Pine Tree Symbolism and Uses

How about some historical fun with pine tree symbolism and uses?Are you ready for Christmas yet? How about some historical fun with pine tree symbolism and uses? Check out the podcast with Julie and dig into lore from around the world.

Pine Tree Symbolism from History and Around the World

Europe

Did you know that the oldest living tree in the world is a Bristlecone Pine Tree living in the White Mountains of California? They call it Methuselah and carefully guard its location. Estimates put it at 5,000 years old!

The Pinus family of evergreen trees grows all over the world and thus, pine tree symbolism crosses cultures and continents. What binds them all together is the pine’s association with longevity and peace.

In ancient Greece, the pine was particularly sacred to Dionysus and his worshippers. In the ancient city of Corinth, the Corinthians were ordered by the Delphic Oracle to worship the pine along with Dionysus as a god. In the ancient Greek culture, the evergreen tree was the symbol of immortality.  And, its resin was used to purify, sterilize, and embalm things that one wanted to preserve over time, such as the dead.

The Romans also had a mythology around pine trees. The story goes that the goddess Cybele fell in love with a handsome young man, Attis. She took him to her temple to be a priest there, vowing chastity. But, another goddess, jealous of Cybele, seduced him and he broke his vow. Attis ran away and died under the branches of a pine tree. It is said that the Jupiter took pity on him and turned him into an immortal pine, with Saturn as his protector. At the spring equinox (March 22), the followers of Cybele would cut a pine tree down and bring it into her sanctuary in honor of Attis. In addition, during the Roman holiday of Saturnalia (Dec. 17-25th), the ancient Romans would decorate pine trees with ornaments such as oscilla, which were made in the image of Bacchus, and little clay dolls known as sigillaria.

And in the northern European countries, pine trees (or firs) were decorated to celebrate the birth of Frey, the Norse god of the sun and fertility, at the end of the year. The tops of the trees were lit because in winter as the days were getting shorter.  Northern people thought that doing so the light will attract the sun.

Asia

Pine tree symbolism in Asia shares some similarities to Europe. In Japan, Pine trees are associated with the New Year. Many Japanese hang a bundle of pine twigs and bamboo trunks known as a Kado matsu (“Gate pine” in English) on their doors to receive a blessing from the gods. Perhaps this is why, in the Japanese Middle Ages, pines were a common decoration for samurai. Pines are also used to mark the boundaries of the sacred ground of temples and shrines and are a popular tree of choice for the art of bonsai. Many of these bonsai trees live to be hundreds of years old!

In more recent times, Japan attributed pine tree symbolism to a pine tree that survived both the earthquake and tsunami in the March 2011 devastation of the city of Rikuzentakata. The surrounding forest of 70,000 pine trees was completely destroyed except for one lone pine tree. This tree became a national symbol of resilience and determination to stand tall and rebuild in the face of the massive destruction in northeast Japan. Sadly enough, seawater seeped into the roots of the Rikuzentakata tree, causing it to rot and die. In September 2012, the tree was cut down.

Native Americans’ Pine Tree Symbolism

In North America, the pine tree holds a sacred place among the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois Confederacy (Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, and Tuscarora). For them, the pine tree – and in particular the Eastern White Pine – is the Tree of Peace. This is because it is underneath the roots of the Tree of Peace that weapons were buried. And, among other native tribes, it holds a sacred place as well, making it a universal symbol. Native people didn’t just hold the tree as sacred, though. They also used the pine needles, sap, bark, and nuts for medicinal purposes, traditional handicrafts, and in recipes. Pine-needle baskets are still a popular Native handicraft to this very day.

Julie talks about pine tree symbolism in Christmas traditions and how it came to be the Christmas tree of choice on the podcast! Be sure to tune in.

Pine Tree Uses

We all know about the role of pine in housing and furniture construction. But, pine tar and pitch has long been used to protect surfaces such as boat hulls and as an embalming fluid. The resin, when distilled, also yields oil of turpentine, which is an important industrial solvent. Turpentine and tar water have been used in veterinary practice to get rid of worms, kill parasites, treat mange, and as an antiseptic and stimulant for rheumatic swelling, sprains, and bruises. For people, the resin been used externally for skin infections and joint inflammation. Internally, traditional uses of the needles include coughs, colds, allergies and kidney and bladder infections. Pine needles also make a nice winter tea, giving you a vitamin C boost.

There are many species of Pine and some are toxic to children and pregnant women. So, be careful!

 

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