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Tree, Forest Worship

Tree, Forest Worship
May 09, 2011, 04:45:40 PM
Frazer's "The Golden Bough (in one volume)." Chapter: The Worship of Trees, p110:

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From an examination of the Teutonic words for "temple" Grimm has made it probable that amongst the Germans the oldest sanctuaries were natural woods. However that may be, tree-worship is well attested for all the great European families of the Aryan stock. Amongst the Celts the oak-worship of the Druids is familiar to every one, and their old word for sanctuary seems to be identical in origin and meaning with the Latin nemus, a grove or woodland glade, which still survives in the name of Nemi. Sacred groves were common among the ancient Germans, and tree-worship is hardly extinct amongst their descendants at the present day. How serious that worship was in former times may be gather from the ferocious penalty appointed by the old German laws for such as daring to peel the bark of a standing tree. The culprit's navel was to be cut out and nailed to a part of the tree which he had peeled, and he was to be driven round and round the tree till all his guts were wound about its trunk.The intention of the punishment clearly was to replace the dead bark by a living substitute taken from the culprit; it was a life for a life, the life of a man for the life of a tree. At Upsala, the old religious capital of Sweden, there was a sacred grove in which every tree was regarded as divine. The heathen Slavs worshipped trees and groves. The Lithuanians were not converted to Christianity till towards the close of the fourteenth century, and amongst them at the date of their conversion the worship of trees was prominent. Some of them revered remarkable oaks and other great shady trees, from which they received oracular responses. Some maintained holy groves about their villages or houses, where even to break a twig would have been a sin. They thought that he who cut a bough in such a grove either died suddenly or was crippled in one of his limbs. Proofs of the prevalance of tree-worship in ancient Greece and Italy are abundant. In the sanctuary of Aesculapius at Cos, for example, it was forbidden to cut down the cypress-trees under a penalty of a thousand drachms. But nowhere, perhaps, in the ancient world was this antique form of religion better preserved than in the heart of the great metropolis itself. In the Forum, the busy centre of Roman life, the sacred fig-tree of Romulus was worshipped down to the days of the empire, and the withering of its trunk was enough to spread consternation through the city. Again, on the slope of the Palatine Hill grew a cornel-tree which was esteemed one of the most sacred objects in Rome. Whenever the tree appeared to a passer-by to be drooping, he set up a hue and cry which was echoed by the people in the street, and soon a crowd might be seen running helter-skelter from all sides with buckets of water, as if (says Plutarch) they were hastening to put out a fire.

Re: Tree, Forest Worship
May 09, 2011, 05:56:48 PM
The Golden Bough is the biggest load of tripe I've ever read.

Still, this is an interesting aspect of pre-Christian religions.  An inherent respect for life manifests itself in the reverence ("worship") of organisms which extend far beyond human scope.

Re: Tree, Forest Worship
May 09, 2011, 08:20:22 PM
The Golden Bough is the biggest load of tripe I've ever read.

How so? I've only flipped through it.

Re: Tree, Forest Worship
May 09, 2011, 08:52:14 PM
As far as I've looked into its origins, Frazer purposefully altered a huge amount of his data in various ways so that his conclusion fitted his hypothesis (that paganism had survived through Christianity in the form of folk customs).  He suggested that folk customs were "cultural fossils".  This is patently false, given a moment's consideration: folk customs are still evolving, even now.  Whatever origin they may have in Paganism of any sort has been drastically hidden in layers upon layers of Christian overtones (and, at that, undertones).

Re: Tree, Forest Worship
May 09, 2011, 10:56:26 PM
What Tacitus has to say of Germanic religion in Germania:

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The Germans, however, do not consider it consistent with the grandeur of celestial beings to confine the gods within walls, or to liken them to the form of any human countenance. They consecrate woods and groves, and they apply the names of deities to the abstraction which they see only in spiritual worship.

Wikipedia also says the following:

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...there is evidence from later continental Europe, Anglo-Saxon England and Scandinavia that the pagans worshipped out of doors at "trees, groves, wells, stones, fences and cairns".[17] In some later cases, temples would be built on such sites, the most notable being the Swedish Temple at Uppsala which, according to Adam of Bremen, writing in the 11th century, was built around a grove which was "so holy that each tree is itself regarded as sacred".

Better tell all the crappy Viking metal bands to stop putting cartoon characters with horned helmets on all of their album covers...