Not only does the olive hold mythical value, but it has been sacred to humans since ancient times. It provides an abundance of benefits that are magical, medicinal, and nutritional.
Olive trees have been revered for centuries, with symbolism permeating various religions and cultures.
In Greek mythology, the olive tree represents healing and peace, as it was said to have sprung from the blood of the warrior hero Ajax.
In Christianity, it symbolizes fertility and protection from evil, as seen in its mention in the Bible’s Book of Revelation.
Olive branches are even used as a symbol of peace in modern times, famously demonstrated by their presentation at the signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Accords in 1993. Olive trees also hold significance in Judaism and Islam, representing hope for future generations and serving as reminders of God’s holy presence on earth.
Overall, the olive tree serves as a meaningful emblem for many individuals and belief systems alike.
Jesus Christ, Athena (Greek), the Messiah (Judaism)
Sun and Moon, Saturn
In 480 BCE, during a Persian invasion, the stronghold of Athens was set on fire and burned to the ground. However, it is said that the next day Olive put out new growths and shoots. The Athenians rejoiced at this sight because they saw it as a sign of hope. When Pausanias visited 600 years later, he saw that the tree was still thriving with an alight lamp beside it.
About Olive Trees
The Olea is a genus of around 20 species of evergreen trees that are native to the eastern Mediterranean. The leaves opposite each other are sometimes leathery and silvery on the underside.
The small white or whitish flowers appear in clusters and can be either unisexual or bisexual. The fruit from these trees is a drupe with normally just one seed inside. Olive trees have a long lifespan, but they need deep soil that is fertile and well-drained to thrive.
The common olive tree (O. europaea) grows to a height of 25ft (8m) or more. Originally from Asia Minor, the leaves are elliptic to lanceolate in shape and up to 3in (7.5cm) long; they are also silvery-scaly on the underside.
The tree’s flowers are fragrant, and the oblong fruit ripens into a glossy black color and is about 1½in (3.8cm) in length when fully grown.
The olive, which has been cultivated for its oil-rich fruit since ancient times, blooms in the spring. Table olives are harvested in the autumn and those used for their oil are harvested in winter.
The highest quality culinary oil is “cold-pressed extra virgin” olive oil. It can be heated to a high temperature without risk and has many uses beyond the kitchen, such as in medicine, cosmetics, and lighting. During the Roman occupation of Leptis Magna (around 106 BCE – 439 CE), they expertly transported olive oil over 100 miles by building an aqueduct from Jebal that carried the oil on water.
In 1769, Franciscan monks imported the first olive trees to North America and planted them at their mission in San Diego, California.
There are many health benefits associated with olives. For example, olive oil, which is high in monounsaturated fats and low in cholesterol, can help improve heart conditions; it also reduces gastric acidity and stimulates bile production.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, olives are sweet and affect the spleen and liver meridians. They’re used to treat strep throat, diarrhoea, and alcoholism.
Folklore, Myth and Symbol of Olive Trees
The olive played a very important role in the Old World. The city-state of Athens was especially prosperous because of the olive, and it was revered as a result. There was an ancient mother tree of all olives cultivated in Attica that grew next to the temple of Athena at the heart of Acropolis.
The olive, unlike the fig and apple which have sexual connotations, is asexual. It is known for bearing “virgin” oil because of its link to Pallas Athena- the virginal aspect of the Greek goddess. This makes it appropriate for religious buildings and other important places. Athena was both the guardian and patroness of Athens, as well as being linked to olive trees.
The olive tree was central to the foundation story of the city. Athena and Poseidon both wanted their names given to the city, so they offered different things. Poseidon offered a horse, and Athena offered an olive branch. The council of gods decided that Athena should get to name the city because horses are often used for war, whereas olives represent peace.
The olives from the mother tree of Acropolis were harvested and used to fuel an oil lamp that was consecrated and burned day and night on the sacred mound. This particular tree, along with other olive trees in Athens that were sacred to Athena, were called moria which means “given as heritage”.
To the ancient Greeks, olive trees were seen as sacred and their wood could only be used to make cult statues. If anyone was caught harming an olive tree, they would have to face harsh penalties in court. The Epidaureans once received a prophecy from the Oracle of Delphi that told them to carve two cult statues out of a particular olive tree from Athens. To avoid any conflict, they had to ask for permission first.
Elaborate, oil-fuelled lamps were used to light up the palaces and dwellings of Minoan Crete from around 2000 BCE. The Homeric Greeks would use olive oil as a base for creams and perfumes which they would then rub on their bodies or statues of gods.
The olive tree is a central symbol in Moroccan Islamic tradition. It is seen as the World Tree, the centre and column of the world, and the symbol of the universal human being. According to legend, one of God’s names or another sacred word is written on each leaf of the tree. The Koran describes Allah as “the light of heavens and earth”, like a sacred lamp that is lit from a blessed olive tree. The oil from this tree is said to be so pure that it would shine forth even if there was no fire touching it.
The Temple of Jerusalem was beautiful, majestic, and built with the finest materials money could buy. The cedarwood from Lebanon made up the roofing and panelling inside the temple while Solomon used olive wood for other features like doors and cherubim. To add an extra touch of luxury, he had these things gold-plated.
The use of olive wood was a declaration of everlasting peace – the profound peace taken from the eternal space within the human soul. However, because this is an inner quality, you couldn’t see the olive wood on Solomon’s Temple doors from looking at them; they were covered in pure gold instead.
Gold in Hebrew tradition, represents the Higher Self and Sun – while also being a symbol for Adam Kadmon aka universal human beings and their immortal souls. In other words, having olives at its core was a way to represent peace through Metal.
Moreover, the olive also pronounced zayit in Hebrew has always been used to create the base oil for the sacred anointing of kings and priests, as well as the “last ointment” for those who have passed away. The Messiah is also known as the “Anointed One”, and will guide human souls from exile back to inner peace with God.
Christos is the Greek word for “the Anointed One”. Today, the Roman Catholic Church still consecrates the Oil of Catechumens – holy oil used in baptism. This sacrament requires olive oil, which must be sanctified by a diocese’s bishop. The ceremony is held on Thursday before Easter and needs 12 priests’ and 7 deacons’ assistance. They bow to the oil when it has been blessed.
People have used olive oil in ceremonies for a long time. The Jewish people use it in their seven-branched candlestick, which is a symbol of the Tree of Life. People think that an olive tree grew in the Temple of Jerusalem. That would be a good choice for oil because it is so special.
Though Jesus was full of doubts the night before he was tortured and crucified, he turned to the olive tree for solace. After eating the Last Supper, Luke 22:39 says that “he went as was his custom to Mount of Olives”. His followers were well aware of this place because John 18:2 mentions that “Jesus often met there with his disciples”. It wasn’t until he reached the serene olive garden in Gethsemane on Mount of Olives that an angel appeared to him and gave him comfort.
Besides being a symbol of peace, the olive is also closely linked to the biblical story of Noah and Ark. In Genesis 8:11, when the dove returned with an olive leaf in its beak, Noah knew that land was appearing again above the waters and that God had made a new covenant with humankind.
Olive Tree Meanings
Although olive trees grow best in arid places such as California and the Mediterranean, olives are quite moist. Furthermore, the tree is closely associated with water energy. Simply eating olives or consuming olive oil is a wealthy experience that nourishes and aligns one with abundance.
In ancient Athens, the olive was seen as a symbol of wealth and success. Additionally, olives have long been associated with fertility and luck – likely because of their supposed ability to bestow wealth.
The olive is a symbol of peace, as shown by the common saying “Extending the olive branch.” The city of Athens was named after Athena in part because she offered them an olive branch, signifying peace. Once selected as the city’s patron goddess, Athena’s olive trees were held sacred and a holy lamp fueled with oil from the city’s trees burned day and night.
Olive oil is known for its health benefits, and olive leaf extract can be taken in supplement form to support the circulatory system, lower blood sugar levels, and improve blood pressure. The Greek goddess Athena is associated with both healing and olive trees, and ancient Greeks believed that her spirit inhabited them.
Olives are linked to the astrological planet Saturn, which is known for its qualities of diligence, stamina, focus, and hard work.
The olive tree is a symbol of beauty and gazing at one can transport a person to a realm of aesthetic bliss. Many Greek sculptors and painters used olive wood to create their works because it is so beautiful.
The olive tree has a long and storied history, symbolizing many things across cultures. Whether you seek the meaning of the olive branch in Christianity or the more general symbolism associated with the olive tree, there is no denying that this plant is significant.
Did learning about the olive tree’s cultural significance change your perception of it? Do you see olives differently now that you know more about their history and symbolic value?