The Meaning of a Cedar Tree

Overview

Cedar trees, which produce cones and have fragrant, reddish wood, are a totem for many cultures. Cedar trees are mentioned in the Bible and by classical writers who were enthralled by the tree's size and majesty.

Knowledge and Spiritual Ascendancy

The branches of the cedar tree are wide and grow almost parallel to the ground, making the tree appear to be constructed of successively higher floors made of greenery. In the late 19th century, author John Worcester compared the structure of the cedar tree to the process of attaining successively higher natural and spiritual knowledge, writing, "The spiritual tree also must extend its branches, put forth leaves, and mature its fruit on successively interior planes of the mind." Worcester further elaborated that the scent of cedar wood indicated the pleasure people find from discovering knowledge and truth.

Biblical Allusions

Multiple allusions to the cedar tree are made in the Bible, and one of the most meaningful occurs in the Book of Ezekiel, where the cedar's deep-reaching roots are said to be the cause of its grandeur: "Therefore his height was exalted above all the trees of the field, and his boughs were multiplied, and his branches became long because of the multitude of waters." The ability of the cedar to tap deep-flowing waters inaccessible to other trees and to, therefore, become "exalted above all the trees of the field" again alludes to the cedar tree as a symbol of wisdom.

Incorruptibility

Virgil and other classical writers believed that the cedar represented incorruptibility, claiming that the wood of cedars was used to make statues of the gods. While some question remains about whether Virgil referred to cedars as we understand them in modern times, because of the soft and spongy nature of the wood, the Romans also used the tree's resin to preserves books and papyrus.

Protection

The drooping boughs of the cedar tree, which often touch the ground and create a shelter around the tree, certainly suggest protectiveness, and some American Indians saw the red cedar as a symbol of protectiveness. Aside from multiple medicinal uses, American Indians burned cedar wood in ceremonies, believing that it drove away bad spirits.

Strength

The size and longevity of the cedar tree symbolizes strength, and in Lebanon, the tree serves as an important cultural symbol for that reason. Poets and artists have conveyed the tree as a sign of strength and eternity, especially given the tree's endurance through tumultuous periods of history. As BBC News' Bethany Bell writes, the cedar is "a symbol of survival in a fractured land."

Keywords: cedar tree meaning, cedar tree symbolism, cedar tree history

About this Author

First published in 2000, Dawn Walls-Thumma has served as an editor for Bartleby and Antithesis Common literary magazines. Her work has been published academically and in creative journals. Walls-Thumma writes about education, gardening, and sustainable living. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and writing from University of Maryland, and is a graduate student in education at American Public University.