Folk-lore of the Holy Land, Moslem, Christian and Jewish, by J. E. Hanauer , at sacred-texts.com
THE Kharrûb, 1 among other trees and shrubs, such as the fig, the sycamore and the caper-bush, is a perch for demons of various kinds, and so classed among unholy plants; while the olive-tree, among others, is sacred, not only because of its great value in furnishing oil and food, but also on account of the following legend:--
"At the death of Mohammed the trees, with a few exceptions--such as the oak, the pine, the orange, and the citron--went into mourning by shedding their leaves as they do in winter. When the others were asked why they did not do the same,
the olive, as their elder and spokesman, replied, You show your sorrow by external signs, but our grief, who care not for the opinion of others, but only that Allah, who reads the secrets of the heart, should approve of our motives, is no less sincere, though inward. Should you cleave my trunk open, for instance, you would find that at its core it . has become black with grief."
The Abhar 1 is another sacred tree, because its nut is used in the manufacture of rosaries, 2 and because, when he fled from Pharaoh, Moses, tired in the shadeless desert, planted his staff of storax in the soil and lay down in its scanty shade, which was instantly increased, Allah causing the staff to sprout and put forth branches bearing leaves and blossoms. In like manner the Miriamìyeh or sage 3 is much esteemed; not only for its medicinal properties which cause its dried leaves to be burned in fumigation in cases of cholera, small-pox, measles and other contagious and epidemic diseases, while an infusion of its leaves is a specific for various maladies; but also because the Virgin Mary, being overcome with fatigue during her flight into Egypt, rested under a sage-bush; and, breaking off a bunch of its leaves, wiped her brow with them; and when she rose refreshed, blessed the plant and bestowed upon it the virtues it now possesses.
The Nubk or Lotus 4 is also a sacred plant. It
often marks the boundaries between the lands of different villages, and some believe that the hedge surrounding Paradise is formed of it. When a Lotus-tree has attained the age of forty years it often becomes the abode of some departed saint. It is therefore a dangerous thing to cut down a Lotus tree that is above that age, as the saint might resent the deed. In travelling through Palestine one frequently meets with clumps of sacred trees, not necessarily always Lotus, which are thus haunted by the spirits of holy men; and, on Thursday evenings especially, one sometimes sees these trees lighted up, and can hear snatches of sacred instrumental music proceeding therefrom, while lights appear to be darting from tree to tree. It is a sign that the saints are keeping festival, and exchanging visits. A sacred tree much affected by such spirits is the Tamarisk. 1 If, when passing these trees on windy nights, you listen attentively, you may sometimes distinctly hear the holy name "Allah" soughing through the branches.
It is not generally known that one of the proofs that the time when the Orthodox Greek Christians celebrate Christmas is the right one, and that the Latins and other Westerns are wrong in the time of their celebration, is that on the Greek Christmas Eve all trees and plants, but especially those on the banks of the Jordan, worship the Saviour. This important fact was discovered in the following manner:--A certain man rode into Lydda shortly before midnight on the Greek Christmas Eve. On reaching his quarters he tied up his donkey to the
trunk of a palm-tree which, as it lay prostrate in the yard, he naturally supposed had been blown down by a recent storm. Next morning, however, when he arose and went to look after his donkey, his astonishment was great to find the tree erect and the ass hanging beside and from the palm-trunk. As the animal was quite dead, the fact was proved beyond dispute.
Another remarkable plant, much talked about is the "‘Ushbet el Kurka" or "Tortoise-Herb." He who finds this plant has made his fortune in more senses than one. In the first place, its leaves are of pure gold. Further, if one is so fortunate as to find and gather it, he has the marvellous power of unconsciously gaining the goodwill of everybody, and can, if he choose, fascinate both men and women and make them his willing slaves. Even should he unconsciously tread upon this plant, without picking it, he is able, without himself being conscious of the fact, or others being able to explain it, to win the love and esteem of all whom he meets. Even goats which browse upon it have their teeth turned to gold. Unfortunately this plant is extremely rare. Some years ago there was a fellâh living in a village in Judæa who knew all about it, where it grew, at what season it might be found, its appearance, and so forth. He was offered a large sum of money by a rich Bethlehemite for these secrets, but, being a man of high principles, he refused the offer rather than betray the honour of the countryside by putting a Christian in possession of such powers. He is dead now, and his knowledge perished with him.
286:1 Ceratonia siliqua.
287:1 Storax officinalis.
287:2 Called in Arabic Massâbih (praising instruments), and used by Moslems and Christians at their devotions.
287:3 Salvia ceratophyx vel controversa.
287:4 Zizyphus spina Christi.
288:1 Tamaria Syriaca.