Keywords: Elder wisdom, knowing how to maintain a continuous store of energy, finding sustenance during lean times, connection to prehistoric humanity, knowing when to protect and when to release creativity for optimal success, peace and calm, clears the mind of distraction, working with the Third Eye/Brow Chakra, sacred to many deities (including Attis, Dionysus, Neptune, and Osiris), one of the seven chieftain trees of the Druids, contemplating the sacred mysteries of Winter
Pines are hardy, long-lived, conifers found in the genus Pinus. This family of trees (and a few shrubs) consists of between 90 to 125 species, all of which are native to the Northern Hemisphere. Pines have been imported to countries in the Southern Hemisphere for commercial and ornamental reasons and have become invasive species in some areas. Species of pine have evolved to thrive in a wide variety of soil conditions, climates, and elevations. Most pines are found in temperate to cold climes though some species are more suited for life in arid, hot environments.
The two most visually distinctive traits of pines are their clusters of long, thin leaves, called needles, and their cones. The structure of the needles helps reduce evaporation, helping the trees survive during dryer times. The needles also produce compounds which act as a sort of antifreeze, allowing them to survive frost and continue the process of photosynthesis throughout winter. These compounds are partly responsible for the rich, aromatic scent associated with these trees. Both scientists and practitioners of aromatherapy have found that the scent of pine needles encourages a sense of calm and restfulness. Perhaps this ability to induce a tranquil state of mind is one reason why some Catholics and neopagans employ pine branches dipped in water as an aspergillum to sprinkle water about an area before rituals.
Pine cones are the reproductive organs of the trees, and in most species the male and female cones are found on the same tree. Male cones a typically smaller and drop off the tree once pollination is complete. Seeds gestate in the larger female cones, a process that can take a year, and are protected by bark-like scales. Pine seeds are dispersed on the wind or carried away by birds such as nutcrackers and jays. Along with being an important food source for birds and squirrels, the larger seeds of some trees, called pine nuts, are consumed by humans.
Pine nuts were an important food source for the prehistoric peoples of Europe, Asia, and North America. Rich in protein and amino acids, pine nuts were harvested during autumn and stored to provide sustenance during the lean winter months. Archeologists have found stores of pine nuts in North America dating back to 6,000 years ago. Pine nuts were, and still are, an important part of the diets of the Native peoples of the Great Basin and the American Southwest. For the Hopi, Shoshone, and other peoples of this region, the time of the pine nut harvest was one of the most important communal events of the year and pine nuts were elevated to a position of reverence and religious significance. Harvesting the nuts of the pinyon pines still continues today in this region, although this tradition is being threatened by habitat loss and political strife.
The ancient Greeks and Romans added pine nuts to many of their meals and in modern times it is found in the cuisines of the Mediterranean and Middle East. Breads, salads, sauces, and even desserts featuring pine nuts are enjoyed by the people of Greece, France, Spain, and Italy. In America’s southwestern states, a coffee made from pine nuts is considered a regional specialty. Around 20 species of pine are harvested commercially. Most of the pine nuts harvested in Europe come from the Stone Pine and in Asia the nuts are likely to belong to the Korean Pine or Chilgoza Pine. In North America nuts are supplied by pinyon pines, most notably Colorado Pinyon, Mexican Pinyon, and Single-leaf Pinyon.
Pine nuts may be employed by modern totemists to connect with Pine. Pine as a totem can represent the entire family of pine trees, or the totemist may seek the totem of a specific species. If it is known what species of pine the nuts being used came from, this may facilitate a direct connection to that particular tree. Otherwise, pine nuts can be used to gain general Pine wisdom and lessons. It is possible to work with Pine in general, but if Pine becomes an important teacher for you it may be desirable to see if a specific species can be determined.
Pine’s evergreen nature and its ancient role in prehistory as a winter food source makes in an ideal teacher for learning how to maintain continuous supplies of energy. Those working with Pine may notice their energy patterns slowing down a bit but that they also require less “down time” than usual. Pine teaches how to conserve energy, carefully time the completion of goals, and insure that reserves of resources are always maintained. This totem encourages a pace of life that is constant and calm rather than fluctuating wildly between times of productivity and times of rest. Pine would agree with the fabled tortoise’s philosophy of “slow and steady wins the race”.
Studying the symbolism of pine cones can also help unlock many clues to this tree’s lessons. Pine cone imagery is surprisingly abundant in the mythic art and ritual practices of many cultures. Many deities, including Osiris, Marduk, and Dionysus have been depicted as holding a pine cone or a staff topped with a pine cone. The staff of Dionysus, called a thyrsus, was a stalk of fennel with ivy wrapped around it and honey was said to sometimes drip from the pine cone tip. This phallic instrument was carried by worshipers during the sacred festivals of Dionysus/Bacchus and symbolized the regenerative power of seeds (of both plants and men). It should also be noted that in Catholicism, the pine cone is found on the staff carried by the Pope and the courtyard of the Vatican contains an enormous statue of a pine cone. Whether or not Catholic use of the pine cone’s image has direct connections to other mythologies is a matter of debate and controversy.
Some modern students of spiritual symbolism believe that the origin of the strong connection between pine cones and religious mysteries can be found, quite literally, in our brain. The pineal gland, a small structure in the center of the brain which is thought to be responsible for sleep patterns and some pleasure responses, was so named because it looks like a tiny pine cone. Early Western philosophers were fascinated by this organ and some theorized it connected the mind to the body and was the “house” of the soul. Some branches of Eastern mysticism view the pineal gland as the physical form of the brow chakra or the third eye . Other mystical theorists claim that the pineal gland may be responsible for the phenomenons of telepathy and clairvoyance.
Whatever traditions or beliefs you follow, Pine does indeed encourage the bridging of body and mind, matter and spirit, and earth and the heavens. Pine does not ignore or shun the more earthly/bodily aspects of reality, but it is prone to push its students to explore loftier philosophies, transcendent mysteries, and “higher” modes of being. Employing the scent of pine while meditating or sitting next to a pine tree and listening to the rustle of wind in it needles are both excellent ways to induce the calm, relaxed, and meditative state of mind Pine prefers for communicating its lessons.
Pine is not likely to provide quick and obvious lessons at first, but for those who are compatible with the idea of steady, constant, long-term growth, Pine can be an powerful, yet gentle, ally.
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“History of Pine Nuts and the People of the Great Basin.” Goods from the Woods. http://www.pinenut.com/history.htm
Morgenstern, Kat. “Pine.” Sacred Earth: Ethnobotany and Ecotravel. Dec. 2004 http://www.sacredearth.com/ethnobotany/plantprofiles/pine.php
Odgren, Paul. “Why Can Pine Needles Carry On Photosynthesis During Winter?” MadSci Network. http://www.madsci.org/posts/archives/1998-12/913932825.Bt.r.html
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