Trees symbolise nature, creation and fertility and in many cultures, are representative of gods themselves. The motif of trees and forest are prevalent in Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Two trees in particular, the Hazel and Almond are distinctly named in the tales.
Hazel trees were prominent in Celtic folklore, symbolising wisdom and creativity, qualities that Aschenputtel (p.118) displays when solving the trials her stepmother sets. The tree becomes a surrogate mother, providing aid, comfort and, ultimately, a means to freedom. Aschenputtel’s deliverance is embodied in the way the young hazel flowers move from parent flowers when maturing. This signifies her imminent adulthood and eventual departure from her mother, the tree.
The Almond Tree (p.186) effectively demonstrates a strong Christian presence through the tree. Biblically, God is the almond tree of Israel. As the first tree to sprout and the last to lose leaves, it is ever watchful. This mirrors the story’s pious mother and her son, who in death are laid beneath the tree and elevated to an almost angelic presence. The godlike properties of the tree continue to manifest when the boy is ultimately returned to his family.
While some trees were named for their unique attributes, the forests themselves held their own sway within the stories. Forests are a liminal stage for a story’s revelations or transformations. On entering the wood, characters reach a momentary impasse. Woods are the home of magical beings and chatty animals, which fuel the transformation to heroic status when the impasse is overcome. This is evident in Hansel and Grethel, The Golden Goose and The Golden Bird among others.
While seeming dense and mysterious, the longevity of forests primes them as purveyors of knowledge. Secrets are told beneath trees, identities are uncovered in its isolation and both good and bad take refuge in its darkness. Forests signify strength, sustainability and durability, aspects that reflect in fairytales themselves. These stories haven taken root and manifested in our consciousness and will continue to for generations.
Citations (info referenced from these sites)
- Grimm’s Fairy Tales: Lucy Carne translation – Children’s and Household Tales
- Storyteller Magic http://www.storytellermagic.com/guides_journey.htm
- Trees of Friendship http://friendshiptrees.blogspot.kr/2009/01/oak-tree-and-its-symbols.html
- The Holy Land http://www.christusrex.org/www1/ofm/mag/HolyLnA2.html
- Wikipedia/Enchanted Forest http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enchanted_forest
- Mythic Imagination http://www.mythicjourneys.org/newsletter_dec06_guerin.html
- What’s your sign http://www.whats-your-sign.com/celtic-meaning-hazel-tree.html
- Ancient Yew http://www.ancient-yew.org/mi.php/trees-in-mythology/79