Originally posted on Through the mist of the past:

Xinjiang is the north-western region of China, north of Tibet and at the same longitude than India. It is a very arid and desertic land.
This region, also called Chinese Turkestan, is mostly inhabited by the Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking  population. This region is turcophone since the 9th century AD, but Indo-european populations (i.e. the so-called “Tocharians” and Indo-iranianSakas (leaving tracks of their language in Xinjiang (the Khotanese language)) have inhabited this place long before which explains that many words have still indo-european roots, in the local vocabulary.

This is the place of discovery of the Tarim Basin mummies whose some are about 4,000 years old. Many of them have Europoid phenotypes (and indeed, it is worthy of mention that some old Chinese texts described some populations of these general regions, like the Wusun, as redhead individuals with blue eyes, which is also in…

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Oomonoimi Jinja, Yamagata


On mountain religions,

Originally posted on Okunomichi:

Michinoku map                                              

Omonoimi Jinja (Oomonoimi / Ohmonoimi / Ohomonoimi Jinja) is a shrine in Yamagata that venerates Mt. Chokaisan. There are three shrine locations. The mountain itself is the Omonoimi-no-Kami. It is an active volcano and has erupted several times in recorded history.

Kita-no-yama, Awa-umi-dake, was the name of Chokaisan before it was renamed in the year 1342. This mountain marked the northern boundary of the land in olden days, and it protected against invasions. On the peak of Kita-no-yama is the honsha of Omonoimi Jinja.

Who is Omonoimi-no-Kami? In addition to the Kita-no-yama mountain, this kami is also Ooimi-no-Kami, Toyouke Daijin, and Kurakine-no-tama-no-mikoto (brother of Izanagi), according to shrine information.

The mountain became a place for the practice of shugendo. There are two gateway training centers in the…

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“The Heavenly Maiden of Utsubukiyama”


From San’in Monogatari

Originally posted on San'in Monogatari:

Many people across Japan are familiar with the basics of the tennyo (heavenly maiden) legend, and there are a lot of fun ways to read into it, and compare or combine it with the legend of the star-crossed lovers–including another heavenly maiden–who meet on Tanabata. Although commercially celebrated on July 7, the celestial activity it actually celebrates was on August 2 this year. Next year (2015), it will be on August 20.

This particular version of a well-known legend takes place in Kurayoshi, Tottori Prefecture. The kids of Kurayoshi still keep the associated drum and flute traditional alive, as you can see on their blog.

Click for source

A very, very long time ago, in the land of Hoki, a young woodcutter was going about his usual work when he discovered something hanging on a boulder which he had never seen before. It was a beautiful, pure white…

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Boars belong to the Mountain Goddess…

Featured here is the Mountain Goddess, which Short calls the Yama no Kami. However, there are also other Yama no Kami, some of which are male, names differ depending upon the region, and the legends are different as well.

By Kevin Short

By Kevin Short

Nature in Short / Man’s survival is an age-old matter of flattering the Mountain Goddess

By Kevin Short / Special to The Japan News
Japan Times, August 19, 2014

One of my favorite Japanese folklore themes is the Mountain Goddess and the Devil Stinger. This is a story that is widely told in southern Kyushu, but has similar versions in other areas of the country. The Mountain Goddess, or Yama no Kami, is a Diana-like ruler of lands where men live by hunting wild boar or black bear, or by felling trees or gathering herbs. Men who work in the mountains revere the Yama no Kami as the ultimate life force animating the forests and the plants and animals that live there.

The great storywriter and folklorist Muku Hatoju once accompanied a traditional wild boar hunter on a trip deep into the mountains along the border of Kagoshima and Miyazaki Prefectures. “The wild boars we hunt do not belong to us.” The old hunter explained. “They belong to the Mountain Goddess. When we go boar hunting, we humbly ask the goddess to share some of her bounty with us.”

But ruling over the mountains and forest creatures are not the Mountain Goddess’ only task. In early spring, when the rice paddies are ready for planting, she morphs into the Ta no Kami or Rice Goddess. The Goddess leaves the mountains and takes up residence on the dikes between the paddies. Here she stays, watching over the precious rice crop, until the harvest is completed in early autumn. Then she returns to her mountain domain. Rice farmers usually engage in celebrations, including dancing, music and sometimes theater, to welcome the Goddess into the paddies in spring, and to send her back to the mountains in autumn. The Mountain Goddess is a folk superheroine that blesses the lives and livelihoods of both rice farmers and traditional mountain folk.

In Japan, local kami are asked or thanked for their blessings with food, drink and entertainment. Beautiful fish, such as pink sea-bream (tai) are favored by most kami. The Mountain Goddess, however, must be handled with extreme delicacy.

Although kindhearted and with a true feeling of empathy for the people, she is subject to fits of almost manic depression, during which the natural order begins to break down in both the mountains and the paddies.

The Mountain Goddess gets particularly despondent about her looks. She is, if you will, a bit funny looking. If you presented her with a sea bream, she would only feel sadder; because the beautiful fish would stand in sharp contrast to her own strangeness. The only way to coax the Goddess out of a funk is with a fish that makes her feel better about herself. To qualify, the fish would have to be even stranger-looking than the Goddess.

The fish selected for this grave honor is the oni-okoze, called Devil Stinger in English. The oni-okoze is one of a dozen or so species of very similar-looking fish in the genus Inimicus, found in the warm tropical and sub-tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific region. All these fish are ambush predators. They lie camouflaged on the ocean floor until a smaller fish passes close, then thrust upwards at incredible speed. The passing fish is sucked into a wide vacuum-cleaner mouth, and swallowed whole before it even realizes what happened!

The oni-okoze is truly one very strange-looking fish! The heavy body is designed to lay still either on the ocean bottom or just inches above it. The huge, bulging eyes are on top of the head, and the big mouth opens nearly straight up. Bits of skin hang down from the jaws and face, made to look like pieces of algae attached to a rock. The lower two rays of the pectoral fins (muna-bire) can rotate freely, and are used as stiltlike supports for “walking” along the sea bottom.

To protect themselves, devil stingers are armed with a row of long, hard, sharp spines along their dorsal surface. These spines can be made to point straight upward and contain very powerful poisons in sacs at their base.

Swimmers and divers sometimes accidentally step on or touch camouflaged oni-okoze. Poison symptoms range from excruciating pain and severe swelling and reddening, to partial paralysis, and even to breathing difficulty and eventual heart failure.

In Japan the oni-okoze live from inshore up to about 200 meters deep, as far north as Niigata and Chiba prefectures. The devil stinger is considered to be delicious, and in some areas is even raised in aquaculture pens.

Depictions of the Yama no Kami are rare, but stone statues of the Ta no Kami are common throughout the rice paddy countryside of eastern Kagoshima and southern Miyazaki. An amazing chance to see four of them in Tokyo is in front of a small Suitengu shrine at Ikebukuro Ekimae Park, just a short walk northeast from Ikebukuro Station. Ta no Kami usually carry a shamoji rice ladle and a bowl of steamed rice. They wear unusual hoods or hats that are actually part of a neat deception. Viewed from behind, the hood or hat becomes the head of a classic male phallic symbol. The wish embodied in the stones is for fertility and abundance, not only in the rice paddies, but in the farmers’ homes as well.

Short is a naturalist and cultural anthropology professor at Tokyo University of Information Sciences.

Ram’s horns on the painted mural tombs of western Japan

Painted tomb mural, Mezurashiizuka tomb, Fukuoka

Painted tomb mural, Mezurashiizuka tomb, Fukuoka (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A distinctive repetitive spiral form motif appears on the painted mural walls of tombs in Western Japan of the Kofun Period. Depicted in the photo of the tomb mural above, the “ram’s horn” symbol appears as a herald banner on a funerary “Boat of the Underworld” scene (a fairly universal motif and belief in ancient times).

Thought locally to represent warabi fernfronds, they are actually recognizable tamgas and cultural motifs from specific Turkic clans of ( Karakalpak, Kazakh, Qipchak) Central Asia, known as rams’ horns, though they have become common rug motifs along the migration trail blazed by the Turkic tribes through nations in antiquity times.

A closeup section of the Ozuka tumulus shows the repetitive motif of the ram's horn in an animalistic context rather than vegetative one

A closeup section of the Ozuka tumulus (Fukuoka, Kyushu) shows the repetitive motif of the ram’s horn in an animalistic context rather than vegetative one

The marked appearance of the ram’s horns pattern raises the intriguing and strong suggestion of the arrival of certain ancestral Turkic lineages related to the Qipchaks in Japan. This is especially distinctive in the light of the total absence of sheep and rams as an animal species in the Japanese archipelago.

The ram's horn motif on a 5th c. Armour, 国立中央博物館 suggests a male virility and valour motif

The ram’s horn motif on a 5th c. Armour ( 国立中央博物館) suggests a male virility and valour motif. The artefact is thought to be associated closely with the Korean Kaya confederation of tribes, some of which may thus have been of  Turkic lineages

On ram’s horn symbolism in Central Asia, the Azerbaijan Rug Project reported:


The motifs of this type of rugs have pre-Islamic Turkic totemic sources. Many geometric devices used in Oysuzlu type of rugs can be found commonly in rugs of Turkic speaking people of Central Asia: Turkmen, Kyrghyz, Kazak* and Karakalpak.

Although the design is attributed to Oysuzlu by L. Kerimov, it is almost certainly known that the rugs with this specific design were produced in the villages of Lowland Bordjalou Region, not in Oysuzlu village of Tovuz District (Kazak Region).

The main feature of this design is having two interlocked grounds in the central field: the green and red areas in this example (background vs. foreground). The composition of the central field consists of the three hooked medallions and half hook-rimmed lozenges on the sides of the central field aligned on the vertical axis.


Rams' horn and cruciform motif

Rams’ horn and cruciform motif

The cruciform device inside the ketebe of the central medallion is often found in Kazak, Ganja, Bordjalou and even in some Kuba rugs in different forms. The device basically consists of a cross with the four ends of which terminate in a pair of horns.

Here are the same type of hooked devices in various shapes used in so called “Sewan” rugs.

What does this motif represent for? It could well be representing a tamga – a mark used mainly by Turkic people representing an emblem of a particular tribe or a clan. They used tamgas to identify property or cattle belonging to a specific Turkic clan, usually as a stamp. Some tribes, like the Ak Koyunlu (White Sheep), put their tamga on their flags and stamped their coinage with it.

The Karakalpak Kochot Pattern

A considerable number of Kyrgyz and Kazak rugs contain a motif frequently described as Karakalpak kochot. The similarity of the Karakalpak kochot and Borchaly/Oysuzlu device is clear. Karakalpak kochot also consists of a cross, the four ends of which terminate in a pair of horns. A very similar motif occurs in the embroidery of the Karakalpaks of the Aral delta (especially on the top of skull caps). In fact, this motif can be found in the applied art works of all Turkic People, from Central Asia to Iran, from Caucasia to Anatolia:

Karakalpak kolchot

Karakalpak kolchot

Koch or Kosh (qošqar) means a ram in all Turkic languages. As the name of this motif in Kyrgyz and Karakalpak is related to a ram, this suggests us the motif could be representing ram’s horn.

The hooked gül /inner medallion which is containing the ketebe and the cruciform device can be related to the early Central Asian forms and a number of Turkish rugs from Anatolia.”

*Kazakh or Qazakh: They are considered as a subtribe of Kypchak. The subgroups of Kazakh are Salahli, Kesemen, Poylu, Demirchiler etc.

Source: Some notes on the so-called ‘Oysuzlu’ design

Although these motifs are most associated with Kazakh-Turkic-Qipchak peoples today, they were also seen as tamgas belonging to the Sarmatians of the 1st c.-mid 2nd c. AD. (See The Tamgas Were Marks of Identification of the Hungarian Tribes and of their Religion ( The immigrants buried in the Fukuoka tombs may have have a mixed Iranic(Sarmatian)-Turkic tribe (see Dybo on early Turkic contacts). Cockerel standards, terracotta and metallurgy motifs also proliferate from the 3rd c. tumulus mounds onwards, the cock is a well-known known Sarmatian standard and tamgas symbol. The ram’s horn has been adopted as a symbol on the flag of the Crimean Tartars, an ethnic native Turkic group who arrived in the Crimea in thr 15th c. (The earliest known appearance ram’s horn symbols may be the ones at Metsamor’s Karahunj astronomical observatories (around 3000 BC) indicating their possible early origins/presence in the Anatolian region). Deborah Houlding’s The origins of the constellations Taurus and Aries traces the origins of the Taurus-Aries connection with the horn symbolism to the Egyptian-Mesopotamian veneration of sun worship.

The Metal Age nomadic tomb and warrior armour technology point to Eurasia as a source of the Mezurashii tomb “Solar Boat of the Underworld”, however, the close resemblance of the Austronesian motif of their ubiquitous “Spirit Boats”  on the Mannungul jar and on the Austronesian boat-houses leaves a perplexing question as to how and where the two cultures may have intermingled and adopted the same cosmology of the Underworld. See the Mananggul jar from the Philippines in the photo below, which carries both the spiral motif and “Spirit Boat” motif in the same combination as that of the Fukuoka tombs, minus the (West Asian-Egyptian) solar imagery. image

Genetics research suggests that the roots of the Austronesians lie in the zone of South China, Southeast China and (Kampuansai et al.,; Min-Sheng Peng et al. etc., scroll down to the bottom of this page for links to articles on Austronesian origins). The spirit boat cosmology appears to be shared by the haplogroup O tree from the earliest subclades. More research needs to be conducted on the early interactions between the Eurasians and the Austronesians/Austric peoples and on the diffusion of the shared ideas and technologies.


Further reading:

Tamgas and runes, magic numbers and magic symbols, by H Nickel

Color Appearance Recognition of Mural in the Ozuka Tumulus in Sunlight and Taper Light (Masuda et al.) a joint report of the University of Tokyo, Kyushu National Museum, National Research Institute for Cultural Properties

Sacred ram and the significance of the discovery of the 9000-year old ritual ram-arte by Niccolo Manassero

Chronology of the Turkic languages and linguistic contacts of the early Turks

Exploring the River of the Dead … (Heritage of Japan)

The Mannungul Jar as History Genetic history of Southeast Asian populations as revealed by ancient and modern human mitochondrial DNA analysis. Am J Phys Anthropol. 2008 Dec;137(4):425-40. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.20884

Insight into the Peopling of Southeast Asia from the Thai Population Genetic  Structure

Min-Sheng Peng, Tracing the Austronesian Footprint in Mainland Southeast Asia: A Perspective from Mitochondrial DNA

Kampuansai, Jatupol et al., Mitochondrial DNA variation of Thai-speaking populations in northern Thailand

Houlding, Deborah The origins of the constellations Taurus and Aries


Saruta-Biko and Saru-hijiri — They may have been Sarts, the earliest wandering ascetics to settle in Japan?

Sarutahiko Ōkami, in a somewhat comical depiction; taken from a late-19th-century Japanese painting Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Sarutahiko Ōkami, in a somewhat comical depiction; taken from a late-19th-century Japanese painting Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In the book Ascetic Practices in Japanese ReligionTullio Federico Lobetti identifies the earliest mountain ascetic practitioners of Japan as hijiri, who were inspired by Taoist medical texts (compiled by Mononobe no Kosen, Izumo no Hirosada, Abe no Manao) to undertake longevity practices.  An early ascetic practice spot was Mt Hira on the western shore of Lake Biwa, a movement founded by Soo in 859. Other well known early bastions of mountain ascetics were the Dewa Sanzan and the Yoshino to Kumano mountain range. The first hijiri is said to be Saru-hijiri. Another figure that would qualify as a hijiri mountain ascetic would be Saruta-Biko kami.

Sarutabiko is enshrined at the Tsubaki Grand shrine in Mie Prefecture, first among the 2000 shrines of Sarutahiko Ōkami, Sarutahiko Jinja in Ise, Mie and Ōasahiko Shrine in Tokushima Prefecture in addition to Ise Jingu.

Saruta-Biko is best known in mythology from the  Nihon Shoki texts as a sort of Guide-Mediator figure, the one who greets Ninigi-no-Mikoto, the grandson of Amaterasu, the Sun goddess, when he descends from Takama-ga-hara.

The etymology of Saruta-Biko is obscure. According to Michael Ashkenazi (Handbook of Mythology), saruta, which is traditionally transcribed with kanji characters that suggest the meaning “monkey-field” as a sort of double entendre, followed by the Classical Japanese noun hiko meaning “a male child of noble blood, a prince.” So that Sarutahiko Ōkami’s embellished name could be roughly translated into English as “Great God, Prince Saruta.

He is depicted as a towering man with a large beard, jeweled spear, ruddy face, and long nose — a description which fits closely the Tajik-Uzbek-Sart peoples.  We suggest that both his role and the name Saruta is a strong cognate with the known term Sarta or Sart or Sartuul peoples of Central Asia (found in Russian Turkestan, Uzbekistan, Xinjiang, Buryatia, Tajiks of Afghanistan). He was probably one of the early founding fathers of a member of the wandering Sart/Sartuul tribes who had come into Japan either as a merchant or as a religious ascetic propagating Buddhism, and who had come to be regarded as a mountain hijiri sage.  He was probably coopted by Ninigi’s forces, probably out of respect for his known class as a Sart and status as a “sage” ascetic, a local guide with strong knowledge of the mountains, and probably as a go-between-translator-mediator for dealings with the locals.

Sart people of Tajik-Uzbekistan Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Sart people of Russian Turkestan Photo: Wikimedia Commons

His role as mountain guide is suggestive that he may also have been a typical hottai “mountain opener” such as found in the yamabushi tradition and in Shugendo Lore (Gorai Shigeru), the miracle-performing mountain-opener is usually a sage monk, part of the triad of mountain kami, including the layman deity and the female deity of the mountain. Other Buddhist hijiri-openers of mountains are suggested in Shugendo Lore, to include Kukai, Shojo Daibosatsu, and Sanno, the Mountain King.

Taguchi castle in Kirishima said to be the remains of former residence of the Saruta-Biko kami, although Saruta-Biko is better known and associated with Ise, see Oracle of the Three Shrines: Windows on Japanese religion by Brian Bocking:

“At Yamada-ga-hara in the village of Numaki, in the Watarai district of Ise province, she came upon an old man and made enquiry of him. (The old man was Saruta-hiko-no-mikoto whose shrine now stands in the Ise shrine). The old man replied to her saying: “I have been here since the age of the gods. I have accepted the command of Tensho Daijin# to protect this holy shrine for the last two hundred and eighty thousand years. It is located by the Isuzu river and I will guide you there. ‘This is the Inner Shrine that we know today.
This old man’s nose was exceedingly long, at over five feet. Today when there are festivals in this province [the character known as] ‘the king’s nose’ first of all puts o a mask with a long nose. This has come to be understood as a custom dating from the age of the gods.
To continue, when the princess finally arrived and saw the village of Uji, she set up fifty bells on the heavenly reversed-sword. This is why it is called the Isuzu (‘fifty bells’ river. After this the princess returned home and built an identical shrine on the slope of Seta-Suzuka. Day and night she went to the Inner Shrine to make offerings and even though the road she had to travel was long in the extreme she never failed to retrun to this rustic shrine. This is what we know today as the Saigu (‘equal shrine’) (a saigu is a gu (shrine) extending four cho on all four sides). Follwing princess Yamato’s example, an imperial princess from every generation has transferred to this rural shrine in order to serve the Great Shrine [of Ise].
[#“Tensho Daijin was the pre-eminent deity among the five generations of earthly kami. Her parents were Izanagi no mikoto and Izanami no mikoto, last of the seven generations of heavenly kami.”]- pp 48~51 Brian Bocking, Oracle of the Three Shrines

Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney notes the monkey-moon symbolism* (scroll down below to read more on this) or associations with Saru-Biko kami, see Culture Through Time: Anthropological Approaches. Anthropologist Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney lists three factors that identify Sarutahiko as a monkey deity: saru means “monkey”, his features “include red buttocks, which are a prominent characteristic of Japanese macaques”, and as macaques gather shellfish at low tide, the Kojiki says his hand got caught in a shell while fishing and “a monkey with one hand caught in a shell is a frequent theme of Japanese folktales”.

Turning to the other ascetic or sage figure, Saru-hijiri, who was identified as a hijiri mountain ascetic and given considerable detailed description in the Indian Buddhist tradition of the Nihon ryoiki (and classed as hijiri in elevated status together with Prince Shotoku):

“The title of bodhisattva is given to four other eminent eminent religious persons: Konsu, the Ascetic; Dhyana Master Eigo; Saru-hijiri and Dhyana Master Eigo. These persons were free from attachments to the world, led a disciplined life, engaged in missionary works, and except for Saru-hijiri, were venerated by the emperors. Their relationship with the Emperors reflects the development of the imperial practice of granting the title of bodhisattva (bosatsu) to eminent monks, the first record of which is found in 749. The exceptional case of Saru-hiiri leads to a consideration of what hijiri means in the Nihon ryoiki.

Hijiri may be defined as a charismatic leader of lay Buddhist movements in medieval Japan, particularly in the pure land school. Originally the concept of hijiri developed not under Buddhist but also Taoist and Confucian influences. In China, where legendary emperors such as the Yellow Emperor, Yao and Shun, or Laotsu and Confucious were veneraged as sages, Sakyamuni was accepted as another great sage and added to the list. Kyokai, in compiling the Nihon ryoiki, may be seeking to portray Japanese sages under the influence of Chinese hagiography.

The Nihon ryoiki identifies only two persons as hijiri: one is Saru-hijiri, and the other is Prince Shotoku.

As has been pointed out, Saru-hijiri, an extraordinary nun with a deformed body, shows strong influences of the Indian tradition. On the other hand, Prince Shotoku’s legend reveals a Taoist influence in the concept of a “hidden sage”.

[However, we show here that it was a strong concept of the Saka people that of sages and taking care to entertain those who might be disguised sages (see also John Mock's "Shrine Traditions of Wakhan Afghanistan" which has strong cautionary tale about how to treat disguised mendicant sages).]

“Prince Shotoku’s ability to recognize saintliness in a beggar was greatly admired:

A sage is said to differ from an ordinary person in this way

We learn that a sage recognizes a sage, whereas an ordinary man cannot recognize a sage. The ordinary man sees nothing but the outer form of a beggar, while the sage has a penetrating eye able to recognize the hidden essence. It is a miraculous event.

In the Japanese religious tradition, no clear-cut distinction can be made between the sacred and secular. What I closest to “sacred” is sei, sho or hijiri, but its antonym is ordinary as understood by Kyokai. “Sacred” means “supreme pre-eminent, extraordinary.” No discontinuity exists. This is the basis for the doctrine of universal salvation . Each person has the potential to be a bodhisattva, although there are differences in the degrees of achievement, which is by no means predestined. The idea image of man is not a scholarly and virtuous monk, but one who lives an ordinary life yet reveals an extraordinary quality through such a life. In other words, he is in society and at the same time rises above society. Generally speaking, bodhisattvas are monks noted for their virtuous lives, while hijiri is a term applied to those who possess charismatic or miraculous qualities. The person who combined these two is Gyogi, the most admired figure throughout the Nihon ryoiki. He is the embodiment of compassionate love, wherein the two aspects are incorporated.”

 — Miraculous Stories from the Japanese Buddhist tradition: The Nihon Ryoiki of the monk Kyokai (Nakamura trans.)


Hijiri in Japanese finds its closest cognate in the Arab hijra, hijrah, hijirah words, from same root as for the word hijira and hijirah:
“The simple meaning of the word Hijrah (migration) is to move from one place to the other and take up residence there.”
– “What is the true meaning of hijirah?

Hijrah is known in conjunction with Islamic concepts, the Islamic calendar and the Prophet Mohamed’s flight:
“Hijrah refers to reviewing one’s entire cultural and traditional heritage to find what is wrong with it, and where therein corruption of ideas and misunderstanding lie.
In other words, Hijrah is identical to seeking repentance and purification of one’s soul. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said,
“Hijrah will not cease until repentance becomes useless; and repentance will not become useless until the sun rises from the west” (Abu Dawud).” — Hijrah

The above are consistent with an idea that Saru-hijiri may have been descendant of a migrant wandering ascetic tribe that bore strong notions of purification.

Who were the Sarts or Sartuul?

“The Sarts, or Sartuul, were an Iranian-speaking people that was plentiful in Central Asia in medieval times. They formed the urban and professional classes in the Turkic and Mongolian empires. Their closest relatives are the Tajiks of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Afghanistan. Even today certain families in Mongolia and Siberia are recognized as being Sartuul, but most of them have become Asiatic looking due to centuries of intermarriage with Mongols.
The Sarts have been around forever in Central Asia. In more ancient times they were called the Sughd. They are the Iranian people in Turan (Central Asia) that are referred to in the Shahnameh. They traded with China and Mongolia for silks, fur, and lapis lazuli from the Sayan Mountains. They spread Zoroastrianism to Mongolia and Siberia in ancient times, and one of their Zoroastrian shrines has been found near Irkutsk in the Angara River valley. Thanks to them Hormasta (Ahura Mazda) is one of the chief deities of Mongolian shamanism. For this very reason the inscription in honor of the Uighur khan at Khara Balgasun is written in both Turkish and Iranian languages. They were scribes, missionaries, priests, and merchants in all of the Central Asian empires. Thus white Iranian peoples have always been part of the ethnic mix of Central Asia and lived along the Silk Road corridor. Thus in the Tarim basin the Persian technology of the karez (underwater canal) has allowed modern Uighurs to grow luxuriant gardens of grapes in one of the harshest environments in the world.
When the Uighur khanate fell in the 8th century the remnants of that people migrated into what is now Xinjiang, far from their original capital in what is now Arhangai Aimag. At that time the ruling family was Asiatic Uighur Turks and the bureaucracy and merchant class were Sarts. A Turkic-speaking government with Iranian-speaking subjects in the cities and Turkic-speaking subjects among the pastoralists in the countryside. Sort of reminiscient of the relationship between the Normans and Anglo-Saxons in England, for while the Tajik language (Tajik is a dialect of Iranian) is only spoken by a small minority of pure Tajiks in Xinjiang, the Uighurs of today speak a Turkic language with a large number of borrowings from Sogdian/medieval Persian. The Uighur khanate may have in part collapsed because the royal family embraced Manichaeism, a heretical Zoroastrian/Christian sect that spread among the Iranian population of Central Asia and which preached pacifism and vegetarianism–not exactly traditional nomadic values–as well as free sex. When the Uighur khanate in Mongolia collapsed and they migrated to the Tarim basin the Uighurs flourished for a few more centuries, converted to Red Hat Buddhism and then later Islam. During the twilight years of the Uighur kingdom the Sarts and their Turkic rulers gradually intermarried and thus acquired the mixed European/Asiatic appearance they have today. I think you will find that the more “white” looking Uighur occur mostly in the towns, while the nomads tend to be more strongly Asiatic in appearance, because Sarts did not intermarry with the nomads as much as with other city people.
The Sartuul of Mongolia, however, tend to be much more Asiatic looking since they are the remnants of Sarts who lived in the cities of the time of the Uighur Khanate that have now disappeared, but instead of migrating to Xinjiang they remained in what is now Mongolia and completely assimilated with the natives. If you read Ochirbat’s history of the Oirat Mongols you will find that almost all of the Oirat tribes have at least one Sartuul clan.
You must also look at the ethnic appearance in Central Asia in general–the closer you get to Afghanistan and Iran the more European they look. Compare the appearance of a Mongol with an Uzbek or Kazakh, these areas had proportionately larger Sart/Tajik populations historically and thus they have a more Iranian appearance. If you look at a map, you will see Kashgar is much closer to Kabul than to say, Huhhot or even Beijing. It is no wonder that the Persian influence both culturally and racially is strong there.
You must also consider that the Old Mongol script itself is derived from the Aramaic alphabet, the predecessor of the Arabic alphabet. This came about because the Sughd used the Aramaic alphabet and since they became the scholarly class in the Uighur khanate it is not surprising that it was adopted for the Uighur language and thus passed on later for use in the Mongol and Manchu languages.
Professor Winters of the University of Chicago has established that even as early as Harappan times there was extensive trade contact between Iran/Afghanistan/Indus Valley and southern Siberia/Xinjiang/Mongolia, especially for lapis lazuli and other precious stones. Some of the famous Harappan seals are made from stone mined in Siberia near Lake Baikal!
No doubt the Tarim mummies represent some of these early traders and their descendants. Regarding the plaid pattern, this is one of the easier patterns to weave using multicolored threads and it crops up in many cultures which are not necessarily related. While the fabrics from Xinjiang resemble the Celtic tartans they may not have a direct genetic relationship with them, just as the similarity between some Mayan and Tibetan fabric designs probably is not evidence of cultural contact. They are however relatively easy to weave and probably invented independently. The Turkic peoples of Xinjiang did have one thing in common with the Scottish use of tartans, however, in that certain of their silk weaving patterns were a mark of what village or clan the weaver (or wearer) came from, but these patterns are not plaids.
You must also remember that, contrary to how it is portrayed in Chinese movies, the Xinjiang area, like Tibet, was only intermittently under Chinese control before the modern period, and all of Central Asia as well as Tibet were rather “betwixt and between” with its own unique history which is still not well understood. Before Chinggis Khan and after the Mongolian empire began falling apart only a few generations after his death Central Asia was a patchwork of small khanates, emirates, trade cities, and vast expanses of land shared by nomadic groups, and after gradually drifting away from Mongolian control the Uighur region, while having lost the formal name Uighur, became Islamic and affiliated with various emirates that existed among the Turkic peoples of that region. Because Kashgar was the eastern gateway of the Khyber Pass and Wakhan Valley corridors of the Silk Road the Afghan influence was considerable.
This history of the Sarts and Uighurs is a good example of what a racial and cultural melting pot (or patchwork, better said?) that Central Asia is. Thanks to the relatively peaceful relationships between whites and Asiatics in this region it played an important role in the dissemination of knowledge and trade goods between East and West. It is unfortunate that in the modern era people like the Taliban and the more militant of the Chinese Communists have used race as a tool to divide and suppress peoples in Central Asia that had generally gotten along together peacefully for most of their history.”

Sartuls of Buryatia:

“The Sartul dialect of Buryat language, for example, is similar to Khalkha Mongol language of Mongolia. Dialect of the Khongodors (Tunkin and Alar) is closer to Oirat language of Western Mongolia (Dzungaria), which gave birth to the Kalmyk language. … The Uighurs, in turn, adopted their writing from the Sogdians of Central Asia. This East Iranian people of Sogdiana took their script from Aramaic syllabic writing system, which, in turn, was an adaptation of Phoenician. Phoenician was a precursor also to the Greek alphabet, as well as Hebrew and Arabian. The Sogdian writing comes from either from Aramaic or from the Greek alphabet. The Sogdians preserved Hellenistic traditions from the time of the conquests of Alexander of Macedon ( 4th Century before our era ) almost to Arab invasions in 8th Century of our era.

Large amounts of emigrants from Sogdiana streamed into Mongolia and Trans-Baikal. The Sogdians built a town on the north bank of Selenga river. Its name was Bai-Balyk, and it was built in 758 for the Uighur khan, according to the Finnish philologist Gustaf Ramstedt. In 19th Century, the Buddhist monastery Biy-Bulugiyn-Khure stood on the ruins of this town.

There are numerous excavations of Uighur burials around the Baikal area. A Sogdian settlement was excavated near Balagansk of Irkutsk region, where Unga flows into Ankara. Merited archeologist A. P. Okladnikov wrote: “ Sogdian colonists led settled lives at the mouth of Unga.” that was during the epoch of Orkhon Turks and Uighur Khanate, which was located around the Baikal.

The Uighur Khanate was destroyed by light-haired Yenisei Kyrgyz in 840. Afterwards, the Uighurs left our northern lands forever. The Sogdians, possibly, left with them. Eastern Turkestan became their new homeland (now Xinjiang in China.)” — Buryatia: In the depths of Siberian Runes


From Origin of Sarts

There are several theories about the origin of the term. It may be derived from the Sanskrit “sarthavaha” (merchant, caravan leader), a term supposedly used by nomads to described settled townspeople. Or it may be a corruption of the Sogdian ethnonym “Soghd.”[citation needed]

The earliest known use of the term is in the Turkic text Kudatku Bilik (“Blessed Knowledge”), dated 1070, in which it refers to the settled population of Kashgaria[citation needed]. In that period the term apparently referred to all settled Muslims of Central Asia, regardless of language.

Rashid-al-Din Hamadani in the Jami’ al-Tawarikh writes that Genghis Khan commanded that Arslan Khan, prince of the Muslim Turkic Karluks, be given the title “Sartaqtai”, which he considered to be synonymous with “Tajik”[citation needed] (It is possible[original research?], however, that Rashid al-din, who was Persian, misunderstood the meaning of this, as “Sartaqtai” was the name of one of the Genghis Khan’s sons).

13-th century Mongolian source, “Secret History of the Mongols” states that the Mongols called people from Central Asia, most notably Khwarezm, as “Sartuul”. “Sar” in Mongolian means “moon“, hence sart or sarta would mean “ones with (flag with) moon”, since the Muslim people had Hilal symbol on their flags. One of the Mongolian tribes living in the Zavkhan province are descendants of merchants from Khwarezm, who resided in Harhorin. This tribe, still, is called Sartuul.

Sart is a name for the settled inhabitants of Central Asia and the Middle East, which has had shifting meanings over the centuries. Sarts, known sometimes as Ak-Sart (“White Sart”) in ancient times, did not have any particular ethnic identification, and were usually (though not always) town-dwellers. Since the 16th century and onward Mughal historians referred to the Tajiks of theKabulistan (now Afghanistan) and surrounding regions as Sarts

There are several theories about the origin of the term. It may be derived from the Sanskrit “sarthavaha” (merchant, caravan leader), a term supposedly used by nomads to described settled townspeople.[citation needed]. Or it may be a corruption of the Sogdian ethnonym “Soghd.”[citation needed]

The earliest known use of the term is in the Turkic text Kudatku Bilik(“Blessed Knowledge”), dated 1070, in which it refers to the settled population of Kashgaria[citation needed]. In that period the term apparently referred to all settled Muslims of Central Asia, regardless of language.

Rashid-al-Din Hamadani in the Jami’ al-Tawarikh writes that Genghis Khancommanded that Arslan Khan, prince of the Muslim Turkic Karluks, be given the title “Sartaqtai”, which he considered to be synonymous with “Tajik”[citation needed] (It is possible[original research?], however, that Rashid al-din, who was Persian, misunderstood the meaning of this, as “Sartaqtai” was the name of one of the Genghis Khan’s sons).

13-th century Mongolian source, “Secret History of the Mongols” states that the Mongols called people from Central Asia, most notably Khwarezm, as “Sartuul”. “Sar” in Mongolian means “moon”, hence sart or sarta would mean “ones with (flag with) moon”, since the Muslim people had Hilal symbol on their flags. One of the Mongolian tribes living in the Zavkhan province are descendants of merchants from Khwarezm, who resided in Harhorin. This tribe, still, is called Sartuul.

In the post-Mongol period we find that Ali Sher Nawa’i refers to the Iranian people as “Sart Ulusi” (Sart Ulus, i.e. Sart people), and for him “Sart tili” (Sart language) was a synonym for the Persian language. Similarly, when Babur refers to the people ofMargelan as “Sarts”, it is in distinction to the people of Andijan who are Turks, and it is clear that by this he means Persian-speakers. He also refers to the population of the towns and villages of the vilayat of Kabul as “Sarts”.

In the country of Kābul there are many and various tribes. Its valleys and plains are inhabited byTūrks, Aimāks, Afghans, and Arabs. In the city and the greater part of the villages, the population consists of Tājiks* (Sarts).[1] – Babur 1525

A political history of the Sarts.

On the evolving political identities of Neo sogdians, Sarts, Yaghnobi clans of Tajiskistan, see From Sogdian to Persian to Sart to Tajik-Uzbek, the reformulation of linguistic and political identity in Central Asian

“With the downfall of the Samanid Empire in 999 CE, Sogdiana came under the political domination of these same Turkic-speaking peoples. Over time, significant numbers of Turkic speakers settled in the region, intermarrying broadly within the local population. As a result, their language spread. But as it did, it was molded by the pre-existing Persian substratum, gaining a large number of Persian words and expressions; several of the resulting dialects even lost the distinctive “vowel harmony” that characterizes Turkic and, more broadly, Altaic languages. But the spread of Turkic speech did not result in the disappearance of Persian (or Tajik, in Turkic parlance). Instead, linguistic duality came to characterize much of the region. At the beginning of the 20th century, Persian/Tajik served as the main language of Bukhara and Samarkand, as the region’s lingua franca, and as the chief vehicle for administration and literature. In many of the smaller towns and farming communities, however, “Persianified” (or “Iranized”) Turkic dialects prevailed.
Persian/Tajik served as the main language of Bukhara and Samarkand, as the region’s lingua franca, and as the chief vehicle for administration and literature. In many of the smaller towns and farming communities, however, “Persianified” (or “Iranized”) Turkic dialects prevailed.
In a social environment in which bilingualism was common, the distinction between those who spoke Persian and those who spoke a Turkic language was generally of little significance. What mattered more was mode of life. The main distinction here was that between settled people, whether city-dwellers or farmers, and pastoral nomads. Those with a sedentary lifestyle were generally called “Sarts,” both by outsiders and themselves, regardless of their mother tongue.
In contrast were the Turkic peoples who largely retained a pastoral way of life, most notably the Kazakhs, Kirghiz, and Turkmen. Included in this group were the original Uzbeks, a group of historically nomadic people, ultimately of Mongol origin, who had forged a powerful state the 1500s, the Shaybanid—or Uzbek—Khanate. The relatively non-Persianified Uzbek language of this group (known as Kipchak Uzbek) was, and is, much more closely related to Kazakh and Kyrgyz than it is to the Turkic dialects of the settled Sarts (which are most closely related to Uyghur in northwestern China)

From an article on Xinjiang’s Taranchis and Sarts:

” In the multiethnic Muslim culture of Xinjiang, the term Taranchi is considered contradistinctive to Sart, which denotes towns dwelling traders and craftsmen. It of course excluded the ruling classes of the oases Muslim states, often calledMoghol/Mughal or Dolan because of the Doglat Mongol origin of the Chagatay-Timurid dynasties. However, from a modern perspective, Taranchi, Sart and Moghol Dolans cannot be considered three distinctive ethnic groups, but rather three different classes or castes in the same cultural-linguistic zone that was Chagatay-Timurid.”

*On moon symbolism of Saruta-Biko, and Saru-hijiri, the moon is a symbol closely associated with Uzbekistan and Buryatia (from which populations of Sarts and Sartuul people can be found):

The moon is a symbols of Uzbekistan. The crescent moon, a symbol of Islam, is common, though its appearance on the national flag is meant not as a religious symbol but as a metaphor for rebirth. The mythical bird Semurg on the state seal also symbolizes a national renaissance. In the early part of its history, the inhabitants of the area were from Iranian stock and spoke an Eastern Iranian language called Khwarezmian. During the final Saka phase, there were about 400 settlements in Khwarzem c. 500 B.C.

Subsequently the Iranian ruling class was replaced by Turks in the 10th century A.D, and the region gradually tuned into an area with a majority of Turkic speakers. The city of Khiva was first recorded by Muslim travellers in the 10th century, although archaeologists assert that the city has existed since the 6th century.

Other resources:

Slavomír Horák, In Search of the History of Tajikistan What Are Tajik and Uzbek Historians
Arguing About?
Russian Politics and Law, vol. 48, no. 5, September–October 2010, pp. 65–77. ISSN 1061–1940/2010 DOI 10.2753/RUP1061-1940480504 – Tajiks were turkic or iranian speaking uzbeks according to the uzbeks. Mountain Tajiks refer to Takjiks from the Pamir-Hindu Kush region

Khwarezm has been known also as Chorasmia, Khwarezmia, Khwarizm, Khwarazm, Khorezm, Khoresm, Khorasam,Harezm, Horezm, and Chorezm. In Avestan the name is Xvairizem, in Old Persian Huwarazmish, in Modern Persian خوارزم (Khwārazm), in Arabic خوارزمKhwārizm, in Old Chinese *qʰaljɯʔmriɡ(呼似密), modern Chinese Huālázǐmó (花剌子模), in Kazakh Хорезм, in Uzbek Xorazm, in Turkmen Horezm, in Turkish Harezm, in Greek Χορασμία and Χορασίμα, by Herodotus.

The Arab geographer Yaqut al-Hamawi in his Muʿǧam al-buldan wrote that the name was a compound (in Persian) of khwar(خوار), and razm (رزم), referring to the abundance of cooked fish as a main diet of the peoples of this area.[2]

C.E. Bosworth however, believes the Persian name to be made up of (خور) meaning “the sun” and (زم) meaning “Earth”, designating “the land from which the sun rises”,[3] although the same etymology is also given for Khurasan. Another view is that the Iranian compound stands for “lowland” from kh(w)ar “low” and zam “earth, land.”.[1] Khwarezm is indeed the lowest region in Central Asia (except for the Caspian Sea to the far west), located on the delta of the Amu Darya on the southern shores of the Aral Sea. Various forms of khwar/khar/khor/hor are commonly used also in the Persian Gulf to stand for tidal flats, marshland, or tidal bays (e.g., Khor Musa, Khor Abdallah, Hor al-Azim, Hor al-Himar, etc.) The name also appears in Achaemenid inscriptions as Huvarazmish, which is declared to be part of the Persian Empire.

Some of the early scholars believed Khwarezm to be what ancient Avestic texts refer to as Airyanem Vaejah (“Ariyaneh Waeje”; later Middle Persian Iran vij).[4] These sources claim that Old Urgench, which was the capital of ancient Khwarezm for many years, was actually Ourva, the eighth land of Ahura Mazda mentioned in the Pahlavi text of Vendidad.[5] However, Michael Witzel, a researcher in early Indo-European history, believes that Airyanem Vaejah was located in what is now Afghanistan, the northern areas of which were a part of ancient Khwarezm and Greater Khorasan.[6] Others, however, disagree. University of Hawaii historian Elton L. Daniel believes Khwarezm to be the “most likely locale” corresponding to the original home of the Avestan people, and Dehkhoda calls Khwarezm “مهد قوم آریا” (“the cradle of the Aryan tribe”). Like Soghdiana, Khwarzem was an expansion of the BMAC culture during the Bronze Age which later fused with Indo-Iranians during their migrations around 1000 BC. Early Iron Age states arose from this cultural exchange. List of successive cultures in Khwarzem region 3000–500 BC. Read more:

Comparing Soul Trees and Trees of Life


The Soul Tree, Jomon Period, excavated in the Tama Hills, Kanagawa, reconstruction of original context

The Soul Tree, Jomon Period, excavated from the Tama Hills, Kanagawa, reconstruction of original ritual context

The above photo shows an excavated site belonging to the Jomon Period in Japan. The comma-shaped gemstones hung on the tree are called ‘maga-tama‘ in Japanese, ‘maga’ meaning ‘curved’ and ‘tama’ meaning jewel, which is also synonymous with ‘soul’.  (Of course, we cannot be sure that is what they were called during Prehistoric Jomon times)  However, maga-tama gems have been fairly common finds in Jomon Period, often seemingly in an altar setting beside a phallic item in the pit dwelling, although large numbers are excavated from Yayoi and Kofun Period tombs. The specific context of the funerary and ritual setting is significant and lends a number of possible interpretations of the abstract symbolism represented by the ritual setting (see  below – the scenes below are adjacent to the “Soul Tree” located to its right).

photo (6)photo (5)

Firstly, the maga-tama jewels hung on a tree in a funerary setting, are seemingly suggestive that each tama is symbolic of a soul (see definition below) The concept of a =departed ancestor on the Soul Tree is known in specific parts of the world (which we will examine below).

Secondly, the reconstructed scene based on the actual topography of the excavated site, faces a mountain with special astronomical sightings such as the appearance of the sun upon the mountain peak. This setting is suggestive of yet another set of fairly complex ideas at work (in Wakhan-Afghanistan as well as in Persia, the Nowruz Spring Festival/New Year would not begin till the sun had mounted the peak over the mountain and the people would pay their respects to their ancestors the night before, lighting bonfires(ancestor worship).

The ceramic pottery suggest a scenario where a feast and food offerings were made to ancestors, (a scenario which looks a lot like an ancient version of the Persian-Eurasia-wide New Year or spring festival). This setting leads us to infer that there was a symbolism of, and a belief in a Tree of Souls, and ancestor veneration practices among the Jomon people of the Kanto area. A Soul Tree concept is the concept of an ancestral tree to which the deceased or departed have ascended to find their rest.

There was a continuity in the magatama material culture from the Jomon through the Kofun ages.    But was there also a continuity of ideas?

Jomon Period magatama bead, Kiusu no. 4 site, Chitose city, Hokkaido

Jomon Period magatama bead, Kiusu no. 4 site, Chitose city, Hokkaido

Tama – the Soul or Human Spirit

The entry in the Encyclopedia of Shinto defines “tama” thus:

“A general term for spirit or soul in ancient times. In addition to human spirit, it also refers to spirit or spiritual force in nature. A human soul is considered a spiritual entity that comes from outside and dwells in the body, endowing the individual with energy and personality. The word tamashii (spirit, soul) presumably had an original meaning of the “function of tama.” Mitama (御魂、御霊) is an honorific term of tama. When it is written with the characters 神霊 (mitama), it refers to a spirit of a kami. Later on, the spelling of 御霊 came to be used exclusively for goryō, a spirit that brings hazards to a human society.”

The tama representing the soul or spirit of a person is a belief recognizable from the design motif found in crowns of the Kofun Period (possibly earlier) through to today’s Japanese. While the magatama beads attached to golden crowns are shared with the early Koreanic kingdoms, particularly, that of the Silla, the magatama found during the earlier Jomon Period are not similarly found on the Korean peninsula, thus suggesting a different provenance and associated cultures.

Tree worship and tree motifs are frequently said to be a universal phenomenon, however, we would like to show that within the broad notion of the Sacred or Magical Tree, there are in fact distinctive categories and different concepts, and important distinctions and different characteristics will help identify the cultural sphere the object and mytheme belongs to, and the stage of evolution and complexity of the belief, practice or myth, will lend a perspective on the historical events and times associated with the associated myth and mytheme.

For example, the Jomon Soul Tree idea is not only distinctive, the concept of a Soul Tree is significant in identifying the material culture it is associated with (i.e. stone and wood) and the distinct geographical locations where the Soul Tree beliefs exist, and may juxtaposed alongside of those cultures. It can be distinguished from the later material culture (bronze and gold leaf technology) which has the Tree of Life, central to the World Tree and Tripartite World cosmogony…and consequently with the cultural spheres from which metallurgy arrived.

The Jomon Soul Tree is also clearly a concept distinguishable from other ideas such as the Tree of Fortune; Fertility Tree, Dying Tree or Vegetative Deity, Tree of Knowledge, Cosmic Tree or Solar Tree, etc.. Each of these motifs are distinctive enough and we may be able to identify the associated cultural spheres of each of these. It may also prove useful and worthwhile to compare the Soul Trees found in other cultures, which may throw light on the general origins of and migrational paths taken by the Jomon people, before settling in Japan.

Other cultures with concepts of Soul Trees or cultural beliefs of a people or tribe descended from a tree include:

Indo-China: Vietnam appears to also have a complex Soul Tree, one that however, also includes Genesis-like two-tree motif which explains how mankind lost their immortality after the burial of man at the foot of wrong tree. Their Bahnars’ myth goes like this:
“They say that in the beginning when people die, they used to be buried at the foot of a certain tree called Long Blo, and that after a time they regularly rose from the dead, not as infants. But as fully grown men and women. So Earth peopled very fast, and all the inhabitants formed but one great town under the presidency of our first parents. ..[the crowdedness vexed a certain lizard ] and the wily creature gave an insidious hint to the grave diggers. “Why bury the dead at the foot of the Long Blo tree? Said he; ‘bury them at the foot of the Long Khung, and they will not come back to life again. Let them die outright and be done with it.’ The hint was taken, and from that day men have not come to life again.” – Oppenheimer “East of Eden,” p. 397
Iranian: The first human couple, Maschia and Maschiana, issued from the ground (according to some versions out of a rotting corpse ) in the form of a rhubarb plant (the Rheum ribes), which was at first single, but in process of time became divided into two. Ormuzd imparted to each a human soul, and they became parents of mankind.”
Gold Decorative Pieces Achaemenid Period, 5th - 4th century, B.C. In the collection of the Reza Abbasi Museum, Tehran

A Tree of Life flanked by a pair of animals, among the gold decorative pieces, Iran, Achaemenid Period, 5th – 4th century, B.C. In the collection of the Reza Abbasi Museum, Tehran

India: Mahabharata: An enormous Indian fig-tree from whose branches hung little devotees in human form. The Malabar speak of a tree whose fruit were pigmy men and women. The Khatties of Central India are said to be descended from Khat “begotten of wood” who at the prayer of Karna sprang from the staff fashioned from a branch of a tree. One Indian superstition is that peepal trees are the abode of ghosts and spirits. The legendary ‘Munja’ ghost is also believed to reside in the peepal tree.

According to Hesychius of the Greeks:
“The  human race was the first fruit of the ash, and Hesiod relates that it was from the trunks of ash-trees that Zeus created the third or fourth bronze race of men. The oak was particularized as the favored tree of another tradition. “Whence art thou?” Inquires Penelope of the disguised Ulysses ” for these are not sprung of oak or rock, as old tales tell”
Germanic and Nordic traditions, according to the Eddas,
“when Heaven had been made: Odin and his brothers walking by the sea shore came upon two trees. These they changed into human beings, male and female. The first brother gave them soul and life; the second endowed them with wit and will to move; the third added face, speech, sight and hearing. They clothed them also and chose their names  Ask for the man ‘s and Embla for the woman’s and they sent them forth to be parents of the human race.” – Odin and the Eddas
Interestingly, the Scandinavians are now thought to have received influences from their Central Asian interactions with Scythian-Sarmatians, and with the Altai tribes: see David K. Faux “The Genetic Link of the Viking – Era Norse to Central Asia: An Assessment of the Y Chromosome DNA“, Archaeological, Historical and Linguistic Evidence, 2004 – 2007. The shared concepts may be less surprising in view of the genetic links.

In the European tradition of Saxony,  Thuringians too, children are spoken of as growing on a tree. There were traditions in Latvia, Lithuania, and northern Germany of the world tree as a distant oak, birch, or apple tree with iron roots, copper branches, and silver leaves. The spirits of the dead lived in this tree.

In Damascus, Syria, they have a creation myth where their progenitor was a tree out of which everything descended and came – Bushmen, zebras, oxen …. In the Arabic tradition, the Arabs say there is a talking tree growing at the Eastern most point of the world which bore young women on its branches instead of fruit.

The Semitic tradition. While the Biblical Genesis Tree of Life or more correctly, the Tree of Knowledge is best known, the Kabbalah writings speak at length of a Soul Tree of the Hebrews – see Origins of the Kabbalah by Gershom Gerhard Scholem

God has a tree of flowering souls in Paradise. The angel who sits beneath it is the Guardian of Paradise, and the tree is surrounded by the four winds of the world. From this tree blossom forth all souls, as it is said, “I am like a cypress tree in bloom; your fruit issues forth from Me.”(Hos.14:9). And from the roots of this tree sprout the souls of all the righteous ones whose names are inscribed there. When the souls grow ripe, they descend into the Treasury of Souls, where they are stored until they are called upon to be born. From this we learn that all souls are the fruit of the Holy One, blessed be He.

This Tree of Souls produces all the souls that have ever existed, or will ever exist. And when the last soul descends, the world as we know it will come to an end.

Rabbinic and kabbalistic texts speculate that the origin of souls is somewhere in heaven. This myth provides the heavenly origin of souls, and in itself fuses many traditions. First, it develops themes based on the biblical account of the Garden of Eden. It also builds on the tradition that just as there is an earthly Garden of Eden, so is there a heavenly one ….

As for the Tree of Life in Paradise, its blossoms are souls. It produces new souls, which ripen, and then fall from the tree into the Gulf, the Treasury of Souls in Paradise. There the soul is stored until the angel Gabriel reaches into the treasury and takes out the first soul that comes into his hand. After that, Lailah, the Angel of Conception, guards over the embryo until it is born. Thus the Tree of Life in Paradise is a Tree of Souls. See “The Treasury of Souls,” p. 166. For an alternate myth about the origin of souls, see “The Creation of Souls,” p. 163. For the myth of the formation of the embryo see “The Angel of Conception,” p. 199.

Rabbi Isaac Luria of Safed, known as the Ari, believed that trees were resting places for souls, and performed a tree ritual in the month of Nisan, when trees are budding. He felt that this was the right time to participate in the rescue of wandering spirits, incarnated in lower life forms. The Ari often took his students out into nature to teach them there. On one such occasion, upon raising his eyes, he saw all the trees peopled with countless spirits, and he asked them, “Why have you gathered here?” They replied, “We did not repent during our lifetime. We have heard about you, that you can heal and mend us.” And the Ari promised to help them. The disciples saw him in conversation, but they were not aware of with whom he conversed. Later they asked him about it, and he replied, “If you had been able to see them, you would have been shocked to see the crowds of spirits in the trees.”

The core text of this myth comes from Ha-Nefesh ha-Hakhamah by Moshe de Leon (Spain, 13th century) who is generally recognized as the primary author of the Zohar. It is possible that de Leon symbolically identified the Tree of Souls with the kabbalistic “tree” of the ten sefirot. Tikkunei Zohar speaks of the ten sefirot blossoming and flying forth souls. (See also the diagram of the sefirot on p. 529.)

Not only is there the notion of a Tree of Souls in Judaism, and the notion that souls take shelter in trees, but there is also the belief that trees have souls. This is indicated in a story about Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav found in Sihot Moharan 535 in Hayei Moharan: Rabbi Nachman was once traveling with his Hasidim by carriage, and as it grew dark they came to an inn, where they spent the night. During the night Rabbi Nachman began to cry out loudly in his sleep, waking up everyone in the inn, all of whom came running to see what had happened. When he awoke, the first thing Rabbi Nachman did was to take out a book he had brought with him. Then he closed his eyes and opened the book and pointed to a passage. ..

Sources: Sefer ha-Hezyonot 1:23; Shivhei Rabbi Hayim Vital p. 66; Siddur Sha’ar Shamayim.    The  Kabbalistic writings “Tree of Souls

  The Turkic Tree Kazakh:

“Baiterek is the world tree. It is one of the embodiments of the universe and model of world. It is met in all myth traditions, including the Kazakh mythology. Baiterek (literally – original poplar, mother poplar), the World Tree, connects all three levels: upper-heaven with nine or seven layers, middle and lower ones, having seven or nine layers of the universe. Its individual parts represent the parts of separate worlds: roots represent the underworld, crown is the middle world, branches and leaves are the upper world. Etymology of ‘Terek’ (variants: darak, darau, dara, tarak) comes apparently from *Tir – life.

Baiterek is the original life. Most often, actually the one story found in many fairy tales is as follows: The hero finds himself in the underworld, and after a long journey reaches a large tree where he helps the chicks of giant bird Alyp Karakus (Simurg) killing a snake or dragon aydakhar. In gratitude, the bird delivers the hero to the earth’s surface. Tree is the world tree, and bird and snake are representatives of opposing worlds – the upper and lower worlds. Their perpetual opposition involves a middle world representative – a man, a hero of the tale.

Baiterek – the world tree – is the center of the universe. It is the door, the gate between the worlds, and usually the sacred actions occur under such tree. Baiterek is also at the center of the horizontal model of the world. The horizontal structure of the world: on the right of the tree is the moon, on the left – the sun and the star (ayyn tusyn onynnan, zhuldyzyn tusyn sonynnan).

The Kazakh epic Kobylandy and dastan of Kashagan ‘Aday tegi’ mention the world tree as a tree with golden leaves (in the epic it has the golden and silver leaves), in dastan of Kashagan, it is referred as a tree of all fruits.

There are data on two world trees or poles, standing in parallel. The image of the world tree symbolizes the marriage, succession from generation to generation, genealogical tree. The Turkic people had widespread belief that people take the babies under the trees (comparing with version of genealogical legend about Aday), or that the ancestors’ souls live in the tree, branches and leaves. The branches of shaman tree, according to the ideas of Turkic-Mongol people, host the souls, preparing for a new birth.

Kazakh shamans believe that the world tree appears as a material thing – ‘asa tayak’ as well as the pole put into the ground near the tomb of holy person-‘aulie’. The symbolism is clear in this case: the pole – Bagan shall symbolize the world tree, by which the soul of dead shall rise into the sky, and by which it can go down. For the same reason the Kazakhs are put on tunduk spear after they die.

‘Baiterek’ word is used in the tribal sign system of the Kazakhs. For example, a generic slogan and one of the mythical ancestors of the tribe Kangly is Baiterek. Among the Turkic people, the myth traditions of world tree image are preserved well enough by Sakha Yakuts. It is called al-luk-mas or pay kayyn. (Kayyn – katyn)” Baiterek   Source: Book of Serikbola Kondybay. Kazakh mythology

Source: Book of Serikbola Kondybay. Kazakh mythology

Source: Book of Serikbola Kondybay. Kazakh mythology

James George Frazer in his book “The Golden Bough” wrote of the ubiquity of the idea and belief among many ancient tribes all over the world, that one’s soul could be hidden in an object, totem animal, plant or tree, outside of one’s own body (akin to the shintai concept of the Japanese). He mentions the tamaniu concept of the Melanesians:

“Among the Melanesians of Mota, one of the New Hebrides islands, the conception of an external soul is carried out in the practice of daily life. In the Mota language the word tamaniu signifies “something animate or inanimate which a man has come to believe to have an existence intimately connected with his own… . It was not every one in Mota who had his tamaniu; only some men fancied that they had this relation to a lizard, a snake, or it might be a stone; sometimes the thing was sought for and found by drinking the infusion of certain leaves and heaping together the dregs; then whatever living thing was first seen in or upon the heap was the tamaniu. It was watched but not fed or worshipped; the natives believed that it came at call, and that the life of the man was bound up with the life of his tamaniu, if a living thing, or with its safety; should it die, or if not living get broken or be lost, the man would die. Hence in case of sickness they would send to see if the tamaniu was safe and well.”

The “tamaniu” is not only phonetically similar sounding but in meaning possibly finds a cognate in mi-tama, magatama, tamashi concepts of the Japanese, so that it may be able to find a genetic connection or an interaction sphere of cultural borrowing of ideas as well. When considering the jade material culture – the East Asia is markedly far more sophisticated from early times, and although it is the magatama jade and female figurines of the Jomon are popularly considered to have emerged from the Hongshan culture, it is abundantly clear however, that Japan did not follow in producing any of the same forms of jade items or figurines at all.

All that we can ascertain is that the early Jomon earring forms were identical to those on the Southern Chinese coast, and that some populations of the Jomon period received extensive migrations from Siberia which is evident from the shared genepool. These areas contiguous areas to Japan, therefore have been sources for Jomon tree myths and beliefs. The Bronze Age culture and gold crowns with Tree-of-Life with bird-and-boat motifs are most likely a heritage that came with the Bronze Age metal-workers, via the Silk Road, sponsored by some elite royals of Saka-lineages and/or Koreanic Sillan families. Their concept of a Cosmic World Tree of Life, however,  would only have complemented or built upon the previously existing body of tree myths and beliefs already owned by the indigenous or earlier waves of settled populations.

The Melanesians who are upstream (or older) in the ancestral or phylogenetic tree of the haplogroup C (Y-DNA)-bearing migrants who went northwards to Japan and to East Asia (Mongolians, Siberians, Koreans) after passing through the Indian subcontinent and Melanesian Island Southeast Asia (see p. 4, map A, Wang and Li paper). There is a Melanesian belief in the dual composition of the tama soul called “konpaku” (which looks a lot like the Taoist dual “maga-tama” embryo). According to one interpretation of the Chinkon sai rite:

Kon- A Sinic term that refers to the soul. In ancient China kon was related to yang (of yin-yang dualism) and to the dimension of mental activity, while haku was related to yin and the somatic, physiological dimension. Thus, the soul had a two-layered structure. Accordingly, when a person died it was believed that these two components returned respectively to the heavens and the earth. Concerning their relationship to the Japanese conception of soul (tama), the kon (tamashii) of konpaku was indicated as corresponding to it. This was according to an interpretation of chinkon (pacifying spirits, see chinkonsai) found in the regulations dealing with personnel (shokuinryō) in the article for Shintō administration (jingikan jō) of the ritsuryō legal code, which was revised in the first half of the eighth century. On the other hand, konpaku was used as another term for mitama in a tenth century work called the Wamyōruijūshō. Subsequently, other interpretations were also offered, such as konpaku being the combined spirit of blessing (sakimitama) and the spirit of auspiciousness (kushimitama). — Konpaku, The Encyclopedia of Shinto

The concept of the jade jewel or stone as repository for the soul is also significant in the exploitation and demand for jade and other semi-precious stones. Although jade as an elixir (grounded into powder) or as magical amulet is better known in the Chinese civilization, the association of green jadeite with the stone being a repository of life force is also a known reason for Chinese (and Khotanese) jade exploitation.

An alternative explanation is that Japanese tamashi might also be cognate with the also similar-sounding Indian Brahma Kumaris(origin: India) and Sikkh word, atma for soul, believed to be life-sustaining spiritual light or “spiritual spark”, and in the former, to reside in the forehead of the occupied bodies, and “The pure root of the tree is Brahman, the immortal, in whom the three worlds have their being, whom none can transcend, who is verily the Self” (Katha Upanishad 2:3:1)  (see The Universal Tree)

However, according to  “Legend in Japanese art“ at p. 355, the Jade Stone called Benwa or Tama is mentioned in a tale:

“The Jade Stone found by BENWA (PiEN Ho) is also called Tama, and it plays a part in the wars between the Chinese Kingdoms of Wu and Yueh, which is set forth in the Goyetsu gun dan (443, et seq.). In the eighth century B.C. Pien Ho found an eagle standing upon a large block of jade; he took the stone to the ruler of Ts’u, whose advisers pronounced it to be valueless, and gave it back to the man, but first of all they cut off his right foot. Benwa returned to the King Shan mountains and put the stone back in its proper place, when the same eagle came again to perch upon it. In the meantime the King had died, and the man went again to Court with his stone to present it to the new ruler, and this time his left foot was cut off. A third King came to the throne, and on seeing Benwa weeping by the gate of the Palace,  inquired into the cause of his grief, and had the stone tested, when it was found to be a perfect gem.*”

This stone was at last carved and made into a jewel called the Ho SHI CHI PIH, which finally passed into the hands of the King of Chao, Bun O; 3E (298-266 B.C.). This King had a devoted counsellor in the person of LIN SIANG Ju (Rinshojo)  and when the envious ruler of Ts’in offered fifteen cities in exchange for the stone, this crafty person advised Bun O to surrender the stone and accept the land in exchange. But soon after he went to the Court of Ts’in and requested that the jewel be sent back to Chao. Ts’in hesitated, but Rinshojo took the stone, saying: “Do you fail to see its defects?” walking the while away from the King until he came to the end of the hall. He then dropped his cap and exclaimed: “Unless you return this stone to my master I shall break it to pieces; not only have we jewels, but also courageous men, such as none could be found in Ts’in!” The King of Ts’in yielded to his demands.

In some versions, he is said to have invaded Chao, and requested the stone as a ransom for the fifteen cities, but to have given way before Rinshojo’s boldness””… See Comparative survey of moon symbols and beliefs, and the likely derivation of “tamashii” jewel or soul  [Note that in Zhuzhou, shishi (which is close in sound to the Japanese word for rock, "ishi"), is a Mongolic word associated with megalithic tomb stone]


Beliefs in tree worship, tree of life (immortality) and World Tree/Pillar cosmologies may be divided into these categories:

1) Creation myths of a race or tribe originating from trees, (many examples of Tree of Souls follow below)

According to the Altai Turks, human beings are descended from trees. According to the Yakuts, White Mother sits at the base of the Tree of Life, whose branches reach to the heavens where it is occupied by various creatures that have come to life there (Source: Turkic mythology) The central importance of the Tree of Souls to the Turks is dwelt on as revealed from ancient traditional rug motifs and the people who make them:

The Siberian Turks, who preserve most rudiments of ancient Turkish culture, believe in the ties between a man and a tree which they envision as a kind of umbilical cord. They believe, that when an old tree dies, it means that an old man had died somewhere, and when a young tree falls down, it indicated the death of a youth. After death, according their beliefs, the human spirit returns to the tree. Similar notions are current among the Kazaks and the Turkmen of Mangyshlak, who believe that there is a tree in heaven, every leaf of that tree belonging to someone on Earth. When a man dies, his leaf falls off (Karutz, s.a. page 134). It explains certain burial rites connected with trees. Small toothless babies were regarded as creatures completely belonging to Nature, therefore, Siberian Turks used to dispose of their dead bodies, wrapping them in birch bark, and hanging them on trees. Birch bark, the symbol of proximity to Nature, emphasizes that a baby has nothing to do with the culture of men, but instead belongs to wild nature. According to shamanistic beliefs, a six moth old baby still remembers the tree on which his spirit used to reset in the shape of a bird (Sovetskaya ethnograpfiya, 1974, No. 2, p 109). The placenta of a new born baby is buried below a tree. The tree was regarded as a place where reincarnated souls from the clan lived, growing in the shape of leaves, fruits or most often in the shape of birds. Each clan or tribe has its own kind of tree. Spirits of different animal species were also believed to be growing on their own special trees. The archaic cultures of hunter tribes of the Russian East present even more integral notions of incarnating spirits. According to their beliefs, a female demi-god named Omi, the mistress of all kinds of vital forces, lives in Heaven.

A female deity of a similar name, May, which is common to all Turkic peoples and which performs similar functions – patronage of childhood, childbearing, endowing ikhakans with charisma, luck in battle, etc. – probably represents the same personage. In Heaven animal species are ripening on their own tree which belongs to goddess the Omi. Anthropogenic myths about trees, the ancestors of human being, are popular among the peoples of this region.

The forefather of the Nanay people was born by a tree. He was also the first human named Hado or Hodai (Sistemniya issledovaniya vzaimosvyazi drevnih kultur Sibriri I Severnoi Ameriki, 1995, p. 114) [These sound like homonyms for Hoori and Hoderi brothers in the royal genealogy of the ancient Japanese texts]…Other myths tell about the creation of the shaman tree by a demi-god, who is at the same time a shaman himself, and a married couple, who are a brother and a sister born by a tree. Stories of a married couple, the forefathers of mankind, are widespread in Eurasia. In the legendary genealogy of the Oghuz people, the Oghuz name, two trees, the golden one and the silver one, are mentioned.

A clan generation tree of the Namay people from Eastern Siberia

A clan generation tree of the Namay people from Eastern Siberia, traditional rug motif (Source: Galina Serkina)

A newly consecrated Buryat shaman had to run around a tree (Potapov, 1991, 123). Moreover shamans used a tree during their mysteries (Radlov, 1989, p371). Each shaman was a keeper and protector of his clan or tribe. Shamans had their own tree upon which they placed the souls of all the people they protected (potapov., 1991, p423). Such trees were guarded by spirits-protectors assisting shamans. The Yakuts regarded their shamans as trees. His limbs were called “branches”, not arms or legs (Xenofontov, 1992, p. 77) …

The “vak-vak” tree

Now, let us turn to the “talking trees”. In the past, the peoples of Tuva and Altai ascribed to trees certain human abilities (Traditsionnoye mirovozzreniye tyurkov yutshnoi Sibiri, 1990, pp. 68, 79) Trees, according to their beliefs, were conscious of pain, they slept at night, and they could die as humans. The Turks of the Near East called them “talking trees” (danisan agac). In western scholarly works, they are also mentioned under the name “vak-vak”.. The theme of the vak-vak trees is founded upon the notions of the hunter tribes of Siberia that human souls grown on trees. As for the word, vak, it has originated from the Indo-European “bhag”, meaning “tree, ok”. It is known that the ancient Indo )Aryans worshiped oaks. (the Russian word “Bog” (God) also derives from the same stem.( The Yakut “bagah” is evidently related tot the Inod0Euriopean “bhag and “bak”. “Bagah in the Yakut language has two meanings, “tether and pole, pillar”. A similar word “bakan/bagana” of the Turkish languages has almost the same meaning “pole of the tent” (Potamin, vol IV 1883, p. 14). Both these objects played an important part in the rites of birth and fertility. The tether and the pole are the ritual substitutions of the mythical Tree. Turkish speaking peoples making a sacrifice to their gods used to stretch an animal skin on a tree (pole). The existence of a similar custom among the Tyugo people is testified by Chinese sources.

“symbolizes the world center, where Heaven and earth touch, where all times and places converge. They may be honored by tying on pieces of cloth. The lone birch, the “shaman tree”, is called ongonmodon, for these trees are believed to be the home of the shamans’ helper spirits, Ongon. Trees are also symbolic of the World Tree, which is usually visualized as a birch or willow. The Buryat have wooden ovoo (shrine) which are also a symbol for the World Tree. Another type of ritual tree is the serge, which is made from a young birch.Some of them were once souls of human beings, ancestors from a time so long ago. A mountain or tree of great majesty will be said to have suld, which is the same word that is used to refer to the soul which remains in nature after death. Unusual rocks or trees are believed to have a strong spirit and are respected or given offerings of tobacco or liquor. Mountain spirits are considered to be very powerful, and are prayed to in order to provide good hunting and abundance of natural food plants. These ceremonies are usually held roughly around the times of the equinoxes and solstices and are usually performed by the elders of the local clan or tribe. Mountain spirits and other powerful Gazriin Ezen are worshipped at special shrines called ovoo, which are tall piles of rocks and tree branches, roughly conical in diameter.”

The Buryat Mongols believe:

[Buriat] “A red silk rope is led from the patient to a birch tree set up outside the yurt. The soul of the patient is supposed to come back along this rope … . Outside the yurt a man holds a horse, as … this animal perceives first the arrival of the soul and quivers.”

A long, red ribbon with a copper button at the end is fastened to this arrow. Then the ribbon is … tied to a branch of birch tree that had been stuck there [outside the yurt] into the earth. The red ribbon serves as the path of the soul. … A man is sitting near the tree branch and keeps the … horse of the patient. … the horse feels the presence of the returned soul and begins to tremble and neigh.”

2) A general belief in trees or vegetation as abode of spirits, tree spirits or tree demons (sometimes flanked by animals)

In the Heian period dictionary, the Wamyō Ruijushō,  tree gods are mentioned and called “Kodama” (古多万). In Aogashima in the Izu Islands, shrines are created at the base of large sugi trees in the mountains and are worshipped under the name “kidama-sama” and “kodama-sama”, thus the surviving beliefs of tree spirits can be seen. Also, in the village of Mitsune on Hachijō-jima, whenever a tree is cut, there was a tradition that one must offer a festival {offering s-i-c] to the tree’s spirit “kidama-sama” . On Okinawa Island, tree spirits are called “kiinushii,” and whenever a tree is cut down, one would first pray to kiinushii and then cut it. Also, when the there is the echoing sound of what sounds like a fallen tree at the dead of night even thought here are no actual fallen trees, it is said to be the anguishing voice of kiinushii, and it is said that in times like these, the tree would then wither several days later. The kijimuna, which is known as a yōkai on Okinawa, is also sometimes said to be a type of kiinushii, or a personification of a kiinushii (source: Kodama).
In a broad swathe from India through to Southeast Asia and from the Southeast Asian Islands through to Melanesia, the concept of the vegative tree or vine deity as progenitor is extremely common.
The Kayans:

 “By far the most common, however, are those myths, which trace mankind to some miraculous source, an origin from plants or trees being perhaps the most frequent of these. For the most part we have from the eastern and southeastern islands only the statement that the ancestor or ancestors of mankind burst from a bamboo or tree, although in some instances the tales are more precise. Thus in the Ceram-laut and Gorrom Islands it is said that in the beginning a woman of great beauty, called Winia, came out of a tree together with a white hog, the woman climbing into a tall tree, while the hog remained at its foot. After a time a raft floated ashore, on which was another woman, Kiliboban by name, who had drifted here from New Guinea and who became the comrade of the hog. Later a man (of whose origin nothing is said) came by and took off his clothing to go in fishing, but the two women saw him and laughed at’ him, whereupon, surprised that any one else was in the vicinity, the man sought for the source of the laughter and found Kiliboban, whom he straightway asked to be his wife. She, however, refused, but directed him to the tree in whose top Winia was concealed; so he climbed the tree forthwith, found the lovely damsel there, and taking her to be his wife, became by her the ancestor of mankind.

… the island of Nias, lying off the western coast of Sumatra. According to myths from this island, there was in the beginning only darkness and fog, which condensed and brought forth a being with-out speech or motion, without head, arms, or legs; and in its turn this being gave existence to another, who died, and from whose heart sprang a tree which bore three sets of three buds. From the first two sets six beings were produced, two of whom made from the third set of buds a man and a woman—the ancestors of mankind

In Amboina and Buru, the first human beings came from a tree after a bird had sat upon it and fructified it. In the latter island, according to one myth, the first to appear was a woman, who built a fire near the base of the tree, which it warmed, whereupon the tree split in two, and a man came forth who married the woman. A variant makes the man the first to appear. In Wetar the first woman came from the fruit of a tree; and far to the north, among the Ami, one of the wild tribes of Formosa, we find the same belief, for it is said that in the beginning a being planted in the ground a staff, which took root and became a bamboo on which two shoots developed, a man issuing from one of them and a woman from the other. Coming farther west to Celebes, traces of the idea are found in Minahassa, where, according to one myth, a tree-trunk floated ashore, and from it, when it was broken open by a deity, a man (in reality a god) came forth. A similar tale from the Tagalog, in the Philippines, is reported, in which two hollow bamboos floated ashore on the first land; these were pecked open by a bird, whereupon a man issued from the one and a woman from the other, the two thus be-coming the ancestors of mankind. The belief appears again in Borneo in a tale from the Kayan, where the tree and vine of miraculous origin produce the ancestors of the different tribes; and a variant also occurs in southeast Borneo. Lastly we find in Nias 7′ that man originated from the fruit of the tree, tora’a, which grew, according to one account, upon the back of one of the first beings derived from original chaos; or according to another, from his heart after his death.” – “Myths of origins and the Deluge of Indonesia

The Southeast Asians possess many myths about spirit trees (see Thai spirit houses and spirit trees) and about people (Laos, South China, Tai, etc.) emerging from a gourd or vine (see Myth and Meaning in Early Taoism: The Theme of Chaos (hun-tun), N. J. Girardot pp 206-213;  Myths, Lao Literature Home Page, chap 2)  Mention of the sacred gourd is among the earliest recorded royal genealogies (Kojiki) of Japan as well as in folktales (see Demon at Agi Bridge).
In Oppenheimer’s Eden in the East analysis:
“Austro-Asiatic areas show not only the earlier versions but also a greater variety of mechanisms in the inclusion of early forms of the perverted message and the trees of life and death. The last point of diversity gives further evidence that the area of origin of these myths was on the eastern side of the Indian Ocean.”

Vines figure prominently in the myths of Southeast Asia, particularly gourd (usually along with a deluge sub-motif) stories:

“The legends of the Kayan, Kenyah, and Bahau of central Borneo. According to the Kayan, originally there was nothing but the primeval sea and over-arching sky; but from the heavens there fell into the sea a great rock, upon whose barren surface, in course of time, slime collected, from which were bred worms that bored into the rock. The sand produced by this boring collected, eventually covering the rock with soil, and after many years there fell from the sun upon this land the wooden handle of a sword which, taking root, grew into a great tree; while from the moon fell a vine which clung to the tree and rooted itself in the rock. From this mating of the tree and vine were born two beings, a boy and a girl, who wedded in their turn and became the ancestors of the Kayan..”Myths of origins and the Deluge of Indonesia:

3) Specific Sacred Tree identification or association with specific deities – or tree associations with kings/princes/holy men/heroes with divine or semi-divine status (the distinction between the two categories may be blurred or one category evolves into another)

Examples of this type of tree belief … are too many to list all. In Japan, most shrines and temples have a “Shinboku” or “divine tree,” a tree regarded as sacred, as the symbol of sacred territory or a place in which the kami dwell” (see Encyclopedia of Shinto). Norse mythology:

The sacrifice of Odin (1895) by Lorenz Frølich

Odin was regarded as “guide of souls” and originally the leader of the war band. One of Odin’s names is Hangatýr, the god of the hanged. The ascetic ritual of hanging from the world tree, Odin’s practice of seidr, his familiar animals (Sleipnir, Huginn and Muninn) and his connection to ecstatic inspiration are highly suggestive of an origin in a shaman leader. With new later influences upon the warring society, Odin’s shamanistic role may have become less prominent, while remaining one of his attributes, so that he became revered in medieval society as a wise king of the gods and bringer of victory.

4) Magical trees with bounty of magical fruit (that can bring healing or have an amulet function to ward off evil), or fruits de la mer (the Fishing Tree) or Bronze Age Golden Tree or the Eastern variant: Tree of Gold, Fortune or the Money Tree

- Greek-Argos: Hera (see below) The deity who gave the fruits of the land, depicted with a pomegranate in hand

Juno, with Pomegranate

The Golden Tree The idea that trees are associated with treasure hoards, and therefore gold or fortune are naturally strongly associated with cultures that were involved with bronze, gold smithing technology (see Sarmatian gold; Silla Korea and the Silk Road: Golden Age, Golden Threads) and coin-minting.

However, a Jewish tale tells of The Golden Tree in the dream of a Jewish king, who regrets banishing his favorite wife, and has to travel to India to find her under a Golden Tree … and who, upon their return, plants a branch of the holy golden tree in his palace garden. The Golden Tree motif is often regarded a trait of Scythian crowns, but it is in fact traceable to the spread of gilt and goldleaf technology across Central Asian and a number of East Asian cultures, see this gallery of Scythian crowns

Crowns of a tree-like (or some say, an Iron Mountain motif) pattern are seen in Japanese tumuli, of a type found in larger numbers in the 5th-6th c. Sillan kingdom of Korea. The Tree of Life (Golden Tree or Tree with golden leaves motif) is thought to be an especially dominant motif of Bronze Age Scythian specifically Indo-Saka peoples, from Iran, Afghanistan in Central Asia diffusing to the Korean peninsula and to Japan in conjunction with gilt-working technology. The motif is particularly associated with princely crowns of Central Asia:

Images of the Tree of Life were as varied as the many cultures which depicted it, appearing in the art of both settled and nomadic cultures throughout ancient Eurasia. From the 8th-7th century BCE pectoral of Ziwiye, to the famous 1st century CE Sarmatian crown from Khokhlach, however, the importance and significance of the Tree was instantly recognizable, revealing a common thread of belief throughout the cultures and across the ages. This stunning pectoral illustrates the tree in its fullest magnificence, bursting with blossoms, its bottom branches hung heavy with fanciful leaf-shaped pendants. Double layers of six-lobed petals frame semi-precious stones, while nearly one hundred stones in vibrant orange and turquoise accent more than thirty dangling pendants.

Images of the Tree of Life were as varied as the many cultures which depicted it, appearing in the art of both settled and nomadic cultures throughout ancient Eurasia. From the 8th-7th century BCE pectoral of Ziwiye, to the famous 1st century CE Sarmatian crown from Khokhlach, however, the importance and significance of the Tree was instantly recognizable, revealing a common thread of belief throughout the cultures and across the ages. This stunning pectoral illustrates the tree in its fullest magnificence, bursting with blossoms, its bottom branches hung heavy with fanciful leaf-shaped pendants. Double layers of six-lobed petals frame semi-precious stones, while nearly one hundred stones in vibrant orange and turquoise accent more than thirty dangling pendants.

From the animal style of artefacts of the tomb the Ziwiyeh material are thought to have come from the tomb of a Scythian prince, or a Median chieftain. However, Ziwiyeh was most probably a stronghold of the Manneans, an indigenous people of the Zagros Mountains, mentioned in Assyrian records. To the north of this region Scythians followed their traditional life-style, with horse-borne warrior-elites maintaining their social position through rich booty acquired on raids Source: J. Curtis, Ancient Persia-1 (London, The British Museum Press, 2000)

This crown was excavated from Grave Six in Tillia Tepe, Afghanistan and is estimated to be from the first or second century A.D. thus predating the Korean or Japanese crowns

This crown was excavated from Grave Six in Tillia Tepe, Afghanistan and is estimated to be from the first or second century A.D. thus predating the Korean or Japanese crowns

Reconstructed crown of remains from Kofun tumuli

Reconstructed crown of remains from Kofun tumuli, Tokyo National Museum (Source: Wikimedia)

Japanese crown of the Kofun Period

Japanese crown of the Kofun Period

The Japanese gilt crown’s tree motif is similar to the Korean ones such as the one below, from which a genealogical connection is often inferred to exist between the respective royal houses by scholars:

5th - 6th gold crown from Geumgwanchon

5th – 6th gold crown from Geumgwanchon, S. Korea

Compare the bird-tree motif of this Japanese crowns …

Excavated from the Fujinoki tumulus

Excavated from the Fujinoki tumulus, Japan

With the remarkably similar Nanay (Eastern Siberian) tree motif below:

A clan generation tree of the Namay people from Eastern Siberia

A clan generation tree of the Namay people from Eastern Siberia, traditional rug motif (Source: Galina Serkina)

The traditional festive occasion silver headdresses of the Dong women of China still feature designs that are remarkably similar to “Scythian” gold crowns with bird, blossom, leaf or fish motifs included in the design.

Elaborate headdresses of the Dong ethnic peoples of China

Elaborate headdresses of the Dong ethnic peoples of China

Stories of the ‘Tree of Plenty‘ are said to belong to the region along the north coast of New Guinea, eg the Garus people tell the story of a Banag tree which had all kinds of fruits and roots hanging from it ‘like a supermarket’. The children partake of the fruit, but parents cut down the Sacred tree of Plenty, and when the chopped up bits of wood chips from the tree get distributed, the tree becomes available to others.

The sacred tree myths of this region tend to also be coupled with the quarreling brothers motif as well as a generative snake motif, as well as the concept that the tree has to be cut down or destroyed in order for the fruit or root crops to be distributed (Oppenheimer p.413)  This Tree of Plenty may be the precursor of the Bronze Tree of Fortune or Money Trees seen in China and India.

Relics of a bronze tree believed to be able to bring wealth unearthed from the Han Dynasty (202 BC - AD 220) family tombs in Guanghan city, China's Southwest Sichuan province, Oct 11, 2013.[Photo/CFP]

The Chinese Money Tree. Relics of a bronze tree believed to be able to bring wealth unearthed from the Han Dynasty (202 BC – AD 220) family tombs in Guanghan city, China’s Southwest Sichuan province, Oct 11, 2013.[Photo/CFP]

more.. Unearthed from Han Dynasty (202 BC – AD 220) family tombs in Guanghan city, China’s Southwest Sichuan province, Oct 11, 2013.[Photo/CFP]. The money tree symbol is a particularly unique icon belonging to the Han dynasty culture, see History of the Money Tree. Compare the above, earlier bronze money tree with the later one below

Bronze Money Tree on Earthenware Stand Eastern Han dynasty 1st-2nd century A.D

Bronze Money Tree on Earthenware Stand
Eastern Han dynasty
1st-2nd century A.D

A great deal of light is thrown on the meaning behind the symbolism of “The Bronze Money Tree” by the Kaikodo Asian Art studio:

“Money Trees provided promise of eternal happiness and wealth in the afterlife through the power of Xiwangmu, Queen Mother of the West, who presided over the Realm of the Immortals at Kunlun. Here she resides within each of the major branches (fig. 1). She sits regally in full frontal posture on her tiger-dragon throne, surrounded by her adoring court, as she is often represented in various arts of the Han including bronze mirrors and ceramic tomb tiles as in one illustrated here (fig. 2), or in the mirror catalogue 44.

Below the goddess, a potpourri of figures tread on the metal ledges, slopes and outcroppings of the branches: equestrians on their mounts, archers crouched with bows and arrows aimed at their prey, hunters, musicians, and dancers. The figures occupy areas of space created by the meandering bronze bones or skeleton of each branch, just as figures on Han ceramic hill jars or on tomb tiles occupy the “space-cells” formed by overlapping hillocks (fig. 3). The composition is also reminiscent of the fantastic creatures perched on swirling lines in Han lacquer painting, creating a sense of space by virtue of their presence (fig.4). Each branch is completed by constellations of large coins, similar to actual Han dynasty coins in design and must have shone as brightly as stars or suns when such trees were first produced, in preparation for burial where they would ensure both wealth and a paradisiacal afterlife in the presence of the Queen Mother.

The large branches of this tree are very similar to a number of successfully restored Money Trees, the one illustrated here notable for its towering height (fig. 5).[1] While Money Trees have been found in a number of provinces, excavations in Sichuan province have shown that area to have been the major center of production. It was furthermore the heartland of the cult of Xiwangmu during the Han period and also the provenance of the tomb tiles illustrated above.[2] The marriage of the goddess—who promises eternal life and good fortune—with a physical and material manifestation of that promise in the form of replicas of hard currency seems fitting enough in itself but is also supported by historical logic. During the 1st century A.D., the local government in Sichuan—a province in the southwest already experiencing great economic prosperity at the time—was given the right by imperial authority to mint coins that were then circulated throughout the land. It is not hard to imagine how this activity contributed to the development of what was clearly one of the most desirable of funerary items during the late Han in Sichuan.

Another source for the origins of the Money Tree can be found in Xiwangmu’s own garden wherein grows a very special peach tree that bears the fruit of immortality. Among the finds from the Marquis Yi of Zeng’s spectacular 5th century B.C. tomb discovered in Suizhou, Hebei province, was a painted lacquer chest with representations of heraldic trees, stiff and symmetrical, flanked at the top by birds or beasts (fig. 6). These trees are depictions of the Fusang Tree from which the Archer Yi shot down nine contender suns. The spiky orbs hanging from the Fusang Tree and the representations of coins on the Sichuan money trees are strikingly similar. More interestingly, the Zeng lacquer painting brings to mind a Han-dynasty textile from Noin-ula, in Mongolia, which was published and discussed many years ago by William Willets (fig. 7).[3] Willets connected this image with the Tree of Life which he noted was believed to grow in a paradise inaccessible to ordinary mortals, bearing fruit capable of prolonging life. He goes on to describe the Tree of Life as part of the stock of world myth, reaching from Mohenjo-daro to Assyria to Europe and spanning an immense length of time. Representations of that tree are stiff and heraldic and the trees are flanked by two birds or beasts, as they are in the lacquer painting. One might then consider elements in the arts of Sichuan province that suggest influence from the West—the Indian-style que towers, the explicit sexuality sometimes present in the sculpture of that province that also has an Indian flavor, or very early images of the Buddha that appear on the trunks of some Money Trees and Money Tree bases in the Eastern Han period (see cat. 46). The concepts and designs resulting in the creation of Han dynasty Money Trees were inspired by multiple sources, each contributing something to their designs and to their efficacy in the afterlife”

A final word on the Turkic Tree symbolism:

The influence from Central Asian Turkic and Saka nomads for whom the tree motif is central, is elaborated upon by Galina Serkina in her treatise on rug motifs:

“It is known that the tree occupied a semantically important position both in the world-outlook and in the ritual of the Turks. In the epics of Turkish speaking peoples the tree was the center of life which functioned as an orientation point in time and space: many epic themes concentrate around the tree, principal events and decisive encounters of epic heroes take place there.

The preservation of archaic cultural elements is most noticeable in those spheres of everyday life for which women are responsible, where mothers, the keepers of the hearth, transfer them to their daughters. The world of female artifacts is consequently more durable: these are objects playing a vital role in the rites of the cycle of life, their principal idea being fertility and rebirth (for example marriage rites). Similar sacred objects are immune to any changes in their shape or decorum. Female dress always preserves the pattern of ancient garments. Thus the bridal headdress of the Central Asia still preserves the shape of the ancient Sacae [Saka, Scythian] hats….

Tree patterns decorated garments of women reaching the age of fecundity. Chinese court ladies of the Tang period wore head dresses with tree decoration introduced by the empresses of the Uyghur origin. The process of cultural integration between China and Central Asia is not limited to the historical period, its roots go back to remote antiquity. In this connection it is worthwhile to mention the subject of one Chinese embroidery (ill. 74, Rudenko, 1968) from the Pazyryk barrow (southern Siberia); phoenixes and pheasants sitting on or flying around the otung tree.

The Chinese poet of the Tang period, Li Bo states that the nature of the phoenixes allows them to live only on the “otung” tree. [This recalls the otun shrines of Wakhan-Afghanistan, which are branches decorated with cloth stuck on top of a stone cairn, the custom said to be derived from the Saka invaders] As we can see, this statement indicates the presence of some vague ties between trees and birds. Another Chinese author (Li Shih, Chen who lived in the 12th century, was not quite aware of the meaning of the term ”otung”. For some reason, not explaining why, he tied it with the word for ”coffin”, referring to the 3rd century BC lexicon “Er-ya”. The earliest known case of the word “otung” appearing in Chinese sources is dated to the 2nd century AD. In ancient times, the word “otung” was disyllabic and was written in two characters. This means that it was most probably borrowed from some other language [This is the opinion of Prof. Leo Menshikov, a Russian sinologist.] I believe there was some reason for the untraceable association between the words “otung” and”coffin” reflected by ancient authors. We know that Central Asian nomad used to bury their dead below trees and to leave the corpses of children and shamans on trees (Viktorova, 1980, p. 1250). It is possible to suggest therefore that the embroidery from Pazyryk presents “the tree of souls”, its image re-worked beyond recognition by the creative fantasy of the Chinese people.”- Traces of Tree Worship in the Decorative Patterns of Turkish Rugs by Galina Serkina

5)  Tree of Life with healing or life-extending (i.e. immortality)or other properties (knowledge) fruit

With sub-motifs (often a triad) of

a. serpent and

b. bird and

c. other players such as the quarreling siblings)

a. An example of the serpent mythme or motif is to be found among the Sioux of Upper Missouri:  The original parents, like the trees from which they developed, at first stood firmly fixed to the earth, until a monster snake gnawed away the roots and gave them independent motion, just as in Paradise the serpent destroyed the harmony and mutual trust which united Adam and Eve.

Traditional Persian and Slavic myths both told of a tree of life that bore the seeds of all the world’s plants. This tree, which looked like an ordinary tree, was guarded by an invisible serpent-dragon that the Persians called Simarghu and the Slavs called Simorg. For fear of cutting down the tree of life by accident, Slavic peoples performed sacred ceremonies before taking down a tree. The Persians cut no trees but waited for them to fall naturally. The Simorg creature evolved and took many forms, and somewhere between Kazakhstan, Iran and Western China, the Simorg became a Dragon-Peacock, and eventually a Phoenix at the top of the Chinese bronze tree (see my article “Will the real firebird step forward?“).

Trees—or the fruit they bore—also came to be associated with wisdom, knowledge, or hidden secrets.

Two sacred trees—the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil—appear in the Near Eastern story of the Garden of Eden, told in the book of Genesis of the Bible. God ordered Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, not to eat the fruit of either tree. Disobeying, they ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge and became aware of guilt, shame, and sin. God cast them out of the garden before they could eat the fruit of the Tree of Life, which would have made them immortal. Thereafter, they and their descendants had to live in a world that included sin and death (Myth Encyclopedia)

The Tree of Life myths from the Bronze Ages to medieval times, are usually featured amidst these complexes of motifs as well:

i. The bird-tree-snake triad in the Lost Homeland/Paradise …is probably the most recognizable motif of Near Eastern mythology and Biblical references: Lilith is related to the bird (bird-goddess) motif in the “Eden” garden, see Lilith in Sumeria and Babylonia

“Lilith’s flower was the lilu, or lily, or “lotus” of her genital magic, which represented the virgin aspect of the Triple Goddess. A Sumerian king list dating from this time states that Lugalbanda, father of the great hero Gilgamesh, was a Lillu-demon. This statement cal also be read as a veiled reference pointing to Gilgamesh, who was reputed to be two-thirds divine and one-third human, to have the sacred blood lineage descending from the sexual rites of the Goddess.”

A Babylonian terracotta plaque from 2300 BCE depicts Lilith as a Bird Woman and Lady of the Beasts. She is beautiful, with a slender nude body, wings that fall behind her like an open veil, and powerfully clawed owl feet. Her head is adorned with a crown of multiple horns worn by all great deities, and she holds the ring and rod symbols of power. Surrounded by lions as her protectors, and owls depicting her nocturnal wisdom, she is the animal soul of the world, who is associated with every living creature that creepeth and all the beasts of the field. The literal meaning of Lilith’s name is “screech.” She was associated with the screech owl of the night, and later as a demon of screeching.” But we are informed of the Lilith-and-willow-tree association in Lilith: The Mother of Musical Worship (Graves, Patel) where Lilith “appears earlier as ‘Lillake’ on a 2000 BC Sumerian tablet from Ur containing the tale of Gilgamesh and the Willow Tree. There she is a demoness dwelling in the trunk of a willow tree tended by the Goddess Inanna (Anath) on the banks of the Euphrates.” (On her evolved characterization as seductress, see also The Story of Lilith the Seductress) The bird-serpent-tree triad motif in the Biblical garden or paradise setting as a package is not seen in Japan and as such is not given treatment here (please refer to Stephen Oppenheimer’s “Eden in the East and Trees of Paradise” and Elizabeth A. Newsome’s “Trees of Paradise and Pillars of the World” that do the job remarkably well.)

ii. The sun-crow-sun-bird or rooster or phoenix bird in tree (a Eastern variant on the above Near Eastern mythologies).

The ten suns-equals ten sun-birds roosting on the mulberry tree and archer Yi Chinese myths are given very full treatment by Sarah Allen. We return to this motif later in the section on immortality. The bird on a tree-mast or prow of a boat is extremely abundantly found between the Yayoi and Kofun periods in Japan, in either funerary or shrine contexts (eg Ise Grand Shrines)  see our article examining rooster symbolism in Japan. [See next section iii for further treatment of this theme]

In the Turkic account of the Oghuz who invaded Europe:
“…the baby Oghuz, as soon as he was born, demanded cooked meat and wine, and started to talk [the prodigious, unusual cultural hero archetype signifying divine birth and status]…his loins were like those of a wolf, his shoulders like those of a sable and his chest like that of a bear: his whole body was covered in hair. Soon he hunted a unicorn, luring it first with a stag, secondly with a bear and third with himself. One day, when he was praying to God, a blue light came down from the sky, with a beautiful maiden in its middle. Oghuz fathered three sons on her, called Sun, Moon and Star. Then one day he went hunting, and found another beautiful maiden in a hollow tree in the middle of a lake. Oghuz fathered three more sons on this maiden, called Sky, Mountain and Sea. …Oghuz … sent his sons Sun, Moon and Star hunting to the east and his sons Sky, Mountain and Sea hunting to the west. The first trip found a golden bow, which Oghuz divided into three  ieces, giving these to the three brothers and telling them to shoot arrows right up to the sky. Then the second trip found three silver arrows which Oghuz duly distributed among them, telling them to be like arrows. He summoned a great assembly to the right of which he had a tree erected, topped by a golden hen, with a white sheep at its foot; and to the left he had erected a tree topped by a silver hen, with a black sheep at its foot. To the right sat the first triad to the left second. Oghuz then divided his kingdom between them (The hens and sheep of course symbolize the sun and the moon and day and night we shall find extremely similar materials ….the Book of Grandfather Korkut (Kitab-i Dede Korkut). This is a collection of twelve stories about the early Oghuz Turks, and this clearly reflects their life in Inner Eurasia (… put together in the early early fourteenth century and re-edited there in the sixteenth: thus it presents Isclamicized Turks fighting against Georgians and other Christians along the Black Sea coast. Beneath the Islamic overlay, however plenty of ancient Turkic myth and religion can be discerned….” Animal and Shaman: Ancient Religions of Central Asia by Julian Baldick  pp. 57-58

iii. The immortality grove and location in Paradise, or Other World or Foreign Land The sacred grove is everywhere it seems, Zeus was born under a poplar in Crete; Rhea’s cypress grows out of her temple; Hermes is reared under a urslane tree; Hera is brought up under a willow in Samos; Apollo was born from an olive (or palm); Romulus and Remus under a Ficus ruminalis by the Tiber; Vishnu under a bamiyan and Buddha under a sal-tree, and died there too.  Other famous tree-deity associations include: Dodona: Zeus=oak;  Rome: Jupiter=oak; Arcadia: Artemis=nut-tree and cedar, etc, etc, etc. One of the most vivid and well-known accounts of an immortality grove must be that of the Xi Wangmu, the shamanic great goddess of China (Max Dashu) and her legendary peach grove. Xi wangmu or Queen Mother of the West lives in a

“In a garden hidden by high clouds, her peaches of immortality grow on a colossal Tree, only ripening once every 3000 years. The Tree is a cosmic axis that connects heaven and earth, a ladder traveled by spirits and shamans.

Xi Wang Mu controls the cosmic forces: time and space and the pivotal Great Dipper constellation. With her powers of creation and destruction, she ordains life and death, disease and healing, and determines the life spans of all living beings. The energies of new growth surround her like a cloud. She is attended by hosts of spirits and transcendentals. She presides over the dead and afterlife, and confers divine realization and immortality on spiritual seekers”

The influence of the Xi wangmu Peach Tree – (or perhaps that of a common source prototype tradition) upon Japan can be seen as the Peach Tree symbol appears in the earliest recorded Japanese myths (below).

“Yomi, or Yomi-tsu-kuni (Land of the Darkenss) yomotsukunu. is ruled by Tsuikiyomi-no-Mikoto. The grotesque female inhabitants of Yomi are known as omo tsu shiko me (gly femlae of the world of the dead) also known as Shiko-Me. In some versions Yomi is ruled by Tsukiyomi. ruler of moon and the night. Yomotsukuni is the god of the realm of the dead. Yomi is referenced in the legend of Izanagi and Izanami and Okuni-nushi and Susanow0…
The Peach Tree of life grows on the border of Yomi. The peach is a symbol of the mother goddess Izanagi who threw three peaches at Izanami’s pursuers in Yomi. The Chinese also have a gigantic sacred Peach Tree presided over by Xi wangmu. — Encyclopedia of Ancient Deities,  Charles Russell Coulter、Patricia Turner

Taoist immortals motif can be seen engraved on Kofun bronze mirrors, and to a rarer extent in statuary in the tumuli as well. The paper, Stone Ritual Items and the Stones of Okinoshima Island in the Fifth Century(by SHINOHARA Yuichi) traces the influence of Chinese ideas of immortality, jade or nephrite symbolism and Taoism upon the Kofun culture:

“Under the influence of ancient China, the ancient Japanese placed a high value on the materials and colors of precious stone objects in making prestige goods and treasured items. Green jasper and fine green tuff came to be used as the materials for such objects probably because the tradition of using jadeite since the Jōmon period was influenced by the ancient Chinese tradition of using nephrite. The problem is that no material stone has been found to fill the transitional gap between these hard stones to soft talcose materials for precious stone objects. In fact, green jasper and talc even coexisted for some time. This phenomenon suggests that both were used for precious stone objects and that the material and color failed to serve as criteria for differentiation. Interpreting this puzzling state of affairs requires considering the special importance attached to where the material stone came from. The source mattered especially for the Japanese, a people who has traditionally had a special concept of stone; from them, the materials for treasures and sacred treasures must come from a sacred place. Among such sacred places were Mt. Kasen in Izumo (the eastern portion of present-day Shimane prefecture), which produced green jasper. The ancient Japanese believed that Mt. Kasen was a divine mountain and that the green jasper produced there was sacred stone because it was the product of the divine will. In addition, the places that produced the material for precious stone objects were likely considered to be special places that served as a gate to the Taoist immortal world, as has been discussed earlier. The notion of branding production areas emerged as a result.

The brand of Izumo-produced comma-shaped beads and cylindrical beads showed that they were excellent precious stone objects with high spiritual powers. In this context, the talcose rock and serpentine that had been formed in the process of nearby green jasper and fine green tuff being formed in Mt. Kasen assumed a major property that they occurred in the vicinity of such precious hard rocks. When the ancient Japanese entered the sacred mountain by following the course of a river to collect material stone, they found green jasper and talc from two outcrops rather close to each other. They treasured talc likewise because what mattered was not the hardness or color of the material but the fact that the material had been obtained from a sacred place. In view of the influence of precious stone objects, especially the Taoist immortality thought, it is reasonable to assume that these stone materials were treasured as a product of the Taoist immortal world or as a means to attain eternal youth and immortality. “

See also my article “Bamboo good luck symbols, charms, taboos and superstitions and fairytales from Japan and the rest of Asia” which lists the many bamboo fertility myths, myths about bamboo grove immortals or sages, bamboo-tree rites and taboo beliefs, which can, incidentally, be correlated to the regions of the world where bamboo vegetation is distributed. The Norse or Viking complex of myths combines a number of tree motifs into a complex of ideas: The Viking Valhalla palace flanked by the Glasir Grove, the Golden Tree called “Glasir and Gload” was in front of the palace Source: the Viking Glasnir apple grove.

The Glasir Grove located near the southern ridge of Asgard, was an orchard of apple trees that had leaves made of red gold; it was near both GIMLI and GLADSHEIMR. In the middle of this forest, the god Odin had a third palace. Many of the horses of ASGARD grazed here … (Bennett, Guerber)

In addition, Odin’s son, also recalling the “dying tree-and-disappearing deity”‘s motif, is Odin’s son Balder’s death which is replete with the Syrian symbolism of the god Bel’s descent into darkness and his wife Nanna (recalling Inanna), according to Timothy J. Stephany “Brother Gods of Light and Darkness: Origins of the Baldr Myth”  (2006):

“The relation of Baldr to mistletoe reinforces the relationship of the seasonal cycle with the god of  summer. The general conception of light is more accurate than either sun or summer. However as gods of light and darkness, Baldr and Hod would also be associated with both the daily sun cycle and the annual solar cycle.”

The Norse people also believed that a tree runs like an axis, or pole, through this world and the realms above and below it. They called their World Tree Yggdrasill. It was a great ash tree that nourished gods, humans, and animals, connecting all living things and all phases of existence. It was a great ash tree that nourished gods, humans, and animals, connecting all living things and all phases of existence, but it had an evil serpent gnawing away at its roots (Myth Encyclopedia)

Galina Serkina draws comparisons between the Norse god Odin and the Turkic god Odun:
“Turkic peoples are also aware of an ethno genetic myth about mankind (Radlov, 1989, p 357) or as a shaman ancestor generating from a tree. The name of the forefather is Odun. In modern Turkish languages, this word means “firewood, log, timber”. In the connection it is tempting to draw a parallel between this name and the name of  ” (W)odin, the head of the Scandinavian pantheon. [recalls similar sounding name of the semi-legendary Emperor Ojin title of Japan]  The shamanistic character of this deity is beyond doubt. He is not only closely connected with a tree (he gets the runes after hanging on a tree as a sacrificial offer), he brings back to life the tree prototypes of the first human beings. Rashid al-Din (vol1, part 1, 1952, p. 139) mentions the old legend of a sovereign born of a tree, also that the Kyrgyz people numbered the larch tree among their ancestors, and that one of their tribes was called “modon tree”: (Potomin, vol. 2, 1881, p. 161). The name of one of the rulers of the Huns-Mode is definitely associated with the word “modon tree”. The legend of a sovereign born out of a tree is possibly a vague recollection of the Hunnish ruler, in whose name ethno genetic myths, the tree cult and a real historical personage are merged.”

The mythology of early India, preserved in texts called the Upanishads, includes a cosmic tree called Asvattha. It is the living universe, an aspect of Brahman, the world spirit. This cosmic tree reverses the usual order. Its roots are in the sky, and its branches grow downward to cover the earth.(Myth Encyclopedia)

Extended motif of a Solar Boat journeying towards sun /solar-tree or homeland:

Etchings among some of the rock petroglyphs of Japan (numbering more than 3,000 according to the Japan Petroglyth Society) depict the enigmatic bird-on-the-tree-boat-mast motif shown in the photo below.
The Japan Petroglyph Society

The Japan Petroglyph Society Source

Whether the above petroglyphs  relate to a funerary context, or a purely solar motif is not known, but the funerary context of the next item is certain.

This unusual Japanese crown reconstructed from a Kofun period find, has an unusual added motif of the bird on top of the boat, both symbolic of the journey towards the sun.
Reconstruction from excavated tomb find in a Kofun tumulus

Reconstruction from excavated tomb find in a Kofun tumulus

The Japanese funerary boat symbolism above and cult of Solar boats transporting the departed souls, finds remarkable parallels with the Boats in the Underworld of the Egyptians and Greeks:

“The soul of the deceased faced an arduous journey as he traveled throughout the underworld to reach the field of reeds.  To achieve this, the ba (soul) must be able to reach the land of the gods, as this is where it will become immortal. The ba must travel on a solar bark, led by the god Ra, as it travels to and throughout the underworld. This ideology exists throughout Egyptian history, starting in the Naqada Period and continuing for thousands of years.

The funerary cult was [ initially] focused on the lunar deities. Osiris [also a phallic tree dying-and-resurrecting-deity, see Frazer's chapter "Osiris was a Tree spirit"], the moon god as well as god of the underworld, would take the deceased’s soul on his moon boat to the field of reeds. The field of reeds, a place for the souls immortality, could only be reached after passing the tests of various gods as well as avoiding the destruction by the evil ones. Over time, Egyptian mythology shifted towards a solar-based viewpoint with Ra as the sun god. Ra was essentially a mirror image of the moon god Osiris as he represented a stronger form of control over nature, while Osiris represented the uncontrollable chaos of nature. Every night on his solar bark, Ra would cross the underworld and emerge in the morning on his boat in the east….This bark would also carry the “Light of Consciousness” as it would travel hour by hour, waking up the dead. The destination of the solar boat was thought to be the modern constellation of Orion, which was the celestial home of Osiris. If the ba passed judgement, it would be allowed to reside in this celestial home.

Boats in the underworld also had the purpose of allowing the soul of the Pharaoh to cross various waterways on their journey to reach his place among the gods.” — Boats of the Dead

In Chinese mythology, Fusang refers to a divine tree and island in the East, from where the sun rises. A similar tree, known as Ruomu (若木) exists in the west, and each morning the sun was said to rise from Fusang and fall on Ruomu. Chinese legend has ten birds (typically ravens) living in the tree, and as nine rested, the tenth would carry the sun on its journey. This legend has similarities with the Chinese tale of the fictional hero Houyi, sometimes referred to as the Archer, who is credited with saving the world by shooting down nine of the suns when one day all ten took to the air simultaneously. Scholars have identified the bronze trees found at the archaeological site Sanxingdui with these Fusang trees, while others (Stephen Brennecke) with the Tree of Knowledge and Evil, given the fruit, serpent and bird symbols present on the tree. There is also an enigmatic hand with a triskele symbol on it.

Anne P. Underhill in her book “A Companion to Chinese Archaeology” has taken a totally different interpretation to the serpent, seeing it not as a serpent but as a dragon, interpreting it in the light of the ancient myth that dragons are said to pull the sun like a wagon across the sky, and that the dragons rely on the aid the tree to do so. There is a bird sitting on top of the bronze tree, Underhill refers to the myth of the ten suns as either bird avatars of the sun, or as suns that are  transported by the birds across the sky. In addition, she says that the eastern myths of the ten suns dating during the Eastern Zhou period (770-221 BC) are of a much later than the Sichuan myths that are no later than the late Shang period (c. 1600 BC to 1046 BC), deducing that the solar bird myths must have originated in the West rather than in the East as previously thought. Here, Underhill also mentions something possibly of significance – that the iconography of bird bodied, human-headed creatures probably represent the bird-headed clansmen.  The third bronze tree from pitK2 was noted to have three branches, each branch attached with a human-headed bird figurine.

One of the Sanxingdui bronze trees, Sichuan, China

One of the Sanxingdui bronze trees, Sichuan, China

This last inference of Underhill’s leads us to strengthened scenario that the Sanxingdui bronze trees represent a type of ancestral Soul Tree too.

iv) Sacred grove – the fertility tree or grove

Frazer’s “The Golden Bough” and Oppenheimer’s “Eden in the East” combined, really give seemingly exhaustive treatment and examination of the cultures that practise sacred grove and vegetative fertility rites, so I don’t propose to deal with those themes that have been covered in many tomes. Frazer mentions the ancient European practice of tree-planting at the birth of a child Imagery of trees associated with fertility is particularly strong among Siberians and Turkmen and among Austro-Asiatics, Austronesians and Island Southeast Asians.

“A photo of a tree in Anatolia, with pieces of cloth tied on to the branches, symbolizing talismans to ensure fertility in childless women. In Turkey, notions and tires where the tree holds a place of importance are especially evident in the eastern part of the country (Serebryskova, 1979, pp130-31). Childless Turkish women and girls of marriageable age make a pilgrimage to a tree growing in a lonely place somewhere near their village or close to a mazar – a sacred place connected with the name of a local saint. Models of cradles and dolls tied to the branches of trees materialized and the wishes of the childless pilgrims. Other such bloodless sacrifices were made in the form of pieces of cloth or fillets. Similar trees are scattered all over Asia (Araz, 1995, pp 230-231). Childless Kazakh women appealed to the spirit of the a tree standing alone on the steppes and offered him a sheep (Radlov, 1989, ppp 230-31). The roots of this selective attitude to trees lie in the East.

Yakut women believed that childless woman could conceive a child after spending a night under a larch-tree having an unusual crown. A personage from the Kyrgyz Manas epic, whose wife remained childless for many years, explained it by her “neither going to a sacred place, nor lying where an apple tree grows… Chorasmian Uzbeks used to bury a placenta umbilical cord or a fetus less than three months old under a fruit tree so that it could go to the place of its former being. In the shaman’s performances of the Uzbeks in Samarkand, the fruit tree served as the symbol of fertility among childless women (Doislrnskiye verovaniya I obryady v Sredny Azii, 1975, p 69). In Erzurum and in other parts of the Turkey, an apple branch was set in the room where a woman was giving birth to a child (Serebryakova 1979, pp 130-3`1). The Siberian Turks, who preserve most rudiments of ancient Turkish culture, believe in the ties between a man and a tree which they envision as a kind of umbilical cord.” — Traces of Tree Worship in the Decorative Patterns of Turkish Rugs (Galina Serkina)

The Sacred Branch procession

“The carrying of the sacred branch in solemn procession formed the essential feature in some of the most important religious festivals of Greece. At Daphenephoria, held every nine years at Thebes in Boetia in honour of Apollo, the chief post in the procession was held by the Daphephorus, or laurel-bearer, a boy chosen for his strength and beauty. He was followed to the temple of the god by a chorus of maidens, also bearing branches nad chanting a porcessional hymn and was regarded for the ocasion as the priest of Apollo who bore amongst his many other appelations that of Daphenphorus because he had brought the laurel to Delphi and planted it there.” – p. 47  The sacred tree or, The tree in religion and myth

In much the same manner,  we see in Japan a “festival with a similar name of keichinsai is held at Kashima Jinja in Kashiba City, Kitakuzushiro County, Nara Prefecture, on January 16. The primary focus of the ritual is the tōya watashi in which gohei of sakaki and shiraki (unfinished wood) are moved from the shrine to the tōya‘s residence” — “Gechinsai” Encyclopedia of Shinto. (The purpose of the ritual is the warding off of evil pestilent spirits. Rivaling the symbolism of the pine tree, the Sakaki is the sacred laurel and evergreen tree of Japan, used in many shrine rituals and festivals, see The Sakaki from Myth to Modern Japan (Renata Maria Rusu) and Sakaki: Sacred Tree of Shinto for all its deep symbolism and connections with central Kojiki and Nihongi myths, and the Amaterasu solar myth. We suggest that the Sakaki Tree is so named, because it originally signified that it was a tree of the Saka people, literally Saka-tree.

v)  Cosmic Pillar and Sacred Adonis fertility (submotif of dismemberment and disappearing/dying and resurrected deity motif); phallic tree symbolism; symbolism of the erecting of asherah poles or tree pillars or poles; tree ladder climbing practices

The most famous of practice in Japan is possibly that of Lake Suwa’s Suwa Taisha. The erecting of the sacred tree pillar here is said to have strong masculinity and virility symbolism.

“Tate Onbashira,” the finale after the month-long Onbashira Festival, is the erecting of the Onbashira (sacred pillar) at the corners of Maemiya Shrine and Honmiya Shrine of Kamisha. It takes place on both May 3-4 at Shimosha, on May 8-9 at Harumiya and May 10 at Akimiya. Photo: Suwa Sightseeing Federation

“Tate Onbashira,” the finale highlight after the month-long Onbashira Festival, is the erecting of the Onbashira (sacred pillar) at the corners of Maemiya Shrine and Honmiya Shrine of Kamisha. It takes place on both May 3-4 at Shimosha, on May 8-9 at Harumiya and May 10 at Akimiya.
Photo: Suwa Sightseeing Federation

Enshrined at the Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen-jinja Shrine’s sacred grove are two large Japanese cedars and one Japanese cypress,  the God Trees or “Goshinboku ”.  They are over 1000 years old and are believed to stand guard over the shrine. Oyama (Yamamatsuri) Festival

At the Oyama Shrine in Fuse on Oki-Dogo Island in Shimane Prefecture which enshrines an old cedar tree on the first Day of Ox in April every year, the Obishime-no-shinji (fastening belt) ritual is held, in which the vine stem is put around the sacred tree seven and a half times. On the day before the festival, villagers perform the ritual called Obitachi-no-shinji (the belt cutting ritual), in which they go into the nearby mountain to cut out vine stems, which are put around the sacred cedar tree, and parade through the village carrying a large sakaki (a holy branch). This “Oyama-san” or “Yama-matsuri,”  festival is said to tell people of the coming of spring and to have been started by a mountain ascetic. (nationally designated as an Intangible Folk Cultural Property.According to the historical record of the festival written in 1825 by a mountain practitioner in Fuse village, it seems that the festival had already been performed hundreds of years before. (Source: Nippon-Kichi)

vii. The pair of tree posts-gate, dokana and tori

More insights are to be had from Galina Serkina’s paper, Traces of Tree Worship in the Decorative Patterns of Turkish Rugs about the rites and symbolism surrounding a pair of gate-tree-posts:
“In the Shah name by Firdowsi, founded, as is well known, upon folklore and mythology, there is a story about a husband tree and a wife tree endowed with the power of speech. The reflection of similar ideas could probably explain the meaning of the Ancient Roman monument Sororium tigillum. Its pillars were representing the male deity, Janus and the female one, Soror. The last name is translated as “sister”. The semantics of the rites performed before it are almost similar to the “birth” rites widespread among the nomads of Central Asia. Kidan emperors performed special rites in front of two trees symbolizing a gate (E Lun-Liu, 1979, p. 527). The consecration of the emperor was also performed in front of trees. It imitated the process of childbirth. Each time the emperor passed below the tree branches, one of those who took part in the ceremony exclaimed, “A boy is born!” (ibid. p.525). Trees were also used in the consecration rites of Siberian and Central Asian shamans which imitated childbirth (pp. 51-52, Snesarev, 1969)”
At Sparta (as well as Kastoria, northern Greece), the veneration of the Castor and Pollux pair of deities was very ancient: a uniquely Spartan, aniconic representation of the twins was as two upright posts connected as it were by a cross-bar (sometimes by a loosely hanging garland); as the protectors of the Spartan army the “beam figure” or dókana was actually carried in front of the army on campaign.
Gates at Dodana, representing the twins in Greek mythology, Pollux and Castor

Dokana gates at Dodana, representing the twins in Greek mythology, Pollux and Castor

The Dioskouri twins were associated with the Indo-European tradition of dual kingship and were so appreciated that two princes of their ruling house were elevated to immortality. Sparta’s unique dual kingship reflects the divine influence of the Dioscuri. When the Spartan army marched to war, one king remained behind at home, accompanied by one of the Twins, thus securing political order in the realm of the Gods”. The tree was regarded by the Spartans as sacred to Castor and Pollux, and images of the twins were often hung in its branches. While elevated to deities in their own right, they usually accompanied greater deities and goddesses.

The “God-entertaining” cult ritual theoxenia and a domestic setting with amphora (of wine?) was particularly associated with Castor and Pollux, with the two deities were summoned to a table laden with food, whether at public hearths or individuals’ own home shrines where the offering was a meal offered to the house god and the house god was a snake that came to partake of it (hence the depiction of snakes ascending the dokana.

In another interpretation, the dokana represents the house while the Dioskouri twins are themselves the house gods, often represented by amphorae (Greek Popular Religion, Martin P. Nilsson). Strongly associated with sailors and horses, they are sometimes depicted arriving at a gallop over a food-laden table. The “table offerings” were a fairly common feature of Greek cult rituals normally made in the shrines of the gods or heroes concerned. was a characteristic distinction accorded to the Dioskouri. Still other interpretations are that they were seen as phallic pillars and ‘beams’ of the world (A.B.Cook), and guardians to a shrine or sepulchre (the same forgotten meaning for the torii and Korean shrine gates is proposed in these writings) see The Meaning of the “Dokana” by Margert C. Waites.

In the final analysis, Japan owns rich tree symbolism, with the different motifs falling into many of the above defined categories. There appears to be a continuity of ideas from earlier Jomon times with the Jomon Soul Tree and then later Tree of Life motif seen in crowns from Kofun tumuli emerged from pan-Asian cosmology and tree worship practices. The maga-tama jewels were symbolic of a prototype kind of ancestral “Soul Tree” of the Turkic type or of the Iranic or the Soul Tree of the kabbalistic writings. The sun positioning on the mountain peaks suggest ancestor veneration may have taken place perhaps during spring or autumn equinox, such as during the current Bon period or during the spring Nowruz spring New Year festivities.

Since the magatama pendant ornaments and amulets originate early on during the Jomon era, the origin of the practice must lie with some of the earliest waves of migratory peoples into Japan. Y-DNA haplogroups C and D and NO are shown by DNA analysis to have been the earliest colonizers of South East Asia and East Asia (Wang and Li 2013) and any of these lineages may have brought Soul Tree veneration beliefs with them possibly via the Eurasian steppelands with a later Bronze Age Hunnic-Xiongnu wave (from Ordos-Liaoning or alternatively, via Sichuan’s and other Chinese-Xiwangmu-Taoist-following enclaves to Japan), with the tumuli technology. The spread of ancestral tree(s) and tree worship is so widespread throughout SEA and Eastern Asia, some diffusion of motifs from these areas is possible too. According to Oppenheimer:

“Austro-Asiatic areas show not only the earlier versions but also a greater variety of mechanisms in the inclusion of early forms of the perverted message and the trees of life and death. The last point of diversity gives further evidence that the area of origin of these myths was on the eastern side of the Indian Ocean.”
However, the mythology of spirits inhabiting trees found among the aboriginal tribes of Southeast Asia, Island Southeast Asia and Melanesia appears to be different from the Bronze Age cosmology of the World Tree at the centre of a Heaven-Earth-Underworld of Eurasia and West Asia, despite the existence of the bird-serpent-tree motif.
Although Oppenheimer points out in his book that the region has the richest diversity of tree myths, and that all of the mythemes are to be found here, a puzzle remains to be solved: The question of why the Garden of Eden myth should crop up so far away from the Near Eastern and Biblical centres of the Eden Paradise. For example, Micronesia’s Gilbert Islands has a version where the two trees, the Tree of Life and the Tree of death are guarded by Naa Kaa, and men always gathered one tree and women under the other. But when Naa. Kaa was away one day, the men and women gathered and mingled under one of the trees. Naa Kaa returned and told the people they had gathered under the Tree of Death, and from that day on, they would all be mortal.
Oppenheimer’s answer is that the Eden idea arose in the East in island Southeast Asia and Melanesia, spreading to the west, see Stephen Oppenheimer’s Eden in the East ” pp. 414 to 440, in which he traces the evolution of tree worship and immortality ideas…along with posited genetic trails.
We have earlier distinguished the pre-Bronze Age Jomon Soul Tree category from the Bronze Age Tree of Life of the tumuli world type. It is clear, however, that Japan has a diverse range of tree motifs, that are very likely of equally diverse origins.
Keiji Imamura in “Prehistoric Japan New Perspectives upon Insular East Asia” wrote “I am tempted to call the Jomon period an arboreal neolithic”, perhaps he was closer to the truth than we know, for the Jomon (and for many eras after them) were truly arboreal every sense of the word, for they considered themselves children born of the Soul Tree, and upon death, journeying back up it.


Resources on Tree Worship Myths of Origins and the Deluge of Indonesia (originally published in the early 1900’s)

The sacred tree or, The tree in religion and mythby Mrs. J. H. Philpot, at pp. 23 and 73

Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism, by Howard Schwartz, page 218

Tree worship (Jewish Encyclopedia) The Sacred Tree: Tree worship in Ancient Israel (Jewish Heritage Online Magazine, July 2014) Comparative survey of moon symbols and beliefs, and the likely derivation of “tamashii” jewel or soul

Traces of Tree Worship in the Decorative Patterns of Turkish Rugs by Galina Serkina (Excerpted from the 11th International Congress of Turkish Arts – Utrecht, the Netherlands, August 23-28, 1999 paper) The paper is an important revelation on the coherent transmission of mythical and shamanistic beliefs via the rug-making technology, and both the rugs and the people who make them, being an amazing visual resource and preserve of knowledge.

“Rugs, like all other artifacts in traditional societies, perform not just utilitarian functions but store and transfer information on the world-outlook o f their creators. Rugs like other kinds o cultural texts (ritual, mythology, images, structures, etc.) retain archaic features which tie the culture of the Turks of Asia Minor with Turkish cultures [ethnic Turkic peoples] of other regions. These features testify to their common sources. Traces of ancient beliefs reflected in carpet patterns of the Turkish of Asia minor reveal their pre-Islamic, shamanistic origin. Turkish prayer rugs (namzliks) were usually intended to be a bridal dowry. Most of them are decorated with tree patterns.

The attention of human societies has always been attracted by the reproduction of life – the principal function of Nature. The cycles of natural cosmic processes was perceived as a constant process of rebirth….

Fertility was the principal essence of life of any traditional society. The tree embodies it in the most concentrated form. For that reason the tree functioned as a sacred center not only in mythology but in rituals as well (the prototype of an altar).””


Sources and further readings:

Encyclopedia of Imaginary and Mythical Places by Theresa Bane (MaacFarland, 2014  p. 68 citing Bennett, Gods and Religions of Ancient and Modern Times, Vol. 1, 288; Grimes, Norse Myths, 260; Guerber, Myths of the Norsemen, 18

Who are the Turks and who are the Huns? compared with Hungarian-Turanian (Sumerian) hypothesis