Old people say that trees used to talk once. So when people used to go to the forest to cut trees, they used to plead and ask the people nicely that they won‘t cut them. Thus a great number of trees appeared since nobody used to cut them. Then the god forbade them to talk.
The forest used to have its own gods and spirits: Miškinis, Samaninis, Medeina and Žvorūna. People used to throw the first berry or a mushroom found in the forest on the ground saying the first berry to Miškinėlis, the first mushroom to Samanėlis so they won‘t mislead us in the forest and won‘t bar the way. Ancient Lithuanians wouldn’t hunt in the sacred woods and forests and wouldn’t cut a single tree and wouldn’t break a single branch so that the gods living there won’t be hurt. The eternal flame used to be burnt in the sacred places. People used to sacrifice various sacrifices to the gods living in the sacred trees: pigs, goats, black roosters, and various rituals used to be performed near such trees. One of the most famous historians, ethnographers and mythologists of West Lithuania and Prussia of the 17th century Matas Pretorijus wrote that there used to be a two-branch spruce in Nibučiai in 1664, to which Nadruvians, Skalvians, Samogitians and Lithuanians used to come to ask for health. An ash tree with two trunks used to grow in the district of Garliava, and people used to believe that if you squeeze through the gap between the trunks, all your illnesses would remain on the other side of the tree.
The outsiders, i.e. the Christians, were forbidden to come to the sacred forests. It was believed that the approach of the Christians would stain the sanctity of these places. After the Christianity was introduced, the respect felt for the trees remained. Crosses and chapels would be lifted into them, and they would sacrifice and pray once again. Even in the beginning of the 20th century Samogitians considered some forests to be sacred. Sacred trees used to distinguish themselves for their appearance: they used to have lumps, grown-together branches, they used to be with several trunks, efflorescent, with cavities or they simply were the biggest and the oldest.
Trees used to keep the Lithuanians warm, they used to provide footwear, food and treatment. Up until these days people enjoy acorn coffee or lime blossom tea as well as maple and birch sap. Just as the first symptoms of illness appear, people rush to peel oak barks and collect pinecones.
A tree used to accompany Lithuanians from their birth to their death – after a son was born an oak used to be planted in the garden, and if a daughter was born – a lime tree. It was believed that God gives a man a certain number of years. If a human being dies before his time, he must spend the rest of the years predestined for him in a form of a tree. It was believed that extremely fertile woman becomes a sallow tree, and a good and just man becomes an ash tree. A tree is like a symbol of continuous circle of life – even though it sheds its leaves, and hibernates in winter, it still remains alive.
Exceptional old trees are being protected and valued until these days. Even nowadays a great number of them considered to be sacred are growing in the forests, sacred places, churchyards, homesteads or roadsides. If only they would talk the way they used to once, how many great stories and legends they could tell about the past of our ancestors, gods, witches and devils.