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The Cult Of The Trees in Slavic Mythology

Getting back to our roots… Literally!

The Slav epic / Photo: wikimedia commons

One of the oldest traditions in Slavic worship is considered to be, the so-called – Cult of the Trees. Dated back to some sources from the 10th century, the ritual was practiced honoring life and death. The Slavs back then worshiped trees that had ties with some form of deity in them. The prayed to them, made sacrifices and even went in confession in front of the roots with a silent whisper. It was considered that every year the tree dies and comes back to life, symbolizing the cycle of life and cosmic rebirth.

In Slavic Mythology, the world itself is portrayed as a giant oak tree, whose branches are the heaven, the stump is the earth and the roots – the underworld. Perun is always sitting on top of the Tree, sometimes depicted as an eagle, and Volos, between the roots, depicted as a serpent. It was believed that when a thunder, struck some believers house, it was to protect them from Volos who had escaped the underground and was hiding somewhere inside the believer’s home, disguised as a serpent.

As with all things religious, the Slavs made a separation between good and evil trees, where characteristics were given to them on the individual level. Some trees, that were considered holy (good). They listened to people but could not speak back. The fact that they communicated with trees indicates a form of meditation and a psychological release of the troubled person. Where the people could unpack all their deepest and darkest secrets in confidentiality and hope for an answer.The evil trees, on the other hand, are the ones that shelter demons and those that could be used for dark magic rituals.

OAK – As a holy tree, the Oak stands out particularly in Slavic custom – The tree of Perun the God of Thunder. The Oak’s very image is symbolic of its long-lasting life and resilience which the Slavs considered as a symbol of strength. According to their belief, the Oak was considered a holy omen filled with life. Its leaves were filled with healing power and the base was a medium of good fortune. When drought befell the villagers, they would gather around oak trees and pray to them for rain. Around some of them, they build wooden fences and placed their sacrifices on the ground near the roots. They were also the resting place of the so-called Imperial Eagle (Aquilla Heliaca) that had hunted dragons (Lamias).

Linden – The linden tree is also a holy tree. Its sticks have apotropaic properties and serve to catch vampires and other evil beings. According to ancient Slavs, this particular tree was appointed to the god Svetovid. Its religious meaning is based upon the fact that “Live Fire” is the product of the linden tree that helps to rejuvenate the fire. Linden is also used to cure diseases and it is proven to have sedative effects, treat nervous palpitations and high blood pressure. Sacrifices were also placed on the root of the linden although it is not that common as it is with the Oak tree.

Appletree – the tree of love. This particular tree is devoted to the goddess Lada. It played an important role in the Slav lives and their marital status. Cults around this particular tree are attested to the exchange of an apple between a man and girl that symbolizes the devotion of love. As a wedding ceremony, the apple is placed on top of a pole, a tradition that is still in use with eastern Slavs. It is a form of a gift or an offer as evidence of love and friendship. As a sign of fertility, the apple is eaten by the men, to strengthen their fertility and expand the bloodline.

Willow tree – The Willow and its branches, take rook in Slavic ritual as a symbol of the youthened spring nature. In some Slavic parts, on the day of St. George (Jarilo), boys and girls break some of the willows branches and hit themselves with them for good health. Also, the willow branch is used to hit the cattle with in order to make them do what their told. This particular tree is att4ested to the God Jarilo. Its branches are a place of refuge. This is based on the fact that the Slavs believed the willow to be capable of repelling lightning.

Hawthorn – Has some of the most powerful apotropaic properties. It was believed that the hawthorn’s thorns were especially dangerous for the vampires. If he were to ever be in contact with it, he would immediately die. This type of tree is also used in burials where if the deceased is considered to come back to life as a vampire, a single thorn of the hawthorn’s branches will be placed in the deceased’s bellybutton. The hawthorn tree is also used as a medium for spell crafting and bewitching. Some amulets were crafted from the Black Hawthorn tree where the wearer was granted spiritual powers. Because the Hawthorn is neutral it was also considered to be very dangerous. A safe haven for demons that are spreading illness and other misfortunes.

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