Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Tree Myths and Genesis by William Durie 1886

Tree Myths and Genesis by William Durie 1886

Probably none of the many versions of the origin of the world and of the introduction of man upon the earth, which have been given by different religious systems, can be found in which trees do not play a part. Under the various names of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree of Adam, the tree of the Serpent, Yggdrasil (the Scandinavian ash), the man-producing tree, the tree of Buddha, &c., the tree has become the symbol of universal life, and, by extending the idea, of immortality. In the Mosaic account in Genesis, three trees have a prominent place— the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the tree of life, and the fig-tree. Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat the fruit of the first; and when they had done so, they made aprons to themselves of fig-leaves, and they were driven out of Eden to prevent them from eating of the tree of life, and so living for ever. Several curious embellishments of this narrative are due to the imagination of the East and North. For instance, the tree of life is said to have sent its roots down to hades, covering the whole sky with its branches, and on its summit in heaven affording a shining throne for the Infant Jesus. According to a Russian tradition, Adam, when very old, boasted before God that he was a strong man and immortal. He was told that his pride would be punished, that he would be afflicted with headaches, that his hands and feet would refuse to serve him, and that, finally, he would die. Adam paid no heed to these warnings; but, as soon as he felt their truth, he hastily sent Seth to the Garden of Eden to pluck a golden apple for him. But, instead of an apple, his son brought the rod by which Adam had been driven from the Garden. Adam cut it in three parts and bound them round his head; his headache was cured, but he was little the better of that, for he died immediately. The bits of the rod were then planted and grew up to be three trees—a cypress, a cedar, and the "thrice-blessed tree"—the olive, out of which last came the Cross of Christ the regenerator, so connecting Adam with immortality.

The Islamic account of the forbidden fruit is not materially different from the Bible narrative. Many Muslim doctors say that it was the banana-tree which gave occasion to the Fall, and they think it a point of religion to avoid eating bananas and figs as stimulating the passions, since it is thought that it was through eating the fruit that Adam and Eve became aware of the meaning and purpose of sex.

Buddhism has its famous Bo-tree, the source of life, the dispenser of wisdom, and the way to Heaven. In the Rig-veda, the sacred book of the Brahmans, the god Brahma himself is identified with the sacred tree, of which all the other gods are branches.

The prevalence of tree-worship would naturally develop a belief in the descent of men from trees. So that there was even a real, and not merely a metaphoric, sense in which men spoke of the roots and branches of a family. A traveller on the Malabar Coast, 500 years ago, found the people talking of trees which, instead of fruit, bore men and women of a diminutive size; and Colonel Yule, in our day, mentions a similar tradition among the Arabs. A Scandinavian myth relates that Odin and his two brothers, in their wanderings, found the ash and elm, and gave them power to beget men. The Pelopidae, among the Greeks, professed to trace their pedigree to a plane-tree. The converse of this belief has prevailed in some quarters. Dr. Tylor says that, in the Eastern Archipelago, childless women and uncharitable men are believed to migrate to scrubby plants, while good and fruitful people go to fruit-bearing trees, after death.

In the Middle Ages it was universally believed (our own Bishop Leslie even later believed it) that the Bernacle-goose grew as a fruit on a tree in the Orkneys; and, on dropping into the water, the covering of the fruit burst, and the goose came out. In the Hindu legend of the "Rose of Bakavali," mention is made of a pomegranate-tree, the fruits of which resembled earthenware pots. When these were opened, birds of the finest plumage flew out.

The attitude of the early Christian Church towards tree-superstitions was at first hostile; they were denounced as inventions of the devil; but the superstitions persisting in spite of this, the Church tried to utilise them in its own service by giving a Christian, instead of a Pagan, direction to them. It blessed the most ancient and venerated trees, and raised Christian altars and images of the Virgin near the same trees where Pagan priests had sacrificed to their divinities. St. John has inherited the trees and plants formerly consecrated to sun-worship. The Virgin Mary has succeeded to the floral honours of the chaste goddess Diana. The part that trees have played in Christian doctrine, from Eden to Calvary, from the tree of the Fall onwards to the tree of the Cross as the tree bringing salvation, was recognised by early Christian Fathers. 

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