Institute of Evolution, the University of Haifa, Haifa 31905, Israel
This article surveys the beliefs concerning the supernatural characteristics and powers of sacred trees in Israel; it is based on a field study as well as a survey of the literature and includes 118 interviews with Muslims and Druze.
Both the Muslims and Druze in this study attribute supernatural dimensions to sacred trees which are directly related to ancient, deep-rooted pagan traditions. The Muslims attribute similar divine powers to sacred trees as they do to the graves of their saints; the graves and the trees are both considered to be the abode of the soul of a saint which is the source of their miraculous powers. Any violation of a sacred tree would be strictly punished while leaving the opportunity for atonement and forgiveness. The Druze, who believe in the transmigration of souls, have similar traditions concerning sacred trees but with a different religious background.
In polytheistic religions the sacred grove/forest is a centre of the community’s official worship; any violation of the trees is regarded as a threat to the well being of the community. Punishments may thus be collective.
In the monotheistic world (including Christianity, Islam and Druze) the pagan worship of trees was converted into the worship/adoration of saints/prophets; it is not a part of the official religion but rather a personal act and the punishments are exerted only on the violating individual.
Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 2007, 3:10. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0).