There’s just something magical about trees. Who hasn’t felt an otherworldly presence when standing in a forest of mighty redwoods, or looking up at an ancient oak?
Trees give us the leaves, bark, seeds and flowers that we use in healing remedies and rituals. They feature in stories the world over, from the sacred banyan tree to the Tree of Life. Some cultures worship trees as deities and nature spirits, like the Druids of old.
As you walk around Dragonspace or browse our online store, you’ll find tree-ish treasures of all kinds. From Celtic t-shirts and Tree of Life necklaces, to themed books and oracle decks, the connection between magic and trees is keenly felt here. Below, we take a look at the important role trees play in mythology and spirituality.
Trees are considered sacred in Celtic culture, both as spiritual symbols and physical healers. The main sacred trees include: alder, apple, ash, beech, birch, blackthorn, elder, elm, fir, hawthorn, hazel, holly, larch, mistletoe, oak, pear, pine, poplar, rowan, willow and yew.
These trees have powerful magical properties related to the tree’s physical character. For example, yew is a poisonous tree so is associated with death, transformation and change. The elegant willow is associated with femininity, enchantment and the moon. While the mighty oak is a symbol of strength, stability and protection. Offerings from these sacred trees - such as their bark, leaves or fruits - are often used in magical ritual. And the trees themselves can become sites of ceremony and gathering for magical communities.
The Tree of Life is a powerful icon in several spiritualities, from Islam to Kabbalah and many in between. In Norse legend, the Tree of Life - or Yggdrasil - connected the nine different worlds in Norse cosmology. These worlds included the world of the dead (Hel) and the land of the Aesir (better know as Asgard).
It’s widely believed that the Ancient Celts adopted their own belief in the Tree of Life from Norse mythology. The Celtic Tree of Life connects the upper and lower worlds - the roots lead down to the underworld and the branches grow up to the heavens. The Ancient Celts also manifested their Tree of Life in a literal way. When they were clearing new land for settlement, they would always leave a single tree in the centre of the clearing. This physical Tree of Life would provide food, warmth and shelter to the community, and was also an important meeting place for council and ceremony.
Some cultures believe that trees contain nature spirits, or that trees themselves are spiritual deities. The Green Man is a popular icon in Celtic mythology, appearing as masculine figure with a face made of leaves that epitomises the cycle of nature and the seasons. The Greek dryads are also well-known figures - beautiful nature spirits that appear in many Greek legends, often looking like half-tree, half-woman.
In Japanese folklore, the Kodama are spirits that inhabit trees. Some stories depict the Kodama as looking like regular trees in appearance, while others show the spirits as beasts, humans or ghostly lights. These spirits are fiercely protective of the trees they inhabit and will curse anyone who threatens their home.
Tree spirits also appear in Thai folklore, such as the Nang Ta-khian, a female spirit that haunts Hopea odorata trees. In Latvian mythology, the figure of Lauma is a woodland fae and tree spirit who descended from the sky to earth to share human’s suffering. While each culture has its own distinctive version of the tree spirit myth, these spirits or deities all tend to be elegant, benevolent and protective of the nature they dwell in.
In our last blog post, we delved into the world of fairies and the mythology that surrounds them. An interesting element of fairy lore is the idea of fairy trees. In Ireland, a lone hawthorne tree standing in the middle of a field is considered to be a fairy tree belonging to the ‘otherworld’ of the fairies. Such a tree should be treated with utmost respect and shouldn’t be tampered with or cut down. There are many stories of ill luck befalling anyone who meddles with a fairy tree.
The hawthorne is associated with the world of fairies because it flowers at Beltane, the Pagan festival of Spring. This was an important and sacred time to the ancient Irish, and the flowers from the hawthorne were sometimes considered an offering from the fairy world. The connection between the hawthorne and the magical realms also found its way into other myths - it’s widely said that witches make their brooms from the branches of the hawthorne tree.
Wish trees are individual trees that people make offerings to, in order to secure good fortune and prosperity. People will visit these trees and drape them with items like photographs, letters, ribbon or bits of clothing in the hope of having a wish granted by a nature deity or spirit. Other forms of wish tree offerings include coins, alcohol, or shoes.
While the concept of wish trees is popular in rural parts of Britain and Ireland, they also exist worldwide. The Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees in Hong Kong are frequented by tourists and locals during the Lunar New Year, and holy trees are found in many parts of Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia hung with gifts and offerings.
The iconic Christmas Tree is even considered a kind of wish tree, draped in seasonal decorations and bestowed with gifts to honour loved ones at the close of the year.
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