then trees would have to be considered as fulfilling that symbolic place. If we ask ourselves what natural entity is solid, what has a firm foundation, what has stood the test of time, then once again, trees have to hold a claim to those ideas.
Trees are excellent symbols for truth. They are unwavering, they remain steadfast, they are solid. Yes, trees and truth seem to go together.
Indeed they do. When we consider the above it comes as no surprise to find that the word tree and the word truth are closely entwined, much like the branches of – well - a tree.
Let’s take a look at the branches of this truth/tree.
Tree is derived from the Old English word treo or treow, and prior to that to the Proto-Germanic word trewam.
Trewam has antecedents in Gothic (triu), Old Norse (tre), Old Saxon (trio), and Old Frisian (tre). All of these have their origins in the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) word deru.
Deru means firm, solid, steadfast. It is the root word from which we get modern day words such as: duress, durable, endure, betroth, and during.
That (tree) is one of the branches. What of the other branch – truth?
Truth begins with the same PIE word – deru – and passes through Old Germanic (deruitho) to Proto-Germanic (treuwaz, meaning having or being characterised by good faith) on to treuwitho. From there it branched one way into the Mercian words treowð (meaning loyalty or veracity) and triewe (meaning faithful, trustworthy, honest.) It also branched off into West Saxon word triewð.1 Both of these branches lead directly to our modern-day English word truth.
So, when we wander into a woodland, a forest, or the bush, and gaze upon a tree we can imagine its physical as well as its linguistic branches and roots forming a truth.
Yet, these are not the only branches in our truth/tree. At the tip of other branches we find modern English words such as truce, tryst, and trust.
Down near the base of this tree we may notice an early branch that leads away from the main trunk yet is still part of the same tree. This early branch took on a Celtic bearing and deru was morphed into the word Druid.2
Druid – the word evokes a mystical people assembling together in a grove of trees, doesn’t it? It is thought that Druids performed many of their religious ceremonies in oak groves.
Trees have been part of the Earth for 385 million years or so. They must have gathered a lot of truth in their trunks in that long time. Perhaps we have truths to learn from them. I’ll explore this idea in coming blogposts.
1. The letter ð (uppercase Ð) is pronounced ‘eth’ and is found in Old English and in modern day Icelandic and Faroese.
2. Druid comes from two Celtic words – dru (from PIE deru) meaning strong, and wid meaning seer.