Arborvitae – Renewal – Pioneer of Evergreens (Wands)

Genus: Thuja – Family: Cupressaceae

When the spirt of arborvitae enters our life, it signals a time of renewal, healing and new beginnings.

Arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis became the first tree of the “New World” that was brought to “Old World” Europe by French explorer Jacques Cartier. In 1536, Cartier and his crew fell ill with scurvy during an expedition in Canada. Members of an Iroquois tribe offered them some hot tea made from the leaves and bark of the “Annedda” tree. When Cartier recovered, he brought seeds of this “miracle” tree to France. It was planted in the Kings medicinal gardens and named “l’arbor de vie,” which in Latin is arbor (tree) and vitae (life) or arborvitae, the “tree of life.” Interest in its medicinal value as a source of vitamin C played an important role in the resurrection of botany as a science. In 1542, Jean Fernel, a leader in the French Renaissance, published “Physiologia,” which planted the seeds for modern medicine and botany.

When the English began growing arborvitae, imported to them from the New World, they called it cedar because its scent was similar to the cedar boxes they were already familiar with. Those cedar boxes were imported from the Middle East, and were made from the legendary Cedars of Lebanon, Cedrus lilbni. Since the English had never seen a “true cedar” tree, they misidentified the distinct flattened scale-like leaves of the arborvitae as a cedar. In reality, the Cedars of Lebanon are related to pine trees, and feature long thin needle-like leaves. The renaming of the Annedda tree to cedar was then carried from Britain back to North America. As native languages were lost the original names of trees were replaced with English, French and Spanish words.

In the Ojibwa culture, arborvitae (northern white cedar) Thuja occidentalis, or “Grandmother Cedar” is honored as one of the four sacred plants associated with the north direction in the medicine wheel (hoop of life).

The word Thuja means “Green Giant,” plicata refers to the pleat-like structure of its leaves. Thuja plicata, or Pacific red cedar, can grow to be 230 feet tall. Some northwest tribes even refer to themselves as “the people of the red cedar.” Thuja plicata was used for the construction of totem poles and shelters dating back to 5000 BCE. The word “totem” means kinship group in Ojibwa. Totem poles were carved to honor ancestors, legends, clan lineages and events.

Message: We are being reminded to discern what is true. What we have been told is not always correct; it is up to us to learn the truth, speak up and honor our roots. This is a time to revisit our ancestral history and heal old wounds to refresh our vision and our ability to move forward with more clarity of purpose.

Challenge: Feeling betrayed or misunderstood. Being confused or angry for not knowing what to believe or who to believe. Something may be clouding our vision to see things clearly.