Cypress trees have a long history of symbolism and meanings that have a lot to offer in terms of symbolic meaning no matter how you interpret the symbol and because of this, it’s clear that the cypress tree has a powerful energy that is worth exploring.
Some associate it with swiftness and purity, similar to the way that air is associated with both communication and thought.
Others see it as a symbol of cleansing, as the tree has a natural ability to release old hurts. For example, cypress trees are used at times of crisis and grief such as death, to bring comfort and ease of mind and heart. In addition, Cypress tree symbolism has been associated with healing, longevity, and protection.
Cypress is technically the name given to a large family of conifers that includes well-known trees such as junipers, sequoias, and redwoods.
In this article, we will refer specifically to those trees in the Cupressaceae family that have “cypresses” in their names, like the Monterey cypress, Leyland cypress, and Italian cypress.
King Theodosius of Syria updated the law concerning tree theft on 17 June 379 CE in the grove of Daphne (Phoenicia). According to Codex Theodosianus, Antiochia’s police prefect was responsible for planting new cypress trees in the grove. If someone stole a tree from a sacred grove during that period, they would be fined five pounds of gold.
About Cypress Trees
The cypress family (Cupressaceae) – which includes Cupressus, Chamaecyparis and Thuja – comprises about 21 genera of resinous coniferous trees and shrubs. These trees are mostly evergreen and native to North America, Europe and Asia.
The Italian cypress is a monoecious tree that can grow up to 80ft (24m). It has small, scale-like leaves and woody scales on the female cones. The Italian cypress is found in southern Europe and western Asia.
Its subspecies ‘Stricta’ provides the slender columns seen often in Mediterranean landscapes.
The Lawson false cypress, also called the Port Orford cedar (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana), is a native of Oregon and California. Keep in mind that it is not a true cypress or cedar, but rather a member of the Cupressaceae family.
It’s confusing because many species within this family are commonly referred to as “cedars”.
The cypress tree is one of the mainstay pillars of early high civilizations in the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor, comparable to the cedar. It was shipped more frequently than other timber due to its lightweight but was just as strong in construction.
The Juniper, another family member grew just as tall and provided an equal quality wood, making it perfect for roof beams on temples and palaces because of its durability and pleasant smell.
Cypress oil is primarily distilled from the cones of the cypress tree. It has many purposes, one being an astringent in oil mixtures. In addition, it can help support the venous system when used diluted.
Furthermore, it treats piles and varicose veins when diluted and applied externally. When Navajo women drink an infusion made from cypress branches post-childbirth, they feel revitalized and regain their strength back quickly.
The “tree essence” of the Lawson false cypress plant helps us to better understand what we truly need and when it is time for a change.
Folklore, Myth and Symbol of Cypress Trees
Various species of the cypress family play an important role in ceremonies and rituals for Native North Americans, with Lawson’s false cypress being one of the most significant.
For example, after using sage smoke to cleanse and purify both the ceremonial area and those taking part in it – as well as any sacred tools that will be used – participants then call upon spirits by burning Lawson’s false cypress (or “cedar”).
The cypress family members most commonly used for totem poles among the Eastern Canadian indigenous peoples are Western red cedars (Thuja plicata).
According to “The Legend of the Flute” from both Brule and Lakota Sioux tribes, music was brought to humans through a dream in which a young hunter saw a hollow branch with holes drilled into it by a red-headed woodpecker.
These holes made hauntingly beautiful sounds when the wind flowed through them, Navajo tradition celebrates the cypress by stringing dried fruits together to make necklaces.
The cypress has always been known as the “tree of light”. In older times, it was customary to use this tree in funeral ceremonies and as a graveyard fixture because of its ties with divine light and heaven.
This belief still stands today in many Christian Mediterranean cultures and Islamic countries–the evergreen leaves representing resurrection.
Aesclepius, the ancient Greek god of healing, had a cypress grove dedicated to him at Titane in the Peleponnese peninsula. His sacred serpents roamed free among the trees there.
The Phlius cypress grove, like many other such places in Greece, was also a place where people could seek political and judicial asylum. Refugees who made it to these sanctuaries were protected and, depending on the location, could even use a twig from the grove as a free passage to the border or next harbour.
The tradition of offering asylum in sacred places was carried on much later by the Christian church.
The ancient Persian, Egyptian and Assyrian kings introduced many trees and plants to their homelands. They commissioned large palace gardens and arboretums, planting cypresses, cedars, palms, and many others.
They enjoyed botanical variety – which also represented the geographical extent of their empires.
The Persian word for temple garden, pairi daeza, became the Greek paradeisos: paradise.
The Book of Kings, an epic poem written in c1000 CE about Persia, tells the story of how Zoroaster planted a cypress tree at his Fire Sanctuary. The seed he used was from Paradise, and it grew into twin trees.
These are thought to be the Sun Tree and Moon Tree that were seen by Alexander the Great centuries later. Another medieval source claims that when Alexander was travelling through Persia with his army, he was stopped by an old man who brought him to a sacred mountain.
After a long ascent, Alexander eventually arrived at a tree sanctuary: a male cypress named Mithra, “Tree of the Sun”, and a female cypress named Mao, “Tree of the Moon”. He kissed both trees before making an offering and asking them about his future.
According to the Oracle of the Trees, he would successfully conquer India but die soon after returning to Babylon – which is exactly what happened. Years later in 846 CE), Caliph Mutawakkil of Samarra felled one of these 1,450-year-old trees; an act for which he murdered himself.
As Chinese Taoist tradition tells us, we can absorb some of the powerful life force of a cypress tree by chewing its resin. Earth spirits are thought to reside in these trees in Eastern cultures, and cypress wood is even used for coffins.
The sugi tree is vastly respected in Japanese culture. Translated to English, it means Japanese cedar; however, it is classified as a false cypress (Cryptomeria japonica). It is not only the national tree of Japan but also frequently surrounds Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.
There’s an ancient story called Orosu that tells of how this sacred tree whispers messages to the wind–and when the air quiets down, asks birds to deliver its secrets.
The sugi holds such a high place in forest society that if it ever becomes injured, all the other trees come together at nightfall to nurse its wounds back to health.
In Japan and Korea, there’s an old tradition known as shinrinyoku, which means “forest bathing”. Forest bathing doesn’t involve actual water; rather, it involves taking in the fresh air of the forest.
Two trees, in particular, are praised for making the air fragrant and beneficial: The sugi tree and the hinoki (Chamaecyprus obtusa), which is a relative of the Lawson false cypress. Shinrinyoku became more popular when researchers discovered that many plants produce natural antibacterial substances called “phytoncides.”
Japan’s Nikko Shogun burial site (Tochigi Prefecture) was connected to the royal residence of Edo (now Tokyo) by an avenue of sugi trees in the seventh century.
Some 13,000 trees still provide shade for visitors along the 22-mile (35.41 km) route today.
It is considered the world’s longest tree-lined avenue. However, Japan’s most impressive sugis are located in Yakushima national park on Yaku island, off Kyushu.
Cypress Tree Symbolism and Meanings
The cypress tree is commonly known as an ally for mourners, but what many people don’t know is that it can also help to clear grief and emotional wounds in a very powerful way.
Cypress trees are some of the longest-living organisms on Earth, with many varieties being able to withstand tough weather conditions.
In magical and energetic terms, cypress has a wise and calming presence, teaching us how to manage the stressful aspects of life healthily.
All of these qualities together make cypress an excellent ally for spells or intentions related to longevity and maintaining good physical health.
Writing and Speaking
The cypress is a tree that is associated with magickal intentions related to writing and speaking. This means that if you want to improve your ability to communicate clearly and powerfully, enlist the help of the cypress.
Mourning and Grief
Cypress trees are often planted in cemeteries across Europe and the Middle East in order to create evergreen columns between tombstones.
In Japan, cypress wood is popular for coffins and shrines due to its sobering flame-shaped appearance. Additionally, the pungent timber softens the smell of burning flesh at Indian temples.
Cypress wood is often used for its fragrance to help souls on their way, but it also releases a natural fungicide into the air. This cleanses the atmosphere and protects mourners.
In Britain, these trees have been associated with gloom because they were widely regarded as symbols of mortality and thus immune from pruning.
Cypress trees have long been associated with death and mourning, but they also symbolize strength, stability, and enduringness.
If you’re looking for a tree to plant in remembrance of a loved one or to add some stability to your landscape, the cypress is a beautiful option with a lot of meaning behind it.