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The position of tree-worship in Southern Asia in relation to Buddhism is of particular interest. To this day there are districts of this region, Buddhist or under strong Buddhist influence, where tree-worship is still displayed with absolute clearness of theory and practice. Here in legend a dryad is a being capable of marriage with a human hero, while in actual fact a tree-deity is considered human enough to be pleased with dolls set up to swing in the branches. The Talein of Birmah, before they cut down a tree, offer prayers to its "kaluk” (i.q., "kelah ”), its inhabiting spirit or soul. The Siamese offer cakes and rice to the takhientree before they fell it, and believe the inhabiting nymphs or mothers of trees to pass into guardian-spirits of the boats built of their wood, so that they actually go on offering sacrifice to them in this their new condition. These people have indeed little to learn from any other race, however savage, of the principles of the lower animism. The question now arises, did such tree-worship belong to the local religions among which Buddhism established itself? There is strong evidence that this was the case. Philosophic Buddhism, as known to us by its theological books, does not include trees among sentient beings possessing mind, but it goes so far as to acknowledge the existence of the “dewa” or genius of a tree. Buddha, it is related, told a story of a tree crying out to the brahman carpenter who was going to cut it down, “I have a word to say, hear my word !” but then the teacher goes on to explain that it was not really the tree that spoke, but a dewa dwelling in it. Buddha himself was a tree-genius forty-three times in the course of his transmigrations. Legend says that during one such existence, a certain brahman used to pray for protection to the tree which Buddha was attached to; but the transformed teacher reproved the tree-worshipper for thus
i Bastian, 'Oestl. Asien,' vol. ii. pp. 457, 461, vol. iii. pp. 187, 251, 289, 497. For details of tree-worship from other Asiatic districts, see Ainsworth,
Yezidis,' in "Tr. Eth. Soc.' vol. i. p. 23; Jno. Wilson, “Parsi Religion,' p. 262.
addressing himself to a senseless thing, which hears and knows nothing. As for the famous Bo tree, its miraculous glories are not confined to the ancient Buddhist annals; for its surviving descendant, grown from the branch of the parent tree sent by King Asoka from India to Ceylon in the 3rd century B.C., to this day receives the worship of the pilgrims who come by thousands to do it honour, and offer prayer before it. Beyond these hints and relics of the old worship, however, Mr. Fergusson's recent investigations, published in his “ Tree and Serpent Worship,” have brought to light an ancient state of things which the orthodox Buddhist literature gives little idea of. It appears from the sculptures of the Sanchi tope in Central India, that in the Buddhism of about the 1st century A.D., sacred trees had no small place as objects of authorized worship. It is especially notable that the representatives of indigenous race and religion in India, the Nagas, characterized by their tutelary snakes issuing from their backs between their shoulders and curving over their heads, and other tribes actually drawn as human apes, are seen adoring the divine tree in the midst of unquestionable Buddhist surroundings.? Tree-worship, even now well marked among the indigenous tribes of India, was obviously not abolished on the Buddhist conversion. The new philosophic religion seems to have amalgamated, as new religions ever do, with older native thoughts and rites. And it is quite consistent with the habits of the Buddhist theologians and hagiologists, that when tree-worship was suppressed, they should have slurred over the fact of its former prevalence, and should even have used the recollection of it as a gibe against the hostile Brahmans.
Conceptions like those of the lower races in character, and rivalling them in vivacity, belong to the mythology of Greece and Rome. The classic thought of the tree inhabited by a deity and uttering oracles, is like that of other
1 Hardy, “Manual of Budhism,' pp. 100, 443.
regions. Thus the sacred palm of Negra in Yemen, whose demon was propitiated by prayer and sacrifice to give oracular response, or the tall oaks inhabited by the gods, where old Slavonic people used to ask questions and hear the answers,' have their analogue in the prophetic oak of Dodona, wherein dwelt the deity, «ναϊεν δ' ενί πυθμένι φηγού.” 3 The Homeric hymn to Aphrodite tells of the tree-nymphs, long.lived yet not immortal—they grow with their high-topped leafy pines and oaks upon the mountains, but when the lot of death draws nigh, and the lovely trees are sapless, and the bark rots away and the branches fall, then their spirits depart from the light of the sun :
αι τόδε ναιετάουσιν όρος μέγα τε ζάθεόν τε:
The hamadryad's life is bound to her tree, she is hurt when it is wounded, she cries when the axe threatens, she dies with the fallen trunk :
“ Non sine hamadryadis fato cadit arborea trabs." S
How personal a creature the tree-nympth was to the classic mind, is shown in legends like that of Paraibios,
1 Tabary in Bastian, 1. c. p. 295. ? Hartknoch, Alt-und Neues Preussen,' part i. ch. v. 3 See Pauly, “Real-Encyclopedie.' Homer. Odyss. xiv. 327, xix. 296. * Hymn. Homer. Aphrod. 257. 5 Ausonii Idyll. De Histor. 7.
whose father, regardless of the hamadryad's entreaties, cut down her ancient trunk, and in himself and in his offspring suffered her dire vengeance. The ethnographic student finds a curious interest in transformation-myths like Ovid's, keeping up as they do vestiges of philosophy of archaic type—Daphne turned into the laurel that Apollo honours for her sake, the sorrowing sisters of Phaethon changing into trees, yet still dropping blood and crying for mercy when their shoots are torn. Such episodes mediæval poetry could still adapt, as in the pathless infernal forest whose knotted dusk-leaved trees revealed their human animation to the Florentine when he plucked a twig,
“ Allor porsi la mano un poco avante,
E colsi un ramoscel da un gran pruno:
or the myrtle to which Ruggiero tied his hippogriff, who tugged at the poor trunk till it murmured and oped its mouth, and with doleful voice told that it was Astolfo, enchanted by the wicked Alcina among her other lovers,
“D'entrar o in fera o in fonte o in legno o in sasso." 4
If these seem to us now conceits over quaint for beauty, we need not scruple to say so. They are not of Dante and Ariosto, they are sham antiques from classic models. And if even the classic originals have become unpleasing, we need not perhaps reproach ourselves with decline of poetic taste. We have lost something, and the loss has spoiled our appreciation of many an old poetic theme, yet it is not always our sense of the beautiful that has dwindled, but the old animistic philosophy of nature that is gone from us, dissipating from such fancies their meaning, and with
Apollon. Rhod. Argonautica, ii. 476. See Welcker, "Griech. Götterl. vol. iii. p. 57.
2 Ovisl. Metamm, i. 452, ii. 345, xi. 67. 3 Dante, ‘Divina Commedia,' 'Inferno,' canto xiii. 4 Ariosto, Orlando Furioso,' canto vi.
their meaning their loveliness. Still, if we look for living men to whom trees are, as they were to our distant forefathers, the habitations and embodiments of spirits, we shall not look in vain. The peasant folklore of Europe still knows of willows that bleed and weep and speak when hewn, of the fairy maiden that sits within the fir-tree, of that old tree in Rugaard forest that must not be felled, for an elf dwells within, of that old tree on the Heinzenberg near Zell, which uttered its complaint when the woodman cut it down, for in it was Our Lady, whose chapel now stands upon the spot. One may still look on where Franconian damsels go to a tree on St. Thomas's day, knock thrice solemnly, and listen for the indwelling spirit to give answer by raps from within, what manner of husbands they are to have.
In the remarkable document of mythic cosmogony, preserved by Eusebius under the alleged authorship of the Phænician Sanchoniathon, is the following passage : “But these first men consecrated the plants of the earth, and judged them gods, and worshipped the things upon which they themselves lived and their posterity, and all before them, and (to these) they made libations and sacrifices.” 3 From examples such as have been here reviewed, it seems that direct and absolute tree-worship of this kind may indeed lie very wide and deep in the early history of religion. But the whole tree-cultus of the world must by no means be thrown indiscriminately into this one category. It is only on such distinct evidence as has been here put forward, that a sacred tree may be taken as having a spirit embodied in or attached to it. Beyond this limit, there is a wider range of animistic conceptions connected with tree and forest worship. The tree may be the spirit's perch or shelter or favourite haunt. Under this definition come the
| Grimm, 'D. M.' p. 615, etc. Bastian, ‘Der Baum, 'l. c. p. 297; Hanusch, "Slaw. Myth.' p. 313.
i Wuttke, Volksaberglaube,' p. 57, see 183. 3 Eusels. 'Præp. Evang.' i. 10.