Saturday, 14 November 2009

The Tree of Life...




The Tree holds an important place in many 'Nature~Al' perspectives of the world, from ancient spiritual & psychological symbolisms of life, wisdom and friendship,
to modern environmental awarenesses that champion the need for a more holistic relationship with the delicately balanced eco systems of the earth our home.

As The Cosmic or World Tree touches the 'Three Worlds' of sky, earth & underworld, it thereby links them symbolically & psychologically provides an Axis Mundi or Center of the world, by uniting these realms enabling travel and communication between them.

As The Tree of Life, It also represents both a feminine symbol, bearing sustenance; and a masculine, phallic symbol.
In addition, The Tree of Life represents Eternal Life, because of its ever-expanding branches and because of its seemingly endless cycle of regrowth from seed to towering tree and so on...

Of Magic Trees, some have the ability to speak to certain individuals, usually those gifted with divination.
In particular The Druids were said to be able to consult Oak trees for such divinatory purposes,
(the Christian Bible stories also reference a talking Bush to the visionary Moses)

Such Trees have carried great significance across various world faiths,
including The Yggdrasil or World Ash where, in Norse mythology, Odin discovered wisdom and understanding,
& The Bodhi Tree under which Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha found enlightenment.
For the Babylonians, The Tree of Life had a magical fruit which could only be picked by the Gods and dire consequences befell any mere mortal who dared to pick them.
Whilst this Babylonian prohibitive/punitive Tree has apparently found its way into the Judeo-Christian legend of Adam and Eve...
In the esoteric Jewish tradition of Kabbalah, the Tree of Life is a mystical symbol used to describe 'The' path to 'God'.

Across cultures and traditions then we see that The Sacred Tree holds an important place in the minds and hearts of mankind, from the purely practical applications of fruit and resources, to the deeply symbolic and spiritual language of interconnectivity and harmonic interdependence, the Tree serves and embodies many significant functions which furnish our lives and spirit's.

* * * *

The 'Celtic' Tree of Life (known in Ireland as the 'crann bethadh') was central to the Celtic tribal life,
they always left a great tree in the middle of any new settlement which demonstrated the integrity of their Celtic traditions.

This Tree of Life represents the wheel of life as witnessed in the cycle of life, death and rebirth ('rebirth' in Tir Na Nog the Celtic Afterlife, the Land of Eternal Youth), as well as the Celtic theme of three worlds, that of the upper for Gods, the middle for our physical plane, and the lower as the realm of the fey or faeries (often housed below underground mounds or fairy hills). This symbolism is depicted by the branches that reach to the heavens, the trunk or body in the center, and the roots below, specifically showing that all stages and aspects of life are intrinsically connected through nature.
The Germanic peoples who also worshiped their deities in open forest clearings and believed that a sky god was particularly connected with the oak tree, similarly employed a central tree in their tribal settlements.
All trees in the Celtic perspective have specific powers or serve as the home of fairies or spirits, especially the magical trio of Oak, Ash, and Thorn.
That Chieftains were inaugurated under these Sacred trees with their roots stretching down to the lower world and branches reaching to the upper world, ceremonially endowed them with the magical powers of both the underworld and of the heavens.


Of the many realms that may be reached via these sacred trees,
Legends of the Norse World Tree Yggdrasil (pronounced ig.dre.sil) ((called Irminsul in Germanic mythologies)) describe that around it exist nine worlds....
Yggdrasill is an immense Ash Tree; Ygg's {Odin's} horse, was so named because of the notion of the 'tree' as the 'horse' of the
'hanged' on which Odin hung during his self sacrifice for knowledge as described in the Poetic Edda poem Havamal & was often represented by a Cross or a Gallows, however as death did not cary the same finality or distress of modern religious and secular perspectives, these symbols indicated the doorways of change.
The Aesir (Norse gods) go to Yggdrasil daily to hold their courts because the branches of Yggdrasil extend into the heavens, and because the tree is supported by the three roots that reach the Three times...;
Through these paths they could interact with the various realms including the magical sacred creatures that live within Yggdrasil, such as the Wyrm or Dragon, the Eagle, and the Sacred Stag.
The notion of an Eagle sitting on top of the sacred Tree and the World Serpent coiled around its base also has parallels in other cosmologies from Asia, and thereby may be seen to hold psychological significance beyond any narrow micro cultures specific meanings.

Writing of its Shamanic origins Hilda Ellis Davidson comments that the existence of nine worlds around Yggdrasil is mentioned more than once in Old Norse sources, but the identity of the worlds is never stated outright...and speculates that the nine worlds could either exist one above the other or perhaps be grouped around the tree, while the gods are pictured as in the sky, using a Rainbow Bridge (Bifrost) connecting the Tree with the Other Worlds.


* * * *

Of the Christmas Tree..
When the Roman Christian Church decided on a date to celebrate Christ's birth,
they chose the day of the Pagan Winter Solstice because this was already firmly fixed in the minds of the people,
they thus sought to 'Christianise' existing festivals and so both overthrow earlier traditions whilst maintaining the rituals that gave meaning to the indigenous peoples lives.

Some accounts place the earliest Christmas trees in Tallinn capital of Estonia and Riga capital of Latvia,
(both of which resisted Christianity longer than any other European nation and so point towards an earlier Pagan tradition).
The custom of erecting a Pine Tree specifically to celebrate Christmas can more precisely be traced to 16th century Germany, as Ingeborg Weber-Kellermann (Marburg professor of European ethnology) reports of a Bremen guild chronicle of 1570 which states that a Fir Tree was decorated with apples, nuts and paper flowers, & set up for the guild members children to collect the treats on Christmas Day.

By the early 18thC use of Christmas Tree's had become common in the upper Rhineland of Germany,
but was still regarded as a Protestant custom by the Roman Catholic majority throughout wider Europe.
Robert Chambers in his Book of Days (1832 )asserts that the festivities of Christmas
"originally derived from the Roman Saturnalia, had afterwards been intermingled with the ceremonies observed by the British Druids at the period of winter-solstice, and at a subsequent period became incorporated with the grim mythology of the ancient Saxons".
However, just as Christmas was established (approximately) over the earlier Pagan Winter Solstice,
so the Christmas Tree was eventually accepted by the Roman Catholic Church as part of the seasons regalia, because it could not prevent its use.
In the early 19thC the custom became popular among the nobility and spread to royal courts as far as Russia.

In Great Britain, the Christmas tree was introduced by George III's Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in early 1800's,
but the custom hadn't spread much beyond the royal family.
After Queen Victoria's marriage to her German cousin Prince Albert in 1840, the custom became more popular throughout Great Britain as people emulated the much admired and 'ideal' role model family.


* * * *

Regarding the addition of lights and decoration to these Festival Tree's;
Whilst dried apple's may have been tied to the Tree as an offering to The Mother Goddess in the hopes of being gifted more fruit in the coming summer,
& Candles may have been lit upon it to represent and summon the return of the (Father's) Summer Sun
The placing of candles and lights on the Tree also invited and gave home to the associated spirits and faeries that otherwise would be abandoned outside to the hash northern winters.
In this view then, the ancient traditions of decorating and sacralizing a celebratory Tree survives because it meets basic needs outside of our intellectual rationalizations of their purposes,
perhaps embracing deeper psychological or spiritual needs,
But certainly and not least of all....
because we enjoy them.

And in this the blessing of our Nature~Al spirit shines through.

_/\_

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