To the “Old Ones” trees were especially sacred, particularly the Oak and Apple trees. A grove of clearing in the surrounding forest was, as it were, a “natural” cathedral, deserving the regard of worship, which is far beyond respect. (Respect is for people and for things, but worship it for that which communicates direct from beyond.)
Trees hold their living energy in an especially vivid and visual image of design: forest and clearing, root and branch, seed and fruit, spring and autumn, each tells the rhythm of a balanced and cyclical harmony. Even to the most insensitive, it is impossible not to be influenced by trees. “Only God could make a tree,” may be a sentimental recognition of our experience of their reality; but trees indeed are “holy things,” and to those more aware of holiness than we are now, they most certainly were.
As the blind men saw, we men are “like trees walking.” Our spine the stem; their roots are enfolded in our pelvis, as their branches are contained within our brain, so we are within the tree, as the tree is within us rooted down to earth, yet upwardly out-spreading heavenwards. So is the horizontal (female,”earth”) opponent and responsive to the vertical (masculine, “fire,” will) to make us live and move. Fire is the only element that rises up.
Again we see the pattern of the altar (horizontal) and what stands upon it, the candles, the tree of fertility and cross (vertical), up reaching heavenwards, as surely as or own human consciousness. This is the Irish (or Celtic) “Rath,” meaning altar, which is seen most simply by the roadside where the roots of the Holly seem to be made of the very stones from which they rise, as if they derive their nourishment direct from them, alone.
Once upon a time, our patterns of experience were more plain than they have become today. Our long journeys (for we were always great travelers, even before the days of motor-cars, aeroplanes, and space-ships) led us wandering through the forest of Scrub and Oak, until we came to the clearing, at the end of the darken-shadowed path.
Where steps, perhaps five or seven, led us up to the altar, from which even before the Christian cross, there sprang the tree of life and all fertility. Above spread the vault of heaven, to form our cathedral roofing, within which we might worship the source of our creation. This was spread before us the experience of our continuum of our totality; and it was all as was the “Old One” or guide who had led us through the dangers of our dark, towards this experience of illumination in the clearness of the light.
Trees had their “King and Queen” which were the Oak tree for strength and Apple tree for fertility. Not to mention its mistletoe which we will cover later. The age of an Oak can be measured by hundreds of years before it dies. But there are certainly Apple trees which can live even longer, by providing themselves again and again with new roots, being thus literally “born again” to live more than their allotted span, almost timelessly with knotted and interknotted roots co-joined wit their rocky base, to form their own special “Rath” in their own allotted places; in the whole old religious architecture, they were objects of special respect and veneration, as centers for the practice of meditation and worship.
The pattern of the
tree is the pattern of life’s extensive branching, as we will deal with
later when discussing the mistletoe.
Once upon a time, to see the tree was to be the tree, in its totality. Rooted in past-time, the tree lived in the present extending its life forward into the future. It was not regarded as a thing-in-itself, even of beauty, as it might be nowadays. It was its own totality, as well as ours. It showed the pattern of the ever advancing stream of life as nothing else could do.
Indeed, the pattern of the tree is crucial to our experience of living. Its rhythm of death into life, winter into spring, enacts the pattern of our needed sacrifice. Its relationship of root and branch enacts our proper experience of relationship, self with other. Its dance of life is the same as ours; its death is our death, as its life is our life.
As the “Old Ones” in their way of life were the brain and nervous system of communication over vast areas of territory, so is the tree, as it breathes thousands of gallons of water (blood?) up into the sky, to fall, the Aquarian giver as rain on distant, thirstier lands.
Trees communicate wordlessly, as everyone knows who is sensitive to the living presence of either one, individually, or many, as in a forest, and if they seem sometimes to threaten and loom darkly and mysteriously, this is because the living power of the unknown is with them still. Their jungle is our mungle which we wear below the belt of our more elaborate consciousness; but their indwelling vigorous variety still incorporates our native beastliness, to be realized, not nicely as animals do as they need food, in their natural combat together, but instead, in violence, dissociated, for in spite of the long pretense of our so-called Christian culture, as being so much holier than were our more primitive ancestors and our animal forbearers within the dark forests of the past, we are still only strangers to ourselves.
It would be better if we were to recognize our still existent jungle and all that it contains as holy ground, leading up the long path of our development to the steps of the altar and the experience of sacrifice which is required, before we can claim the privileges of the ascending vertical of our cerebral consciousness. As long as we know it to be true, we are none the worse for recognizing that we are still beasts at heart. It is only when the best is neglected by disassociation that he becomes so much less than human. The beast himself is innocent enough, but this can never be true of us, because we know so much more and better. But obviously, if we are ever to live together as the lion and lamb, the pretense of “loving” one another can never be enough. It must be really true, as it is experienced in our continuum, one with the other.
The tree is
not divided from its roots, as we are; the present of animal creation is
not divided from its past, nor from its future, as we so ambitiously become.
From the “Old Ones,” in their primitive psychology of “once upon a time,”
the tree stood for the spiraling process of a continuum through which man’s
journey passed upwards and onwards on its endless way.
As a matter of fact, it really seems likely that we have lost our way, which the “Old Ones” and teachers of yesteryear with their sensitivity to stone and tree, would never do. They received the message which we, with our more complex cerebral telecommunications, have lost in a wilderness of greater knowledge. But such must be the price of the progress of our human development. It is a very heavy price to pay, unless in our self-consciousness we can learn the truth of what is happening to us.
Why don’t you ask