The juniper tree is represented by many varieties of evergreen shrubs and tall trees. Juniper communis is one of the most well-distributed trees on earth. Because of its many varieties and many locations, juniper has symbolised everything from female virtue to longevity, and has been associated with Jupiter and fire, as well as being used in various cleansing and protection rituals.
In Europe, juniper berries were burnt the last three days of April to protect against sorcery. This was also a cleansing ritual. Juniper planted outside the main door was intended to keep witches from entering the building. In central Europe, if spirits might be in the building, juniper smoke helped cast out witches. Bunches of smouldering juniper branches were also carried around animal fields to protect livestock. The juniper tree has been linked to keeping away evil forces, illness, and general evil. A female spirit of the juniper tree, Frau Wachholder, could also be summoned to get back stolen goods.
In the British Isles, juniper smoke was believed to aid in seeing the future. Juniper folklore also has a place in dream interpretation. Dreaming of the tree itself symbolised unluckiness. Dreaming of picking juniper berries in the winter symbolised prosperity, while dreaming of the berries meant the person would be given great honours. If married, dreaming of berries represented the impending birth of a male child.
Another name for juniper is savin, which refers to Juniperus sabina, an ancient juniper. In medieval times, savin was a symbol of female virtue. As a religious symbol, it represented protection and life. Juniper is usually a component part in wreaths celebrating Christian Advent. As the main greenery in most Advent wreaths, it symbolises a juniper that sheltered Joseph, Mary and Jesus as they fled to Egypt on their way from Bethlehem.
In his 1920 book, "Indian Blankets and Their Makers," George Wharton James discusses Navajo prayer sticks and the use of juniper (Juniper occidentalis) for colour symbolism. In a Navajo ceremony, prayer sticks are placed at the four cardinal directions. Prayer sticks placed to the west were made of juniper. In the arid region where the Navajo lived, juniper outer branch tips and leaves had a tone of yellow, the Navajo colour symbolic of the west.
In addition to dream interpretation, warding off evil spirits, and other attributes, juniper wood is reputed to hold powers of strength, healing, health and peace. Like the warding off of evil spirits, the updated version of juniper symbolism is protection from injuries. Because of its association with good health and as a talisman of injury prevention, it follows that juniper is also a symbol of longevity.
- Trees for Life: Mythology and Folklore of the Juniper
- Armorial Gold: Heraldry Symbolism Library
- White Dragon: The Juniper Tree (In Folklore, Healing and Cannibalism)
- The Herbal Resource: Juniper--Health Benefits and Side Effects
- "The Signs and Symbols Bible: The Definitive Guide to Mysterious Markings"; Madonna Gauding; 2009