Worshiping trees is common for many ethnic groups and religions, and Slavs are no exception, since Slavs lived in an area covered with dense forests.
The cult of sacred trees was widely spread and strong among Slavs. The statue of Gods and temples were made from wood. It was believed that trees have magic power, probably because of its longevity and ability of regeneration. The tree is considered as symbol of the universe as well as youth, wisdom, life, fertility, immortality. It was believed that trees are dwelling places for souls.
Slavic tribes had strong connection with nature and they believed in many gods that were patrons of forest, meadows, flowers, earth and sun. They also believed that every plant has a soul. Different sort of trees were subject of worshiping and sometimes forest was used instead of temples.
In front of the tree various rituals and celebrations were performed. Those trees had status of sacred ones and no one was allowed to cut or took any part of them, afraid of revenge of the spirits who lived inside the tree. If anyone broke this rule it was believed that he or some of his family members will die or have an accident. Almost every village had its sacred tree. The rituals that were performed consisted of prayer, adorning tree with flowers, red strings and fruits.
The sacred tree was patron of the village and protected its inhabitants from the thunder, drought and flood. Under the tree people organized meetings where important decisions were made. One of the most sacred trees among Slavs was oak tree. It was considered as tree that belongs to God Perun, the main deity of Slavic pantheon. Besides oak, other sorts of trees were worshiped: pear, yew, hornbeam and linden.
Dendrolatry in Slavic religion
Worshiping of oak tree continued its existence until nowadays in Christmas tradition. Although Slavic tribes are baptized, they could not completely forget their pagan Gods, so they incorporated old religion with Christianity. On the Christmas Eve branches of the oak tree are ritually burned. They represent deity, the God of vegetation that is burned in order to be born again. This is a symbolical presentation of life cycle.
Sometimes instead of oak other sorts can be used like yew tree or beech. Before tree is burned it is treated like deity. The bread and wine are offered as sacrifice. These rituals have a goal to transfer the magic power of the tree to the people. During the burning of the tree people would wish happiness, wealth, health and fertility. It was believed that some trees can captivate the souls of the dead and be their dwelling place.
Apple tree sometimes was planted on the graves because of its ability to keep the souls. Since in traditional beliefs trees had divine nature, it was thought that they can protect from illness and misfortunes. The pieces of hawthorn wood were used as amulet since it was the most powerful in protecting from demons. On the other hand it was believed that in some trees lived demons, witches and other evil creatures. Nut tree belonged to the underworld and demons, and it was never planted near houses. Linden forests were also cult places among Slavs.
The statues of gods were made from the linden wood, under the tree – weddings were celebrated. Yew tree is, according to legends, “fairy tree” and protects from demons, curses, witches and other evil forces. The pieces of yew tree were used as amulet for protection of people and cattle.
Maple tree was also sacred tree associated with cult of the dead and ancestor cult. In the past, people were buried in hollow maple timber in order that tree protects soul from demons in the afterlife. Although Slavic people started being baptized centuries ago, the cult of tree survived until nowadays and is incorporated in Christian tradition.