veg·e·ta·tion / ˌvejəˈtāshən/ • n. 1. plants considered collectively, esp. those found in a particular area or habitat: the chalk cliffs are mainly sheer with little vegetation. 2. the action or process of vegetating. 3. Med. an abnormal growth on or in the body. DERIVATIVES: veg·e·ta·tion·al / -shənl/ adj.
"vegetation." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 26, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/vegetation
"vegetation." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved September 26, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/vegetation
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
"vegetation." A Dictionary of Plant Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 26, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/vegetation
"vegetation." A Dictionary of Plant Sciences. . Retrieved September 26, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/vegetation
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
"vegetation." A Dictionary of Nursing. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 26, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/caregiving/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/vegetation
"vegetation." A Dictionary of Nursing. . Retrieved September 26, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/caregiving/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/vegetation
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
VEGETATION . The world's mythology and folklore offer one example after another of sacred plants, both wild and cultivated, as well as stories about the divine origins of plants, their magic or medicinal properties, and heroic quests to obtain them. These stories reflect a dual tendency, shared by humanity's forebears in history and by its contemporaries in the so-called nonliterate societies: On the one hand there has been the tendency to "humanize" nature with sacred narratives whose purpose is to explain how the world and humankind came to be the way they are; on the other hand analogies have been consistently drawn from the physical world—in this case, plants or perhaps the tools and techniques for cultivating them—to express those things about human living that can never be fully expressed, especially the perennial anxieties, fervent hopes, and nostalgias that expose immediately the limits of one's situation in the world.
For example, the Warao Indians of the Orinoco Delta in South America have endowed basket making with a quite explicit religious meaning derived ultimately from their experience with a certain plant. Besides calabashes and makeshift containers put together by folding leaves or palm stipules, the Warao have only baskets for storage and carrying. The raw material used in the manufacture of baskets is the cortex of the stem of the itiriti plant, which grows in most parts of the delta. The Warao say that they owe the existence of the plant to the selfless sacrifice of an ancestor in primordial times who, seeing that his people were in need of baskets to survive, transformed himself into the first itiriti plant and enjoined his descendants to employ his body in the manufacture of many useful things.
The plant itself has a number of magico-religious properties, the most important being its effect on the craftsman's hands. A Warao basket maker observes that over the course of his career his palms whiten as the pithy interior of the itiriti passes through his hands. He believes that eventually a small hole that only he can see will appear in each palm. Often, when the craftsman splits open an itiriti stem to get at the pith, he can see that a small snake has tunneled up from the roots of the plant, and he understands then by analogy what the Itiriti Spirit, conceived of as a snake, is accomplishing in his body. The spirit, he believes, is boring a tunnel from his chest, where the tutelary spirits reside, through both arms to the openings in his palms. When the craftsman finally observes the exit holes in his palms, he knows he has undergone a transformation from an ordinary human to a shamanic craftsman with the same healing powers and social status as the other religious specialists in his tribe.
At least two points deserve mention. First, when the Warao craftsman produces baskets, he complies with his divine ancestor's original intention that many useful things be made of his serpentine body. He validates the Spirit's sacrificial deed through the knowledge and practice of his craft, and by having the body of the god pass continually through his hands, he effectively reconstitutes the sacrality of the primordium. In other words, he "humanizes" nature, here not so much by narrating what took place in the beginning as by acting it out.
Second, thanks to the analogies he draws from the plant, the snake, and the physical effect of his contact with the sacred fiber, the basket maker possesses a language suitable for expressing—as well as a technique suitable for achieving—the transformation from ordinary status to that of shamanic craftsman, by means of which he gains a place for himself after death in the presence of the Creator Bird of Dawn. Such is the spiritual achievement to which he dedicates the better part of his life. Just as he masters his craft by understanding the nature of the material he employs and the secret of the manufacturing process, so, by analogy, does he achieve spiritual mastery over himself and the world. The Warao example thus illustrates an important function of religious symbols generally: By making it possible for the human situation to be translated into cosmological terms and vice versa, religious symbols reveal a fundamental oneness between human life and the structure of the world, drawing human beings out of their isolation in subjectivity and allowing them to take a stance vis à vis their own lives and the world that one could easily describe as a kind of transcendence.
Warao basket making describes only one of the ways that plants have entered and shaped religious life. The effectiveness of medicinal plants is often ascribed to the spirit or power they embody. For example, the Apinagé of South America believe that for each species of edible animal there is a corresponding wild plant that can be used should a person undergo the harm of ingesting the animal's soul.
Poisons have played extremely important roles in human affairs, especially in the hands of sorcerers and priest-physicians charged with knowing how to treat their toxic effects and who are themselves capable of using the poison against an enemy. The Canelos Quichua and the Jivaroan people in Ecuador say that forest demons reside in plants from which the poisonous curare is prepared, and it is they who kill the victim when a poisoned arrow penetrates the body.
The beer that the Chaco Indians brew from algaroba or other fruits is said to derive its intoxicating powers from the spirit present in the tree and especially in its fruits. As the beverage ferments, the indwelling spirit approaches the height of its powers. The mysterious process of fermentation can be hurried along by various ceremonies, the beating of drums, or the shaking of rattles.
Any plant that somehow bears or manifests the vital forces at work in the world, spontaneous growth and renewal, may host divine or magic powers; contact with such a plant will commonly transfer those powers for the benefit of one who understands its secret. An endless variety of agricultural rites and beliefs entail the recognition of a force manifested in the harvest. The Indochinese have a rice spirit that makes their crops grow and bear fruit. They treat the rice in flower as they would a pregnant woman, taking care to capture the spirit in a basket and store it carefully in the granary where rice is kept. When barley starts to germinate, the Ewe of West Africa ensure the fertility of the fields by consecrating a number of young girls to the python god. As the god's representatives, priests consummate a sacred marriage, and the girls or women thus consecrated engage in ritual prostitution for a period of time in the enclosure of the sanctuary. Elsewhere the presence of the sacred tree at wedding celebrations underscores the link between vegetation and human sexuality. In Java, when rice blossomed it was customary for the husband and wife to mate in the field.
These examples all express not only a certain solidarity between plants and human beings but also an ambiguous vulnerability or susceptibility to the spirits of plant life that causes humans to wish to coordinate their activities with the mysterious rhythms and circulating energies of vegetation.
It should also be clear that the sacrality of vegetation differs in marked ways from, for example, the sacred as it is revealed through the sky and its symbols. Whereas the latter communicates distance, overarching sovereignty, and "spirituality" in the sense of being elevated, not physical, and timeless, human relations with the plant world are characteristically close, physical, and time-bound (owing especially to the cyclic nature of plant life).
It is exceedingly difficult to account for the distance between ours and a properly religious world in which the spiritual powers of vegetation are a self-evident truth, at least not without demeaning the intelligence of religious people by repeating arguments akin to the Greek polemics against Egyptian religion or the Israelite polemics against the worship of idols. The Greek writer Plutarch, for example, insisted that the Egyptians worshiped plants, and they did so, he said, because of a verbal misapprehension. According to Plutarch, primitive peoples had once believed that the food plants they consumed were gifts from the gods, but later the habit of associating the gods' names with various plants caused their descendants to forget, that is, people of later times began to confuse the plant with the divinity who made it. Scarcely more helpful were writers in the twentieth century who, influenced by Darwin, simply reversed the order of Plutarch's hypothetical "devolution" of religion into superstition. Their claim was that theism came late not early in human history and that the known nonliterate peoples, like the earliest peoples on record, are as yet incapable of consistent, complex religious thought and self-understanding.
By contrast, a historian of religions would choose to say that even an expression such as "plant worship" is something of a misnomer, for it is usually not the plant itself that is worshiped but the sacred power present or embodied in the plant or symbolized by the plant; and that wherever the sacred is revealed, whether in vegetation, animal life, stones, or sky, it engages the whole human person—meaning his or her emotional, imaginative, and intellectual faculties taken together—in a vital relationship. There is no reason to assume that the earliest human forebears were any less intelligent than than those of the present. In fact, if one compares the mythopoeic thought of nonliterate or "primitive" peoples with modern scientific thought, the differences—and in this most scholars would now agree—turn out to be due to emotional attitude and intention rather than to any disparity of intellect.
In what follows this article has tried to simplify things as much as possible by reducing the topic of vegetation to its two most important and revealing elements: the symbolism of the tree and the ideas and practices made possible by the discovery of agriculture. These two are in any case the models without which further discussion of vegetation as a religious phenomenon would prove difficult.
In myth and ritual, trees serve as symbols of orientation, knowledge, and life.
The cosmic tree
One of the most widely disseminated motifs in mythology and religious iconography is that of the sacred tree as both imago mundi and axis mundi. There seems no way to reconstruct with certainty the process whereby the tree came to represent both the cosmos as a whole and its cardinal axis, joining the three domains (heaven, earth, and underworld) together and making communication among them possible.
It is known that the earliest sacred places were small-scale reproductions of the world in toto achieved by forming a landscape of stones, water, and trees. Australian totem centers were often located in a sacred group of trees and stones, and the tree-altar-stone pattern characterized sacred places throughout India and East Asia. Often a vertical post or pillar was added, presumably as a stylized tree meant to enhance the sacred power already present in this microcosmic landscape. Finally, it would seem that over the course of time the elements of such a landscape were reduced to the single most important element: the tree or sacred pillar.
One does not have to go far in the history of religions to find examples of the cosmic tree as an image of the world. The ancient Babylonians knew the black Kiskanu Tree that grows at Eridu, the center of the world. It shines like lapis lazuli—meaning that it shines like the night sky—and spreads its branches out toward the cosmic ocean that surrounds and supports the world. The Upaniṣads speak of the universe as an inverted tree that buries its roots in the sky and spreads its branches over the whole earth. A Scandinavian creation story in the Vo̜luspa tells of a cosmic tree called Yggdrasill with branches that reach to heaven and cover the whole world and roots that run under the earth and support it. At the base of the tree lies the cosmic serpent Niðho̜ggr, gnawing at its roots, and at the top is an eagle who battles daily with the serpent. Yggdrasill thus mirrors the precarious fate of the cosmos; though it may be bruised and shaken, the tree's ultimate renewal will mark the beginning of a new age and a new earth.
Furthermore, the cosmic tree also expresses one of the most profound nostalgias of religious people, namely, the desire to orient themselves to the center of the world. Like other symbols for the center, the tree image calls attention to the vertical plane of the universe, and that means to the underworld as well. Chinese mythology tells of a miraculous tree that grows at the center of the universe and that unites the Nine Springs and the Nine Heavens. In other words, it marks the point at which the various cosmic levels intersect. The Abakan Tatars describe an iron mountain on which grows a birch tree with seven branches symbolizing the seven levels of heaven. A shaman is said to climb this tree in his ecstatic ascent. The Qurʾān refers in several places to the tree Zaqqūm, which has its roots in the lowest reaches of Hell. Its leaves are small, and its fruits bitter. It reverses the image of the heavenly Tuba Tree that is situated at the celestial Kaʿbah directly above the earthly Kaʿbah and linking the two.
The Tree of Knowledge
Perhaps partly because of its role in the cosmos as the cardinal axis and partly because of its connections with certain deities, the sacred tree sometimes has oracular functions, making it a tree of knowledge. Two of the roots of Yggdrasill reached to the sources of divine wisdom: one to the Spring of Mímir ("meditation" or "memory"), the other to the Fountain of Urðr ("fate"). Similarly, the Oak of Zeus at Dodona was said to have oracular powers on account of the extreme depth to which its roots extended. Whether in the creation story of the Book of Genesis the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge are in fact one tree or two has been open to dispute, but some have argued persuasively that only by eating first of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil could the hidden tree that conferred immortality be found.
The Tree of Life
When historians speak of the cosmic tree, they have in mind those meanings conveyed through the symbolism of the tree that refer specifically to the structure and organization of the cosmos. But the tree, quite simply because of its other vegetative qualities—those related to its growth cycle and regenerative capacities—also conveys to religious people another set of ideas, expressive of the world's inexhaustible fertility. Most scholars, when they consider tree symbols with an eye to this latter array of meanings, refer to the tree of life as opposed to the cosmic tree; and it is true that in specific instances one or the other tends to be more fully expressed. Still, in some myths they are the same tree or at least are located near one another at the center of the world. For example, the second chapter of Genesis states that immediately after the Lord God breathed into Adam's nostrils, he
planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, and the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Gn. 2:8–10)
The garden stands, then, at the center of the world, and the tree at its center.
Numerous myths and iconographic motifs connect the tree of life (or its equivalent) with the Great Goddess and water and so confirm the basic meaning conveyed through the symbol: that is, a common concern for, and perhaps a deep anxiety over, life's changing cycles of fruitfulness and decay, youth and old age, poverty and abundance, sickness and health.
One of the most common themes associated with the tree of life describes how the cosmos itself and the various deities came into being. According to the Egyptian Pyramid Texts, Atum first emerged from a lotus drifting over the primordial watery abyss, but the rest of the gods originated from trees, including Hathor, the Great Mother, from the sycamore.
Excavations in the Indus Valley have unearthed artifacts picturing goddesses of the yakṣinī type beside a Ficus religiosa or plants emerging from a goddess's genital organs. In a pictorial theme found over a wide expanse of Africa and Asia, the goddess rises between two branches of a tree in the center of a circle.
The lotus, while not a tree, shares the same connection with the Great Goddess and cosmic fertility. The lotus is already a sacred flower in the Brāhmaṇas, where it represents the female generative organ, and that is its root meaning whether it becomes the female goddess, the cosmic lotus of Viṣṇu's navel and hence the womb of all creation, or the seat of divinity and spiritual power. It tells the story of being issuing forth pure and bright from the dark possibilities of watery chaos.
The legendary soma plant also has a connection with water, for the Ṛgveda describes it both as a spring or stream and as a paradisiacal plant that promises life, fertility, and regeneration. The Book of Revelation makes even clearer the cosmological and redemptive significance of water and the tree together:
Then he showed me the river of the water of life, bright as a crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the lamb through the middle of the streets of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the trees were for the healing of the nations. (Rv. 12:1–2)
One last theme deserves mention. Often a hero goes off in search of the tree of life (or some other divine plant for which the tree is a model) and the immortality it will bring. The quest usually entails great dangers and trials, for the tree of life is hidden (as the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden may have been) or guarded by monsters, like the golden apples in the Garden of Hesperides, and therefore difficult if not impossible to reach. For example, in the Babylonian variant of the theme, Gilgamesh seeks a thorny herb of life that the sage Utanapishtim tells him is at the bottom of the sea. A serpent thwarts his attempt and gains immortality for itself instead.
Similarly, Iranian tradition has an earthly tree of life with a heavenly counterpart. Like soma, earthly haoma is sometimes thought of as a plant and sometimes as a spring. The heavenly variety gives immortality to all who eat of it and grows where Ahura Mazdā first planted it, among the thousands of other medicinal herbs at the source of the waters of Ardvisura, on an island in the great sea Vourukasha. Angra Mainyu counters Ahura Mazdā's creation with a creation of his own in the shape of a lizard that swims through the waters to attack the miraculous haoma tree.
The Discovery of Agriculture
The term Neolithic Revolution, its second component notwithstanding, denotes a period of gradual technological, economic, and religious innovation that took place roughly between 9000 and 7000 bce, during which time many societies drifted away from their hunting and gathering economies toward an economy based on the domestication of animals and plants. Domestication resulted in the appearance of agriculture as a special form of animal and plant production and put human beings in the position of being, in a sense, creators of their food.
This new food-producing role brought with it many changes. For one thing, agriculture altered the division of labor, as women began to assume the better part of the responsibility for subsistence. It meant that early cultivators had to develop more accurate techniques for reckoning time, inasmuch as the complex activities in which they were now engaged had to be planned months in advance and coordinated both with the yearly cycles and with the different cycles of plant life.
Agriculture also enriched the meaning of work. To be sure, farming is a profane skill, but for religious people it has always been first and foremost a ritual. It deals, for example, with the mysterious forces of growth somehow at work in the seed and furrow. It is carried out on the body of Mother Earth herself. It requires the planter to integrate his movements with beneficent and dangerous periods of time; and it forces him to contend with the spirits of vegetation, particularly those, like the tree and forest spirits, who grow angry when the land is cleared. It requires ceremonial action to assist the growth of crops and renew the earth's life-giving energies, and it draws the farmer into contact with the dead, for the earth is their abode.
Above all, agriculture provided for a vast store of analogies that made it possible for human beings to see the necessary links that joined plant life, women and sexuality, earth, moon, water, death, initiation, and resurrection in a single, integrated view of life. In effect it allowed the whole world to be apprehended as a living organism, governed by rhythmic cycles in which death and life belong necessarily to one another, and in which rebirth is all the more miraculous for the astonishing increase of new life that accompanies it. Long and intimate dealings with the soil and its seasons fostered the great hope that, like the seed hidden in the earth, the dead can hope to return to life in a new form: that is, death might be no more than a provisional change in the human mode of being. On the other hand, it also pointed to life's essential transitoriness and fragility.
Simply put, the discovery of agriculture created an opportunity for the human mind to grasp certain truths that had been much harder to grasp before. A primitive hunter, for example, would have understood the rhythm of the seasons perfectly well, but for agriculturalists that rhythm was the basis for a theoretical construction that gave meaning to life, and they experienced this rhythmic quality of life amplified many times over in patterns of activity and rest or of scarcity and plenty; in rituals meant to drive out the old season; in rites of sowing and harvest; and even in orgies, whose aim was to reproduce on the human level what was taking place in the ground and what did take place in the beginning—like seeds that lose their shape, disintegrate, and become something different, human beings lose their identities and try to enter a state of chaotic formlessness analogous to the formless state prior to the creation of the world.
Agriculture had certain tragic implications as well. As producers of their food, early humans learned to take responsibility for the vegetable kingdom, for its perenniality, even if that meant, as in the case of human sacrifice or cannibalism, the killing of their own kind so that life could be renewed. For example, an important Aztec festival dedicated to the maize goddess Chicomecoatl began every year just as the maize plant attained its full growth. A young female slave or captive, painted red and yellow to represent the colors of the plant, performed a ritual dance nightly for the duration of the festival. On the last night all the women in the community danced with her and chanted the deeds of Chicomecoatl. At daybreak, the men joined them in a solemn dance of death that brought the exhausted victim to the top of the pyramid of sacrifice. There the woman was finally offered up in a gruesome rite to the goddess. In this way the maize goddess, herself exhausted by her season's labors, was thought to be restored. For precisely the same reasons, the Khonds, a Dravidian tribe of Bengal, practiced human sacrifice at least until the middle of the nineteenth century, consecrating their victims to the earth goddess, Tari Pennu or Bera Pennu.
These examples give some hint of the essential, underlying ambivalence toward farming and vegetable life that has found expression in almost every known myth concerning the origins of agriculture and the introduction of food plants. The German scholar Adolf E. Jensen divides these myths into two categories. One group of myths he attributes to cultivators of tuberous plants. Perhaps the most famous story comes from the Ceramese Islanders in Indonesia and tells how a young maiden, Hainuwele, was killed and buried on the ninth night of the Maro festival. Her father dug up the corpse, cut it in pieces, and buried the pieces around the sacred dancing ground. Then from the various parts of her body food plants sprang forth. This primordial murder radically changed the human condition. On the one hand, it was a creative death that permits the goddess to be continually present in the lives of her descendants, for every time one of them consumes a plant that sprang from her divine body, he or she partakes of the actual substance of the goddess. On the other hand, the story reveals how death and sexuality first entered the world and attributes all the religious and social institutions that are still in place to a criminal act at the beginning of time.
Myths belonging to Jensen's second category he attributes to cereal growers, and they recall a primordial theft of the food plant in question from heaven. The Dogon, for example, tell of a primordial blacksmith who stole cereal grains from the sky god and brought them back to earth hidden in his hammer. The Gula and Kulfa of the central Sudan say that a female spirit pressed beeswax to the soles of her feet so that the grain that the sky god had spread out would adhere. The Chané in the western Gran Chaco believe that the fox god hid the small seeds of the algaroba fruit in a hollow tooth.
While there are differences between the two types of myths, a rigid distinction between them would be difficult to defend, partly because the origin of cereals is often attributed to a primordial murder as well; but it would also distract attention from the variety of origin myths and the different themes they choose to emphasize. For example, one could construct another category of myths that tell of a benevolent woman who secretly provides food for human beings until she is discovered in the act of producing plants asexually from her body. According to one variant of the story, food plants (tubers and cereals both) came originally from the sweat or excreta of the goddess. Members of the tribe learn about the revolting source of their food and kill her; but following the advice she gives just before her death, they also bury the pieces of her dismembered body, whereupon food plants and other elements of culture (agricultural implements, for example) spring from the corpse.
All of the foregoing myths have one thing in common: They present the introduction of agriculture as an ambiguous event caused by a crime or mistake that took place during primordial times and fraught with difficult consequences. It would seem, in fact, that myths that account for the origins of agriculture also have things to say about the highly ambiguous achievement of civilization itself, and to the degree that civilized is the equivalent of human, they address those ambiguities that define humanity's common lot.
Many of those ambiguities can be seen played out in the myth of Prometheus and in that story's profound effects on the religious life of the ancient Greeks. It is a story that recounts much more than just the origins of agriculture. In the myth from Hesiod, gods and humans lived together and shared food in the primordial Golden Age. On the day he distributed the share from the first sacrificial animal, Prometheus established the diet that differentiates humans and the gods. Through Prometheus's deceit, humans received the edible portions, leaving the gods with only the bones and fat. Zeus took his revenge by hiding fire so that it was impossible for humans to cook their meat. Prometheus then stole the seed of fire, hiding it in the hollow stalk of a fennel plant, and presented it as a gift to humankind. Feeling cheated, Zeus hid the seed of wheat, burying it in the earth, with the result that henceforth men would have to labor in the fields for food. At the same time, he created the first woman, whom Hephaistos modeled out of clay, and thus sexuality entered the world too.
The myth of Prometheus was commemorated in ancient Greece as the passing of the Golden Age and the beginning of human time. For the Greeks, Prometheus had fulfilled the will of Zeus, who condemned human beings to the experience of hunger and death, but he had also provided the food needed to survive. Moreover, in leaving nothing for the gods except, significantly enough, the smells rising from the sacrifice, he validated the gods' supremacy, for in a sense the need to consume food is inversely proportional to the vital energy that makes gods different from humans in the first place.
The state sacrifice, though it was the cornerstone of Greek religion in the cities, reflected the ambivalence of the myth that served as its model or charter: On the one hand it brought gods and humans together to commemorate the start of human life, but it also underscored the distance separating people from the gods they worshiped. Various religious groups opposed the sacrifice out of a desire for a religious experience that was unlike that offered by official religion and that promised the devotee closer contact with the divine. Among the most important of these groups were the followers of Pythagoras, who embraced vegetarianism as a way of rejecting wholesale the type of communion with the gods that animal sacrifice had established as the norm. The foods they valued were cereals such as wheat and barley and plants such as mallow and asphodel, for in the Golden Age those plants—even though the first two are cultivated grains—were said to have sprung spontaneously from the earth and were the foods that men and gods had once eaten together. In other words, through rediscovering this lost commensality, the Pythagoreans hoped to achieve a return to the Golden Age. Like other forms of vegetarianism, the Pythagorean type is an example of ascetic practice that aims to purify and transform human life and, in a way, to undo the effects of civilization. Recalling the equivalence of the terms civilized and human, one might interpret Pythagorean vegetarianism as an example of one of the many different ways that people living in a world shaped by the ideas and values of agriculture have expressed their lives and imagined ways of transcending their all-too-human circumstances.
The single most important source on vegetation and the religious significance of agriculture is Mircea Eliade's Patterns in Comparative Religion (New York, 1958), chap. 8, "Vegetation: Rites and Symbols of Regeneration," and chap. 9, "Agriculture and Fertility Cults." Both chapters include extensive bibliographies. In addition, James G. Frazer's The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, 3d ed., rev. & enl., 12 vols. (London, 1911–1915), remains a valuable sourcebook.
On the sacred tree, a useful study is E. O. James's The Tree of Life: An Archaeological Study (Leiden, 1966), but see also the illuminating insights of Gerardus van der Leeuw in his Religion in Essence and Manifestation, translated by J. E. Turner (London, 1938), pp. 55ff.
On the origins of agriculture in the Neolithic period, see Mircea Eliade's A History of Religious Ideas, vol. 1, From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries (Chicago, 1978), esp. chap. 2, "The Longest Revolution: The Discovery of Agriculture—Mesolithic and Neolithic." For the prehistoric worship of vegetation goddesses, see Marija Gimbutas's The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe, 6500 to 3500 b.c.: Myths and Cult Images (Berkeley, Calif., 1982). Another important study of the religious life of the early cultivators is Vittorio Lanternari's La Grande Festa: Storia del Capodanno nelle civiltà primitive (Milan, 1959).
Adolf E. Jensen has written extensively about myths of the Hainuwele type and other myths of the origins of agriculture. See his Myth and Cult among Primitive Peoples, translated by Marianna Tax Choldin and Wolfgang Weissleder (Chicago, 1963). Note that Ileana Chirassi has identified themes of the Hainuwele type in Greek mythology. An excellent bibliography is appended to her Elementi di Culture Precereali nei miti e riti Greci (Rome, 1968).
Heinrich, Michael. "Herbal and Symbolic Medicines of the Lowland Mixe (Oaxaca, Mexico): Disease Concepts, Healer's Roles, and Plant Use." Anthropos 89, nos. 1–3 (1994): 73–83.
Swain, Brajakishore. "Plant Ecology and the Law of the Relationship between Action and Result." Journal of Dharma 16 (1991): 218–228.
Peter C. Chemery (1987)
"Vegetation." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 26, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/vegetation
"Vegetation." Encyclopedia of Religion. . Retrieved September 26, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/vegetation