Arz Libnan

Written by, Layla Kristy Feghali

Arz Libnan- Lebanese Cedar, Cedrus Libnani

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Cedar forests of Bsharre, Lebanon.

I was going through a difficult life transition and facing a time of deep personal sorrow and grief when I visited Lebanon several years back.  Lebanon being a kind of chaotic space in the urban areas where my family lives, I made an escape and spent the day resting on the trunks of the Cedar trees in the Chouf reserve of Lebanon one day.  The Cedar’s are not as tall as some other old-growth trees, but become sort of flat at the top as they get older.  They are wide, and their branches often created thick cradles and pits that were easy to crawl into, like wooden hammocks of sorts.  They are easy to climb and comfortable to rest in, and that is exactly what I did. Without much intentional effort of my own, I left that day feeling deeply rebalanced and renewed, emotionally re-opened, present and centered. My heart ache was lifted, my body more present, and my sense of hope & purpose more available. The energy shift sustained me for quite a while, leaving me knowing that something very fundamental was touched by my time in that particular forest. There is nothing like being atop a sacred mountain on ancient ancestral lands! THESE forests have been the topic of ancient tales which I talk more about later. These mountains are the ones where you can see the whole cosmos, every star in the sky twinkling extra bright at you. ❤ It is magic. Anyways… I was very nourished and supported, even at a time in my life where I was unreceptive to many other efforts to find healing, and this was really the beginning of a relationship I have nourished with the many Cedar forests of Lebanon ever since.  I met an elder that day who was welcoming and who shared with me that the Cedar forests are amongst the most bio-diverse areas in not only Lebanon, but the whole region.  They contain over 200 species of medicinal plants, many of which are endemic (exclusive) to Lebanon.  Its no wonder that the presence of this forest had nourished and healed me so deeply- I was being doctored by hundreds of species of plantcestors!  The uniquely regional presence of these medicinal plant families surrounding the Cedar forests also probably speaks to why Lebanese Cedar medicine resonates with a particular ability to connect me to the traditions and ways of my ancient SWANA ancestors specifically. This quality is reinforced by the fact that they have been regarded and used medicinally by ancient people all throughout the region who sought them from far away sometimes, and whose energy is embedded in the cosmology and common uses of these trees.

Tree medicine:

Trees are strongly rooted, with root systems that often are intertwined with those of other plants and trees inhabiting the area.  The roots of old trees often create part of the foundation of the very earth surrounding them. Trees grow taller than other plants around them, making the highest points in the forest and drawing the horizon of forest landscapes that can be noticed even from a far distance. They are deeply rooted, but reach upright to the sky and cosmos, a realm associated with spirit. They are like antennas, channels which receive the energy of the cosmos and contain it through their trunk (a spine of sorts), a central touching point for all its roots and branches, drawing cosmic energy down into the deep center of the Earth and transmitting it to us along the way. Trees are actually homes for many other earth bound beings inhabiting the local ecology as well- they provide shade for plants who grow beneath them, food and shelter for local animals and insects, and perching and nesting points for birds. Trees have a big and nourishing presence, sustaining and welcoming whole families and ecosystems, including lichen, fungi, and all the organisms mentioned above. They are mothers of the forest, in this sense- hosting and nourishing life by their very nature.  Trees also touch the depths under the soil reaching into realms we cannot see, through the ground level areas that we ourselves can touch and feel, and then up up up towards the sky where they sometimes harbor whole ecological systems and livelihoods that we sometimes cannot even see from the ground! In the same way, they are able to relate to and nourish multiple realms of our own experience- the underlying and overarching elements of our own being. I often seek trees when I need a maternal holding presence to reground me and recenter me, when I feel off balance, unsafe, out of body, traumatized, or disconnected and unable to retain perspective and clarity.

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Grandmother tree in Chouf, Lebanon.

Some history and context :

Lebanese Cedars have seen their fair share of struggle, having endured several mass clearings throughout the course of history and being almost completely extinct as a result of exploitation of their resources by the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Assyrians, Nebuchdnezzar, the Romans, King David, King of Babylonia, Herod the Great, and the Turks in the Ottoman Empire.  Its a miracle that some have survived, and even they are being threatened by current issues posed by climate change.  There is not as much snow fall as their used to be, which is affecting the conditions needed for Cedars to thrive optimally in, as well as allowing for new kinds of incests and organisms to be introduced into the ecology of the regions, some of which are creating sickness and disease in the Cedar trees and killing them off. Thankfully, their are a few ancient reserves left in the SWANA region.  Most notably, they are found in Lebanon, where there are 12 different stands across North and Mount Lebanon, and several natural reserves and initiatives to replant and repopulate these sacred medicinal trees. Lebanese Cedars also exist in Syria on the eastern slopes of Alaouites Mountains in Slenfe and Machta El Helou, and in the Taurus Mountains of Turkey.  They reach up to 30-40 meters high with a trunk about 2 meters in diameter. Their leaves are dark green needles. On Lebanese Cedars, male and female cones co-exist on the same tree :).

Medicinal and sacred uses:

They are strong and resilient trees, whose wood and resin has been valued by ancients and contemporaries alike. Sumerian ancestors understood the Cedar wood to be home of Ea, the god of wisdom and creation itself. This made the cedar especially important for oracle and prophecy, where the Babylonians wrote about initiation rites in which the “Oracle of Heaven on Earth” was delivered underneath this sacred tree of the “Good Gods”. Need clarity and direction on something? Cedar is a powerful ally to call upon for supported guidance forward, the invocation of dreams, visions, or perception into your own deepest sense of knowing what must be done.  The Cedars played an important role in the Epic of Gilgamesh, in which in his search for immortality, Gilgamesh went to the Cedar forest and engaged a battle with the demigod who protected the forest. Gilgamesh won, and stripped the forest of all its sacred trees to use for building his city.  Perhaps he was the first to deforest the area, as was predicted by the deity Enlil who protected the forest and said the trees would be destroyed of their sacred beauty once mortals arrived to it. Sadly, his prediction bore much truth. Not long after being recognized as a hero, Gilgamesh attracted the attention of the goddess Ishtar, who he insulted and put down publicly. Goddess of fertility and life itself, she demanded punishment from the gods for his disrespect. There is no doubt in my mind that this sequence of events is intimately related; this story speaks to some of the earliest violations of humans to Natural and Divine Law as embodied by the Cedars of Lebanon themselves- the violation and supremacy of man over the natural force of life which instills life, and a tree which itself embodied the Mysteries of Creation (the home of Ea).

Later in history, the Phoenicians used the Cedars as an export and to create the boats through which they traveled across the waters of the worlds, with documented exchanges reaching all the way to the Olmec on the coasts of Vera Cruz, Mexico. The ancient Egyptians used the sawdust of Cedar in the tombs of pharaohs, and the resin in mummification processes, likely for both its strongly anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, as well as the sacred properties which would guide the transitioning spirit back safely to the realm of the benevolent Gods, and protect its purity in the process. The wood and its resin has also been valuable as a smudge for purification, specifically after contact with the dead according to ancient Hebrew ceremonial practices, and was used as a smudge for the start of the Hebrew new year as well.  King Solomon used the Cedar to construct his temple. They are referred to repeatedly in the Bible where they are regarded for their sacred, cleansing, and majestic presence. Cedar was burned after an epidemic of leprosy, bringing purification and cleansing to turnover the disease. The pitch of the Cedars has been used to ease toothaches, and the sawdust to repel snakes.

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Arz Tannourine

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Arz el Rab

Lebanese Cedar is helpful in rebalancing and healing any affliction of the mind, spirit, and nervous system, bringing grounding, restoration, and reconnection deeply to those who need it. This can be very useful in the treatment of depression and trauma. The Cedar forest not only calms the heart, but softens and strengthens it, supporting the cultivation of a deep resilience that can support us in times of profound grief and struggle.  As asserted by our Sumerian ancestors, Cedars have the power of connecting us to the wisdom of the cosmos and our own higher consciousness- WHO WE REALLY ARE. They help us re-align with our own sense of integrity and the sacredness of our inter-connection and the purpose of all living things, even through the most challenging or confusing of circumstances. Clarity and integrity of mind, purpose, and a grounded and resilient heart is what I think of when I recall the medicine of Lebanese Cedar.

In my journeys through the Cedar forests of various regions in Lebanon, I spoke with locals and elders in the regions who reinforced the powerful medicine of these trees and their ability to heal afflictions of the mind and spirit. One elder explained to me that the energetic field of the Cedars is strengthened by age, and that it is in the mere presence of the oldest trees that a persons energetic field can be healed and transformed.  The older the tree, the wider and stronger the electromagnetic field surrounding it.  Another elder opened a seed for me and spread its oil on my head, explaining to me how the Phoenicians used to use it to bring blessings to their people.  He went through a special process to open the cone and access the seed without damaging it.

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Hawthorns and Wild Roses growing under the Cedar trees in Tannourine, Lebanon.

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An opened Cedar cone.

Upon learning more about plants, I began to notice more carefully the families of plants growing around the cedars, many of them medicines of the energetic and physical heart as well- wild roses and hawthorn amongst the most notable. This community of plants makes for a potent heart-healing space, and reinforces my understanding of Cedar’s medicine as it relates to healing and transforming wounded hearts and the deep sense of disconnection that is so often the root of mental afflictions that are not always easy to shake.  I suspect through my experience and the colors surrounding many photos I’ve taken in the Cedar forest, that Lebanon’s ancient cedars are home to the Violet Ray; it is with support and vibration of Violet that Cedar energy works to transform the heavy, negative, and wounded places in our own spirits and bodies as humans. I will write more about the Violet Ray one day when I reflect on the plant Viola Odorata, (which is also, by the way, a heart healing and love medicine 😉 ).  A gently but deeply transformative and grounding medicine is extended by these purifying trees.

Cedar is a protector of life’s very deepest essence, an unveiler of cosmic truth, and a harborer of integrity that extends from the deepest and most indestructible of places in the human spirit and its will to be alive. It is the carrier and keeper of Creation’s mysteries and of the protocols of the cosmic, spiritual, and earthly worlds us humans are living in the matrix of. This plant is eternal and unending in its dignity, persisting in the beautiful magnitude of its profound medicine despite all odds and all threats, pure and purifying in its energy, infinite in its mystery and vitality. It embodies the victory of truth and life itself- the eternal truth, and gently but strongly supports us to embody our own purpose in a responsible and authentic manner, ensuring the integrity of life’s purest essence from earthly life to the afterlife.  It realigns us with our true nature and our rightful place in nature through offering a doorway into this realm of Creation itself. Through healing the heart and purifying the spirit, Cedar opens us to the deeper insights and responsibility of our own spirit’s and its natural divinity, connection, and wisdom.

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Sunset in Bsharre, at “Arz il Rab”, or “The Cedars of God”.

References:

Masri, Rania . “Al Mashriq – Cedrus lebani in Lebanon” http://almashriq.hiof.no/lebanon/300/360/363/363.7/cedars2.html (2/2/03)

Sattout, Elsa & H. Zahreddine.  “Native Trees of Lebanon and Neighboring Countries”

Layla Kristy Feghali is the founder of River Rose Apothecary and the نجمع جذورنا – (re)Gathering our Ancestors program. She has a background in traditional & ancestral healing, herbal medicine, emotional & mental health (MSW), and community organizing.  It is her commitment to support the deep well-being of her communities through restoring relationship with our ancestors and their lineages of wisdom, while facilitating the work of deeply healing ourselves.

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