The olive tree and olive oil as symbols
“Olive trees had to be planted by children or virgins”!
This conviction, which originated in Cilicia, as well as numerous others derive from people’s belief that the olive tree, being a sacred tree, should be honoured and protected in order to yield its fruit… “the olive is a pure tree and, thus, desires that those who collect its fruit should also be pure”. This is why men involved in the cultivation of olive trees must honour their families (eukarpia – fecundity) “…and not lie with women other than their wives ”.
Western societies may find it difficult to perceive the extent to which local tradition and customs have embraced a product that, up until recently, was considered the cause of numerous diseases that afflicted the peoples of the Mediterranean basin, while they exclusively used butter, which they lauded for its healthy properties. However, the olive tree and olive oil are integrally linked with Mediterranean cultures. For the people of the region, the olive tree has been a symbol since antiquity and it is found everywhere. In ancient Greece, it is encountered in numerous myths. The best known such myth claims that two gods, Athena and Poseidon, competed for the name of the city of Athens by offering gifts; Athena was the victor because she offered an olive branch, as a symbol of wisdom, prosperity and peace.
People using the products of the olive tree feel so blessed by this tree, which they use in dozens of ways, that they want to intimately thank it and – why not – ensure that it will thus continue to yield its fruit. This is a voluntary relationship of exchange between its people-users and the “divine” product. For example, until recently, during the Christmas season, the owner of an olive grove would slaughter a pig and sprinkle the soil with its blood (pigs were a symbol of fertility).
Even today, before the olive harvest begins, the holy mystery of benediction usually takes place, thus blessing the soil and tree so that it yields plentiful and healthy fruit. This practice and numerous others still prevail.
“If wine is spilled on the earth, it is good luck; but if oil is spilled, it is said to be bad luck”.