Mythology of Trees; The Linden Tree
Leading up to our acquisition of a Lime tree suitable for a dugout canoe for this year’s Bushcraft show I thought I’d have a look at some of the stories and mythology that surround this tree.
I do not intent to go into the broad range of uses that the Lime tree can be put to, as this has in part already been covered in previous blogs in our plant fact sheets and those looking at the retting of the bark for cordage. Instead I want to focus on the cultural significance that trees can and should have in the ways they can enrich our lives far beyond their economic value. Cultural values and benefits will differ between trees but also between individuals depending on your own culture history as well as that of the site. These aspects of a more complex relationship with nature are being more considered in the management of woodlands and the wider countryside. For some these factors may seem of less importance when compared to economic considerations but I strongly feel that this is not the approach that we should be taking when it comes to environmental management, which is what most activities fundamentally boil down to. For the sustainability of biological systems, landscapes and consequently our own human well being the greater the value at which we hold trees the better it will be for us. This is not meant to be a ‘green’ sermon, just my thoughts on the benefits of us re-engaging with our landscapes and placing a higher cultural value on the natural world.
There are three species of Lime native to the UK; the Small-leaved Lime (Tilia cordarta), Large-leaved Lime (Tilia platyphllyos) and Common Lime (Tilia x europaea). Of the three species the Common Lime is our most common and being a hybrid, shares characteristics of both the Small and Large-leaved Limes. Tilia cordarta was once a dominate woodland species but is now a much rarer site in our woodlands. Due to its preference for moist, well drained and nutrient rich soils, much of its habitat has been cleared for agriculture and subsequently lost. Where it is still found, it is often used as an indicator for ancient woodland due to its poor ability to re-colonise secondary woodlands. Ancient woodland is categorised as woodland that has been shown to be present since AD1600. This date is used as it is in conjunction with the first accurate mapping of estates throughout England so any woodland shown to be present on these maps, even if heavily managed, are medieval and deemed natural.
Right across Europe there exists many differing mythologies associated with the Lime but often they have a linking theme that runs through.
In Slavic mythology the belief is held that the Linden tree is sacred and in many Eastern European countries it is upheld as ‘Holy’, as a result many villages and towns are named after the Linden. In Slovenia the tradition of Lime trees representing places where common decision making or matters of importance are discussed holds with many towns and villages having a Lime tree growing in its centre. For Slovenia the lime is their national symbol and as a result has been planted to commemorate numerous historical occasions over the centuries. The oldest of these being over 700 years old. Equally in Germany where the tradition of planting Limes in towns and villages existed, we can also see in Berlin with the ‘Unter den Linten‘ has had an avenue of Limes growing down it since the 16th Century, representing the cultural heart of the city prior to the second world war.
Throughout the Baltic, the tree is also associated with the goddess Laima who is responsible for the fate of childbirth, marriage and the patron saint of pregnant women. Laima’s relationship comes from the belief that she can take the form of a cuckoo while influencing the fate of those who desire it. For this reason people, and predominately women, have given sacrifice and prayed under the Lime in hope of gaining good luck and fertility.
In Celtic and Germanic tradition the Lime is seen to inspire fairness and justice and as a result evidence was heard beneath a Lime. These traditions have much in common with the Baltic traditions of Lime’s representing meeting places and cultural centres, along with the more gruesome tradition of administering ‘justice’ or sacrifice beneath a Lime!
All of the the above stories can be seen as quaint tales from distant, less-enlightened, times. Alternatively I feel that learning the rich and varied stories that surround our native trees and animals we enrich our experiences within nature which subsequently enriches our lives! To me this is one way to increase the ‘value’ of our land. By giving people a place within it and a greater sense of belonging. Ultimately if we learn to value what we see around us it will provide for us what we need in a way that benefits everyone.
- Flora Britannica, Richard Maybe, First edition: Chatto & Windus / Sinclair Stevenson, 1996
- Cultural value of Trees, woods and forests, Paul Tabbush, March 2010, Forest research, Forestry commission.
- Francis Rose, British Wildlife, Isuue 10, P241-251, Indicators of anchient Woodland, 1990
- http://www.britannica.com/plant/linden-plant, 2015
- http://www.britannica.com/topic/Laima, 2015
- http://www.britannica.com/topic/Unter-den-Linden, 2015