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Mythological Meaning of Trees In Croatian History and Tradition

In the footsteps of our ancestors

trees
Photo: Pixabay.com

In Croatia, there are various beliefs and mythology about trees. Although often hidden at first glance, it is always omnipresent, specially in rural areas in old folks. For example, when I was little, I used to be at my grandmas all the time (“townish” village), and there were few cult trees that were used like navigation (like, lets meet by the linden), but in fact, there was a firm logical structure going on about position of trees and buildings.

The reason behind it lays In old mythology. Ancient god of thunder, Perun, exists in the mountains, so tree linked to him was oak (also sacred tree), and Veles, who was often pictured in snake form, lays in oak’s roots. Also, Ivo and Mara, children of the Gods, are married under the tree.

tree of life
Photo: Pixabay.com

Slavic tree of life is also a pictoresque display of the Gods: birds (eg. falcon) are in treetop, and that is Peruns domain, in the trunk of tree are various animals (like bees), ad that is Mokos, and roots, like we said, is area of Veles. Here are some most common trees and beliefs about them:

Oak tree

oak tree
Photo: Pixabay.com

Oak tree is often pictured as tree of life. It is considered sacred and a symbol of divinity (because it attracts thunders, which are symbols of Perun). Thursday is Thundersday (Peruns day), so it was forbidden to wash and hang clothes on it, because of the danger of thunders. I Croatian province of Dalmatia, there was belief that some of the great oak and beech trees are homes of living souls, and if somebody tears down that tree, must die immediately or continue to live his life like a cripple.

On Slavic Christmass eve, oak was often used as main log that will burn all night and was most fertile one during that whole year (that was indeed true: acorns!). In Slavonia, there was belief that under oak is the place of fairies.

Yew

yew tree
Photo: Pixabay.com

Yew i a tee that can grow up to 1000 years! In its trunk has venomous vain, but rest of the tree is non poisonous! It was linked with eternal youth, because its leaves never fall. All demons, witches, devils and nightmares run from it, said old belief. A small piece of yew was sawn into a child’s hat, or jacket, so it would be curse-proof. Amulets were worn, and people would even put small pieces of yew into horses mane, or in ram’s horns to protect them.

Linden

linden tree
Photo: Pixabay.com

It was named after its sweet sticky juice, and it is symbol of friendship, tenderness and faithfulness. It has central spot in communities (e.g.. by the church). Its leaves carry strong healing powers.

Apple

apple tree
Photo: Pixabay.com

In Southern Slavs, apple was given as a gift, token of love, friendship. It was often given as a sacrifice (thats why apple is put in pig’s mouth). On Christmas Eve, very common gift was apple with coins stuck in it which meant love and wealth. It was often inwrought in adding customs, like in Dalmatia, where young bride throws the apple over the house and then kisses the doorstep. Also, apple was spiked on wedding spear which held the flag. If a girl wanted a boy to like her, she would have to tell fortune with the apple on young Friday, right before dawn, and then give that apple to desired boy to eat it.

Other trees:

Birch – carries symbolism of journey of heavenly energy to the Earth and human desire towards heaven

Mulberry – it was believed if a root comes under the house, whole house will vanish

Cornel – has healing powers, people used to wash their faces with water infused with cornel branch

Ash tree – funny anecdote: there is saying “you are stupid like an ash tree!” because ash tree gets leaves pretty late

After reading all this, maybe you will look on trees differently, or maybe boys will suddenly eat whole lot of apples on the young Fridays dawn (if you know what I mean)! Tell us beliefs about treen in your country!

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