Trees in Mythology
Probably the most profound way in which trees are regarded is by their association with mythology. Trees bewitch us and offer a sense of mystery. In mythology, trees take on magical powers and become the centre of our fascination. In this context trees give us a sense of the unknown. To actually see and touch such trees is a powerful and profound experience, despite our inability to physically draw on that power. We are unable to grasp the complexity of these feelings, and for this reason we bow to the superiority of the tree over us.
World Tree/Cosmic Tree/Tree of Life
Many mythologies around the world have the concept of the World Tree, a magnificent tree growing at the centre of the universe providing a link between the cosmos, earth and the underworld: its stem pierces through the world of human affairs, its branches reach high up into the sky, supporting the cosmos, with its stars and planets, while its roots stretch deep into the darkness of the Underworld, forming a gateway to the realm of the dead. In European mythology the best known example is the tree Yggdrasil from Norse mythology.
Trees in Symbolism
Trees are the gladiator’s of Nature, fighting to keep a foothold in the most extreme conditions. This characteristic of strength is symbolised in three parts of the tree – roots, trunk and branches. Its roots lie deep in the ground drawing up nutrients and providing a solid base which symbolises the concept of ‘roots’ and our striving for a sense of belonging in a community daily interaction with our environment. The canopy contains the leaves that draw energy from their surroundings, symbolising our consuming desire to know our cultural heritage. The drive to find an historic link with our present lives is almost instinctive driving us to search for status and a reason for being. The trunk stands above ground providing material strength for the whole tree which could be considered symbolic of our need for inner strength.
It is believed groups such as Pagans, worshipped the actual trees, and that they still hold valid today some of the values associated with them. Trees are linked with longevity and fertility which may be a contributing factor to the sacred position some trees still hold.
The feeling of awe and wonder felt by the early pagans is echoed by John Evelyn, in his book ‘Sylva — A Discourse of Forest Trees’ in 1664;
“He that in Winter should behold some of our highest hills in Surrey clad in whole woods of these last two trees (Yew and Box), for divers miles in circuit, might without the least violence to his imagination easily fancy himself transported into some new or enchanted country.”