What does the term ‘tree-hugger’ mean to you? Do you think it means ‘barking mad’? Or, are you someone who likes the idea of communing with amazing earth-guardians yourself, but doesn’t know how to go about it? If the idea appeals to you, then you will be reacting in a perfectly natural and human way. Only a spiritually devoid person wouldn’t be humbled by the towering majesty of a 300 year old oak tree; alive before your birth, and living well beyond your death.
Older religions embraced the conception of the unity of life in nature, and accepted that our future was intrinsically entwined with that of trees. How right they were. Now that we see the folly of destroying rain forests and thereby severely compromising the green ‘lungs’ of the planet, maybe we can comprehend the ‘common sense’ aspects of the old ways.
Roman historians spoke of the Celts’ love and respect for their sacred groves, the centre of their whole religion. Some tribes took the names of trees as their own; hence The Men of Oak, The Sons of Yew, and The Rowan Men. Celts believed that each tree had a spirit or dryad inside it. The personality of each dryad reflected the nature of its tree.
Yew—A sign of the circle of life; inspires hope of rebirth and regeneration
Apple—This tree possesses an aura of youthfulness and innocence.
Blackthorn—This tree and the dryad within is protected by fairies.
Gorse-This tree contains the energy of fertility, and the dryad is as mischievous as a child.
Poplar—Symbolises strength and courage.
Beech—If the oak is the King of the forests, then the beautiful beech with its golden autumn tresses is the Queen. It stands for stability and balance.
Elm-Symbolises the dark side of the psyche, so its dryad is to be feared and respected.
Hazelnut—Feeder of many in the winter months the hazelnut brings a sense of elation and exhilaration
Sycamore-Often growing in apparently barren places, this tree’s spirit indicates perseverance and vitality.
Birch-Especially beloved of Druids, the spirit of the birch represents new life.
Rowan—The berries of the rowan were believed to be the food of the Gods, and therefore most sacred. Retribution punishes anyone who tries to harm this tree.
Alder—Anyone who destroyed this tree would be held responsible for any crisis that befell his village as a result.
Oak—Used in many ceremonies, believed to protect from lightning, and the very essence of the circle of life, the oak tree is the true King of trees.
Holly—Because it’s evergreen, the holly tree symbolises the eternal nature of mother earth.
Elder—Believed to contain the very spirit of the sun, this tree should be as well-protected as life itself.
Vikings’ religious beliefs were firmly attached to trees. Their God, Odin said, “I know that I hung on the windswept tree.” This refers to his Shamanic journey, from which he emerged with gifts from the ‘other’ reality, one of which was the runic language. The tree was thought to represent a ladder into the ‘above’, from whence all knowledge came.
Aborigines believed that there was a deep and spiritual connection between them and the natural elements that surrounded them.
In the ancient world, Slavic people also revered woodland spirits and built sanctuaries among the oldest and most sacred tree groups. They believed that spirits lived in the trees and so would never cut them down for fear of displeasing those that dwelt within.
In Greek and Roman times, their countryside was speckled with hundreds of sacred enclosures, and there were so many they took up much of the land. Each contained a group of trees and a spring. They were kept natural, all forms of interference forbidden. Virgil said, “Some God has this grove; the Gods favour wild trees unsown by mortal hand.” So they believed that the very naturalness of the trees pleased the Gods, and should not be interfered with. Some of them were huge; for instance the grove of Daphne was ten miles in circumference. There was even a whole island, left natural and wild for the Goddess Artemis.
In early Africa the migumu tree was sacred. It was forbidden to use axe or fire against these trees, and wildlife that resided in or around them could not be hunted. It was believed that the weather could be controlled by the spirits that lived in the trees, and that they also had healing power. The sacred groves protected by the Mbeere tribes would be up to three hectares, and some were still around thirty or forty years ago.
Trees were also an integral part of the belief systems in Egypt, Arabia, Persia, Assyria, Britain, Scandinavia, China, India, Ceylon and many other parts of the world.
So why did these sacred groves disappear from Europe? The emperor Theodosius II (5th century ad) issued an edict directing that the groves be cut down unless they had already been appropriated for some purpose compatible with Christianity. This is why you will often see a gigantic tree in a churchyard or monastery — these are the ones that were spared.
Tree-huggers are often pooh-poohed, but anyone who tries it with an open mind can’t fail to be affected. If you meditate with physical contact with a tree, you’ll feel its great energy as it rises with the sap, especially in spring or early summer. The tree’s energy — especially in one that has been alive for many centuries longer than you — will calm you and fill you with a connection to the planet. Various trees give of different energies.
Ash:Brings peace of mind.
Beech:Helps to balance mental health.
Oak:Brings a feeling of well-being.
Pine:Revitalises you if you are worn down.
Willow:Helps communicate with someone who has passed over.
If you would like to try a spot of tree-hugging, first stand still and find silence in your mind. Breathe deeply and concentrate on ‘feeling’ the energies that surround you. Walk through the trees, and as you enter the aura of each one, ask if that tree is the right one for you. When you find the right one, reach out to it carefully, seeking the tree’s agreement to the contact with you. Wrap your arms around the trunk and let your head rest against the bark. After a few seconds you may feel a soft vibration inside the tree. Reach into the tree with your spirit and bathe in its stream of life energy.
Sometimes you will start to observe the world around you from the tree’s perspective, and you may see the auras of the other trees around you, as sensed by your tree.
Move away when you are finished, with consideration, for the tree will have been sensing your energy too. Thank the tree, as you should always thank nature for giving you’re a beautiful experience, whether it be a rainbow, a sunset or just a wonderful view.
Jenny Smedley is a freelance writer and author (Ripples, Capall Bann), and can be contacted here www.jennysmedley.com