the culprit; it was a life for a life, the life of a man for the life of a tree. At Upsala, the old religious centre of Sweden, there was a sacred grove in which every tree was regarded as divine. The heathen Slavs worshipped trees and groves. The Lithuanians were not forcibly converted to Christianity until towards the close of the fourteenth century, and amongst them the worship of trees was prominent. Some of them revered ancient oaks and other great shady trees, from which they received oracular responses. Others maintained holy groves about their villages or houses, where even to break a twig would have been a sin. Their religion held that he who cut off a bough in such a holy grove either died suddenly or was crippled in one of his limbs.

    Proofs of the prevalence of tree-worship in Ancient Greece and Italy are abundant. In the sanctuary of Aesclapius at the isle of Kos, for example, it was forbidden to cut down the cypress-trees under a penalty of a thousand silver drachms. But nowhere, perhaps, in the ancient world was this antique form of religion better preserved than in the heart of the great imperial metropolis itself. In the Forum, the bustling centre of Roman life, the sacred fig-tree of Romulus was revered down to the days of the Empire, and the withering of its trunk was enough to spread consternation through the city's people. Again, on the slope of the Palatine Hill grew a grove of cornel-trees which was esteemed one of the most sacred places in Rome.

    I also noticed how ideas like environmentalism are a mainly European phenomenon, especially from Germanic countries. Is the worship of trees and woods, and by extension a tendency to "green politics" and the conservation of nature, a unique part of our heritage?

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    Senior Member Mööv's Avatar
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    I remember, there used to be an old heathen custom over here of planting a tree when a child is born. The tree and it´s spirit would then protect the child throughout it´s life. Destruction of that tree would be seen as great misfortune upon the one who is associated with it.
    But it´s been a long time since I seen anybody practicing this custom. Everyone became fanatically christian in the last decade (at least they beleive to be christian; it´s more of a fashion thing).
    Lieber tot als Sklave!

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    Senior Member Alfadur's Avatar
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    Another residue of pagan tree-worship that I forgot to mention is, of course, the custom of the Christmas tree. The Scandinavians of old used to venerate the evergreen trees in their winter ceremony, and this custom spread to other Germanic groups (it was Germans who brought the custom to America). Holly wreaths at Christmas also have a similar origin, as the holly was an old symbol of death and rebirth. It's pretty common knowledge that Christians often grafted their own theology onto pre-existing pagan rituals and sacred objects.

    Quote Originally Posted by Haliaeetus View Post
    I remember, there used to be an old heathen custom over here of planting a tree when a child is born. The tree and it´s spirit would then protect the child throughout it´s life. Destruction of that tree would be seen as great misfortune upon the one who is associated with it.
    Interesting to hear. I'm always interested in these bits and pieces of older European traditions, from a heathen past almost unimaginably remote to us, that have survived into our modern age.

    But it´s been a long time since I seen anybody practicing this custom. Everyone became fanatically christian in the last decade (at least they beleive to be christian; it´s more of a fashion thing).
    Indeed it's a trend thing. The Yugoslav Wars brought out the worst in everyone, you probably saw that first-hand since you live in Serbia. Any tribal conflict causes the groups to pick up sectarian trends such as religious extremism (which is really a tribal marker, not genuine religiosity): the Serbs becoming fanatically Orthodox Christians and the Bosnians starting to wear burkas and building mosques with Saudi imams. Anyways, that is for another topic...

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    Senior Member Neophyte's Avatar
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    Some very scattered comments...

    The evergreen is found as a symbol of eternal life in Sumer, so that is an old, old tradition. I believe that you can read about it in Gilgamesh. Nor can we forget about the May pole in this regard.

    Also note that when the Romans came back to Teotuburg forest they found that severed heads had been nailed to the trees in sacred groves as a sacrifice to the gods, and it is said that this is where the tradition of hanging round things in the Yule tree comes. I think that it used to be apples before they went over to glass baubles. Proper Roman centurions are so hard to find these days.

    And, yes, this probably ties into all this as well:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trysting_Tree

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    Eala Freia Fresena
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    The willow

    The Willow grows on the edges between land and water. This is a transitional place, a place where two elements, the water and the land (aa well as the air of course) meet.

    The German word for willow is Weide and is most likely connected to the God Vidar

    The willow is the earliest tree to grow it's seed after the winter. It even does so before it grows leaves. It is so full of life energy it bursts out it's seeds, in German called wWeidenkAetzchen (willow kittens). Often they are used at Easter and put into a vase. Easter is the celebration of rebirth. After the death of Winter life comes back.

    Like Vidar is the victor in the Ragnaroeck and creates new life, a new generation of Gods.

    I think our ancestors thought in pictures and parables, their mind was imaginative and saw 'patterns/blueprints/ideas (in the sense of Plato: idea sunt realia)' They saw this same idea in many things, like Vidar in the Willow.

    I think that the word worship is wrong. They felt one with everything, they were embedded in a holistic world, not an element in a mechanistic worldview.

    Thus their connection to trees and forests where differently.

    Holy forests where holy because high spirits (like Gods) lived there.

    With the upcoming of farming, the people distinguished between the wild (the forest) and agricultural land. The borderline was the hedge (or in old German hagadom). It is a place of transition and therefore a magical place, a place of power. Old women often sat close to the hedges and communicated there with the spirits of the wild. The name 'old hag' (hedge in German is 'HEcke') comes from the word hedge/Hecke. those women dived into the magical world and knew a lot about plants. The German word for witch is 'Hexe' and most like derives from the old word Haga for hedge.

    The spirits behind plants and trees are powerful beings. Their material existence, the tree/the plant is only the visible part for our bodily senses the eyes. The olden heathens most like had also spiritual eyes to see the spirits of plants and were able to communicate with them.

    The drug use of many plants opens the spiritual eyes for the plant spirit, hence hemp/marijuana for the plant spirit connected to the Goddess Freya/Frigg (because hemp was used for weaving)

    the Bilsenkraut (Hyamus Niger) was used in many ways as a drug, most famous is the beer, the Pilsener, named after the Bilsenkraut, a plant associated with Odin. There was 'council beer' with Bilsenkraut mixed in which catapulted the attendants into the world of spirit, this were not any kind of druggies but grown mature men, head of families, Sippe/clans and tribes.

    The term 'tree worship' is misleading
    weel nich will dieken dej mot wieken

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    Senior Member Sigyn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ocko View Post
    I think that the word worship is wrong. They felt one with everything, they were embedded in a holistic world, not an element in a mechanistic worldview.
    Yes, I mostly agree that it wasn't a form of "worship" as in praying to a god, but rather a deep respect for life itself. They sort of viewed themselves as a part of living nature (as in, not opposing it). To quote the OP, they felt a reverence for nature and even things beyond human scope. I don't think anyone meant that they literally walked around in fear of tree-gods.

    the Bilsenkraut (Hyamus Niger) was used in many ways as a drug, most famous is the beer, the Pilsener, named after the Bilsenkraut, a plant associated with Odin. There was 'council beer' with Bilsenkraut mixed in which catapulted the attendants into the world of spirit
    Yes, I always thought there was a connection between tree worship (or rather, putting a sacred value on trees) and the use of religious drugs. This seems to go way back in time. I did a google search on this subject, and I ran into this very interesting article:

    The Ash Tree In Indo-European Culture

    Many species of Fraxinus, the ash tree, exude a sweet sugary substance which the ancient Greeks called méli ("honey"). This substance was commonly harvested by people until the early part of the 20th century, and is found on both the common ash in Northern Europe and on the flowering ash in the mountains of Greece.

    This fact sheds light on certain themes in classical mythology - the idea of a Golden Age when men ate the acorns and honey that dripped from trees, the idea that bees collect honey from the leaves and branches of trees, and that ash tree nymphs were the nurses of the infant Zeus in the Cretan caves. (They fed him honey to keep him alive). Also, a new etymology of the Greek word for "ash tree" is proposed in light of these connections.

    In old Norse mythology, certain details of the description of Yggdrasil, the tree of the universe, also can be explained by the sugary property of the ash. It is felt to rain drops of honey on the world, and mead is said to flow from its great branches.

    In ancient Sanskrit literature, certain beliefs are found which parallel the Greek and Norse myths, for instance that sweet honeydew rains down upon the world from the skies. The divine intoxicating substance of soma, like the ash tree, is connected with newborns both in folk practice and myth. Certain things that are said about soma seem to indicate a connection to ash trees, or rather the Aryans having a confused memory of ash trees, since they do not grow in India beyond the Himalayas.

    In light of these parallels in old Indo-European literatures, it seems very likely that ash trees and the ritual drinking of their substance as a mead played an important role in Indo-European mythology and religion.

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    Senior Member
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    Isn't there an old German saying, going back from ancient pagan times, that says: "Every man must build a house, have a son, and plant a tree."

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    Senior Member Van Wellenkamp's Avatar
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    What was the name of the tree Charlemenge cut down that was supposed to have been reveared by the Saxons? Seems I have read this before.

    Cool post by the way!!!!

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    "Ewiger Wald" ( Eternal Wood) from 1936. Third Reich Docu.

    Film claims that our Germanic forefather were out of the woods, forrest people, therefor trees in general but also specific ones (Oak) play such an important role Germanic mythologie and culture. Our task as a people in return is to care for the wood, as in "saving the woods" literally speaking.



    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=

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    Senior Member NatSozArbeiter's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Van Wellenkamp View Post
    What was the name of the tree Charlemenge cut down that was supposed to have been reveared by the Saxons? Seems I have read this before.
    Irminsul.

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