At the heart of symbolism

The sacred trees of the Celtic world


Oak and seasons

Symbols of the cosmic tree

The border between the Celtic and Nordic civilizations is blurred. And nevertheless, they do not have any linguistic or cultural community outside their Indo-European foundation. Moreover, in the Celtic world, there is no tree equivalent to Yggdrasil, the majestic tree of the Nordic world.

The roots of the sacred tree of the Celtic world plunge deeply in the ground and its branches rise to the skies. Representative, at once, of the cosmic world (macrocosm) and individual world (microcosm), it really symbolizes the cosmic tree. Nevertheless, in contrast to the Yggdrasil, it is not unique. In Ireland, for instance, each province has its own sacred tree.

Ireland consists of four provinces gathered around a central one, “Midh” (from the ancient Celt “medion” or Middle), constituted of a bit of territory of each of the four other provinces. Situated in the central province, the capital, Tara, is the spiritual and political centre of the kingdom. The oldest of the druids, Fintan, definitively established that Tara had to remain the seat of the supreme monarchy of the region. He also planted the first bay of the red yew tree of which the primeval trees of the five provinces originate from: the tree of Tortu, the yew tree of Ross, the yew tree of Mugna, the branch of Dathe and the tree of Usnech.

The yew tree of Mugna (Mugna means salmon), for example, could shelter a thousand people under its shadow and give three sacred fruit three times a year: the acorn, the walnut and the apple. How a yew tree could produce such different crops three times a year should not be a mystery. This feature does nothing but underline the universal character of the primeval tree, at least for the inhabitants of the particular province. Its fruit symbolized the knowledge notably destined to the initiated:

  • The acorn was the food of the sacred animals such as the wild boar and the pig;
  • The walnut fell into the sacred fountain supplying the kingdom waters; it was eaten by the science salmon of which man consumed its flesh;
  • The apple represented the fruit of the beautiful messengers of the Other World, the World of the gods, supernatural beings and heroes, of the “síd” (for more details, see the Celtic tradition).

The established cosmic link between Heaven and Earth and the production of fruit dispensing science and wisdom make the sacred tree a real Tree of Life.

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