Category Archives: Religion

“Oldest Buddhist shrine” shows evidence of tree-worship

From the National Geographic, “Oldest Buddhist Shrine Uncovered In Nepal May Push Back the Buddha’s Birth Date“:

Digging beneath a central shrine, the researchers uncovered postholes pointing to a wooden railing surrounding a tree shrine and dating to around 550 B.C., says Coningham. They also found an older brick structure.

The center of the shrine was unroofed, the team found, and contained mineralized tree roots, surrounded by clay floors worn smooth by visitors. It was likely an ancient bodhigara, or tree shrine.

The tree roots appear to have been fertilized, and although bodhigara are found in older Indian traditions, the shrine lacked the signs of sacrifices or offerings found at such sites.

“It was very clean, in fact, which points to the Buddhist tradition of nonviolence and nonofferings,” says Coningham.

[...]

Julia Shaw, a lecturer in South Asian archaeology at University College London, called the claims for a wooden railing surrounding a possible tree shrine convincing but speculative.

She was cautious about the oldest Buddhist shrine claim.

“The worship of trees, often at simple altars, was a ubiquitous feature of ancient Indian religions, and given the degree of overlap between Buddhist ritual and pre-existing traditions, it is also possible that what is being described represents an older tree shrine quite disconnected from the worship of the historical Buddha,” Shaw says.

“Still, it does indeed present some new insights into the archaeology of Indian ritual in general,” she adds.

Etrogcello for the New Year of the Trees

Rabbi Rachel Barenblat saved the etrogs from last Sukkot and has been soaking them in vodka, making etrogcello to celebrate the trees.

But really the reason I make the etrogcello is so that we can drink it at Tu BiShvat. The New Year of the Trees; the birthday, according to Talmud, of every tree, no matter when it was planted. The date when (our tradition says) the sap begins to rise to feed the trees for the year to come; the time when cosmic sap begins to rise, renewing our spiritual energy for the welter of spring festivals ahead. How better to celebrate Tu BiShvat than with this pri etz hadar, this fruit of a goodly tree, which we so cherished back at Sukkot? It stitches the harvest season to this moment in deepest New England winter. It reminds me that everything which has been dormant can once again bear fruit.

Read the rest.

Arboreal photo-blogging roundup

Luara Hegfield has been posting some wonderfully atmospheric photos of trees to accompany her blog entries for the “river of stones” January mindful writing challenge (see the Writing Our Way home blog for more on that). I especially liked this one of tree branches at dusk, these three of trees and water, and this lone birch.

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Welsh painter Clive Hicks-Jenkins blogged some photos from his holiday visit to the medieval town of Sarlat in southern France, which included a shot of some awesomely grotesque trees which look as if they’ve been pollarded every year since the 14th century.

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On Wednesday, London blogger Jean Morris shared a stunningly blue collage calling attention to “The shapes of trees.”

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Back on January 4, Buddhist nun and photographer Seon Joon expressed her “new year’s resolutions: worship” in visual form, with three very arboreal photos. She included this quote:

I am glad I belong to a religion that worships a tree.
—Stephen Batchelor, Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist

Orchard-visiting wassail: a holiday tradition with pagan roots

Most people associate Wassail with Christmas caroling, but as the Wikipedia reminds us, it’s also the ancient, probably pre-Christian tradition of “drinking (and singing) the health of trees in the hopes that they might better thrive. … Perhaps unbeknown to the general public, this ancient English tradition is still very much thriving today.”

A web search (kindly conducted by rr of Twisted Rib blog) turned up several listings of events from recent years. Real Cider blog shared a select list of Wassail events 2011, ranging from the 6th to the 23rd of January. Several more are listed on the British Christmas Customs and Traditions page for Wassailing (which also includes some useful information about the custom). This list from 2009 is the most comprehensive we’ve seen, though it may be out of date. And the best documented single event on the web appears to be the wassailing at the village of Whimple in east Devon.

Whimple Wassailing was re-started in 1993 under the auspices of Whimple History Society who saw it as their duty to try to revive this industry so vital to the well-being of the area and, of course, the national interest. Our ritual follows the traditional well-tried and tested ceremony of our predecessors with the Mayor in his robes of office and the Princess carrying lightly toasted bread in her delicately trimmed flasket, whilst the Queen, wearing her crown of Ivy, Lichen and Mistletoe, recites the traditional verse.

The original Whimple Incantation
has been retained:-

Here’s to thee, old apple tree,
That blooms well, bears well.
Hats full, caps full,
Three bushel bags full,
An’ all under one tree.
Hurrah! Hurrah!

Her Majesty is then gently but manfully assisted up the tree in order to place the cyder-soaked toast in the branches whilst the assembled throng, accompanied by a group of talented musicians, sing the Wassail Song and dance around the tree. The Mulled Cider or ‘Wassail Cup’ is produced and everyone takes a sample with their ‘Clayen Cup’.

The Guns are fired and a general rumpus is created by the crowd banging their saucepan lids and playing a variety of percussion ‘instruments’ of all shapes and sizes to wake up the tree ready for the next crop.

Sounds like a good time!

Giant banyan roots

An Indian-American journalist searching for her roots on the banks of the Ganges had little to go on but a couple of clues: the family name, and someone’s recollection of a giant tree in the courtyard of the correct temple. Stop by Sacred Cows for a fascinating story.

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