Cylch Blodeuwedd

Druidic Grove in North-West Wales

The Wisdom of Trees

by Dafydd - January 17th, 2009.
Filed under: Article Archive.

THE
WISDOM OF TREES:

Spiritual Folklore,
Medicine, and Scientific Fact

A
talk by Gillian Monks
to several Lodges of the Theosophical Society

Spring 2007

History of Trees

Humanity and Trees


Ancient Greece


The Romans


The Celts


Anglo-Saxon and Norse


Biblical Tradition

History of
Trees

Trees first appeared
on earth three
hundred and ninety million years ago. They are the oldest largest
living thing on the planet. The majority live for a few hundred
years. Even those with the shortest lifespan will usually outlive a
human. For example, Birch trees live between 80-100 years or more;
Scots Pine 500 years; Oaks a thousand or more. There is a Yew tree in
a church yard in a small Scottish village called Fortingall that has
been dated by the Forestry Commission as being over 8000 years old

the oldest known tree in Europe.

Many more types of
trees are actually
older than the generally recognized ages given for them. Starting
from a central plant, they send up new suckers on an underground root
system and the plant spreads outwards, becoming a thicket or copse in
itself. They can spread hundreds of meters over thousands of years.
DNA testing has been able to prove this.

The Aspen

It is
not only the range of aspen that is remarkable, however, as it has a
number of other unusual characteristics which have been drawing
increasing attention from scientists, researchers and
conservationists in recent years. As a fast-growing pioneer species,
aspen regenerates profusely after disturbance such as fire, and often
occurs as dense stands of even-aged trees. This regeneration takes
place almost entirely by vegetative reproduction, as aspen rarely
propagates from seeds. Instead, new shoots, or ramets, grow from the
roots of a parent tree, and these stay connected underground, even
once the shoots have matured into trees. All the interconnected trees
are a single organism, known as a clone, which exhibits synchronous
behaviour, for example, all the component trees will come into leaf
at the same time. Because aspen is dioecious, an individual clone is
either male or female, and research on Populus tremuloides in the USA
has revealed how large individual clones can be. One clone in Utah,
nicknamed ‘Pando’ (from the Latin for ‘I
spread’), contains
over 47,000 individual stems and covers an area of 43 ha. With an
estimated weight of over 6000 tonnes, this is the world’s
largest
known organism.

The clonal reproductive strategy of aspen also
means that it is extremely long-lived. Although individual stems may
only survive for a maximum of 200 years, the clone itself lives for
much longer, as new stems grow to replace those which die. Some
clones of Populus tremuloides in the USA have been estimated to be at
least 8000 years old, making them possibly the oldest organisms on
the planet. It has even been speculated that aspen is
‘theoretically
immortal’, and some researchers have suggested that clones
may
reach an age of a million years or more, based on the resemblance of
the leaves on aspen trees today to fossilised ones!

From an
article on the Aspen, found
at: http://www.the-tree.org.uk/

My own particular
experience of this
was when I was a child in Sri Lanka. A well-known banyan
tree
situated beside a main trunk road was struck by lightning and
actually killed. It amazed me to see this banyan
tree, still
wilting and dying, several weeks later and over a mile
away—up the
road.

As for height, the
Coastal Redwood has
been measured at three hundred and sixty-eight feet, but it is
thought that some Eucalyptus and Douglas Firs are even taller.

Around 10,000 BCE,
Birch was the first
to colonize the wasteland and grassy tundra as the last Ice Age
receded. Two-thirds of our native trees can predominate within a
wood; it is common to talk about a “birch wood”, an
“ash wood”,
“alder” “hazel”
“oak” “beech”

“lime” and
“elm-woods”. They also mix very well to form a
complex variety
and eco-culture.

The oldest species of
tree is the
Ginkgo Biloba at a hundred and eighty million years. It provides an
excellent example of the Tree’s ability to survive. After the
atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945, one tree near the
epicenter of the blast managed to regenerate itself … that
was the
Ginkgo!

Humanity and
Trees

Early humanity lived
and largely
evolved within the forest. With the important discovery of fire, man
obviously turned to trees for his fuel, but has consistently shaped
his environment with the use of wood for numerous
purposes—for
thousands of years. We have built our houses, furniture, heating,
food-stores, animal shelters, fences, bridges, methods of transport,
our food itself and the fuel to cook it on—as well as baskets
to
carry and keep it. More recently we have relied on our forests for
industry, ship-building, books and paper. As requirement and
dependency on wood increased, special areas were designated for
growing sustainable wood supplies—copses of trees such as
willow
and hazel would be cut to the ground every four to ten years (willow
does well under this regime; hazel actually thrives!) Trees like the
willow could also be pollarded.

One of the most
important uses of wood
domestically was as a fuel, and rhymes were taught to children,
pointing out the uses of different woods in the hearth.

Logs to Burn

Read these lines and
generally learn

The proper kind of logs to burn:

Oak logs will warm you well

If they’re old and dry.

Larch logs like pine wood smell,

But the sparks will fly.

Beech logs for Christmas time,

Yew logs heat well.

Scots logs, it is a crime,

For anyone to sell.

Birch logs will burn to fast,

Chestnut scarce at all.

Hawthorn logs are good to last,

If you cut them in the Fall.

Holly logs will burn like wax,

You should burn them green.

Elm logs like smouldering flax,

No flames to be seen.

Pear logs and apple logs,

They will scent your room.

Cherry logs across the dogs

Will speak like flowers in bloom.

But ash logs all smooth and grey,

Burn them green or old,

Buy up all that comes your way,

They’re worth their weight in gold.

–author unknown

In our modern 21st
century
life, we still depend on trees—far more than many people
realise.
We still make a large amount of our furniture from wood, and who
doesn’t have a home which contains books, newspapers and
magazines?

We also consume a
great many tree
products:

  • Nuts—Brazil,
    almond, hazel, walnut, cashews, pistachio, pine, coconut, and others.

  • Fruits—Apples,
    pears, oranges, plums, damsons, green gages, bananas, apricots,
    peaches, figs, dates, kiwi, lemons, lime, avocado … not
    forgetting olives and olive oil.

  • Beverages—Who
    doesn’t like to enjoy a steaming mug of hot chocolate on a
    cold winter’s night or a stimulating cup of coffee when we
    need waking up? (Our beloved tea is actually derived from a bush, not a
    tree, so shouldn’t really be mentioned here.) Herbal teas are
    also now very popular, and ones such as elderflower, lime flower, and
    rooibosch are also harvested from trees.

  • Toiletries—Tree
    derivatives are also contained in many of our toiletries. Olive oil,
    lang lang and pine oils are widely used in soaps while tea tree finds
    its way into shampoos, soaps, shower gels and lotions. Did you know
    that distilled witch hazel water is widely used as a make-up remover?
    Or that conkers (from horse chestnuts) provide important treatment for
    cellulite and the effects of aging on the skin.

As well as
cultivating trees for use,
with their increasing value, other areas of woodland were put aside
as special, with mystical, spiritual importance.

Ancient
Greece

Sacred groves were
actually more
important than marble temples. Every Greek deity was linked with a
particular tree species: laurel to Apollo, myrtle to Aphrodite, pine
to Pan and the olive to Athena. Gods were originally the spirits of
trees and humanity accorded them good will and gratitude. Athens owed
its economical power to the olive trade; as did Lebanon to the Cedar
of Lebanon, and Phoenicia to the date palm. Zeus developed from a
dryad of the prophetic oak in the sacred grove of Dodona, which was a
pilgrimage destination—just as famous as Delphi—for
over two
thousand years. The politically or judicially persecuted could find
sanctuary in sacred groves—a concept which the Christian
Church
later borrowed.

The Romans

The Romans adopted
much from the Greeks
including deities and the consecration of their corresponding tree
species. Countless sacred groves were sited on the Seven Hills of
Rome. In one, King Numa was believed to have received the
“Laws of
Rome” from the oak dryad Egeria. The fig tree was honoured as
the
founding tree of Rome because it had given shelter to the She-wolf
who suckled Romulus and Remus.

The Celts

The Druids also had
their sacred
groves. The word “Druid” stems from Sanskrit:
“dru” means
tree or wood; the
Indo-European derivative “wid” or

“vid” means knowledge,
therefore “Druid” stands for
Tree or Wood of Knowledge or even Tree
Knower
.

Druids led the
ancestral circle or
Tribe in a spiritual communion and balance with the world around them
(for the Celts, mostly woodlands in very ancient times). The Tribe or
Clans each had a patron tree which was also associated with their
patron deity, a deity who they could claim ancestry from, not just
invoke for blessing and aid.

Druids inherited the
pre-Celtic
Neolithic stone circles, dating circa 2500 BCE. But what is not so
widely known is that wooden circles pre-dated the stone ones. For
instance, the remains of a wooden circle under the car park at
Stonehenge have been dated to between 3000 and 4000 years older than
its stone counterpart. Thankfully, the current site of Stonehenge is
to be returned to its natural landscape, with plans to build a
visitor’s center that cannot be seen from the henge, as well
as
hopes to excavate the wooden henge. What information will be
uncovered has yet to be seen!

Other evidence of the
importance of
trees is the fact that the first European books were written on beech
bark. The Celtic tree alphabet ogham was developed.
Even
Celtic tribes were named after trees: the Gaulish Lemnovices
(People of the Elm) and the Arvern (People of the
Land of the
Alder).

When a tribe cleared
the land for
settlement in Ireland, they always left a great tree in the middle,
known as the “Tree of Life”, as the spiritual focus
and source of
well-being. They held assemblies and inaugurated their chieftains
beneath it so that they could absorb power from above and below. One
of the greatest triumphs a tribe could achieve over its enemies was
to cut down their sacred tree, their foundation of strength and
support.

Trees were so
important to the Celtic
peoples that they were divided into four classes:

  • Nobles
    of the Wood—
    Oak, Holly, Hazel, Yew, Ash, Wild Apple
    and Scots Pine

  • Commoners
    of the Wood—
    Alder, Willow, Hawthorn, Rowan, Birch,
    Elm, Wild Cherry

  • Lower
    Divisions of the Wood—
    Blackthorn, Elder, Spindle,
    Whitebeam, Aspen, Juniper, Strawberry Tree

  • Bushes
    of the Wood—
    Bracken, Bog Myrtle, Gorse, Bramble,
    Heather, Broom, Wild Rose

Misuse of timber and
living wood was
punishable by fines according to the class of tree involved.

Anglo-Saxon
and Norse

These peoples also
met for councils,
jurisdiction and festivals etc under their sacred trees. Yggdrasil

is the name of the sacred World Tree of Norse Mythology.

Biblical
Tradition

In Jewish tradition,
trees have also
been of great significance. When the Israelites reached the Promised
Land, they adopted the tradition of worshipping God at
tree-sanctuaries called ashêra, from the
preceding
Canaanites. The Lord first appeared to Moses in the vision of the
burning bush, and in his final words before his death, Moses referred
to the Lord as “Him that dwelt in the bush”.
Moses’ staff was
cut from an almond tree, the most sacred tree in ancient Israel; its
ancient Semitic name, amygdala, meaning

“Great Mother”.
After his death, Moses’ staff was handed down from generation
to
generation as the scepter of the Kings of Israel, which is mirrored
by the staff of the Pope.

Jesus taught his
disciples in the
sacred olive grove of Gethsemane. He died on a wooden cross, similar
to Odin’s Tree. There are also instances as in the
Glastonbury
Thorn, which was supposed to spring to life from the staff which
Joseph of Arimathea carried to Britain.

Comment on this

This talk is not yet all online – there’s more to come, to be added in due course.

Leave a Reply

This blog is kept spam free by WP-SpamFree.