THE VENERATION OF TREES BY THE ANCIENTS AND THEIR SYMBOLISM

November 19, 2018

Many branches of spiritual studies are expressing their teachings via symbols, for they are capable of transferring knowledge that cannot be expressed through words, but can only be understood by experiencing it. Trees hold some of the most profound symbolism.

THE SYMBOLISM BEHIND TREES

We find trees being an important part of all religious and spiritual teachings for they are always present in their philosophies. A few examples are the biblical Tree of Life and Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the jewish Tree of Sephiroth and the buddhistic Bodhi Tree. Trees, unlike most symbols of antiquity, were always symbolic of good qualities. Ancients held the trees in such high esteem as they provide man with everything needed for survival. The tree can be used as a source for warmth, food, medicine, shade, building houses and ships. Temples were often built in the heart of sacred groves, and nocturnal ceremonials were conducted under the wide-spreading branches of great trees, fantastically decorated and festoned in honor of their patron deities. The beauty, dignity, massiveness, and strength of oaks, elms, and cedars led to their adoption as symbols of power, integrity, permanence, virility, and divine protection. Several ancient peoples, notably the Hindus and Scandinavians, regarded the Macrocosm, or Grand Universe, as a divine tree growing from a single seed sown in space. The single source of life and the endless diversity of its expression has a perfect analogy in the structure of the tree. The trunk represents the single origin of all diversity; the roots, deeply imbedded in the dark earth, are symbolic of divine nutriment; and its multiplicity of branches spreading from the central trunk represent the infinity of universal effects dependent upon a single cause. The tree has also been accepted as symbolic of the Microcosm, that is, man. According to the esoteric doctrine, man first exists potentially within the body of the world-tree and later blossoms forth into ojective manifestation upon its branches. 


While the tree is apparently much greater than its own source (the seed), nevertheless that source contains potentially every branch, twig, and leaf which will later be objectively unfolded by the processes of growth. Man's veneration for trees as symbols of the abstract qualities of wisdom and integrity also led him to designate as trees those individuals who possessed these divine qualities to an apparently superhuman degree. Highly illuminated philosophers and priests were therefore often referred to as trees or tree men - for example, the Druids, whose name, according to one interpretation, signifies the men of the oak trees. Many of the great sages and saviors carried wands, rods, or staves cut from the wood of sacred trees, as the rods of Moses and Aaron; Gungnir - the spear of Odin - cut from the Tree of Life; and the consecrated rod of Hermes, around which the fighting serpents entwined themselves. 

THE MOST IMPORTANT TREES 

The oak, the pine, the ash, the cypress, and the palm are the five trees of greatest symbolic importance. Among the ancient Egyptians and Jews the acacia, or tamarisk, was held in the highest religious esteem; and among modern Masons, branches of acacia, cypress, cedar, or evergreen are still regarded as most significant embelms. It is quite possible that much of the veneration accorded the acacia is due to the peculiar attributes of the mimosa, or sensitive plant, with which it was often identified by the ancients. The symbolism of the acacia is susceptible of four distinct interpretations.


1. It is the emblem of the vernal equinox - the annual resurrection of the solar deity.
2. Under the form of the sensitive plant which shrinks from the human touch, the acacia signifies purity and innocence, as one of the Greek meanings of its name implies.
3. It fittingly typifies human immortality and regeneration, and under the form of the evergreen represents that immortal part of man which survives the destruction of his visible nature.
4. It is the ancient and revered emblem of the Mysteries, and candidates entering the tortuous passageways in which the ceremonials were given carried in their hands branches of these sacred plants or small clusters of sanctified flowers.


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