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Leelinau and the Sacred Tree

THE SYMBOLIC LIFE (Winter 2003)


When Leelinau, from the Native American Ojibway tribe, was a young girl she loved to spend her time roaming quiet areas or sitting peacefully upon some high outcropping of rock overlooking a lake. Her favorite spot was a forest of pines called Manitowok or the Spirit Grove. This place on the open shore was not often visited by her people because it was said to be inhabited by mischievous fairy-like turtle-spirits. When people needed to pass through the wood or seek shelter within it, they always left an offering of tobacco for these keepers of the grove. When Leelinau grew to marriageable age, her parents disapproved of her being away from home so much. One night they told her they had found a suitable man for her to marry. The young woman burst into tears. “I do not want to be married!” she sobbed. That night she crept out of her parents’ home and went to the Spirit Grove. She sat down against a young pine to decide what to do. She spent most of the evening, alternately crying and meditating, when finally she heard a voice come for the tree. “Leelinau, I will be your lover,” the pine tree said. “You may stay with me forever and find peace in my love and happiness in my protection. In my bark canoe, you will float over the waters of the sky-blue lake.” Leelinau’s heart was flooded with relief and joy at these words. She returned home smiling and allowed her parents to continue with the wedding preparations. On the day she was to wed, she rose early and dressed in her wedding garments. She told her parents she wished to meet her lover at the Spirit Grove and they gave her consent. So Leelinau went into the forest and never came back. Many moons later a group of fisherman spearing fish near the grove thought they saw Leelinau standing by the shore. They silently paddled toward land, but the young woman saw them and fled into the forest. She was never seen again. At this time of year most of us have some sort of love affair with a tree or trees, just like Leelinau had with her pine tree. We bring them into our homes and lavish them with decorations. Our trees help us celebrate life. Of course we might also be moved as she was to journey into the forest to visit them. Ironically many people associate the Christmas tree with Christianity, but its history and roots predate Christianity. An old and deep symbolism is connected with them that permeates the world’s religions, folklore and myth. A sampling can be found in the book through which we share Leelinau’s story, The Solstice Evergreen: The History, Folklore and Origins of the Christmas Tree by Sheryl Ann Karas. From the magical tree of the shaman, to Christ on the cross, from the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden to the Sefirotic Tree of the Kabbala, from the great tree Yggdrasil in Norse mythology, to that of Odysseus and Penelope in the Odyssey, the tree carries a quintessential element of the life of the soul.

Editor: Steve Galipeau

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