Deceased being suckled by a sycamore Hieroglyph of tree



Appearance: Several species of trees were considered sacred in Egyptian mythology. The names of all of them were written with the same hieroglyphic determinative. In Egyptian art, trees were usually depicted by this sign by simply being placed into the larger representational context. It was been suggested that the tree shown in the glyph is the Maerua crasifolia which is found in throughout Africa, tropical Arabia, and Palestine, but is disappearing from Egypt.

Meaning: Several types of trees appeared in Egyptian mythology. The sycamore was particularly important. Two of them, called the "sycamores of turquoise" stood at the eastern gate of heaven from which the sun emerged each morning. These sycamores were especially associated with the goddesses Nut, Hathor and Isis, each of whom were called "Lady of the Sycamore". Nut and Hathor were often shown to reach out from the tree to offer the deceased food and water. Sometimes the tree was anthropomorphized, having arms itself which offer the sustenance to the dead. In the example shown at right, the deceased is suckled by such a tree.

The ished tree, probably the Persea tree, had a particular solar meaning. It too was associated with the rising sun and it was protected from Apep by the great cat of Heliopolis. This cat was one of the forms of Re. A sacred ished was grown in Heliopolis as early as the Old Kingdom. Later, an ished was grown in Memphis and Edfu. During the 18th Dynasty a popular motif depicting the divine ished inscribed by the gods with the name of the king and the years of his reign.

The willow tree was also sacred in Egypt as it was the tree that was said to have grown up around Osiris' leaden coffin in Byblos. Several towns had tombs that were said to hold part of Osiris' dismembered body. All of these had willow groves associated with them. It was said that the god's ba rested within these groves.

Other various species of trees were believed to be sacred to individual deities. For example, the tamarisk tree was sacred to Wepwawet, the acacia was sacred to Horus, and as mentioned earlier the sycamore was sacred to Re and the willow was sacred to Osiris.

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