Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tree Fairies

List of Tree Fairies

Al Lukh Mas (Yakut)
Are the spirits of large trees. Such spirits of the forests were very important and were given coins, scarves and ribbons in order to bring luck and avoid their wrath.

Apple Tree Man (England)
Lives within the oldest tree in an apple orchard and helps the fruit to ripen well so that there is a good crop. Often the last apple was left in the orchard for him, I would speculate that this is because people believe he resided in the last picked apples the way spirits of the grain resided in the last cut grain.

Barisaa (Mongolia)
A powerful prayer tree brings peace and reduces violence by calming people and giving them peaceful thoughts. The Barisaa could also give people insperation. Barisaa come into being when shamans perform the ariulga, a ritual to cleans the tree and people of evil spirits.

Bozalosc (Russia)
The spirit of the elder tree which acts as a banshee like figure.

Chinju no mori (Japan)
The sacred groves in which kami dwell. These are the groves of trees around the shrines, with shrines being built in places that Kami dwell. This means that the chinju no mori is sacred in the way a church is sacred, not as a kami but as a place in which the kami can dwell. 

Diwata (Philippines)
Beautiful and often benevolent nature spirits. Although there are numerous and varied accounts as to what they should look like, a general trend may be observed in that they are normally human in appearance—beautiful and seemingly ageless at that—save for some distinct characteristics. This may take the form of not having a philtrum or having continuously smooth and supple skin that somehow resemble fingernails, without any wrinkled parts in the elbows and knees. They also tend to be fairer than average, as pale skin has been associated with the supernatural even during pre-colonial times (for example, the "white lady" belief is prevalent in the East and Southeast Asian regions).
The Diwata can be called upon ritually for positive crop growth, health, and fortune. However, like most such fairy creatures the Diwata also caused illness or misfortune if not given proper respect. They are said to reside in large trees, such as acacia and balete and are the guardian spirits of nature, casting blessings or curses upon those who bring benefits or harm to the forests and mountains. They have their origin in the Hindu Devata, with the term Diwata originating from the Indonesian Dewata.
The term "diwata" has taken on various levels of meanings it is sometimes loosely used to refer to a generic type of beings much like "elf" or "fairy," or very specific ones as mentioned above. It has been noted that the term "diwata" is synonymous to "anito," and that the usage of the word "diwata" is more prevalent in the Southern Philippines, while "anito" takes its place in the Northern areas.

Gants Mod (Mongolia)
A powerful tree spirit which is known because it stands alone.

Ghillie Dhu (Scotland)
A guardian of trees (especially birch trees) he is a wild and often shy fairy who is kind to and aids children. Said to be dark haired, he is described as clothed in leaves and moss. In lore, this solitary spirit is said to reside primarily near Gairloch and Loch a Druing

Haltija (Finland)
A fairy spirit or guardian of a place such as a glen of trees, water, the grave yard, villages, and homesteads. There are also Haltija’s which guards humans, following them around to keep them safe.

Hantu Keramat (Malaysia)
The spirit of a place which is usually associated with large rocks, large trees, or the crossroads. They give good luck to those who provide them with offerings such as eggs.

Harahus (Germanic)
Word for a Sacred Grove of Trees

Hyang (Indonesia)
Spirits which dwell in the land, especially in mountains, but which can also dwell within stones, trees and other places. Such spirits are either divine or ancestral, however they are not like deities of western beleif. In the Sundanese , Javanese , and Balinese ancient, invisible forces of nature and ancestral spirits is identified as "hyang". This ancestral spirits inhabit high places, such as mountains and hills. These places are sanctified and glorified as the soul of ancestors dwell.
"The bridge between the two worlds—between humans and jinn—is being broken," Mr. Yulianto said. "I can help the spirits accept what is happening." 
Quote from a Shaman in the Wall Street Journal

Kuutar (Finland)
Every lake and stream, forest and swamp, even the flowers and trees are living beings with intelligent souls or so went the philosophy of the ancient Finns. These spirits often known as haltia (a term meaning governor or steward) acts rules over some aspect of nature such as the back woods, or the mountains. Prayers to the haltia were extreamly common as people saught their help in protecting the cattle, finding the treasures which were buried underground, successfully hunting for game and more. 
In addition to being the spirit of the forest every persona has their own haltia
“a wizard in working himself into an ecstasy invokes his haltia to rise from its hole, from under a fallen tree, or stone, or moss, or wherever it may be, and mentions its brilliant eyes and spotted cheek, as if he had a snake in his mind's eye. The technical term for being in an ecstasy (olla haltiossansa l. haltioisansa) means literally 'to be in one's haltia or among one's haltia,' in other words, 'to be in the spirit or among the spirits.' From the above examples we see that the heavens, the earth, the forest, the mountain, and individual men, have each their spirit, ruler, or guardian. Such an idea goes back to the earliest times.” 

Lovpu (Komi)
Word for Alder tree which was magical tree with a strong spirit. Weapons made from it could kill sorcerers such that they couldn't come back to life.

Mahomanay (Philippines)
Beautiful forest spirits who protect animals and will give good luck to people who leave them offerings at the base of their trees.

Phi Nang Tani (Thai)
A spirit of the banana tree which appears as a beautiful woman. They will provide people with food.

Phi Tonmai (Thai)
Spirits which live in trees, such spirits could be helpful or dangerous. The trees which were believed to be inhabited by important or powerful spirits would have cloth wrapped around them to show that a spiritual being resided within.

Rafusen (Japan)
The spirits of palm trees, they appear as a beautiful smelling and looking young woman who live high in the mountains. For those whom they allow to see the truth of things their tree looks like a beautiful house in which they might help travelers caught in a snow storm.

Trees Fairies

In Northern European mythology the center of our universe was the world’s tree, and many of the great trees of our world’s forests were believed to be the offshoots of this world tree. Within Central Asia it was believed that one of the souls of the human dead would fly to a giant tree that connected all the worlds together in the form of a bird or some other winged creature where the human’s soul would wait to be reincarnated (
As previously mentioned, the word “temple” originally meant “wood” because within Europe the first churches of the Indo-European peoples were groves of trees, and the first idols were ancient or unique trees. Knowing simply that trees are of great importance, however, gives us little to understand the nature of the fairies which inhabit them. Luckily, being the center of the Universe is not the only reason why trees are important to humans. As previously mentioned, it was believed by many peoples that humans were born from trees. Among the Huns who invaded Europe, it is likely that humans and trees were considered to share the same souls such that humans were reincarnated trees, and trees were reincarnated humans. Further, trees could be bound to a person’s existing life such that people would plant a tree when their child was born because as it grew strong their child would as well. (MacCulloch, 1911)

In a Russian version of the Cinderella story a birch tree grows from a mother’s grave, and it is this birch tree which provides her daughter with the magical gifts needed to win the prince (Lang, 1890),. In the German fairy tale “The Juniper Tree” a boy is murdered and buried underneath a juniper tree. He is able to get his revenge because he is born from the tree in the form of a bird. (Grimm and Grimm, 1912) As previously mentioned, the connection between the human soul and trees stretches as far west as Ireland where people believed the souls would manifest as trees and other plants. So trees, or at least their souls, are similar to human souls such that people believed we shared a connection to each other even if we’re not always aware of it.

Recall further that for over half the populations of Europe humans were directly descended from trees. Tree fairies had a major advantage over most humans, however, for they could live for hundreds or even thousands of years longer than any human could. Further, giant trees inspire awe, reverence, and a sense of wonder that must have defined the most important of fairies and deities. Because of this, trees were also more closely connected to the other deities, fairies, and nature than humans typically were. Mistletoe, it was said, came down as a gift from the gods of the sky to crown the oak trees (Frazer, 1922). Such signs let people know which trees to respect and revere in an otherwise confusing world.

Trees, it was believed, helped to control and cause much of the growth of the plants that humans and animals needed to survive. Indeed, nothing grows unless the fairies allow it to. This is why May Day, winter festivals, and harvest festivals all involved the idea of trees which themselves symbolize fertility and life. So great was the trees’ power in making things grow and providing fertility that in some parts of Bavaria May Day bushes are set up in the houses of newly married people so that they would conceive. Women would also hug trees in hopes of becoming pregnant or hang chemises on fruitful trees. The Wends would cause their cattle to run around the tree as a means of making them thrive. (Frazer, 1922)

There is some evidence to support the idea that the first peoples of Europe relied heavily on acorns to supply them with food. So just as the Japanese greatly revere the kami of rice for providing them with life, the people of Europe would have revered the fairies of the oak trees for doing the same. (Frazer, 1922) The connection between humans and the trees’ was so great that, like wells, it was nearly impossible for the Christian priests to get people to stop worshiping them. Indeed, long after people started attending a Christian church, they were still hanging the heads of dead animals in an old pear tree. Just as they had done with the wells, the Christian priests had to settle at a compromise initially hanging pictures of Saints in trees so that it would appear that people were worshiping the saints not the trees. In one example of this:

“S. Martin of Tours was allowed to destroy a temple, but the people would not permit him to attack a much-venerated pine tree which stood beside it—an excellent example of the way in which the more official paganism fell before Christianity, while the older religion of the soil from which it sprang could not be entirely eradicated.” (Maccullock, 1911)

Even to this day we decorate pine trees and bring greenery into our homes in the wintertime to celebrate a major Christian holiday. In so doing we continue acting out an ancient ritual of respect for the fairies even if most people are unaware of what they are doing.

Brutal, Blood-Loving Trees

Humans are descended from trees so we have inherited many things from them. One of the things we appear to share in common is an occasional desire for violence or a certain level of brutality. This is reflected in part by the fact that, for the Celts, honoring trees included hanging heads of animals killed during a hunt or impaled sacrifices among their branches. In Finland, people would worship in their sacred groves where they would hang the skins of sacrificial victims from the trees within a sacred grove. (Frazer, 1922)

Such actions show us that tree fairies were interested in collecting pieces of the dead. Their desires do not end with mere collections, however. A number of trees and human interactions involved actual sacrifices. When the Rus would travel down the Dnieper River to trade with Byzantium, they would sacrifice chickens to the gods in thanks for their success of making it through the dangerous lands to the north. These sacrifices would then be placed around a giant oak tree. (Davidson and Davidson, 1989) Should a woodsman worry that they had accidentally cut down a sacred tree, they would behead a hen on its stump with the axe they’d used to cause it harm (Frazer, 1922). Further, Julius Caesar claimed that the Celts performed human sacrifice in their open-air, sacred groves.
It’s clear then that the peoples of ancient Europe believed that trees desired offerings of dead bodies as well as direct sacrifices. The question is: What is it that these humans believed the trees got out of this? What was the purpose for these sacrifices? A number of possibilities present themselves. First, it is possible that sacrifices of the skins and heads of animals were made at least initially for the same reasons that people would carve statues as a form of sympathetic magic meant to help insure success in future hunts. By the same token, such offerings might have occurred as a sign of respect for the animals to help pacify them because it was believed that their spirits would ultimately be reincarnated. So in order to have successful future hunts, it was necessary to do something to make certain the animal stayed in the area. Hanging them on the local god might have been a way of insuring that this happened.

Another possibility is that it was believed that these sacrifices could provide the spirits of the trees and forests gain strength which the trees would in turn provide to the hunters and warriors in the form of luck and success. Trees need additional strength because, like humans, fairies go to war with each other.  It is also possible that the humans were seeking to provide the tree with additional strength so the tree would be in a better position to support humans in their endeavors. This only makes sense, however, if it was believed that the tree was committed to helping the humans with the expectation of getting nothing in return. However, while such benevolence on the part of the trees is possible, it doesn’t always appear that people believed trees and fairies were purely benevolent. For within the sacred groves of the Celtic, Germanic, and Baltic peoples, silence reigned supreme as even the greatest adepts feared to set foot during certain hours of the day lest they interrupt the fairies within them. As with all fairies, people were always careful in paying tree fairies the utmost respect. As Tacitus pointed out:

“No person enters it (the sacred grove) without being bound with a chain as an acknowledgment of his inferior nature and the power of the deity residing there. If he accidentally fall(s), it is not lawful for him to be lifted or to rise up; they roll themselves out along the ground. The whole of their superstition has this import: that from this spot the nation derives its origin; that here is the residence of the Deity, the Governor of all, and that everything else is subject and subordinate to him. These opinions receive additional authority from the power of the Semnones who inhabit a hundred cantons and, from the great body they compose, consider themselves as the head of the Suevi.” (Tacitus, 98)

People were then afraid of trees and forests even as they were awed by them. So the relationship between humans and fairies wasn’t necessarily the purely loving relationship many people think of now when they think of deity and human relations. It is rather a relationship in which the trees are extremely dangerous even to those who respect them. Yet, at the same time, it is a relationship in which humans need trees to survive. Further, the trees are also vulnerable to the whims of humans. This mutual vulnerability then is the reason laws were actually needed to protect the bond between humans and trees.

“The old German laws for such as dared to peel the bark of a standing tree. The culprit’s navel was to be cut out and nailed to the part of the tree which he had peeled, and he was to be driven round and round the tree till all his guts were wound about its trunk. The intention of the punishment clearly was to replace the dead bark by a living substitute taken from the culprit; it was a life for a life, the life of a man for the life of a tree.” (Frazer, 1922)

This type of punishment is interesting because it shows more than simply the brutality with which ancient groves were defended. It shows us that living animals could be used to heal the tree and potentially provide them with power.


Monika Csapo said...

Thanks for this great collection of tree-related myths and mythology. I took some photos of trees yesterday and it made me think about this topic ("tree spirits") This is how I found your post. It was a great read. It made me interested to research more about this topic. I did not know for example the hun beliefs about humans and trees.