Trees and woods often play roles in myths, beliefs and folk tales all around the world. Bountiful, strong and tall, trees hold an aura of wisdom and authority, which have shaped beliefs over centuries.
The Norse believed in a world tree whose roots were connected to this world, whilst the branches were connected to the world of the gods. The tree was called Yggdrasil and nourished the gods, humans and animals and connected all phases of existence. Traditional societies in Latvia, Lithuania and Northern Germany also had a world tree which was thought to be an apple tree, birch or oak, which has silver leaves, copper branches and iron roots and the spirits of the dead lived inside. In the Mythology of ancient India, there is a cosmic tree called Asvattha which grows upside-down, with its roots in the sky and its branches in the ground. It is the living universe and reverses the usual order of things. From these ideas, we can understand why people saw and revered these trees as godly, precious and powerful.
South west native Americans believed in a talking tree, that foretold the arrival of Christianity, western settlers and new ways. Those who wished to keep to the old ways went to live under ground and those who stayed above ground, came to be known as the Yaqui. This tree had the supernatural power to tell the future, as well as talk.
In some versions of the Persian creation story, the trunk of a tree is split into a man and a woman and the fruits of the tree became the various races of man kind. Some myths from North America speak of a creator fashioning man out of an elm tree and Norse mythology states that the first man and woman were an ash and elm tree, given life by the Gods.
The tree of life is an important symbol for the ancient East, sacred animals fed from fruit on the branches. The king was part of the tree as he was seen as being part of our world and part of the divine world. Through him, the earth was blessed with fertility. Traditional Slavic and Persian beliefs were of a tree that bore all the seeds for all the plants. This tree looked like any ordinary tree and to ensure they did not accidentally cut it down, the Persians never cut trees, but only waited for them to naturally fall.
Even today when myths have been disproved and there seems little wonder left in the world, trees are still symbols of fertility and life, as they bear fruit and offer shade. Those that keep their leaves all year round are thought of as immortal and those which bring new life in spring are a symbol of rebirth.