Sacred and magickal trees are found in the religions and mythology of almost every culture. Trees form the link between earth and sky, because they have their roots in soil and their branches in the air and were originally regarded an a creative form of the Earth Mother.
In early forms of religion, people believed that trees were themselves deities, a belief that gradually gave way to the idea that the spirits of deities or nature essences lived within the tree. In Japan, temples have been built around sacred trees for more than two thousand years. Here it is believed the Mononoke, the magickal life force, is concentrated in trees and rocks. The Japanese Cryptomeria and the evergreen sakaki trees are especially rich in this force and are often used for building sacred shrines. The tree itself is incorporated into the central pillar so the indwelling power of the nature deity might bless the site.
In parts of Sweden until quite recently, a guardian tree, often elm, ash or lime, was planted close to farms or small settlements and it was forbidden to take even a leaf from this tree. Pregnant women used to embrace the tree to ensure an easy delivery.
Trees have also been associated from Africa to Eastern Europe with the spirits of fertility, who regulated rain, sunshine and good harvests. In Germany and France, in some agricultural areas, a large leafy branch or even a whole tree, decorated with corn ears or the last corn sheaf, adorns the last wagon of the harvest. It was traditionally set on the roof of the farmhouse or barn for a year to ensure future good harvests.
In India, sacred trees are still visited in order to ask for blessings, especially for fertility, from the indwelling spirit or deity; food and flowers are left at the tree shrine and offering ribbons are tied to the tree.
The Celtic Druids worshipped not in temples, but in groves of trees. These natural sites may have predated the Celts by thousands of years; and still in Wales, Brittany and Cornwall the trees are hung with ribbons, trinkets and petitions for healing and blessings.