The Secrets of the Trees
We hold our Mystic Magic in the Forest weekend retreats at Rosliston, in Rosliston National Forest, near Burton upon Trent, just south of Derby in the Midlands. Our retreats are themed, but often include an appreciation of nature, walks, the significance of trees in Spiritual and Pagan history, and their myths and legends. This blog charts the story, in instalments, of those trees, and all of those to be found at Rosliston, around forty species. Each tree is to be found at Rosliston, but may also be found more widely around Great Britain, Europe, North America and beyond.
In these blogs I describe each tree, explain where they are found, what their history is and how they have related to our history. I also explore the myths and legends surrounding the trees in different countries and from different traditions as well as how herbalists have used them to treat human conditions and how products from the trees have been used throughout history. I hope that you enjoy reading these tree blogs as much as I have enjoyed writing them for you. If you would like to come and see them in their natural habitat why not join us for one of our retreats?
Douglas Fir -pseudotsuga menzeizii
Indigenous to North America, where it has grown to 127 metres (British Columbia 1895), this coniferous tree, with dark brown bark and egg- shaped cones, was imported to Britain by legendary plant and tree hunter David Douglas in 1827.
Its timber is prized for joinery and veneer. It was the original Christmas tree, beforr being usurped by the spruce, now it is back in fashion due to its less prickly leaves. It shares a mythology with the Pine, particularly of Cybele, with the Gods turning miscreants into fir trees as a punishment.
Cybele was the fertility goddess of Phrygia, an ancient country of Asia Minor. In Greek and Roman mythology, Cybele personified Mother Earth and was worshiped as the Great Mother of the Gods. She was also associated with forests, mountains, and nature. Although usually shown wearing a crown in the form of a city wall or carrying a drum, the goddess may also appear on a throne or in a chariot, accompanied by lions and sometimes bees.
From Asia Minor, Cybele’s following spread to Greece, where she was associated with Demeter, the Greek goddess of fruitfulness, and was regarded as the mother of all the gods. Around 200 B C, the cult of Cybele reached Rome, and she became well known throughout the Roman world.
According to myth, Cybele discovered that her youthful lover Attis was unfaithful. In a jealous rage, she made him go mad and mutilate himself under a pine tree, where he bled to death. Regretting what she had done, Cybele mourned her loss. Zeus promised her that the pine tree would remain sacred forever.
During the Roman empire, followers of Cybele held an annual spring festival dedicated to the goddess. The ceremonies involved cutting down a pine tree that represented the dead Attis. After wrapping the tree in bandages, the followers took it to Cybele’s shrine.
There they honoured the tree and decorated it with violets, which they considered to have sprung from Attis’s blood. As part of this religious ceremony, priests cut their arms so that their blood fell on Cybele’s altar and the sacred pine tree.
They also danced to the music of cymbals, drums, and flutes. During these wild rites, some followers even mutilated themselves, as Attis had. Cybele was usually portrayed by artists in a chariot drawn by lions.
In Poland a beautiful huntress called Dziwitza was feared for intimidating those who entered fir forests and in Russia, ancient rites were performed at a sacred grove of fir trees to induce rain.