The Spiritual Forest

This chapter looks at the spiritual meanings of forests, and particularly of city forests, over time. The spiritual values of something do not only relate to religion, as explained by Schroeder (2001). ‘Spiritual’ refers to the experience of being related to, or in touch with, an ‘other’ that transcends one’s individual sense of self and gives meaning to one’s life at a deeper than intellectual level (Schroeder, 1992). A spiritual experience is an intuitive and emotional kind of experience in which a person feels caught up and carried along – or alternatively filled and inspired — by a feeling, an idea, an image or a creative impulse. This can be through religious rituals and disciplines, but also through contact with forests or other parts of the natural environment.

Forests have been described as spiritual landscapes (e.g. Jones & Cloke, 2002). As a refuge and source of subsistence, forests were very important in the spiritual life of the first humans, as is described in the first section of this chapter. The second section shows that religion has always turned to forests, as landscapes of inspiration, places of worship (as in the case of groves) or as a landscapes of income for religious institutions. The chapter’s third section looks at forest myths and the symbolism of forests and trees, as these are part of what shapes a culture. Section four shows that ‘forest spirituality’ is still present today, for example, in the ‘new heathen’ communities that exist in several countries, as well as in the many spiritual links between people and the (city) forests they visit. In the final section, the use of the spiritual dimensions of city forests as a way to connect local communities and local forests is explored.


Religious Community Fairy Tale Sacred Grove Amusement Park Christmas Tree 
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© Springer Science + Business Media B.V 2008

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