Why did ancient people worship trees?
Trees are the oldest, tallest and heaviest living giants around us. They signal our annual orbit around the sun in a very visual way, bursting to life in Spring and throughout the Summer only to lose their vitality in Autumn and Winter.
Early farmers would have looked at the trees for guidance on planting, harvesting and storing for winter. Spiritually, trees changes through the seasons were important to ancient people as it mirrored their journey through life and inspired the hope of the afterlife.
The first people are thought to have arrived in Ireland around nine thousand years ago and the trees they found here were essential for their very survival.
Shelter, warmth, medicine, food, tools, weapons and boats were all sourced from trees. In time inventions such as the wheel, musical instruments, furniture, barrels, inks / dyes and paper changed the way every person lived.
When you think of it, the very development of civilisations all over the world, as we know it, was only possible because of trees. Perhaps the question should not be why did ancient people worship trees but why we don’t!
Tree history and folklore in Ireland
Our present native species of trees started colonizing Ireland at the end of the last Ice Age around thirteen thousand years ago. Being such an essential commodity for mankind, it’s little wonder then that trees were revered spiritually and that laws were used to protect them in ancient Ireland.
All one has to do is look at some of the place names associated with trees to understand their past importance – Kildare and Derry (Oak), Trim (Elder), Mayo
and Newry (Yew), Clonsilla (Willow), Glenbeigh (Birch), Drumcollogher (Hazel) and many more.
Other signs of early Irish respect for trees are preserved through the folklore associated with solitary Hawthorns or “Lone Bushes” and “Rag Trees”. The “Lone Bushes” are linked with the meeting places of the “Sidh” or Fairies and many farmers are still wary of cutting them down due to the superstition that that some misfortune will happen to those who damage or remove these sacred bushes. The “Rag Tree” is usually located beside a sacred or holy well. The belief is that if someone ties a rag which was used to wash a diseased or hurt area of the body to it that they would be healed. There are hundreds of Lone Bushes and Rag Trees still remaining in Ireland today.
For millennia, Irish people have had trees at the very centre of their lives. The seasons Imbolc, Bealtaine, Lughnasa and Samhain were marked by festivals and rituals involving trees. In Celtic times, there were numerous sacred trees which were used to inaugurate Chieftains and as meeting places of tribes. With the arrival of Christianity in the 5th Century, these sacred trees were “Christianised” in the same way as sacred wells became holy wells. The earliest Irish alphabet, Ogham, had many letters associated with trees. Brehon laws also protected trees and shrubs against willful damage. The 8th Century tract Bretha Comaithchesa – Laws of the Neighbourhood distinguished the most valuable species (please see below for details).
The importance of the humble tree in history is clear. In our present lives, in an era dominated by science and technology, it’s perhaps too easy to overlook this fact.
At Treeco, we wish to rekindle one of our first and most important relationships with nature – enjoy your trees!
|Dair||Oak||Quercus Petraea, Quercus robur.|
|Ochtach||Scots pine||Pinus sylvestris|
|Aball||Crab apple||Malus sylvestris|
|Crann fir||Juniper||Juniperus communis|
|Rait||Bog myrtle||Myrica gale|
|Spin||Wild rose||Rosa spp.|