With all the decor of the season, and working in retail as I do I see plenty of it, one of the most beloved symbols of the season is the pine tree, the use of which in the winter holiday stems primarily from ancient practices of various Germanic and Slavic tribes. But that is not to say that a Hellenic can’t appreciate a pine…not at all. I have heard tell that the pine was used to represent the deceased Attis in the cult of Cybele that had imported into Europe from Asia Minor, but I have to admit that has little to do with my appreciation of the pine since I don’t particularly worship Cybele. To pin it down really my appreciation of the pine is less focused on the tree itself and more so on a very significant part of the tree…the pinecone which I have used to adorn shrines to Artemis, Apollon and Dionysos in the past.
As a child I was duly fascinated with the shape and form of the pine cone, the natural spiraling up pattern played out with its it woody petals to the tip, rather like a unicorn’s horn. And it seemed even more magical when my grandmother took some rather large ones and spray painted them silver or gold. So in my youth when I first began worshiping the gods, and my focus was particularly on Artemis at the time, I addressed these little natural wooden horns to my shrine to Artemis. And I seemed all the more inclined to do so after I had read in my early 20s that among Romans the pine tree was considered a part of the worship of Diana. And though I recognize a certain distinction between Roman and Hellenic religion, I spent quite a bit of time querying privately just why the tree would be so important to her. From what I could tell the tree seemed to have rather strange nature, being either female or male on an occassion, and fertilized in a very indirect manner rather than by invasive pollination like other plants. A simple breeze carries the pollen. Despite this pine is one of the quickest growing, and most attractive trees out there, as well as being fairly prolific.
As a species of evergreen the pine can repesent both immortality and eternal youth which seemed appropriate for a maiden goddess. Of course when you get down into the south you see less of such trees. That is even the case in the U.S. In Alaska we had several different species of pine that could be found within a fairly small area, but here in North Carolina I have seen more oak growing about than Pine, and evergreens tend to be more like cypresses, a tree of somewhat close relation to the pine as a fellow coniferous also producing small cones. The cypress we do know to be sacred to Artemis and associated in myth with Apollon, perhaps for a similar line of thought of the pine to Diana in Rome. It would be easy then to just make a line directly to the cypress and ignore any further the pine tree, except that the pine is native to Hellas and was used for building material for ships and its resin as a perservative. It is along a similar line that cypress resin has also been held of value. Certainly there is a very close relationship between the two trees biologically as well as symbolically, as both are connected with ideals of death and immortality. As I had said before the pine is commonly associated with the death of Attis, and in Greece with the death of Pitys, who, when pursued by Boreas and Pan fell from a cliff and thereafter became a pine tree. This is also the case of the cypress, that according to myth originated from a boy named Cyparissus who was loved by Apollon and gifted with a deer which the boy cherished. However, when he accidentally killed the dear he mourned for it for all time in the form of a cypress for which the tree is associated with funerals. Therefore we see a firm link between the cypress and the pine, the exception being that typically cypress trees are more cultivated and fairer in appearance than their more prickly wild cousins.
That the cypress is associated with Artemis and Apollon requires no stretch of the imagination to figure out. Artemis is the huntress, a death-bringer in her own right, one who plays an important part in the progression from life to death as a goddess of the portal. Apollon is god of the boundary, a cemetary god in some parts of Hellas too, and a god importantly connected with the principles of immortality as the qualities of resin of both pine and cypress as preservatives are also a quality of honey which places bees at a similar symbolic level. Therefore we see trees that are connected with immortality and death at the same time…quite appropriate for evergreens.
Then of course there is the fundamental shape of the cone of coniferous trees whether it is pine or cypress. I referred to it before as a horn when looked upon from the side, but if you look at it from above you can see the spiraling pattern like some labyrinth winding upward to great heights…an accension of being. It is no wonder then that Dionysos crowns his thysros with a pine cone who is the lauded companion of the initiate as they make their journey, and a pine cone in winter is an appropriate symbol of this role of Dionysos who brought forth Semele, the fiery queen.
However, strictly speaking the pine is, in Hellas, associated more directly associated with Pan in a similar nature as the laurel is to Apollon, as the nymph Pitys whom he loved become the tree, the branches of which he crowned himself with. That the pine tree is sacred to Pan specifically it is not illogical to my reasoning to continue to celebrate a connection of the pine with Apollon, Artemis and Dionysos…all three of which have intimate connections with Pan. Pan gifted to Artemis her hounds, taught Apollon divination, and reveled with Dionysos. All three of which have Pan directly involved in their own divine activities. It is not surprising then that Pan has a cave in Parnassos, where Dionysos revels with the muses and whose birth is honored too in that cave, just above where Artemis and Apollon dwell at Delphi in the blessed providence of the earth and sea (as Delphi was once owned half by Gaia, ad the other half by Poseidon..the latter of whom retained an altar within the holy precinct.). Nor is it a shock that at the temple of Apollon Karneios at Corinth that, according to Pausanias, an image of a seate Pan and erect Artemis presided at the entrance to the cella. And within Apollon Karneios was depicted with a pinecone in one hand, and a staff in the other.
So my reader now should not be puzzled at all as to why one of my most treasured item is a pine nut from a tree at Delphi, which has become an important part of my private shrine to Apollon and his twin. You will not see it easily, but it is in a small box painted with the image of Apollon, and this box placed upon a small column beside which Apollon and Artemis stand at either side. And pine cones abound everywhere!
These pincones in winter, how beautiful they seem to me, telling the tidings of autumn and the promise of spring, the story of death and that which within is undying and immortal. Hail Apollon, Hail Artemis, Hail Dionysos and Hail Pan!