« PreviousContinue »
trees hung with objects which are the receptacles of diseasespirits. As places of spiritual resort, there is no real distinction between the sacred tree and the sacred grove. The tree may serve as a scaffold or altar, at once convenient and conspicuous, where offerings can be set out for some spiritual being, who may be a tree-spirit, or perhaps the local deity, living there just as a man might do who had his hut and owned his plot of land around. The shelter of some single tree, or the solemn seclusion of a forest grove, is a place of worship set apart by nature, of some tribes the only temple, of many tribes perhaps the earliest. Lastly, the tree may be merely a sacred object patronized by or associated with or symbolizing some divinity, often one of those which we shall presently notice as presiding over a whole species of trees or other things. How all these conceptions, from actual embodiment or local residence or visit of a demon or deity, down to mere ideal association, can blend together, how hard it often is to distinguish them, and yet how in spite of this confusion they conform to the animistic theology in which all have their essential principles, a few examples will show better than any theoretical comment.1 Take the groups of malicious wood-fiends so obviously devised to account for the mysterious influences that beset the forest wanderer. In the Australian bush, demons whistle in the branches, and stooping with outstretched arms sneak among the trunks to seize the wayfarer; the lame demon leads astray the hunter in the Brazilian forest; the Karen crossing a fever-haunted jungle shudders in the grip of the spiteful "phi," and runs to lay an offering by the tree he rested under last, from whose boughs the malaria-fiend came down upon him; the negro of Senegambia seeks to pacify the long-haired tree-demons that send diseases; the terrific cry of the wood-demon is heard in the Finland
1 Further details as to tree-worship in Bastian, 'Drr Baum,' etc. here cited; Lubbock, 'Origin of Civilization,' p. 206, etc. ; Fergusson, 'Tree and Serpent Worship,' etc.
forest; the baleful shapes of terror that glide at night through our own woodland are familiar still to peasant and poet.1 The North American Indians of the Far West, entering the defiles of the Black Mountains of Nebraska, will often hang offerings on the trees or place them on the rocks, to propitiate the spirits and procure good weather and hunting.3 In South America, Mr. Darwin describes the Indians offering their adorations by loud shouts when they came in sight of the sacred tree standing solitary on a high part of the Pampas, a landmark visible from afar. To this tree were hanging by threads numberless offerings such as cigars, bread, meat, pieces of cloth, &c., down to the mere thread pulled from his poncho by the poor wayfarer who had nothing better to give. Men would pour libations of spirits and mate into a certain hole, and smoke upwards to gratify Walleechu, and all around lay the bleached bones of the horses slaughtered as sacrifices. All Indians made their offerings here, that their horses might not tire, and that they themselves might prosper. Mr. Darwin reasonably judges on this evidence that it was to the deity Walleechu that the worship was paid, the sacred tree being only his altar; but he mentions that the Gauchos think the Indians consider the tree as the god itself, a good example of the misunderstanding possible in such cases.3 The New Zealanders would hang an offering of food or a lock of hair on a branch at a landing place, or near remarkable rocks or trees would throw a bunch of rushes as an offering to the spirit dwelling there.4 The Dayaks fasten rags of their clothes on trees at cross roads, fearing for their health if they neglect the custom; 5 the Macassar man halting to eat in the forest will put a morsel of rice or fish on a leaf, and layit on a stone or stump.6 The divinities of African tribes
1 Bastian, 'Der Baum,' l . c. etc .
3 Irving, 'Astoria,' vol. ii. ch. viii.
* Darwin, 'Journal,' p. 68.
4 Polack, 'New Z.' vol. ii. p. 6 ; Taylor, p. 171, see 99.
• Wallace, 'Eastern Archipelago,' vol. i. p. 333.
may dwell in trees remarkable for size and age, or inhabit sacred groves where the priest alone may enter.1 Trees treated as idols by the Congo people, who put calabashes of palm wine at their feet in case they should he thirsty;2 and among West African negro tribes father north, trees hung with rags by the passers-by, and the great baobabs pegged to hang offerings to, and serving as shrines before which sheep are sacrificed,3 display well the rites of tree sacrifice, though leaving undefined the precise relation conceived between deity and tree.
The forest theology that befits a race of hunters is dominant still among Turanian tribes of Siberia, as of old it was across to Lapland. Full well these tribes know the gods of the forest. The Yakuts hnng on any remarkably fine tree iron, brass, and other trinkets; they choose a green spot shaded by a tree for their spring sacrifice of horses and oxen, whose heads are set up in the boughs; they chant their extemporised songs to the Spirit of the Forest, and hang for him on the brunches of the trees along the roadside offerings of horsehair, emblems of their most valued possession. A clump of larches on a Siberian steppe, a grove in the recesses of a forest, is the sanctuary of a Turanian tribe. Gaily-decked idols in their warm fur-coats, each set up beneath its great tree swathed with cloth or tinplate, endless reindeer-hides and peltry hanging to the trees around, kettles and spoons and snuff-horns and household valuables strewn as offerings before the gods—such is the description of a Siberian holy grove, at the stage when the contact of foreign civilization has begun by ornamenting the rude old ceremonial it must end by abolishing.4 A race ethnologically allied to these tribes, though risen to higher culture, kej>t up remarkable relics of tree-worship in Northern Europe. In Esthonian districts, within the pre
1 Prichard, 'Nat. Hist, of Man,' p. 531. : Mci olla in Pinkerton, vol. xvi. p. 236.
* Lubbock, p. 193; Bastian, l. c. ; Park, 'Travels,' vol. i. pp. 64, 106. 4 Castre'n, 'Finn. Myth.' p. 88, etc. 191, otc. ; Latham, 'Descr. Eth.' vol. i. p. 3C3; Simpson, 'Journey,' vol. ii. p. 261.
sent century, the traveller might often see the sacred tree, generally an ancient lime, oak, or ash, standing inviolate in a sheltered spot near the dwelling-house, and old memories are handed down of the time when the first blood of a slaughtered beast was sprinkled on its roots, that the cattle might prosper, or when an offering was laid beneath the holy linden, on the stone where the worshipper knelt on his hare knees moving from east to west and back, which stone he kissed thrice when he had said, "Receive the food as an offering!" It may well have been an indwelling tree-deity for whom this worship was intended, for folklore shows that the Esths recognized such a conception with the utmost distinctness; they have a tale of the tree-elf who appeared in personal shape outside his crooked birch-tree, whence he could be summoned by three knocks on the trunk and the inquiry, " Is the crooked one at home?" But also it may have been the Wood-Father or Tree-King, or some other deity, who received sacrifice and answered prayer beneath his sacred tree, as in a temple.1 If, again, we glance at the tree-and-grove worship of the non-Aryan indigenous tribes of British India, we shall gather clear and instructive hints of its inner significance. In the courtyard of a Bodo house is planted the sacred " sij" or euphorbia of Batho, the national god, to whom under this representation the "deoshi" or priest offers prayer and kills a pig.2 When the Khonds settle a new village, the sacred cotton-tree must be planted with solemn rites, and beneath it is placed the stone which enshrines the yillage deity.3 Nowhere, perhaps, in the world in these modern days is the original meaning of the sacred grove more picturesquely shown than among the Mundas of Chota-Nagpur, in whose settlements a sacred grove of sal-trees, a remnant of the primaeval forest Spared by the woodman's axe, is left as a home for the
I Boecler, 'Ehsten Abergliiubische Gebriuicho,' etc. ed. KieutzwaM, pp. 2, 112, 146.
II Hodgson, 'Abor. of India,'pp. 165, 173. * Macpherton, p. CI.
vol. n. Q
spirits, and in this hallowed place offerings to the gods are made.1
Here, then, among the lower races, is surely evidence enough to put on their true historic footing the rites of tree and grove which we find nourishing or surviving within the range of Semitic or Aryan culture. Mentions in the Old Testnment record the Canaanitish Ashera-worship, the sacrifice under every green tree, the incense rising heneath oak and willow and shady terebinth, rites whose obstinate revival proves how deeply they were rooted in the old religion of the land.2 The evidence of these Biblical passages is corroborated by other evidence from Semitic regions, as in the lines by Silins Italicus which mention the prayer and sacrifice in the Numidian holy groves, and the records of the council of Carthage which show that in the 5th century, an age after Augustine's time, it was still needful to urge that the relics of idolatry in trees and groves should be done away.3 From the more precise descriptions which lie within the range of Aryan descent and influence, examples may be drawn to illustrate every class of belief and rite of the forest. Modern Hinduism is so largely derived from the religions of the non-Aryan indigenes, that we may fairly explain thus a considerable part of the tree-worship of modern India, as where in the Birblmm district of Bengal a great annual pilgrimage is made to a shrine in the jungle, to make offerings of rice and money and sacrifice animals to a certain ghost who dwells in a bela-tree.4 In thoroughly Hindu districts we may see the pippala (Ficus religiosa) planted as the village tree, the "chaityataru" of Sanskrit
1 Dalton, 'Kols,' in "Tr. Eth. Soc.' vol. vi p. 34. Bastian, 'Oestl. Asien.' vol. i. p. 134, vol. iii. p. 252.
2 Dent. xii. 3; xvi. 21. Judges vi. 25. 1 Kings xiv. 23 ; xv. 13; xviii. 19. 2 Kin^s xvii. 10; xxiii. 4. Is. lvii. 5. Jerem. xvii. 2. Ezek. vi. 13; xx. 28. Hos. iv. 13, etc. etc.
a Sil. Ital. Tunica, iii. 675, 690. Bantam, Acta Concilionim, vol. i. For further evidence as to Semitic tree-and-gruve worship, see Moveis, 'l'houizier,' vol. i. p. 560, etc.
* llunter, 'Kural Bengal/ pp. 131, 194.