Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.John Muir
Have you ever looked up at a particularly old tree and just…wondered? Wondered at how long it’s been there, how many things it has seen…and how much more it will see as it continues to witness the passing of the world and lives around it? These Sylvan Sentinels have stood guard over this earth long before humans moved in and, with luck, their watch will continue for centuries to come.
Trees are powerful symbols of life, protection, spirituality, and wisdom all over the world. They carry special significance in my personal life as well, and our family often escapes to nearby forests for hiking and camping to wash away the stresses of daily life that accumulate over time.
Here are some favourite tree legends I find inspiring:
The most common tales speak of a World Tree or Tree of Life, which anchors our world within the universe, serves as a bridge between the realms of the living and the dead, and connects all life together in a network of spiritual energy. Celtic and Norse mythology boast the most popular World Tree representations, but it is present in Iranian, Assyrian, Aztec, Mayan, and Buddhist legends as well. Often these world trees will bear special fruit that can grant everlasting life, good health, and divine knowledge.
Some trees are inhabited by spirits who, in exchange for small gifts, may grant you aid in the form of a wish or protection. If you wish to gain favour with these spirits, common offerings include ribbons, coins, cloth, and even shoes. The Kalvapriksha is one such tree, featured in Hindu and Jain mythology. According to legend, these trees not only has the power to grant wishes, but the original Kalvapriksha also birthed the stars that make up the Sirius constellation found in the milky way.
Groves of sacred trees are places of powerful protection, and have long offered a location for gatherings, rituals, and safety for those who seek refuge from danger. In the stories, these groves will often have a guardian of some sort, and chopping down any of the sacred trees or their branches spells doom for the assailant. In Nigeria, on such place has been recognized and is now protected as a World Heritage site: the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove is one of the last of it’s kind and hosts an annual festival honouring the pact between the river goddess Osun and the tribes who benefitted from her protection.
The connection between humanity and nature is rarely seen as profoundly than in the stories of tree and human spirits bound together. When a tree is planted or blessed to commemorate a birth or union of some sort, the health of the people connected to it becomes mirrored in the health of the tree and vice versa. This in turn engenders related stories in which sick children can be passed through the boughs of a tree to cure them of whatever ails them.