The Meme of Trees

The Tree of Knowledge

The tree is intimately rooted within human culture and consciousness with significant exposure in religion and myth – often serving as a link to the Earth and the subtle worlds beyond. From Egyptian hieroglyphs tying the character’s soul to the tree, Buddha’s realization under the Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa), old Semitic texts of Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of Knowledge, the Mesoamerican world tree – a symbolic axis mundi connecting the seen and unseen, the Kabbalistic Tree of Life – which still influences Western esotericism, Yggdrasil – the giant Norse tree on which the nine worlds exist and the sacred trees of the Arabs which provide council in one’s dreams.

Yggdrasil, the Norse connection to the 9 worlds

By its very form the tree suggests connection with above and below; a mass of tangling, dark roots changing via a conduit to an expanse of branches in the light of sky. It is no surprise that shamans have used this form in journeying; returning with stories of worlds unseen. There are also long associations with ideas of shelter, contemplation, warmth – from the burning of wood, food – from fruit and nuts, construction and support, sacrifice and punishment, and for the pure enjoyment for children’s play. While human knowledge has grown and ideas and cultures have been created, destroyed and mutated, the tree has ever been present and has appeared in our lives’ stories and memories.

The bodhi tree, where buddha sat all night before enlightenment

We should thus ask the question, what it means from a symbolic or mythological perspective, to destroy the tree, and to cut down far more than those that can take their place? Is it representative of a war within ourselves, or do we wish to sever the undying link between the above and the below, the conscious and perhaps that part of ourselves that is more intuitive and more connected with the unknown? And to plant and to connect with trees – is this a desire to achieve wholeness and integration? Myths and mentations are of the past, but they influence us now, and the course of action that we shall take. Let us remember the many human lives and their stories before us.

Getting and Spending, We Lay Waste our Powers

The vistas of Dubai

Humans have had different relationships with Nature in their short history. This is easily forgotten when peeking out of a high-rise window, safely enjoying the effects of vertigo and surveying the might and grandeur of our architecture, or standing upon a ridge overlooking tamed fields and penned cattle, with all wildness furrowed and calmed.

No convenience stores 12,000 years ago

Yet agriculture and technology do not necessarily mean disconnection. If we look back 12,000 years ago at early Neolithic farmers in Syria, an organized approach to food production allowed stability and the formation of community. The direct link of food availability and type to seasons also meant that a deeper connection with Nature was necessary for survival. The path of the Earth through Space and its closeness to the Sun and Moon and the resulting weather and tides directly affected one’s food, and there was no backup plan, or 7-11 around the corner.

Waterfalls in Iceland

Perhaps, with time, we began to focus more on the tools that we created for survival and comfort than on what really sustained us. This was not a fantastic leap, as what we began to see when unlocking the secrets of Nature dazzled us, and gave us that hope of ultimate control and hope of the realization of our unconscious seeking of immortality. This was also combined with systems of thought that promoted and confirmed us as masters of the realm.  As connections with trees and natural landscape faded in our awareness to the periphery, our potential for wider choices was affected until eventually the path of logical action began to exclude Nature.

Trees are an accessible connection with Nature

While this may be more of a Western story, it is still part of a wider human theme, and it is a theme that affects all on the planet. While we can psychoanalyze our stories and myths to trace our spiral outwards, simple actions can create new stories and new modes of awareness: walking and exercising in natural landscapes, a conscious approach to what we eat and where it comes from, and the connection and maintenance of our gardens, if fortunate enough to own one. In these new stories the tree can play a leading role, and it is a form we all recognize, just as our Neolithic ancestors once did.