As spring is beginning around my parts I am beginning to observe all sorts of new life unfolding from underneath the once snow-packed layers of the field. Buds are appearing on the trees, flowers are popping up from the soil, birds are stirring again in a way they don’t here in the winter.
I have been on this geological or inorganic kick with my art but I am equally reminded of the vegetable or organic world around me, especially this time of year. I have a sort of grand scheme in my head about my art going from the substrate of the geological, up through the vegetable realms and then into, well, that which is beyond: to properly work this out as a course of artistic development is the task of a lifetime. As a “Nature Artist” or whatever, it is my very own frieze of life.
So the vegetable resurrection is upon us. This gets me thinking about all the mythology that surrounds this life cycle process. A summary list would include all sorts of stories that cross over regional and cultural boundaries whose content is universal. In the Nordic myth it is the ash tree of Yggdrasil that fastens earth and the underworld and heaven by its roots. Or it is the great oaks of Zeus, the laurel to Apollo, the olive to Athena, the fig under which Romulus and Remus suckled the she-wolf. It is the grove of Nemi sacred to Diana the guardian priest awaited the cycle of death and renewal. It is the Muslim Lote tree that marks the boundaries of understanding the realm of divine mystery. It is the Jewish tree of the Sephiroth. It is the Buddhist Tree of Wisdom. It is the Kien-mou of the Chinese. It is the sap giving eternal life to the Haoma of the Persians. It is the Canaanite tree of Ashterah. In the Brahmin and Kemet initiations, the lotus blossoms represent spinning vertices of energy located at various points of the spinal column.The ancient Druids whose name, according to some interpretations, signifies the “men of the oak trees.” Then there are the famous cedars of Lebanon cut down to build the Temple of Solomon, which were really not trees at all but illumined sages. Then there are the appellations of the Tree of Knowledge (of Good and Evil) and the Tree of Life which gets us to think of a point of balance, through which the Kabalahists believed that “unbalanced forces perish in the void.” Then there is the acacia held in religious esteem by many, including the Masons, as it is claimed that the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant were species of acacia. There are the ‘pagan’ symbolism of the evergreen, which spills over into Christianity, as symbolic of the immortal part of regeneration which survives the destruction of visible nature. Lastly, and returning to our theme again of the vegetable resurrection, there is the symbolism in Christianity of the verdant cross. I could keep going because there is a massive reservoir of vegetable mythology but the point I would like to convey is the towards a simple observation of the universal myth surrounding the arboreal symbols and their connection to regeneration, resurrection new life etc.
A lot of people today have a misanthropic view of mythology because they no longer understand it: the symbols no longer function as categories through which the understanding can grasp at the bigger picture of life and death. The disenchantment of the world has brought about a displacement of the ‘sacred canopy.’ Professed religious orientations are often so specialized in their narratives that they ignore symbols on a universal level, so that for example – as Easter will be approaching – Christians celebrate the evergreen resurrection without knowing its connection to older traditions, for example the eating of the flesh and blood (bread and wine) of Atys who was transformed into a pine tree. Those of us initiated into the ancient mysteries understand that symbols are a well of wisdom, whereas there are many who taking it literally are either caught up in fundamentalism or else interested only in derisory and condescending assumptions.
In the front of my studio there is a massive Oak tree. It is definitely well over a century old and still going strong and it has been cloning small versions of itself throughout its life-time. My wife has dug up these small clones from the ground shady by this mighty tree and transferred them around our yard. Both of us shall be long gone before any of these signs of new life grow into such a massive tree. I think the mistake that people have made when it comes to mythology is to presuppose that the ‘worship’ of certain symbols or objects is a worship of that thing or object, whereas what is really being revered there is the principle through which that object may serve as a testament.
The point of my post is to turn again towards the spring of life. This spring of life makes appearances throughout the world’s ancient mythologies to symbolize the life processes of the earth, Gaia itself – the Great Mother.