Dream of the Rood

In the age of Beowulf, around the 8th Century, there comes down to us a poem called the Dream of the Rood. It is considered one of the earliest Christian poems from English (Anglo-Saxon) Literature.

Incidentally, “Rood” here means the Cross of Christ (Holy Rood), but also stick, pole or specifically tree, as here too.

It starts off with the lines,

“Hear while I tell about the best of dreams
Which came to me the middle of one night
While humankind were sleeping in their beds.
It was as though I saw a wondrous tree

Towering in the sky suffused with light,
Brightest of beams; and all that beacon was
Covered with gold.”

– as translated by Richard Hamer

The poem and the dream link together the old pagan religion with the new Christian religion that was just starting to replace it.

The poet who dreams the dream is reflecting a much older set of ideas of how dreamers such as Shamans visited the gods in their dreams and brought back secret knowledge and treasures for the benefit of all.

The Tree Speaks

And the poet goes on to say that the tree spoke to him saying,

“I was cut down at the copse’s end, [and] …Men carried me
Upon their shoulders, set me on a hill,
…And then I saw the Lord of all mankind
…Then the young hero (who was God almighty)
Got ready, resolute and strong in heart.
…They pierced me [and him] with dark nails;
The scars can still be clearly seen on me,
…I was made wet all over with the blood
Which poured out from his side, after He had Sent forth His spirit.
… I saw the God of hosts stretched grimly out.
Darkness covered the Ruler’s corpse with clouds
His shining beauty; shadows passed across,
Black in the darkness. All creation wept,
[and] Bewailed the King’s death”

– as translated by Richard Hamer

Thus, the tree, out of loyalty to the Christ, became an instrument of His death to make the prophecies come true and help in the salvation of all true believers.

Interpretation

The poem was interpreted even at the time to identify the image of Christ crucified with that of Odin hung up on the Tree of Life, Yggdrasil, as well as with the Tree of Knowledge (and Life too) in the Garden of Eden.

It’s actually not too much of a step further in my mind to consider the Bodhi tree too that the Buddha sat under when he received illumination. But it’s not the place to discuss that here.

This is a powerful dream translated into a remarkable poem that blends and blurs the old pagan religions of the Germanic peoples with Christianity.

The poem continues for another 100 of so lines, but I leave that reading to you.

To me, this is such a fantastic dream that is employed to weave an amazing tapestry of ideas about some of the fundamental ideas of Christianity.

In more modern times, there are many images of Christ being the fruit of the Tree of Life and whose flesh is symbolically eaten and whose blood is drunk during the Communion rituals of Roman Catholic believers.

Dreams are indeed a treasure house of riches.

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