The Sacred Trees of Ancient Greece
by deTraci Regula
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
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.
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.
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