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Economic Botany

, Volume 56, Issue 4, pp 315–327 | Cite as

Why are rags tied to the sacred trees of the Holy Land?

  • Amots Dafni

Abstract

A field study to survey the custom of tying rags on sacred trees in the northern part of Israel was carried out during 2000–2001. It included 60 interviewees: 24 Druze, 18 Moslem Arabs, 12 Moslem Bedouins and 6 Christian Arab individuals. Tree veneration was found to be quite uncommon among the Bedouins and rare among the Christian Arabs.

The results of the present study suggest there are 17 reasons for tying rags on sacred trees. Five reasons, as far as the author is aware, were not previously reported from the literature (i.e., breaking an oath, marking a blessed tree, marking the road to a blessed tree, asking for permission to pick fruit, and setting out rags for needy people). These usages appear to be endemic to Israel and to the Druze.

Two customs previously reported from Israel but not corroborated by the present survey are to pacify a tree’s spirit and as a charm for new clothes. Three of the 17 known reasons for tying rags on sacred trees are also known from regions beyond the Middle East (i.e., to transfer illness to the tree, to use a rag as a visiting card, and to pacify the tree’s spirits). And lastly, several customs never reported before from Israel appear to stem from the belief in ancient pagan polytheistic religions (to ensure a good yield, offerings to a tree’s deities/spirits, to pacify the ancestor’s spirits, to commemorate a death, and to pacify a tree’s spirit while picking fruits).

Twelve of the reported 17 reasons for hanging rags on sacred trees are known from Israel. These findings elucidate the widespread and variable tree worship traditions that are prevalent today in the region. In spite of a monotheistic ban against ancient pagan beliefs, trees still remain a subject of worship in Israel today, as manifested by the daily tying of rags upon branches.

Key Words Sacred trees tree worship contact magic healing trees rags Israel 

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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden Press 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amots Dafni
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of EvolutionUniversity of HaifaHaifaIsrael

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