At various locals in the in the ancient world, trees were associated with
different gods, and Egypt was certainly no exception. We know of no trees, or
for that matter other vegetation in Egypt that was honoured as specific gods as
were bulls or rams, for example. Nevertheless, various vegetation was connected
to gods and goddess in one way or another, or generally to Egyptian religion and
specifically the afterlife. (Double click for the bigger picture)
There were several deities that were associated with trees, a rare commodity
in Egypt. Horus was associated with the acacia, while Osiris and Re were tied
with the willow and the sycamore, respectively. Osiris was sheltered by a willow
after he was killed, and for example, the Book of the Dead describes two
"sycamores of turquoise" growing at the point on the eastern horizon where the
sun-god rises each morning. Re was also associated with the ished tree. Also,
Wepwawet was paired with the Tamarisk, and the symbol of the god Heh was a palm
branch, while not surprisingly, we have both Thoth and Seshat, the two deities
associated with writing, inscribing the leaves of either the ished (or persea)
tree with the Royal Titulary and the number of years in the pharaoh's reign.
However, none of these mail deities were associated with trees nearly as much
as a number of female deities. The sycamore specifically was regarded as a
manifestation of the goddesses Nut, Isis and Hathor, who was even given the
title, "Lady of the Sycamore". In fact, this title has been interpreted to
relate to a specific and particularly old tree that once stood to the south of
the Temple of Ptah at Memphis during the Old Kingdom.
The Sycamore tree was of special significance in Egyptian religion. It was
the only native tree of useful size and sturdiness in Egypt, and perhaps very
significantly, most often grew along the edge of the desert, which would have
also placed it near or in the necropolises.
One could imagine Adam and Eve and a Tree ( the Forbidden Tree)
full of Apples,
Forbidden, but not to the Ancient Egyptians
Tree Goddess from the tomb of Pashedu in the Valley of the Kings,
please note the snake near the tree
There were also a number of minor tree goddesses who were depicted in a
number of ways. There were simply images of trees labelled as goddesses as well
as fully anthropomorphic personifications of tree goddesses. Perhaps the most
unusual representation is that of the upper body of a goddess rising from the
trunk at the centre of a tree, or sometimes a tree sprouting out of the head,
such as in the case of Nut.
Many representations were made depicting Hathor, Nut or some other goddess
reaching out from a tree to offer the deceased food and water. Sometimes only
the arms of the goddess were shown providing food or water and in the tomb of Thutmosis
III, the king is shown being nursed at the breast of "his mother Isis"
in the form of a sycamore tree. Hathor had an especially important role in the
afterlife of the deceased. In tomb depictions, the deceased, frequently
accompanied by his wife, was shown sitting under or near the branches of a tree,
with Hathor sprouting from the trunk, enjoying the fruit and drink offered by
this goddess. An excellent example of such a representation is in the Theban
tomb of Sennedjem.
Scenes and inscriptions clearly show a link between the tree-goddess, the
symbol of renewal, and the dead in the form of the avian Ba, for as a bird, the
soul of the dead was attracted to, and nourished by the tree.
Notably, the identification of several maternal deities as tree goddesses
also meant that burial in a wooden coffin was viewed as a return to the womb of
the mother goddess.
Today in Egypt, trees have not altogether died out as religious symbols, for
their remains at least several sites where trees have modern religious
significance, associated with, for example, the Holy Virgin Mary.