Plants were first feared and then worshiped because of the intoxicating liquors which were derived therefrom. Primitive man believed that intoxication rendered one divine. There was supposed to be something unusual and sacred about such an experience. Even in modern times alcohol is known as “spirits.”
Early man looked upon sprouting grain with dread and superstitious awe. The Apostle Paul was not the first to draw profound spiritual lessons from, and predicate religious beliefs on, the sprouting grain.
The cults of tree worship are among the oldest religious groups. All early marriages were held under the trees, and when women desired children, they would sometimes be found out in the forest affectionately embracing a sturdy oak. Many plants and trees were venerated because of their real or fancied medicinal powers. The savage believed that all chemical effects were due to the direct activity of supernatural forces.
Ideas about tree spirits varied greatly among different tribes and races. Some trees were indwelt by kindly spirits; others harbored the deceptive and cruel. The Finns believed that most trees were occupied by kind spirits. The Swiss long mistrusted the trees, believing they contained tricky spirits. The inhabitants of India and eastern Russia regard the tree spirits as being cruel. The Patagonians still worship trees, as did the early Semites. Long after the Hebrews ceased tree worship, they continued to venerate their various deities in the groves. Except in China, there once existed a universal cult of the tree of life.
The belief that water or precious metals beneath the earth’s surface can be detected by a wooden divining rod is a relic of the ancient tree cults. The Maypole, the Christmas tree, and the superstitious practice of rapping on wood perpetuate certain of the ancient customs of tree worship and the later-day tree cults.
Many of these earliest forms of nature veneration became blended with the later evolving techniques of worship, but the earliest mind-adjutant-activated types of worship were functioning long before the newly awakening religious nature of mankind became fully responsive to the stimulus of spiritual influences.