Scotch firs. This is the more remarkable, as the Scotch fir is not considered by botanists an indigenous tree to southern Britain; nay, more, Mr. Darwin has shown that it can not live on open or exposed situations where deer or cattle graze unless it is protected by a fenced inclosure. Sheep and cows and stags nibble it down to the ground in its earliest ages, so that Scotch firs may be found in open spaces on English heaths, showing many annual rings of growth, but eaten close to the soil by the ever-active herbivores. Hence we must conclude (since barrows stand for the most part in extremely open, heathy country) that not only were the Scotch firs deliberately planted on the tumuli, but also that they were carefully protected by fences till a relatively late or even historical period. A particularly fine example of a round barrow overgrown with ancient Scotch firs is to be found near St. Martha's Chapel at Guildford. Another, a little less striking, but equally characteristic, stands on the summit of Milton Heath, near Dorking. It is faced on the opposite side of the road by a second and extremely degraded barrow, also marked by a conspicuous clump of pine trees. A group of very ancient and gnarled Scotch firs, known as the Glory, on the hill just behind Dorking to the south, forms another and still more noble example of the same combination. But I need not labor the point. Whoever knows our southern counties knows that barrows and Scotch firs go together almost universally. Indeed, I believe there are no very old firs in Surrey, Kent, or Hampshire that do not so stand on antique tumuli.
Now, as these trees are not indigenous to southern England, and as they could only have grown under the protection of a fence, I conclude that the ancestors of the existing firs were planted there when the barrows were first formed, were long secured from harm by a belief in their sanctity, and have kept up their race ever since, either by seeds or shoots, under cover of the old trees, to the present day. The Scotch fir is in England the sacred tree of the barrows.
Have we here, then, I would venture to ask, the origin of the sacred pine tree of Attis? I incline to believe that we have. As the pine tree is planted upon tumuli in many parts of the world, and is often protected by walls or hedges, it would seem to be naturally associated with the ghost, and to become, in the expressive phrase used by Mr. Macdonald, the "prayer tree" of the departed.
This, then, I take it, is the true explanation of the prominent part which the pine tree plays in the myth and ritual of Attis. Nor is it any objection to our view that Attis is also apparently envisaged in an alternative form both as a man or god, and as
- Darwin, Origin of Species, p. 56.