Thursday, January 29, 2009

Worship of Trees

But most conspicuous among the cults of natural objects, as in so many primitive religions, is the worship of trees. Here, though doubtless at first the tree was itself the object of veneration, surviving instances seem rather to belong to the later period when it was regarded as the abode of the spirit. We may recognise a case of this sort in the ficus Ruminalis, once the recipient of worship, though later legend, which preferred to find an historical or mythical explanation of cults, looked upon it as sacred because it was the scene of the suckling of Romulus and Remus by the wolf. Another fig-tree with a similar history is the caprificus of the Campus Martius, subsequently the site of the worship of Iuno Caprotina. A more significant case is the sacred oak of Iuppiter Feretrius on the Capitol, on which the spolia opima were hung after the triumph—probably in early times a dedication of the booty to the spirit inhabiting the tree. Outside Rome, showing the same ideas at work among neighbouring peoples, was the 'golden bough' in the grove of Diana at Aricia. Nor was it only special trees which were thus regarded as the home of a deity; the tree in general is sacred, and any one may chance to be inhabited by a spirit. The feeling of the country population on this point comes out clearly in the prayer which Cato recommends his farmer to use before making a clearing in a wood: 'Be thou god or goddess, to whom this grove is sacred, be it granted to us to make propitiatory sacrifice to thee with a pig for the clearing of this sacred spot'; here we have a clear instance of the tree regarded as the dwelling of the sacred power, and it is interesting to compare the many similar examples which Dr. Frazer has collected from different parts of the world.

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