Monday, December 20, 2010

Finds: Tree Worship

Does anyone out there know anything about this book, Tree Worship? It appears to have been privately published in Auckland in 1965, but it would be interesting to know more about its author, Charles Alldritt, in particular ...
Charles Alldritt, Tree Worship (1965)
Alldritt, Charles. Tree Worship: With Incidental Myths and Legends. Auckland: Printed for the Author by Strong and Ready Ltd., 1965. [No ISBN]. xiv + 122 pp.
back cover
TREES, those majestic natural monuments, have in silence watched men and cities rise and fall. They have been adored and have witnessed many peculiar, and sometimes cruel, rites. FROM THE RUINS of dead civilisations we learn just how much cruelty was the direct result of bigotry, self-righteousness and the apparent inability to examine or question beliefs. FEAR OF RIDICULE by their fellows and of reprisal by gods and rulers, have made people obedient to many ridiculous precepts. We may pity their credulous acceptance of the dictates of those who presumed to speak for the gods, and this is a reminder that we too could perhaps improve our methods. Though many may remain timid, there will always be those who dare to question the orthodox, and who are inquisitive and adventurous enough to explore. UNDER THE STONES we raise there may be all sorts of crawling horrors, but there may also be a diamond.
He appears to have been someone with strong, but possibly rather heterodox views on religion. Beyond this publication (and one or two other pamphlets conserved in libraries), I haven't been able to find out any more about him. Why was he so anxious to publish this information in book form, for instance? Was it his own idea, or someone else's? The copy I've been examining is dedicated to "Merle and Jim Burns", with an added little note at the bottom of the page:
Jim, Thank you for all your help. Chas.
Here are the titlepage and frontispiece (presumably painted by the author, who must have had some artistic talent):
Odin and his brothers created the first human beings from two logs of wood. One log was ash and the other elm; from the ash they made the first man and called his name Ask, and from the elm they made the first woman and they named her Embla.
(see page 81)
The book is dedicated:
TO JANICE (on her twenty-first birthday)
Perhaps the author's daughter? The preface is also interesting. There are quite a few underlinings and pencil corrections in the text of this copy, presumably added by the author himself. The words "don't apologise", written next to the dedication, seem to refer not so much to Janice as to the words "Early critics have suggested that the purpose of the book is not clear. Perhaps there is no purpose" [my italics].
The subject matter is the work of a collector rather than a scholar. Part I is a collection of opinions and theories which could possibly have some bearing upon the practices, beliefs and legends contained in Part II. Early critics have suggested that the purpose of the book is not clear. Perhaps there is no purpose. An attempt has been made to avoid bias and prejudice and it is sincerely hoped that it can be similarly read. There is always the tendency to believe a postulate to be true simply because it would be contrary to our accepted beliefs if it were not. Fortunately we now live in a more tolerant age, and those who differ are not. necessarily branded as heretics. As this goes to press it is interesting to find that last year (1964) the Church of Rome has been pleased to suggest that the "Holy Spirit” is also present "in other faiths." This is a big step away from the bigotry of ancient times but we still need to travel further. Unfortunately we still have with us those who expect the rest of the world to conform to their particular "civilized ritual," and expect others to remember their places. " If the rich man's schoolboy son asks a question he is taking an intelligent interest, but if the street Arab asks the same question he is being insolent and too familiar. There is a very human tendency to look upon those of other faiths as street Arabs, whereas we would he better advised to accept their questions regarding our beliefs as attempts to understand, rather than insults. Sometimes we are so quick to defend those things which we ourselves do not fully understand. Surely the obvious needs no defence, and our differences in secondary matters is of little importance. This book was written for enjoyment, and the necessary research has been exciting and rewarding. Lengthy explanations have been avoided as it is felt that readers prefer to arrive at their own conclusions.
CHARLES ALLDRITT Auckland, January, 1965
Something of the rather eclectic nature of the book can be deduced from the Table of Contents reproduced above. There's another page of it, as well as two pages listing the illustrations (four plates as well as numerous line drawings).
PART I Trees Before Men Ethics Faith The Oracle Adjustment Priest Kings Prayers to Powers – Intercession Magic and Holy Relics John Evelyn Beliefs in Magical Powers Pagan Rites in Christian Worship Changing Colour Criticism of Ancient Philosophy PART II Ritual and Dedication of Trees Paradise Treasures of Heaven Giants Pillars Egypt-Osiris Egypt-Sky-Goddess Tree as an Altar-•Sacred Sites Sacred Sites Groves Horns The Bull was the Symbol of Light Moses Yahweh Yahweh-Baal Moloch-Human Sacrifice Moloch Human Sacrifice-Indian Judge Ritual Killing
The first page of the text attempts to give some rationale for the author's choice of subject matter, but it does all sound somewhat post facto. Perhaps, as he remarks above, "there is no purpose."
The title of this book is really a misnomer as trees were seldom worshipped by themselves or for themselves. but they have played an important. part in practically every faith. Examples in Part. II will serve to show just. how widespread these connections are. Exactly how trees came to have such pride of place will never be known, but certainly awe, inspired by their grandeur and age, was a contributing factor. It has been affirmed (Botticher) that "the worship of the tree was not only the earliest form of divine ritual, but was the last to disappear before the rise of Christianity." Our planet was covered with lush growth and impenetrable forests long before man made his appearance. In these difficult conditions his travel was restricted by trees, but these also afforded him protection. He looked upon trees as his parents and general providers. His kinship was even closer than to his brothers of the animal world; and as animals differed, so did trees; some were beneficient [sic.] while others were cruel. With the incessant play of natural forces they also had beauty, sound and movement. [p.1]
The page below looks, at first sight, rather sinister. That is, until one reads the text surrounding it:
1. German Nazi Emblem. 2. Swastika (top arm points right). 3. Sauvaskita (negative swastika, top arm points left). 4. Jain Swastika. 5. Tibetan Lunar Swastika. 6. & 7. Indian Swastikas. 8. Azazel (The Devil) with inverted star. 9. Staff of Typhon (Egyptian evil genius). 10. A 'positive' V symbol-Egyptian Hathor, the sky-cow, with the four sky-supports, also V-staves. For confirmation of figure 2 being the positive swastika refer to: Ward (Freemasonry and the Ancient Gods), Blavatsky (Theosophical, The Secret Doctrine), Mackenzie (The Migration of Symbols), O'Neill (The Night of the Gods). Pentacle used in Black Magic, copied from a drawing in Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie (Eliphas Levi).
A most perplexing aspect of symbolism is the discovery that it does in fact often undergo a change of meaning and colour. Magical properties - either real or supposed change from positive to negative according to the manner in which they are used or viewed. An example of this can be illustrated by the two signs familiar to us during World War II – the Swastika and the "V" sign. In regard to the first of them, attempts have been made to show that there are two kinds, and that Hitler’s symbol was the negative one. Reference to books written before the war show that more writers favoured the belief that the opposite was the case. Swastikas on doors of temples - both in the east and in the west - show the symbol as good, that is if it is read from the same side as the lettering on both doors. … [pp.18-19]
There's also some interesting material on pp.99-100, in the section entitled "NEW ZEALAND." The author admits that "A New Zealand book should include reference to Maori folklore", and goes on to recommend A. W. Reed's Myths and Legends of Maoriland (Wellington: A. H and A. W. Reed, 1954) "for easy reading." Among others, he records the following legend:
There is still another story of Rata the Wanderer who "chanted an incantation to protect himself against the spirits before taking an axe and cutting down a tree." He required the tree to make himself a canoe; but in the night the "children of Tane" put the tree together again, and after this had been repeated several times Rata became ashamed and asked forgiveness, whereupon the spirits made a canoe for him. For, according to the legend, "to those who love the Garden of Tane, the Children of Tane are kind." When trees are cut down then the Sky-father's tears wash away the soil and the earth is then unable to nourish any living thing. Thus it would seem that our concern for conservation of the soil today is not by any means a new thought in New Zealand. [p.100]
The only other real clue to the work's genesis comes at the beginning of the Bibliography:
(A few references are missing as the work was commenced from notes gathered for a short lecture some fifteen years ago, precise records were not then kept, but those we have been able to trace are given.)
"Some fifteen years ago" would put the lecture back around 1950. On p.101 the author remarks: "Nothing appears to have been written on the subject of sacred trees since the two world wars," which gives us a clue as to just how long he had been collecting material on this theme. Two last clues to ponder:
In conclusion it is suggested that, if the reader has any doubt regarding the possible power of trees, perhaps he has never tried the experiment of contemplation in some quiet grove or forest where trees are large and old. [p.103]
It sounds a little like Tolkien's semi-sentient trees, or (more to the point) the dark reaches of Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood. The rather pagan tone of this passage also gives some point to his remark that earlier writers on tree worship "were biased in favour of the narrower Christian viewpoint, and over emphasised the wickedness of those practices which were not of Christian origin."[p.101] Also, on the back of the frontispiece in this copy, the following words have been hastily scribbled in pencil:
Does it read "Some Trees", or "Come Trees"? The latter could be some kind of invocation, perhaps. Just how far did this author take his fascination with "the possible power of trees"? I'd really love to know ... Please, if you do have any knowledge of the book or its author, leave it as a comment on this blog entry (if you wish it to remain confidential, just leave me an email address, and I'll reply without posting your comment online).
Ask & Embla


maps said...

You're excavating some strange and fascinating stuff in this series, Jack. I don't suppose 'Some Trees' would have been an Ashbery reference? ;)

It's interesting that this chap hasn't gotten interested in dendroglyphs. Christina Jefferson's pioneering surveying of the dendroglyphs on the Chatham Islands had been published in a specially expanded issue of the Journal of the Polynesian Society in the early '50s, and many commentators have linked the carved kopi trees of the Chathams to sacred activities.

Would it be fair to say that this guy doesn't seem to be pushing any political barrow, or to hold any obvious grudge? If that's the case, he's quite unlike a lot of the pseudo-scholars we have at work in New Zealand at present - the 9/11 Troofers and the 'Celtic NZ' crowd, for instance. I wonder what drove him to write at such length about his subject, or subjects? Any clues in the text?

Do you think there'll ever be a sort of survey of oddball books produced in New Zealand - a survey of 'Outsider/Psychotic New Zealand Writing' or something of that sort?

I think it'd be interesting for someone to take a look at the papers of Lionel Terry, the poet and polemicist who spent most of his life in mental hospitals after walking the length of the North Island on a demented hikoi and then shooting an elderly Chinaman in Wellington. Perhaps we need a Kiwi Foucault...

Mark Pirie said...

Hi Jack,
As an archivist for PANZA (Poetry Archive of NZ Aotearoa), I've come across two poetry books by Charles Alldritt. PANZA currently holds his poetry books, "Hindsights and forethoughts" (1985) and "More Grandpa's verses" (1980s?).
National Library of NZ holds over 30 titles for this author, including essays and non-fiction. He is no doubt an interesting author. I haven't done any research on him in great detail but he may be worth looking into.

Dr Jack Ross said...


Given the tenor of other pieces of Alldritt-iana I've encountered, I suspect a reference to Ash bery is unlikely.

As well as dendroglyphs, I'm surprised he hadn't consulted the material on tree alphabets in Graves's White Goddess ... however, since it first appeared in 1948, I guess it falls into his blindspot for work published "since the war" ....

It's rather a horrifying thought, devoting one's time solely to writing a book about local cranks -- perhaps one could approach it case by case, though. The trouble is that one man's crank is another man's prophet ... Your next project, perhaps? I'm sure a lot of people would love to read it.

Dr Jack Ross said...

Dear Mark,

Thanks for the heads up. Yes, there do seem to be quite a number of poetry pamphlets, collections of short fiction and essays, and other material by Alldritt in various public collections. I could be wrong, but I get the impression that Tree Worship was his first substantial publication, which may have given him a taste for putting out his own books ...

Farrell said...

Hi Jack.
All the best for the Year of the Rabbit!

My mother, Hilary, knew Chas. Aldritt, through his daughter Jan.
She wrote this:
"Charles Aldritt was the father of Jan Aldritt-Millar.I've met the old fellow but presume he's dead now. He came with Jan to our house in Carlton Street for lunch and Mum [who died in 1986] was there too. They had a great old chat. Jan or her father gave me half a dozen books of his and I'm darned if I know what I did with them. He was an artistic old fellow and he actually printed and designed the books entirely. I saw his old printing machine at his house. ...

I was always fascinated by the old man and thought he was quite brilliant in his own way. Enormous talent.
Some day I'll scour the boxes under the stairs and in the attic and see if the books are still around."

A quick search revealed Jan's webpage:

I am sure Jan will be delighted by your enthusiasm.


Dr Jack Ross said...

Thanks Farrell,

Information much appreciated.

best, jack

Larry Killip said...

Charles Alldritt was my Great Uncle, he passed away only a few years ago well into his 90's. He was a self taught printer and ran a commercial printery as well as printing his own books. I have most of his books. His only daughter is Jan Alldritt-Miller, well known NZ watercolour artist, you'll find her easily on google. Tree Worship was printed at Strong & Ready, (31 Crummer Rd Grey Lynn, Auck) where I also began a printing apprenticeship in 1966 working alongside Charles.

Later in life Charles set up a press under his house in Remuera...then embraced new technology and started doing his work on a laser printer. Microsoft NZ gave him a free copy of Word - recognition of his ongoing productivity plus his grasp of computers at such a grand age.

In the early 1990's TVNZ did a program on Charles, he talks about his books and printing, I have that on DVD if anyone is interested.

In my garage in Lynfield Auckland I have the last remnants of Charles's printing type and the small Adana printing machine he also had.

I also have speech recordings of Charles as he spoke on many things and duly recorded them all on his own tape recorder, these days I am in sound recording/production so I have made it my mission to preserve and transfer all these recordings to digital.

I could go on and on about Charles, he never wanted his books to be in the mainstream but they should have been in my opinion. An amazingly clever man with a great sense of humour. I have much on Charles, only too happy to share.

Dr Jack Ross said...

Thanks so much, Larry. That's very interesting indeed. I'd noticed the different imprints listed on some of his books, which makes sense if he was himself a commercial printer.

Your assistance is much appreciated.

Bipeds said...

60Hi There I am very interested in this book, I am currently in residence at the Pah Homestead (3 months)communing with the significant trees on the site for a dance project called Lung Tree.
Just beginning my research and would welcome your thoughts. Lyne

Anonymous said...

looks to me like charles aldritt printed books too - 'eighty years of fact and fiction' by verna dowrick of tauranga, perhaps they met thru interest in occult? could be, it was fairly popular in those days. i was a child, other writers there were ouija bd etc

Dr Jack Ross said...

Very interesting -- it would certainly be great to know more about his occult connections ...

Larry Killip said...

Six years after my first post here. Here is a Youtube clip of Charles Alldritt talking about his printing. copy/paste this link into Youtube.

Richard said...

I cant recall if I have been in these hallowed crannies of your Borgesian infinite library, Jack, but 'winning near the end' (?) of your "Tree Worship" I came across yor ref. to Alldritt. I cleared out my books to make room keeping some. But Charles Alldritt rang a bell. I am sure I had a copy once, or Ron Riddell had in his shop. If it was put in the NZ section a lot of that is in a box in my garage with about 200 others as well as other bags etc The YouTube was fascinating. What a fascinating fellow with his press and books (I had some he had, de Bono and the Bronowski book at least).

The complex pathways a crook-ways of the Rossian universe, informed by other voices, informed by other ideas and writings...