The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Tree Worship

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Tree Worship
Edition of 1920. See also Tree worship on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

TREE WORSHIP. The worship of a tree as in itself divine does not appear to have prevailed in any age of the world. In the mythology of ancient Greece and Rome, trees were regarded as the abodes of sylvan deities, supernatural beings inferior to the gods of Olympus. Even where this view was not taken, and the tree was not venerated as the dwelling-place of divinity, trees were associated with the worship of the gods, and a certain degree of sanctity attached to them. This association was so strong and to the popular view so indissoluble, that to destroy a grove in which a god was worshipped was to put an end to the worship at that particular spot. Bible statements (1 Kings xv, l3, 14 and other places) show that the removal of an idol, while the grove remained, was not sufficient to put a stop to idolatry. The sacred groves were also an essential feature of Druidical worship. It should be remembered that, while the philosophers and other learned men of ancient Greece and Rome looked upon the current mythology with incredulity, if not contempt, the great mass of the people, and in particular the peasantry, were deeply devoted to it, and to them the sacred groves, the dryads, fauns and satyrs were very real.

Tree worship, or anything resembling it, has no place in any branch of Christianity, and among Christians the attachment to trees, or any particular tree, is entirely a matter of natural sentiment. There is nothing of the kind in Mohammedanism, and the sacred literature of Buddhism attaches no sanctity to trees. Nevertheless, before the destruction, in October 1887, of the Bo tree, grown from a branch of the tree sent by Asoka, king of Maghada, and famous as a devotee of Buddhism, to Ceylon, in the 3d century B.C., thousands of pilgrims visited the tree annually and offered up prayers before it. This cannot be called tree-worship in the ancient meaning of the term. It is true nevertheless, that the early Buddhists regarded certain trees as sacred, and much time elapsed before members of that faith got rid of their old superstitions in this respect. Those superstitions still prevail among the more barbarous races, and some of the Greek Christians in remote districts are said to mingle pagan worship of tree-gods with their nominally Christian practices.