Picture by Robert Engels
While many myths have the first humans created out of dirt or clay, there are other substances that some cultures considered to have been the source of mankind. In Norse mythology, the first two humans were made of trees. When Odin and his brothers Vili and Ve were creating the world, they came across an ash and an elm tree, and turned them into people named Ask and Embla. Actually, there’s some doubt over whether the female tree was an elm; the name suggests it, but some etymologists have suggested that it might come from the word “vine” instead. Whatever kinds of trees they were, Odin breathed life into them, Vili gave them brains and hearts (kind of like the Wizard of Oz, I suppose), and Ve bestowed upon them senses and the power of speech. They then went on to populate the world of Midgard, which brings to mind the question as to why so many myths have mankind descending from only two individuals, yet taboos against incest are pretty much universal. Strange, isn’t it? Norse mythology does include other humanoid beings, like the light-elves and dwarves, so perhaps they were genetically close enough to humanity to reproduce with their early members. Not that the people telling these myths knew anything at all about genetics.
Picture by Juja-Anandini
The ash tree seems to be a quite important one in the mythology of western Europe, with the World Tree Yggadrasil also often being identified as an ash. In Celtic mythology, it’s the oak, ash, and thorn trees that are considered to have magical properties.
Picture by Pink Parasol
Rudyard Kipling’s “A Tree Song” mentions the famous trio of trees, as does one of the poems in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. It also struck me as potentially significant that the hero of the Pokémon cartoon was named Ash, and his rival and mentor had the last name Oak. No Thorns, though, at least as far as I know; but I didn’t watch the show that much. Maybe someone who did can tell me if there were any other tree names involved.