I traveled to Turkey this year with one primary wish, to visit one of the cradles of civilization, Göbekli Tepe, at least 10,000 years old. Even though I was more than happy to visit many other places, restaurants and buildings in Turkey recorded in this blog, my visit was motivated almost entirely by the desire to visit Göbekli Tepe. My desire on this very long voyage was to visit this exact place and how appropriate that on the tell/hill of Göbekli Tepe was a wishing tree, a sacred place to to the local populace. A wishing tree is an individual tree, usually distinguished by species, position or appearance, which is used as an object of wishes and offerings. Such trees are identified as possessing a special religious or spiritual value. By tradition, believers make votive offerings in order to gain from that nature spirit, saint or goddess fulfillment of a wish. This place is so important and so relevant to me, that this will be the first of many posts on this place and time, nearly 12,000 years ago, that civilization became real to me and to the rest of humanity. I felt it was appropriate to begin with the wishing tree on top of the hill.
I thought I would present a few examples of wishing trees. In the case of this particular wishing tree, pictured above, which is in Poshina, a village in Gujarat India, the wish is represented by the clay horses clustered at the foot of the tree. Making the wish is complicated, not just a matter of purchasing the clay horse and placing it under the tree. You had to buy the horse in the village where the potter had been making them for years. Then you have to get the horse “blessed”. Then there is something else you have to do…it took at least two days to complete the ritual.
According to historian Moses of Khoren, Anushavan Sosanver, grandson of the legendary Armenian king Ara the Beautiful, was dedicated to the cult of the plane trees at the sacred grove in Aramvir. Sos is the Armenian word for plane tree, and the word for rustling is sosapiun. Anushavan’s name—Sosanver—means “dedicated to the plane tree” and also evokes the rustling of the tree’s leaves. Plane trees were planted in churchyards until the 10th-13th centuries. Christian religious authorities discredited the plane trees because of their relationship to pagan practices, but people still designated specific trees near holy sites as sacred.
Chinese wishing trees, money trees, and hong bao trees are a big part of Chinese New Year festivities. Every year, billions of people around the world gather to toss their red ribbons up into the wishing tree with hope that it will stick and their wish will come true for good fortune in the coming year. Lam Tsuen, in Tai Po, was already a residential area 700 years ago during the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279). Today, it still bustles with people and visitors thanks to its two “wishing trees” and Tin Hau Temple.
The strange phenomenon of gnarled old trees with coins embedded all over their bark has been spotted on trails from the Peak District to the Scottish Highlands. It used to be believed that divine spirits lived in trees, and they were often festooned with sweets and gifts – as is still done today at Christmas.The act is reminiscent of tossing money into ponds for good luck, or the trend for couples to attach ‘love padlocks’ to bridges and fences to symbolize lasting romance. Some pubs, such as the Punch Bowl in Askham, Cumbria, have old beams with splits in them into which coins are forced for luck.In Britain it dates back to the 1700s – there is one tree in Scotland somewhere which apparently has a florin stuck into it. It is said that a sick person could press a coin into a tree, their illness would go away. If someone then takes the coin out though, it’s said they then become ill.
Trees have played an important role in many of the world’s mythologies and religions, and have been given deep and sacred meanings throughout the ages. The most ancient cross-cultural symbolic representation of the universe’s construction is the world tree, since the tree unites the underworld by the roots and the heavenly world with the leaves. Other examples of trees featured in mythology are the Banyan and the Peepal (Ficus religiosa) trees in Hinduism (the God Krishna rests in the leaf of a Banyan tree), the modern tradition of the Christmas Tree in Germanic pagan mythology at winter solstice, the Tree of Knowledge of Judaism and Christianity and the Bodhi fig tree in Buddhism (Buddha found enlightenment under this tree). Even Isaac Newton was inspired under an apple tree. In folk religion and folklore, trees are often said to be the homes of tree spirits. Historical Druidism as well as Germanic paganism appear to have involved cult practices in sacred groves, especially the oak. The term druid itself possibly derives from the Celtic word for oak. Today, wishing trees are a common sight in western weddings, a practice inherented from China and even Yoko Ono has popularized the idea.
From the wishing tree on top of the knoll, it seems like you can see forever, a fitting place for both a wishing tree and the ancient temples beneath the ground. Ziraret means visit, or a pilgrimage site, thIs tree is at the highest point of a manmade pile of earth on top of a limestone ridge and a true Ziraret. The ground and the view literally exude spirituality, there is a prickly feeling on your neck, as if you have arrived at a place you have been looking for all your life. The wishing tree predates any other interest in the area, including the beginning of the archaeology excavations in 1994 by Klaus Schmidt, who mentions it in his book. Unfortunately, Klaus Schmidt died of a heart attack in July of 2014. The area of the wishing tree is surrounded by roughly hewn blocks, probably from the Stone Age, 10-12 thousand years ago. The ground is literally littered with microliths from the end of the Stone Age, as it was in 1994 when Klaus Schmidt first came here. The artificial mound of Gobekli Tepe consists of several knolls with depressions in between. The excavation areas are at the southern slope of the mound, at the south-western and the north-western knoll. On the south-eastern hill there are some Islamic graves and the wish tree, which is visible from far way, acting as a landmark. From the tree one can see the volcano of Karacadag in the northeast, the Taurus mountains in the north, in the south the Harran plain and in the southwest the southern quarters of Sanliurfa. I thought I would close this post with a poem by Maggie Smith created for Nationwide Children’s, called Wishing Tree.Wishing Tree Poem
India Wishing Tree: http://www.rosemarysheel.com/archives/wishing-tree
Nan Tien Temple New Years Gold Leaf Wishing Tree: http://athenadreamer.deviantart.com/art/Wishing-tree-374129420
Armenian Wishing Tree: http://nancykricorian.net/2012/10/armenians-and-sacred-trees/
Wishing Tree in the Lam Tsuen Village in Hong Kong: https://simplecherishes.wordpress.com/tag/water-lantern/
The Lydford Coin Wishing Tree: http://unusual-encounters.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-lydford-coin-tree.html
Nationwide Children’s: https://wishingtree.nationwidechildrens.org/story
Poet Maggie Smith: http://maggiesmithpoet.com