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Title: The Sacred Trees of Ancient Greece
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(Date Posted:01/25/2009 00:53 AM)
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The Sacred Trees of Ancient Greece
by deTraci Regula

When we think of ancient Greece, our minds conjure up images of tall columns of marble on beautiful temples, and ancient cities built around paved plazas. It's easy to forget that the people of the Greek countryside in ancient times celebrated more natural magics. The rural folk in the mountains and on the islands didn't need marble columns. They had the original column growing all around them - trees.

Ancient Greek Tree Lore

In ancient Greece, many deities and divinities were associated with trees and certain temple sites were built around living reminders of the divine presence. For instance. Zeus's oaks foretold the future at Dodona, and Apollo and Artemis shared with Isis the sacred palm trees of the island of Delos. At the oracle at Delphi, chewing the leaves of the bay tree inspired Pythonesses. One of the nymphs, Daphne, was said to have taken permanent refuge from unwanted attentions by transforming into a laurel tree. To Artemis, goddess of the hunt, all of the trees of the wood were her domain. Meanwhile, grey-eyed Athena took her epithet from the downy silver undersides of the leaves of her special tree, the olive, whose useful oil lit the lamps of Greece, soothed its sore muscles, and preserved and cooked its food. Some olive trees were considered sacred to the state of Greece itself, and destroying even a dead olive tree stump could be considered a crime.

In general, the trees of the ancient Greece landscape were so well inhabited with divinities that woodcutters had to take special precautions lest they accidentally fell a sacred tree. That is, dryads were nymphs who inhabited trees, and they were often kept company by the naiads, or water-nymphs, who were not averse to sitting in a tree occasionally. The most dangerous moments to offend a tree nymph are at midday, in the moments of eerie quiet that descend over Greece when the Sun is at its highest, and at midnight, the more familiar hour of evil. Prohibitions forbade draining trees of their resins or gums on certain days. The first few days of August, called dromais, are full of these prohibitions - though few of them are observed today.

Few modern Greeks would claim that a tree is sacred, at least to outsiders. But the reverence paid to remarkable trees, which grow large or thrive in unexpected places, still continues. These traditions have lingered longest on the Dodecanese islands, such as Carpathos, where much ancient lore survives in the mountain villages.

At the Hotel Stavis on the island of Crete, a tamarisk tree, which grows on the edge of the patio next to the parking lot, is decribed in more loving and proud terms than any of the rooms or other amentities. It has plunged its roots eighty feet into the rock, where it seeks our brackish water; like the Cretans, it is said to belong to both the mountains and the shore. It is anthropomorphized and provided with human characteristics - described as "tenacious" and "fierce as a Cretan!" Its leaves repel insects; its shade is soothing to guests. Even though its roots cracked the walls of the local telephone office, the tree was not to be hurt; they simply relocated the telephone office.

This may have something to do with the fact that the much praised tree grows in an area settled by the ancient Dorians, the tree-lovingest of all Greek. In fact, the inhabitants of the area still show the characteristic blond hair and blue eyes of that ancient tribe. More than just ancient genes have been preserved - so has the reverence for the sacred trees
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