In this episode, RSP co-editor Breann Fallon talks to Professor Carole Cusack about trees in religious mythology, belief, and practice.

About this episode

In this episode, RSP co-editor Breann Fallon sat down with long-time friend of the podcast, Professor Carole Cusack of the University of Sydney to discuss sacred trees. Cusack has published widely on the topic including her 2011 monograph The Sacred Tree: Ancient and Medieval Manifestations (Cambridge Scholars Publishing) and a recent special volume of the Journal of Religion and Nature edited by Cusack. Beginning with Cusack’s journey to studying the sacred tree, the conversation turns to specific examples of the Fortingall Yew and Glastonbury Thorn, both of which connect to Christianity. Turning to contemporary examples, Fallon and Cusack discuss the 2020 destruction of the Djab Wurrung tree in Australia.

A transcript for this episode is available below

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Sacred Trees: Belief, Mythology, and Practice [transcript]

Sacred Trees: Belief, Mythology, and Practice

Podcast with Carole Cusack (1 February 2021).

Interviewed by Breann Fallon

Transcribed by Andie Alexander

Audio and transcript available at:


Trees, Nature, Christianity, Paganism, Environmentalism

Breann Fallon (BF)  00:05

It’s Breann Fallon here, and I’m here with professor of religious studies, Carole Cusack, from the University of Sydney. Now, Carole is one of—I would say—the original friends of The Religious Studies Project, and she will be familiar to many of you. Now, I was going through Carole’s biography today and trying to slim it down, and it was just so much to cover. So, I’ll just name a few of the many things that she has going on at the moment. She was editor of the Journal of Religious History from 2007 to 2015 and was founding editor of the International Journal of the Study of New Religions published by Equinox. She serves on editorial boards for numerous journals and book series. She’s editor of Literature and Aesthetics and co-editor of Fieldwork in Religion. She’s the author of Anime, Religion, and Spirituality published by Equinox in 2015, Invented Religions, published by Ashgate in 2010, and The Sacred Tree published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing in 2011, as well as countless articles, but today, we’re going to focus on the idea of trees. So how are you Carole? How are you going?

Carole Cusack (CC)  01:27

Oh, good. Thank you, Breann. It’s wonderful to speak to you, and it’s a while since I’ve done one of these interviews for the RSP. So, it’s interesting to think about something new to talk to people about.

BF  01:39

Well, you’re here speaking on trees—we’re doing a bit of a month on nature. And I will just say you stepped in at the last minute. So, thank you very much for that. Now, you’ve published extensively on trees from a religious studies perspective—we mentioned your work The Sacred Tree: Ancient and Medieval Manifestations—but you also recently published or edited a special volume on trees, is that correct?

CC  02:06

I did edit an issue of the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture that had a set of articles on trees in it. And in that one, I did some work studying the Glastonbury Thorn, which I suppose is one of the more famous, like, named holy trees. So yeah, I mean, I’m interested in trees in a whole range of ways, actually. And it’s funny that you said, you know, you’re having a month on nature. Because I do remember when the secretary came out that a couple of people who reviewed it—you know, being sort of generally positive—were a bit disappointed, I think, that it actually wasn’t that much about like, living trees, or ecology, or nature worship. It was a quite sort of theoretical and conceptual kind of book. And I guess, when it comes to the more ecological stuff I’ve done on and off for years, work on the Church of All Worlds, one of them modern pagan religions, founded in the US in 1962. And that particular group of modern pagans, see the earth Gaia, as a living being a living goddess and human beings, constituting a kind of planetary consciousness. And in that sense, the planet is actually itself the goddess. So that’s also about nature, and about ecology and about an ecologically responsible lifestyle, but also, in some senses quite, I suppose, a theoretical approach to trees and nature in general.

BF  03:59

So, you’ve mentioned a couple of ideas there. Firstly, the name, the naming of sort of a specific holy tree—you mentioned the Glastonbury Thorn—but also this idea almost as of trees as world structures. So perhaps we could begin with an overview of the different forms in which trees appear in religious rhetoric and practice, such as myth, world structures, and so on.

CC  04:24

Well, the thing is, it’s difficult to generalize. And I suppose all the work that I’ve done, has pretty much been done in a western context, and looking at like, Indo-European mythology, and parallel sorts of motifs and stories, and also, ritual contexts that trees are fulfilled in a number of those cultures. So, looking at ancient Greece, ancient Rome, Anglo-Saxon England, early Medieval Ireland. And then looking at the way in which those cultures in the Middle Ages converted to Christianity, and in some cases, preserved the idea of the holy tree in some form or other, but certainly not in quite the same kind of cosmological way that the pre-Christian cultures had it. So, I suppose everything I say pretty much is western Indo-European derived. Some of it is pre-Christian. Some of it is post the conversion periods. But when I wrote The Sacred Tree, I’d written a couple of articles beforehand that had come out of my PhD research, which was actually about early medieval missions, and I’d noticed that some of the saints’ lives, the missionaries’ lives, that were written from the fourth and early fifth century onwards, pitted the missionaries against holy trees, that pagans had been attached to, or understood to be, in some sense, the dwelling place of spirits or deities. And in terms of conversion to Christianity, these missionaries often became quite famous as people who cut down sacred trees. And their promotion of the Christian God was strengthened when the seeming deities or spirits who were supposed to be resonant in such trees didn’t actually punish them for this extraordinary, sacrilege in chopping down the holy tree. And so, I started off thinking about trees, really, as a tiny little bit, you know, like, like one tile in a mosaic. That was my thesis for my PhD, which really didn’t have anything much to do with trees at all—it was about missions and conversion techniques. And so, when I wrote The Sacred Tree, I’ve been thinking about that for at least 10 years after the PhD and collecting little bits of evidence here and there. And I was thinking, well, I could write a book about why these pre-Christian people thought trees were important, and why, for example, missionaries thought they were important enough to cut down, what were the beliefs that were actually attached to them?

CC  07:39

So, there’s a whole bunch of things that you can sort of comment on. The two big ones are the idea that the tree serves as an Axis Mundi, a kind of centre of the world, and in that role, it kind of also acts as a mapper of territory, and as a gathering place of people who accept that it is this particular kind of centre. And it’s important to realize that when I talk about this, I’m talking about theoretical trees, such as trees that appear in mythology, but also actual real trees, such as the trees in early medieval Ireland, which were often called inauguration trees, because kings—there were multiple kings in early medieval Ireland, we might call them kinglets, kind of chief land really, kind of supreme in the sense that one imagines a king—were often inaugurated beside a tree that in some sense, symbolized their territory by being its centre. So that’s one really important image of the tree. The other one is the idea that the tree is itself in some sense, an Imago Mundi, that is an image or a picture of the world that as a symbol, or a representation, it can be seen to encompass everything in the world. Now, that’s a little bit less common—Axis Mundi ideas a lot more common. And actually, the two of them have significant overlap, as I think will be clear as we move along.

CC  09:30

And there’s a couple of other, sort of, small things that you notice about trees that are kind of precisely aligned to those two big meanings, which include, for example, the fact that seemingly, in a lot of early European cultures, quite rough, almost, you know, minimally shaped logs were often used as images of the gods. Sometimes costumed in quite luxurious attire. We know, for example, in ancient Greece that the goddess Hera, who in a kind of classical Olympian context is thought of as the console of Zeus and sitting on a throne, in the gods’ palace on Mount Olympus, she actually is quite often imaged as a kind of rough log in much earlier sorts of liturgical contexts. And that also shows us one other thing that the tree is alive—you know, it’s rooted in the ground—but you can cut it down, as indeed our missionaries already mentioned did. But in the ancient world, the context of cutting it down became very interesting and important to me as well. Because, for example, again, to use an example from classical Greece, there were specific, divine or semi-divine beings, who were believed to live in trees, the hamadryads. And if you actually cut a tree, you killed the spirit, the hamadryad, who lived in it. So even quite simple things like constructions in wood… In most European pagan cultures, there are folkloric survivals or occasional textual survivals that explain that, when you cut down a tree, you have to make offerings and libations. And you have to pray, and you have to ask the divine being in the tree for permission to cut it down. And once you have cut it down, you have a thing where you get something that’s related to sacred trees, which is a pillar monument. And in some cases, that can be a tree trunk. In other cases, it might be made of stone. Ken Dowden, who’s a very interesting classical scholar—mostly a Roman specialist, but he wrote a really good book on European mythology—he points out at one point that the pillar monument made of a tree trunk is a really interesting kind of intersection between the stone monuments that we see in prehistoric European cultures and the kind of living world of holy trees. And of course, again, to stick with Rome, Dowden’s own specialist area, we have situations like boundary stones, which used to be set up by a specific kind of ritual, which involved libations and offerings and the farmers whose boundary was being mapped out agreeing and praying together. And there was even a God called Terminus, who is just—he’s not actually anthropomorphized, he’s just imaged as a pillar. But he is the god of boundaries and setting up limits. And so, I think that that is possibly something that also links with the idea of the tree, as being able to mark the centre of a realm and the territory of a king. So, there’s a lot of—that’s all kind of pre-historic material that I can kind of embellish or, or explain further. So that’s kind of where I started.

BF  13:47

And you you’ve your work has sort of honed in on different types of trees, you’ve worked on the Glastonbury Thorn, but also the Fortingall Yew, a Scottish holy tree, maybe we’ll start with the yew as a specific example.

CC  14:02

That’s a really nice example to start with, too, because my association with The Religious Studies Project, of course, is really about the fact that I spend a lot of time in Europe. And when I’m in Europe, I spend a lot of time in Scotland. And so, it’s very important that I’ve become interested in doing research in Scotland when I have the opportunity to. And that came out of a long association with religious studies at [the University of] Edinburgh—who people who couldn’t have been more kind or more hospitable. And the Fortingall Yew—it was actually I think, the second of my Scottish folklore articles. I started looking at just phenomena that were around me while I was staying in Edinburgh and doing my research leave or whatever it was that I was doing there. And it always astonished me that I’d talked to colleagues and I’d say, I’ve just been reading, you know that there’s this festival happening. And the answer I would typically get was, “I never, I’ve never been to it…” then I found Fortingall Yew. And people said, “Oh, no, I’ve never been there,” or “I might have heard of it,” you know, and I was thinking this is really strange. So, I started collecting material about it, because actually, I knew a bit about the Glastonbury Thorn already. And I really like this idea that there were some holy trees that somehow continued. They could have, if you like, a pagan interpretation or a pagan meaning. And certainly, in our contemporary world were resurgent, modern paganism is very important, you’ll often find pagans laying claim to the Glastonbury Thorn or the Fortingall Yew, but they are also trees that are very firmly situated within a Christian context. And the Fortingall Yew is actually in a churchyard. So, you know, it’s very firmly within a Christian context. So, I ended up reading a whole lot of folklore and bits and pieces about it, realizing not much have been written, thinking, “Oh, this would be a really nice thing to write an article about.” It’s a small topic, a bounded topic. And also, I could just get on the train and go and do a day trip and go and see this tree—make sure that I could actually get a grip on what it’s kind of context was. Now it’s an important place because it’s a huge tree. And there’s a lot of argument about how old it is. And it also is botanically astonishingly interesting, because it has changed sex, which is something that people are often rather amazed by, but yew trees can affect some other trees can change sex too. And the Fortingall Yew has done that and been remarked upon by botanists and made it onto nature programs. But it’s also been part of—it’s a European thing for people to vote for trees that they’d particularly like. And so, you know, Britain’s most loved tree or Britain’s most popular tree.

CC  17:36

And so, the Fortingall Yew has also scored quite highly in those sorts of, you know, popular imaginings of holy trees and landscape and so on and so forth. So, it’s in Perthshire. It’s a fairly lengthy day trip out of Edinburgh to do. And it’s at a very old site associated with early medieval Christianity dedicated to St. Coeddi, who was reported to be the Bishop of Iona, which is a holy island in the Inner Hebrides, and he was supposed to have been bishop somewhere between 697 and 712. And Fortingall, which is a modern name, is sometimes said to be taken from too old Gaelic words fortair, which means stronghold, and cill, which means chapel or church. So, Perthshire has been inhabited for at least 5000 years. And the Fortingall Yew has a lot of layers of meaning wrapped around it. And it connects Scotland directly with the life of Jesus— which actually the Glastonbury Thorn does, too, and this becomes very important for the way that it’s fitted itself into a Christian context. It’s also located at kind of a connection point between paganism and Christianity because it’s associated with the missionaries in the very early days of Christianity in Perthshire. It’s also got connections with the royal family. And it’s amazing how many little bits of folkloric kind of interest in the UK, even in places like Scotland, often are connected to royalty and stories about kings and queens. Glastonbury Thorne has that too. And, and it’s very, very popular in terms of art, literature, folklore, kind of modern, cultural symbol, sort of ideas. So, I thought what a fantastic thing to research. And because yews have a particular kind of connection. And they’re unusually long-lived. I mean, there’s some people who actually argue that the Fortingall Yew is 5000 years old. I don’t know how likely that is or not. But the common yew—the botanical name is Taxus baccata—does live for a very, very, very long time. They usually associated with this: So being in a churchyard is sensible because lots of churchyards in the UK have yews in them. And there are very interesting folkloric connections with churchyards as well. There’s—I think, it’s a Breton tradition—but of course, Brittany is a Celtic culture as well and possibly links to the Scottish Gaelic culture in that sense—that the yews grow in churchyards, because when people are buried in the churchyard, the yews grow out of their hearts through their chests.

BF  21:21


CC  21:24

So, the idea that a yew is in a churchyard is logical, though, of course, most people like landscape archaeologists, and people like that would say that often they suspect the churches were built next to the trees, because the trees are very old and what were there first. And I think in the [inaudible] of Fortingall, that’s definitely true.

BF  21:47

If we could just take a step back, you mentioned that the Fortingall Yew has a direct connection to Jesus, if I heard correctly? Could you just let us know a bit about that?

CC  21:59

Okay. Well, one of the things that’s really fascinating about the Fortingall Yew and the Glastonbury Thorn is that they have both become, through folkloric tropes, directly linked to the life of Jesus. Now, this is something that was tremendously important in the Middle Ages. You know, because Jesus was alive. And he lived, and he preached in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and Galilee. And that’s why the Holy Land is called the “Holy Land.” And in the Middle Ages, Christian Europe, was deeply invested in the Holy Land. And we know that this gave rise to everything from peaceful pilgrimages to armed crusades. And sometimes it was a little bit difficult to tell the difference between the two—you know, someone might be a pilgrim Sunday and warrior on another day. But the holy places after the Fourth Crusade, really, I suppose, gradually slipped away from the control of Christian Europe. And there’s a really interesting book about the Holy Grail by medieval scholar called Richard Barber. And he points out that once it became quite difficult to get to the holy places. That when they were under Islamic control, Christians found it more difficult to go to see the holy places of the origin of their faith. Somehow, many countries in Europe developed traditions, legends, folklore, myths, that meant that they had some direct connection to the Holy Land. And they could argue that their own country was in some sense, the Holy Land. Now, the Fortingall Yew’s case is a little bit more remote, and most people don’t know about it. But the Glastonbury Thorn—probably everybody knows that there’s a legend that Joseph of Arimathea brought Jesus to England when he was just a boy—brought him to Glastonbury. And it’s what that poem that became a hymn set to music by Sir Hubert Parry. The poem is, of course by William Blake. And it’s commonly called “Jerusalem,” but the actual name of the piece is [part of the preface of] Milton[: A Poem in Two Books] . It says, “And did, those feet in ancient times walk upon England’s mountains green, and was the Holy Land of God on England’s pleasant pasture scene?” And it refers to this legend, which became very powerful, that Glastonbury was England’s Jerusalem. It was the place where Jesus had been. And so, I think the Glastonbury Thorn probably provides a kind of model for regional holy trees, like the Fortingall Yew. The connection that the Fortingall Yew has with Jesus is a little bit more strange, but it has to do with Pontius Pilate, actually. And we have a myth about Pilate, having been born in Scotland—in Perthshire, just near Fortingall—and that his father was a Roman ambassador, but his mother was a local woman, according to this legend. Now, we know historically, this is not true. But it was very important. It’s claimed in the legend that before he became a judge in the Holy Land and played such a role in the passion of Jesus, that he’d actually studied with Scottish Druids. And the fact that he has said in the Gospels to have asked Jesus what is truth was generally explained by this legend as being part of his education in druidic wisdom. Now, most of the folklorist to look this up, said the legend is totally unlikely, it’s not true. But that’s not actually what matters, because what matters is that it associated the site through Pilate, with the lifetime of Jesus, and one of the dramatis personae, who was part of the Jesus story. So Fortingall didn’t go so far as to claim that Jesus himself had been there in the way that Glastonbury does. But it had like one of the main characters of Jesus’s story growing up there.

BF  27:09

Even though that’s potentially a questionable character in Jesus’s story?

CC  27:14

Well yeah, but it’s a very interesting one. Because that was one of the things that loads of different countries did. This whole way of trying to connect themselves with the narrative of the life of Jesus, and with a way to sacralise their land. And quite often, the people who they picked on—all the objects, like, for example, the Lance of Longinus or the Holy Grail are two other objects that are often invoked in these sorts of folk tales. And they do have questionable roles. The Lance is used by a soldier who’s told to pierce Jesus’s side to check whether he’s actually alive or not. And it’s important for the certification of his actual death, which is vital for there to be an actual resurrection. So, Pilate is kind of seen, I suppose, as someone who’s predestined to play this role.

BF  28:28

There you go. It’s interesting to me that they would try and make that connection to Pilate through the tree, in comparison to the Glastonbury Thorn. That seems to make a lot more sort of sense to me as a pilgrimage point. But I’m wondering if we can kind of take a bit of a turn in this episode now, because we’ve talked a lot about medieval and ancient examples of trees, and I would love to get your thoughts on sort of the place of the trees in more contemporary practice. You mentioned the rise of I think, modern paganism was the phrase that you used, I might be misquoting you there. But how has sort of rise of the environmentalism movement in our current world sort of changed or re-established a focus on trees? I’m not sure if I’m making that up. But what are your thoughts on that?

CC  29:24

Well, there’s a whole lot of things that modern paganism and certain esoteric ideas about nature and landscape have done, and in a place like Britain these ideas are enacted in a landscape that is dotted with monuments—prehistoric, medieval—even towns and cities have particular traditions associated with them, including folk, specific folk dances and customs, that whether or not they are in fact, pagan, many modern pagans claim as their own. And so, landscape is tremendously important for pagan worship. I mean, there are pagans who do ritual indoors. It’s always been possible to cast a circle and to conduct ritual inside. There’s always plenty of instructions in books of shadows and how-to volumes for interested people. But basically, modern paganism—kind of going back to Gerald Gardner, who founded Wicca—has always idealized ritual in nature, ritual in the open. Usually, in terms of Gardnerian Wicca, also conducted sky clad or naked, and this is constant. But Wicca, of course, is only one particular kind of modern paganism, and say, for example, modern druidry—again, founded in Britain—has various connections actually—Ross Nichols, who founded the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids, was actually a friend of Gardeners, I think. But Druids in particular, are particularly interested in sacred groves, in the holy trees of the ancient Celts. And I’ve mentioned at the very beginning that there were these inauguration trees in Ireland, and we know that they came as a particular kind—there are several trees that are considered to be more sacred than others: oaks, ashes, yews, are all really, really important. When you look at a place like Australia, which of course has a completely different kind of climate and completely different sort of foliage and vegetation; nevertheless, our local Druids are strongly engaging with landscape, and with the bush— the kind of Australian bush that is so different to the wooded areas of Europe, but still particularly important—and all of these particular new religious groups that grow out of pagan impulses, or the desire to revive tradition traditions that seemingly were eclipsed with the coming of Christianity, all of them are comfortable with the designation of being like a nature based faith or a nature religion.

CC  33:19

So different pagan leaders deal with that sort of aspect in particular ways. I mentioned the Church of All Worlds earlier on. When it was founded in 1962, it had two founders, Tim Zell and his friend, Lance Christie. They were students together, they read a book by Robert A Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land, and they decided that they wanted to kind of make the story—and especially the Church, you know, the Church of All Worlds—a real world thing. But they conceived of their approach in a kind of twofold way. And so, after they finished college, and they moved on from being together all the time at college students, Lance Christie became head of like the environmental wing of the group. And it was called a water-brotherhood and it was called Atl, A-T-L. And Tim Zell, who later became Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, he became like the leader of the religious side of things. And what that meant was that Lance Christie actually had a career, did a PhD in environmental science, and became an environmental activist. These groups were always kind of part and parcel of each other, but they wanted the ecological work to be taken seriously and not to be seen as some kind of flaky religious thing, which was why it was specifically instantiated as a separate kind of wing driven by the same values and the same desires to protect nature. So that’s one really explicit case. All the people who were kind of part of the Church of All Worlds also tried to live in communal households, often out in remote rural areas in the US, very often without electricity, or running water, apart from nearby streams, or wells. And the general idea of treading really lightly upon the planet, and preserving the planet, from things like overdevelopment, as well as environmental devastation, there are kind of core pagan values pretty much everywhere.

BF  35:56

I’m thinking, too, apart from that sort of specific example of the Church of All Worlds, and the way in which sort of religion and ecology was sort of separated. In that example, I’m thinking you’ll, you’ll remember very recently, in Australia, a sacred indigenous tree was cut down, I believe, for a road. I’m not sure if that’s coming to your mind. But then we see sort of the opposite way where sort of modernity had separated out those two concepts. And then all of a sudden, they were sort of thrust back together in the modern media. And this, obviously, this great upheaval occurred about the cutting down of this sacred tree. And I wonder if the modern focus on environmentalism meant that that got more airtime as an example, as opposed to maybe say, 5 or 10 years ago?

CC  36:49

That’s a really interesting question. And actually, it opens up another fabulous way to kind of look at modern paganism, or modern kind of Earth based religions and trees. Like the Aboriginal sacred trees in Australia, we have a very bad record in Australia—I know you know this Breann—of relations between white colonialist Australians and Indigenous Australians. And indigenous values, stories, traditions, art, customs culture, are habitually pushed to the edge in Australia—most people don’t know a great deal about them, and many, many people care even less. But it is true that every now and then something breaks through. And the tree that you’re referring to is called the Djab warrung tree. It was indigenous directions tree, which was a very, very important tree; for the Djab warrung women in the area was a birthing tree; and it was in Victoria. So, people listening may know that in Australia, there are many, many different indigenous groups and traditions and sacred sites and objects tend to be specific to specific peoples and areas. And the interesting thing was that the indigenous landowners in Victoria had been negotiating with the government for quite some time. And they had a register of around about 250 culturally significant trees that they wanted to save from destruction. And the problem was, of course, that we just didn’t have every tree. And this one, got all those in order to clear land for a highway system. Terrible, terrible situation. I mean, there were protesters on the side, and people who, you know, were clinging to the tree and had tied themselves some who climbed into trees and were refusing to leave. The tree in question was a yellow box tree, and it was probably about 350 years old. And it was, you know, a really tragic situation.

BF  39:47

With—you know, we started this conversation and, you know, when you start this conversation, you think, “we’re talking about trees, and it’s something that perhaps we don’t really think about in this sort of an in-depth sense.” But when you really start to unpack it the Fortingall Yew, the Glastonbury Thorn, the concept of trees as the Axis Mundi, and the tree we’ve just been discussing that was bulldozed in Victoria, you see that they really are kind of central almost in an ontological sense—the great symbol of rootedness. And perhaps we need sort of more research done in this area?

CC  40:27

Well, I think this is one of the things about the whole Imago Mundi thing. You probably know—I’m sure loads of people do—that in lots of mythologies, there’s a vision of the world that isn’t like, you know, our little globe, like that famous photograph from space. But there is an idea of the world looking a bit like a human figure. And in lots and lots of mythologies, I’ve already mentioned the hamadryads, there’s a sense in which you see a tree and you It looks like a person in some ways. It’s actually something that’s even quoted in the Gospels when Jesus heals a blind man. He says, “I see people, they look to me like trees walking.” And everybody who loves [J.R.R.] Tolkien, knows about Treebeard and the Ents. And we have this idea that there’s like a kinship between people and trees. And I think in particular, the idea of tree beings like hamadryad, make that quite explicit. Trees are, you know, alive in a way that human beings are alive. There’s an archaeologist called Miranda Aldhouse-Green, she says, at one point, that trees bleed, if you cut them, you know, they have sap, they have kind of bones or structure, that basically, they’re a highly relatable life form that exists in this kind of synergy with human beings. And yeah, I think that there’s a lot of room for an understanding of people. Relationships with trees.

BF  42:19

Even if you think about it—I mean, it’s really time to wrap up the episode—but trees also get diseases that you can actually see. You know, you can see a diseased tree. And as you say, there’s that sort of sense of synergy, perhaps that is something that we could keep researching in religious studies, particularly. I think what would interest me is amongst younger millennial populations, for example, in Australia, we’ve had enormous climate marches, particularly amongst school students, and what the tree means to them, I think would be particularly interesting from a religious studies perspective.

CC  42:55

Absolutely. And I think, for example… I mean, it’s not something that I’ve done much research on, but my colleague, Louise Fowler-Smith, who’s a practicing artist, and also was an academic for many years at University of New South Wales. She’s been researching for decades, tree veneration in Indian village culture in the subcontinent. And this is a culture where the interrelationships between people and trees are much, much closer to the surface, like people actually understand them, the trees as relational beings that members of the community connect with and engage with. And I mean, Louise has done some amazing work, the only religious studies work that I think she’s done on those particular that particular research, she is maybe two articles she’s published, but she’s done a lot of amazing artworks and installations, recording just extraordinary trees that have connections with human communities.

BF  44:13

Well, I just wanted to finish by thanking you, Carole. We have covered so much in this episode, and I feel like we could just keep going with different examples and also contemporary examples of how the tree has sort of made its way into the media of late. But we should probably wrap up, so thank you again so much for joining us today on The Religious Studies Project.

CC  44:33

It’s been a great pleasure as always, Breann, and congratulations to you and Dave for maintaining such a great standard after taking over from the original editors, Chris and David. I look forward to all the new things that you two will bring to the RSP.

BF  44:51

Thank you.

Citation Info:

Cusack, Carole and Breann Fallon. 2021. “Sacred Trees: Belief, Mythology, and Practice”, The Religious Studies Project. Podcast Transcript. 1 February 2021. Transcribed by Andie Alexander. Version 1.0, 1 February 2021. Available at:

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The views expressed in podcasts, features and responses are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Religious Studies Project or our sponsors. The Religious Studies Project is produced by the Religious Studies Project Association (SCIO), a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (charity number SC047750).