Trees through the Ages: Trees in Mythology
Since the beginning of history, humankind has regarded trees with wonder. Almost without exception, every people, through religion and culture, features myths and legends about trees. Many of these cultures still revere specific tree species today because of these stories and use them in their landscaping.
Tree of Life/Creation Stories
Most religions and cultures feature some sort of creation story.
According to Norse mythology, the gods granted life to an ash and elm tree. From these trees, respectively, came man and woman.
According to Persian mythology, a tree grew on top of the first human’s corpse. As the trunk grew, it separated into man and woman. The fruits of the tree developed into the races of humankind.
In Micronesian mythology, the first humans lived in a garden with two trees. Under one tree, the men gathered and collected fruit, under another, the women dwelled. The original being, Na Kaa, guarded the garden.
One day Na Kaa was gone on a trip, and the men and women mingled together under one of the trees. Upon his return, Na Kaa told the humans they chose the Tree of Death instead of the Tree of Life. Humankind then became mortal.
According to the Bible, God created Adam and Eve and let them live in the Garden of Eden. God told them they could eat of the garden’s fruit except the fruit from one specific tree.
The devil, in the form of the serpent, convinced Eve to eat the fruit from the forbidden tree, and Adam, in turn, ate as well. This tree gave Adam and Eve the knowledge of both good and evil. Because they were no longer in a state of innocence, God cast them from the garden and they were stricken with mortality.
The Jubokko “Vampire” Tree
According to Japanese mythology, the Jubokko used to be a normal, peaceful tree. However, after the ground it grew on was drenched with blood from the battlefield, the Jubokko soaked up the blood and transformed into a mysterious, bloodthirsty tree.
The Jubokko appears on former battlefields. From a distance, the Jubokko looks like a normal tree. However, upon further inspection, the branches look as if they could grab you and the base of the tree is littered with human remains.
According to legend, if a person gets too close, the Jubokko will capture its victim with its branches and use its other branches to suck the blood of the victim.
The Banyan Tree
According to legend, a father gave his son a Banyan tree seed and asked him to open it. After the son opened the seed, the father asked what the son saw. The son said he saw nothing. The father went on to explain that the great Banyan tree grows from seemingly nothing. The tree represented how great, powerful things can grow from humble beginnings.
Indian locals believe the Banyan trees’ roots never stop growing and eternally reach through the earth. In fact, locals believe the roots to be so strong that if someone were to cut down a Banyan tree, the roots would sustain the tree and it would rise again.
According to Norse mythology, the tree Yggdrasill stretches across all nine realms, above the heavens, and down to the underworld. It connects all living things. The tree features three main roots that stretch to the following places:
- Asgard, home of the gods, near Urd’s Well
- Jutunheim, the land of the giants, near Mimir’s Well
- Niflheim, home of the dragon Nidhug, near Hvergelmir Well
According to Norse legend, Odin went on a journey throughout the realms to receive more wisdom. At one point in the journey, Odin sacrificed his life by hanging himself from Yggdrasill for nine days and nine nights.
Tree of Zaqqum
According to the Quran, the Tree of Zaqqum grows in hell and feeds on the flames of hellfire. The tree produces bitter, foul-smelling fruit. No one wants to eat the fruit, but eventually people get so hungry that they beg for food. The demons give the beggars fruit from the Tree of Zaqqum.
Not only does the fruit taste horrible, but, according to legend, it causes the partaker’s face to fall off. After they eat, demons force them to drink a boiling liquid that disintegrates their body. They dissolve into hellfire and the process is repeated.
The legend of the sky-high tree appears in many different cultures. Siberian legend tells of a tree that grew to the heavens to hold up the sky. If you were to climb the tree, you would see the wonders of the earth below as you ascended toward the heavens.
If climbed high enough to reach the top, you could visit new worlds, or more specifically, heaven.
Throughout history, various cultures have used trees to represent life, death, rebirth, and more. The Banyan tree still receives respect today, and the Greeks admire laurel trees because of their legends. Every type of tree has symbolic meaning.
Today, trees are often used to achieve a specific aesthetic, but the history traces back to the legends of long ago. As you choose how to landscape your own yard, you bring thousands of years of history into your life.
Choose trees that bring in not only the aesthetic that you want, but the meaning as well.