Our intimate relationship with trees extends back to the beginning of the human race and we are indebted to them for life.
Millions of years ago the planet Earth was covered with thick forests, wood-lands and grasslands that contained millions of species of trees, shrubs, herbs and grasses. Through the process of photosynthesis, the plants were able to convert the light of the sun and the waste products of carbon into energy, oxygen and water, which enabled animal life, including homo sapiens, to evolve. The plants provided air, water, soil, food, clothing, medicines, wood and protection for the human race to begin its journey on the path towards where it stands today.
The dependence on trees is so crucial; the human race could not exist without them. They are still the providers of the air, water, soil, foods, wood, energy, shelter and medicines for survival as they were thousands of years ago.
Over the last few hundred years however, the face of the earth has been altered and there is now not a forest that lies untouched by the greed of modern civilization. The majority of the fossil fuels, such as coal (resources of which are being exhausted today through excessive energy use) are the result of wood that has been fossilized through time. Without these fuels modern society could never have attained the heights of technology, communication, travel and science that it has become dependent upon. People have forgotten this dependence on trees and have thus been destroying the very species that unites them with their life-source and has the power to reconnect them to the divine consciousness which is Earth.
God exists in all forms. The devotee can worship God in whatever form he wishes, and that form will appear before him.
Swami Satyananda Saraswati
The relationship with and dependence on trees is the reason that, since time immemorial, people have worshipped trees as divine, sacred beings that deserve our reverence and respect. Many cultures believe that gods and spirits reside in trees. Cutting down a tree means depriving the spirit of the tree of its home. Destroying or injuring a tree is seen as one of the greatest sins that one can incur. Most of the sacred trees are associated with healing and medicines; thousands of modern medicines and antibiotics were discovered in rainforests of the planet.
In all cultures around the world there are stories of tree worship, trees with healing powers and folklore.
Sacred trees of Europe such as the oak, apple, birch and ash were used by the Celts, Druids and Shamans for healing, medicine and the worship of divinity. These ancient cultures communicated with the spirits of trees and performed spiritual practices near groves and forests of these sacred trees.
The Italian cypress, known as the ‘Mournful Tree’, has been associated with death and mourning for the past 2,000 years. Planted in Islamic and European cemeteries, the tree’s legend goes back to ancient Greek and Roman mythology. It is said that a man named Cyparissus accidentally killed his stag and begged the gods to punish him with eternal grief. Granting his wish, the gods turned him into a cypress tree, which would forever stand and mourn the dead.
In traditions of Japan, it is believed that wherever a willow tree is present, a ghost will appear. Due to the association between the movement of the water with the moon’s phases, willows are also considered sacred in witchcraft in many European cultures. The yellow oak is sacred to the Native American Indians. The Delaware Indians believe the tree possesses the power to heal, and they pray to it whenever help is needed.
The baobab trees, native to the African Savannas, are considered to be ancient beings, known to live up to 3,000 years. People revere the baobab tree as sacred and believe it holds the spirits of the dead for generations with in the massive trunk. Throughout history, kings have organized their meetings under this tree, believing that it holds the wisdom and knowledge of their ancestors that may aid them in making wise decisions.
The most renowned sacred tree of the west is the Christmas tree. In December in almost every home, various species of conifers are decorated, adorned with lights, ornaments and gifts. Families sit around the tree on Christmas day to share gifts, sing songs and connect in a joyous spirit of Christmas. The Christmas tree has become associated with the celebration of the birth of Christ, yet the roots of this tradition lie in pagan rituals celebrating the coming of the winter solstice. Here the decoration of a living tree outdoors with hanging candles helped dispel the dark and cold mid-winter night with light and festivity. This tree was known as the Yule tree.