For some reason I keep typing dogs instead of gods, I’ve tried to correct them all but just in case any slip through, I do mean gods…!
Plants and religion make an interesting topic, one which I’m only going to brush the surface of here. They are used practically, symbolically and as a way of connecting with the gods.
Plants are used as a tool for ceremony, as an artistic medium for expression, as herbal remedies and as hallucinogenics. They are symbolic, have roles in worship and are offerings to the gods. Trees in particular have had spiritual roles in history, perhaps because of their height, their age and their sort of human like appearance. Evergreen trees in particular are used as symbols of immortality, something which was probably highly revered in times of illness.
Religious beliefs are often codified in metaphors and stories which aid in remembrance. Common plants might be used to remind people the teachings of the bible so that they are prompted to think of god when they see them. In Christianity, because god made everything, all plants are a reminder of God but the religion makes it very clear that you worship the creator, not the creation.
I’m going to do a very brief tour of the world but before I do so, I wanted to discuss fly agaric. That quintessential fairy mushroom, the symbol of enchanted woods and magic circles. The red fungi with white spots appears throughout children’s books and stories and quickly transports the reader into another world of magic and mystery.
This fungi has a powerful psychotropic entheogen and has been used for at least 3000 years. It is likely the mind altering effect which has led this mushroom to be intricately bound with folklore and fairytales.
When taken, it can cause muscle twitching, dizziness, visual distortions and altered auditory perception. It is often these visions and dreams that people seek to experience as a way of being closer to the gods, or of passing into another world.
In Siberia it was used by shaman to achieve the trance like state needed to commune with the gods. In India it is associated with a god of fire and worshippers would take the fly agaric to commune with the god. There are reports of it’s use in Mayan culture, in Europe and many other parts of the world which is not surprising given that it grows in North America, Africa, Europe, and Australia.
Some people say that reindeer eat it and, because it’s potent chemicals remain in urine, some cultures have drunk the reindeer wee to experience the effects. This idea of second hand fly agaric seems to be common with shaman and priests taking the initial dose and their urine being shared among lesser folk.
Plants are found throughout the bible in many forms including as foods, spices, medicines and so on as they were, and still are, part of everyday life. There are also a range of well known symbols such as figs meaning prosperity, olives for peace, wheat for the cycles of life and mandrake for sensuality. Of course we also have the tree of life and the tree of knowledge from genesis, the frankincense and myrrh from Jesus’s birth and palm Sunday. If you’re very interested, Wikipedia has a list of plant references from the bible.
Druidic and pagan religions and beliefs tend to incorporate a lot of plants into them. There are the druid groves, there are trees and other plants as gods and goddesses, or messengers of them. One belief talks of the holly king and the oak king as ruling over different halves of the year. And particular plants have particular traits, such as the hazel signifying wisdom.
Mistletoe was considered sacred by druids and celts, possibly because of the high esteem they held oak, the host plant, in. When mistletoe was found growing on an oak it would be gathered as part of a ceremony and was said to hold power.
The norse world tree, yggdrasill, is an evergreen ash tree who’s roots, trunk and branches bind together heaven, earth and the netherworld hel. The tree was considered to be holy and features in much mythology.
Ancient Greece and Rome
In ancient Greek and Rome, the gods and goddesses often had plants associated with them. For example lily was the flower for Hera, goddess of the moon, earth, air, women’s life, marriage and childbirth. In Rome, the lily was the embodiment of Juno, goddess of light, sky, marriage and motherhood.
Oak groves were considered to be temples of Zeus, god of thunder, and the rustling of the oak tree was thought to be a sign of his presence.
In Hinduism, plants are seen as spirits, as representations and used as temples. Heaps of flowers and garlands are offered to attract the gods, and sweet smelling flowers are used to repel evil. It is also said that the leaf of the banyan tree is the resting place for the god Krishna. The banyan tree is also the national tree of India and is considered sacred and found near temples and other religious sites such as sacred groves. These sacred groves which tend to have a presiding deity. While most of these are associated with Hindu gods, there are also sacred groves of Islamic and Buddhist origins.
The national flower of India is the lotus and has been held sacred for over 5000 years. It is a symbol of resurrection as it closes at night and sinks only to rise again in the morning. It also represents purity as the beautiful blossom grows clean and untouched by the muddy water around it.
- Role of plants in the Uttarakhand State of India
- Top 15 Religions Plants in India
- Mushrooms in wonderland
- Plants of the gods, part one and part two
I also touch on religious aspects of plants in my plant spirit posts.