Arbor felix

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"Trees were once the sacred precincts of the Gods, and, following
ancient established rituals, country places even now dedicate an
outstandingly tall tree to a God. Even images of shining gold and
ivory are worshipped less by us than forests and their silence.
Different types of trees are dedicated to their own deities and these
relationships are kept for all time. For example, the Italian holm
oak is sacred to Jupiter, the laurel to Apollo, the olive to Minerva,
the myrtle to Venus, and the poplar to Hercules. We also believe that
the Silvani and Fauni and various goddesses are, as it were, assigned
to forests by heaven (G. Plinius Secundus, Hist. Nat. 12.3)."
The first sacred shrine to be dedicated at Rome was said to be that
of Jupiter Feretrius (Livy 1.10.7). This was "an oak which the
shepherds held sacred" on the Capitoline Hill. Offerings and votives
were hung from trees, "an oak hung with horns, a beech with animal
skins… a tree trunk in which a hatchet has carved a divine effigy
(Florides 1.3-4)." Apuleius mentioned similar rustic shrines and
Horace dedicated a shrine to Diana beneath a pine tree overhanging
his villa (Carmina 3.22.1-8). An estate would hold several such
shrines, while others were near boundary markers between neighbors,
or else near crossroads. "I devoutly worship the tree stump in the
depths of the countryside or an ancient stone garlanded with flowers
where paths cross (Tibullus 1.1.11)."
Among the many taboos placed on the flamen Dialis, one was that "the
nail parings of the Dialis and his hair trimmings are buried in earth
under a fruitful tree (Gellius, Noctes Atticae X.15.1-25)."
"The beneficial trees (felices arbores) are thought to be the oak,
the forest oak, holm oak, cork tree, beech tree, hazel, service berry
tree, white fig, pear tree, apple tree, the vine, the plum tree,
cornel (red dogwood), cherry tree, and the Italian lotus (Macrobius,
Saturnalia 3.20.2)." The iurglans> was the beechnut, or chestnut of
Jupiter, whose fruit "they esteemed worthy of the Gods (Gavius
Bassius, GRF fr. 5)."
Other trees were dedicated to the Di inferi and thus were to be
avoided as "arbores infelices". These are various ferns, and the
black fig, and whatever other trees have black branches or black
fruits. Others are acrifolium, the wild forest pears, red plums and
others that were thought to bring forth evil omens and bad prodigies.
Certain trees were regarded as protective, purifying, or beneficial.
The whitethorn was carried in bridal processions as one means to
protect the bride from the evil eye of onlookers, and was later hung
over the lintel of the groom's house as a means of guarding against
evil influences. The "Sabine herb" mentioned in marriages rites and
rites of purification was a variety of juniper. The groom and bride
would exchange boughs of pine that they would then place in the fire
atop an altar as an offering to Juno. Certain religious articles
were required to be made from specific trees. The fetiales carried
spears made of cornel (Livy I.32.6-14). The fasces were rods made of
elm (Plautus Asinaria 262-4). The lituus of augures was made of a
single tree branch, without knots, and having a natural curl, taken
from one of the "fruitful" trees (arbores felices)mentioned by
Veranius, in Ex Pontificalum Quaestionum Libris, and quoted by
The molucum refers to the special manner in which tree limbs were
stacked to form the focus on an altar. They were placed one on
another, moving is a clockwise direction to build up a square tower.
Certain woods were preferred, depending on the deity for who the
sacrifices were made. In the case of sacrifices to the Di inferi,
arbores infelices might be used, but on a round altar often set down
in a pit, with the wood leaning up on one another in a circle, like a
camp fire. The molucum was used only for the celestial Gods. To use
arbores infelices on an altar to the celestial Gods would render the
altar impure and unusable until it could be purified. Appropriate
firewood would be selected according to which deity was being invoked.
There was the idea, as Pliny mentions, that certain types of trees
held the numen of a particular deity. Bringing a tree limb into a
shrine or house, or into a ritual, therefore meant bringing along the
God's or Goddess' numen as well. So care was made on which trees to
use in any ritual matter. Wooden images of the Gods were
specifically made of an appropriate wood for this very reason, that
the numen natural to the tree might attract a more powerful numen of
the deity and thus bless whatever place in which it was placed. A
number of amulets, charms and statues made of appropriate woods and
herbs were placed throughout a house for the same reason, to fill it
with numina of the Gods. Care was especially given to the windows of
rooms where children slept, charms hung over them to ward off evil.
Pliny's Natural History is filled with information on such charms,
and a great deal more about the Romans' use of trees.
[[Category:Roman religion]]

Revision as of 21:46, 10 March 2011

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