Tree as symbol

Your repeating daily rituals give you few occasions to notice the changes of our environment. Though, it is very calming to stroll under a shady alley and feel as the light filtered by leaves caresses your face. The life cycle of trees is similar to yours. Birth, budding youth, dignified old age. The symbol system related to trees is as old as humanity; this is our topic this week.

Souls of trees

The European Indo-Germanic peoples believed that a tree has a soul. Mutilating a tree was a crime just like hurting another human person. The symbol of the life-tree or world-tree is one of the most ancient symbols, which forms a separate chapter in almost every people’s mythology. The motifs that survived in folk tales and archaic legends stem from the life-tree of Paradise that means eternal life in the Early Christian cultural era. A tree as archetype is a symbol of rebirth definitely; in addition, the ash coming from burning a tree is also the symbol of regeneration. It is interesting that its content of meaning is mostly positive, even if it becomes an instrument of torture. What meaning does each species have?

What does the holy oak whisper?


According to the genesis legend of the oracle of Dodona, a black dove flew there from the Egyptian Thebes, settled on an oak tree and asked local people to build an oracle to Zeus around the tree. This is how Dodona became a holy place. In fact, the prophecies of Dodona are famous for their obscurity and ambiguity, even so thousands of people went on pilgrimage there in order to get an insight into their futures.

Kernstok_Kroly_Erdrszlet293.jpgThe oak is the symbol of immortality due to its magnitude, power and hardness. A high tree that attracts thunder stroke was connected with gods like Zeus or the Scandinavian Thor. The relation between thundering and the oak tree can be observed at every Indo-German folk groups. The Celtic considered it as a world-axis, a Lifetree that plays an intermediating role between the sky and the ground. The ancient oak motif was a beloved decorating element as well, to which there were examples in King Matthias’s court too. The oak wreath on the king’s marble portrait wanted to represent the regal power. In poetry, it was used as they symbol of power, long life and moral attitude.

Under the Linden tree

If the oak is the male, linden is the female principle: expressing grace and happiness. Its scented flower has a healing power; its heart-shaped leaf is the symbol of friendship, affection and love. In Walter von der Vogelweide’s poem – Under the Linden tree – it is the lovers’ tree; but it also appears in this role in the Carmina Burana poems.

The birch tree

It lives on the northern hemisphere; a slender tree with white trunk; it is the symbol of light and brightness. According to beliefs, it protects against witches and expels evil souls; however, those who are allergic to the birch pollen may not feel these positive qualities. The Finnish make a whipping rod from it and use it during sauna to refresh their blood circulation.

The famous beech

Kunffy_Lajos__Lellei_t_sszel_6418.jpgLike the old beech tree that stood on the viewpoint Normafa, under which even King Matthias had a rest allegedly; it is the leading tree of Hungary’s mixed-leaves forests. Its acorn is rich in oils and is a valuable nutrient for pigs – this is why, in the country, they are herded to a forest to feed acorns from time to time. As a matter of curiosity, the beech acorn is fit to eat for human as well. It is used in many ways: furniture, cross-sleeper, barrel and parquetry. The beech wood and the charcoal made out of it are both excellent firing materials.

Not long ago, there was a tradition in the country: where a child was born, the parents or grandparents planted a sapling. The meaning of the tree that got in the ground was connected with the birth and the newborn child, because the sapling roots into the ground just as the child does into the family. If only this beautiful tradition revived, because a person who plants a tree trusts in the future. 

Translated by Zita Aknai



James George FrazerAz aranyág, Osiris, Budapest, 2002.



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