Page: The Sacred Tree

Empowered by Design?

"First Nations' Artforms in Relationship to Spirituality"


Tree of Life
Hawaiian Palm The Sequoia
Ponderosas The Yoga Tree
The Arbutus Wisdom Tree About Trees

The Sacred Tree

    "For all the people of the earth, the Creator has planted a Sacred Tree under which they all may gather, and there find healing, power, wisdom and security. The roots of this tree spread deep into the body of Mother Earth. Its branches reach upward like hands praying to Father Sky. The fruits of this tree are the good things the Creator has given to the people: teachings that show the path to love, compassion, generosity, patience, wisdom, justice, courage, respect, humility and many other wonderful gifts.

    The ancient ones taught us that the life of the Tree is the life of the people. If the people wander far away from the protective shadow of the Tree, if they forget to seek the nourishment of its fruit, or if they should turn against the tree and attempt to destroy it, great sorrow will fall upon the people. Many will become sick at heart. The people will lose their power. They will cease to dream dreams and see visions. They will become unable to tell the truth and to deal with each other honestly. They will forget how to survive in their own land. Their lives will become filled with anger and gloom. Little by little they will poison themselves and all they touch.

    It was foretold that these things would come to pass, but that the Tree would never die. And as long as the Tree lives, the people live. It was also foretold that the day would come when the people would awaken, as if from a long, drugged sleep; that they would begin, timidly at first but then with great urgency, to search again for the Sacred Tree." - ( Sacred Tree: 7)

* Courtney Milne
(Medicine Wheel overlooking Long Canyon, Sedona, Arizona, 9-1990)

    As we walk out of the dark forest of trees into the daylight we have a chance to use our volition, (will) for the good. The Sacred Medicine Wheel is the Sacred Tree and from the teachings come the first seed to plant, that volition is comprised of carrying out five steps:
    • Attention: (concentration)
    • Goal Setting
    • Initiating the action
    • Perseverance
    • Completing the action.
    Since volition is a primary force in developing potentialities, it is placed at the centre of the Medicine Wheel.

    We gain a vision of what our potential is from our Elders and from the Teachings of the Sacred Tree. By trying to live up to that vision and by trying to live like the people we admire, we grow and develop. Our identity, our vision of what we can become is like a strong magnet pulling us toward it. (The Sacred Tree:15)

    Identity consists of:

    • Body awareness: experiencing personal physical presence.
    • Self-concept: what you think about yourself and your potential.
    • Self-esteem: how you see yourself and your ability to grow and change.
    • Self-determination: the ability to use volition, (will) to actualize your physical and mental, emotional and spiritual potentialities. (The Sacred Tree:17)

    The patterning and use of energy creates values. There must be balance between our values concerning ourselves and our values concerning others, we cannot continue to develop our true potential as human beings, if there is imbalance. Individuals, whole communities suffer and even die. (The Sacred Tree: 18)

    Symbols such as the Sacred Tree represent and express meaning. Meaning helps to provide purpose and understanding in the lives of human beings. Symbols can be found on the walls of the first caves used by primary communities and have guided us to the far reaches of space in our attempts to understand the meaning of life itself. Through the experience of human consciousness, symbols are eternally giving birth to new understandings of the essence of life as it emerges, ever elusive, out of the unknown mist of creation. Symbols thus create an ever-increasing awareness of the ongoing flow of life. Symbols give more meaning to each sunrise and more meaning to each sunset.

    Meaning is important for health, well being and wholeness of individuals and communities. The presence of symbols in a community, as well as the living out of a belief in these symbols is a measurement of the health and energies present in the community. Indeed, to live without symbols is to experience existence far short of our unlimited capacity as humans. Thus rebirth of the life and purpose of a people is accompanied by the revitalization of that peoples' symbols. (The Sacred Tree:20)

    Meaning adds strength to the argument when we value our Elders, leaders and teachers. Malerepa, Tibets' Great Yogi, believed that we can learn from anyone, be they a child, a beggar, a crone, a king or a holy man. From; the same book comes a quote from Arnold J. Toynbee:

      "The works of artists and men of letters outlive the deeds
      of business men, soldiers and statesmen.
      The poets and philosophers outrange the historians;
      While the prophets and saints overtop and outlast them all." - (p. x) (14)

    The Medicine Wheel is the ancient symbol used by almost all the Native people of North and South America. The basic expression is so:
      • the four Grandfathers
      • the four winds
      • the four cardinal directions
      • the four colours

    - along with many other relationships that can be expressed in sets of four. Just as the mirror can be used to see things not normally visible, (e.g. behind us or around a corner) the Medicine Wheel can be used to help persons see or understand things that we cannot quite see or understand because they are ideas and not physical objects.

    The Medicine Wheel teaches that the four symbolic races are all part of the same human family and that we are all brothers and sister living on Mother Earth. The Mohawk Nation also teach us that we are all cousins, regardless of our beliefs or the colour of our skin.

    Potentially the seed has a mighty tree within it. The four aspects of our nature are like seeds. They have the potential to grow into powerful gifts.

    The human passes through four stages from birth to death. Born into infancy and growing into childhood, an adult and finally the older adult that has experienced much in life. The gift is then to pass it on to those who follow.

    The First Nations call the North American Continent Turtle Island, while Other Identities say it is Canada. Whatever we name the land, it has four directions, East, South, West and North. Each direction has significant meaning to the First Nations' spiritual practices.

    Also taught, are the sacredness of the four elements of fire, water, air and earth, all of which are distinctive and powerful, all connected and part of the physical world - gifts that must be respected equally to balance the way we live. Each of the four colours of man, black, yellow, white and red was asked to care for one of the gifts.

    The four seasons, spring, summer, fall and winter are not so noticeable on the West Coast. However, in the interior of the land, such as on the Prairies and moving more easterly, the seasons are very evident and signal the coming changes from one to the next, from extreme cold in the winter to burning heat in summer are the norms. The seasons are heralded by the changes in the wind with a new scent in the air. Most First Nations are finely tuned to the minute changes that occur.

    Finally, I pondered the idea that the Aboriginal people of the land perhaps noticed when dressing animals killed in the hunt, that the animals had four chambers in the heart. Since the number four is a significant symbol in the allocation of time and spatial elements, the heart then became a powerful symbol, also. Younger hunters and gatherers would have been aware of the fact that when the heart stopped beating, life would end. This awareness is a very spiritual insight and it also tells the story of why there is such reverence offered to the animals - why the animal is placed before man on the sacred scale of life.

      "The old Lakota was wise. He knew that man's heart away from nature becomes hard;
      he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too. So he kept his youth close to its softening influence."
      - McLuhan (1991).

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© - D. M. Small.