Japanese Garden

The Sacred Trees Around
-A contribution of building ethnology to
the subject of tree worship-
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich
Throughout long periods of time and in many cultures the human
spirit has been preoccupied with trees. Evidence of this is to be found
in the many representations, pictorial and textual, which tell us of sacred
trees, trees of life and light, cosmic or world trees, the Tree of Knowledge
in the Garden of Eden, trees of everlasting life, of eternal youth
and so on. The wide extent of symbolism centered on the tree and
its long history as the focal point of ideal worlds is also reflected in the
many studies and investigations on this subject.
The abundance of studies is due not only to the great extent of
man's spiritual relationship to trees, but also to modern man's attraction
to the rich symbolism surrounding the tree. The fantastic associations
with which primitive cultures have invested something that now
appears to us as a natural object are indicative of a way of thinking that,
in its stronger imaginative power, completely overshadows our own
sober, objective relations.
And yet, are we right in our ideas about this earlier power of imagination?
Has symbolic thinking of this kind really sprung exclusively
from the spirit As suggested by the German word Einbildung (" inimagination
"), might it not have been sparked off by structures of the
world of things Does symbolism only seem fantastic because it derives
from events of cultural history which are now lost in the depths of
time In other words, could it be that what we regard as specifically
spiritual in man's relation to the tree is actually traceable to lost culture