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In this world, there are these inhabitants that have the belief that all animals and plants have souls and sentience. Animals (including themselves) were born/created long long ago from plants and would one day at death, return to the plants.

Each tribe of these inhabitants is situated in a forest, and at its center an ancient and colossal tree. They believe the central tree is the entire tribe's common ancestor/creator. It is their spiritual leader, their matron and their goddess. The forest, its other offspring.

To destroy the central tree of a tribe is to destroy the tribe, and tribes-people will take their own lives at the roots of their fallen tree as penance for failing to protect the tree and to follow the fate of the tree.

Given the context above, would they justify the use of wood or suffer severe technological drawbacks? How would they justify it?

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  • $\begingroup$ Are those tribes isolated from the rest of the world ? because if so they wouldn't suffer severe technological drawbacks as it would be the only technology they would encounter. $\endgroup$ – Armind Sep 14 '17 at 18:00
  • $\begingroup$ There are many tribes, and they would compete against each other for other resources. These tribes are of the same race, and each have its own central tree $\endgroup$ – Passer By Sep 14 '17 at 18:02
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    $\begingroup$ We worshiped fire, later we used this fire to cook our food and scare animals away. They will find out that they are at a dissadvantage against people using wood. Adapt or die would end up being the only answer. $\endgroup$ – Tridam Sep 14 '17 at 18:15
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    $\begingroup$ It sounds a lot like the Ender's Game series. I would recommend reading the second book (which is drastically different from the first). The idea in the series is that trees are the remnants of their ancestors, and as such they are sacred. $\endgroup$ – Brandon Barney Sep 14 '17 at 20:00
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    $\begingroup$ Thinking on it, the fragment thing works particularly well because people and animals usually eat some quantity of vegetation at a given time, and perhaps this is how the fragments get combined into a complete soul. This would encourage balanced consumption (a little of this, a little of that), because perhaps each type of plant represents a different aspect of the soul, and a lack of diversity could result in an avaricious or otherwise "deficient" soul. $\endgroup$ – Doktor J Sep 15 '17 at 15:03

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Pollard forest pollard forest

from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pollarding

As in coppicing, the tradition of pollarding is to encourage the tree to produce new growth on a regular basis to maintain a supply of new wood for various purposes, particularly for fuel. In some areas, dried leafy branches are stored as winter fodder for stock. Depending upon the use of the cut material, the length of time between cutting will vary from one year for tree hay or withies, to five years or more for larger timber. Sometimes, only some of the regrown stems may be cut in a season – this is thought to reduce the chances of death of the tree when recutting long-neglected pollards.

You do not need to hack the tree down and kill it to use the wood. You can take wood and let the tree grow it back. Pollarded trees are not unhealthy and can live longer than untouched trees. Wood collected by pollarding is like collecting the wool from a sheep or the milk from a cow. It is a gift from the tree.

If you want to give back, make sure when you die you are buried next to the tree. That should have been the last panel of The Giving Tree, with the tree sending up new sprouts like these pollard trees.

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  • $\begingroup$ This solution is interesting seeing how there is little cultural significance tied to the practice. It is a blank slate of sorts, compatible with many different variations of the religion described. $\endgroup$ – Passer By Sep 15 '17 at 17:45
  • $\begingroup$ Its like a hair cut! $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Sep 21 '17 at 3:04
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Wood is the gift of the Great Tree, you don't reject such gifts.

Perhaps they worship the tree because of how central wood and woodcraft is to their lives. It provides homes, tools, weapons, heat and cooking (fire).

All things that are are gifts from the tree. To kill the tree of another tribe, is to take everything from them. All that was will ultimately be taken, tools and homes will rot, fire won't burn.

What can life be without the tree?

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    $\begingroup$ This is basically what I was going to suggest: just because it's holy doesn't mean you don't use it. Worship takes many forms and in this society, making the most beautiful objects out of it could actually be a form of worship. $\endgroup$ – Cronax Sep 15 '17 at 9:25
  • $\begingroup$ While I do like this answer, and find it very logical indeed, as the original reason tribes are located around their tree very well might be because of its utility, taking such a utilitarian stance on things feels less romantic of sorts. I would hope that even if technology advanced to the point where not having wood is barely an annoyance, they would have reason enough to worship their tree still. $\endgroup$ – Passer By Sep 15 '17 at 17:25
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would they justify the use of wood or suffer severe technological drawbacks?

This would depend on the culture in question. Modern vegetarians and vegans abhor the consumption or usage and consumption of animal meat and byproducts whereas Native Americans and Hindus are not as strict despite worshiping animal gods or spirits.

How would they justify it?

By being considerate of their usage of the wood to honor the being it came from.

Consider how when Native Americans hunt animals they pointedly make use of every part of the animal. This is both industriously efficient and a ritual. I would expect to see something similar for your population. At a societal level this would impart a mix of ritualism in construction and industry possibly similar that seen in Warhammer 40K with machine spirits.

Consider the inverse

If objects constructed from wood are 'honored', what would the destruction or ill-usage of such wood connote?

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    $\begingroup$ +1 - this is, I feel, an obvious solution to "we worship this thing but kinda need to use it." $\endgroup$ – PipperChip Sep 14 '17 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ @ The inverse, the OP did hint at a concept of reverence towards 'natural order'. So utilization of wood was in question to begin with. It may very well be that not using wood and letting it return into the natural cycle is proper for their custom. Letting it rot to return nutrients to their deity would do more to honor their deity. $\endgroup$ – anon Sep 14 '17 at 19:54
  • $\begingroup$ @anon I intentionally chose to leave that up in the air. IMO it'd largely depend on the context of the usage. If it were allowed to rot in a compost, it is implied that the compost would be used for further farming and growth of new plants. If on the other hand, your wood were rotting and festering with fungi and insects, then their mindless destruction of your tool would pose a problem. That problem would be compounded once one considers they are also "alive", even if their existence conflicts with your intended use of the tool. $\endgroup$ – KareemElashmawy Sep 14 '17 at 20:20
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I've heard of societies like this before.

Specifically the forest elves from the saga "The Elder Scrolls" from "Bethesda games"

Basically things get dark very soon, because wood is the best material to build your house, your tools and almost anything. So let's talk about the other material used by the tribes of the world:

Bone.

If one can not use wood, the bone is another option along with the rock.

They are somewhat malleable if you are willing to carve for hours or days on them.

Bows, bowls, and any tool you imagine has been made with bone and/or rocks.

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Why would a society that adores trees will use bones? Where would they get so many bones? That depends on you.

But in the elves of the forest of "The elder scrolls" make use of human hunting and cannibalism in order to use the bodies of their prey and deceased as marterial for their tools.

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Good for the environment

If they're living in harmony with their environment (including but not limited to their central tree), then it can actually be healthy for some trees to be cut down. As someone mentioned above, coppicing is a fairly long-established and ecologically friendly way of getting wood without killing your trees.

Also, if your characters are really in tune with their environment, and trees are semi-sentient, maybe they can sense the trees' wishes. If they're under attack, some trees might be willing to sacrifice themselves to protect the overall tribe/central tree, just as the people would.

The 2009 movie Avatar might also have some interesting ideas to pursue (more info here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avatar_(2009_film)). Like your idea, they have a central tree which is of huge significance to them, and endeavour to live in harmony with their environment.

Culturally significant

If all wood is a particularly revered material, then maybe only certain items would be made with it. This could be along the lines of religious icons and reliquaries, all the way to wooden weapons that are imbued with tribal identity and significance. Such weapons could be very powerful both martially and psychologically - using such a weapon confers status upon the wielder, and importance upon the occasion.

If only certain types of wood are revered, then it shouldn't be a problem to use the other types. This could be diseased trees/deadwood, or simply different types (deciduous vs evergreen; fruiting vs flowering; rowan vs elder, etc.) - and then the culturally privileged wood would be used for less mundane purposes, or simply not used at all.

Practicality

If you're worried about technological drawbacks when unable to use wood, this question might be helpful: Could a technological society develop without wood?. There are alternatives for wood as a heat source, light source, cooking utility, and building material - and your landscape might help with that.

Peat, brushwood, geysers, volcanoes... All are viable heat sources, depending on your landscape. Caves, animal skin tents, stone buildings, igloos - these could all provide shelter, again depending on landscape.

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How far away from other forests and tribes are they?

One solution could be that the tribes make war on each other and use the trees and woods from rival's forests to build their homes and make their tools.

They could use the wood from trees that have fallen or died naturally.

Alternatively they could make use of techniques like coppicing where trees are cut down for lumber but not actually killed. Coppicing is a very effective method of woodland management and is still used to this day in woodlands. It could be looked upon as akin to consuming milk or eggs as opposed to killing and eating animals.

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I'm not entirely sure they would not use wood

In your scenario you described a mechanic where it is the goal of warring tribes to kill the other's tree as a measure of victory. In this regard wood in general is not wholly sacred only the select tree and surrounding plants.

With that in mind, a comparison can be drawn to Amazonian headhunter tribes who collected and shrunk the decapitated heads of bested foes as a religious/symbolic means of taking their power.

Similarly, your tribes could kill enemy tribes trees and craft weapons and tools from that wood as a religious/symbolic means of taking that tribes power to increase their own. The advantage of this perspective is that it continues the spiritual reverence of wood worship whilst allowing them to kill each other's trees and utilize wood.

This would also encourage them to make temples or palaces from enemy wood as monument to their victory.

Also, trees shed failed branches on occassion. It would not be unreasonable for a villager to collect a sacred branch and craft it into a cermonial object or weapon for good luck in war.

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If they can't use wood then they'll use a lot of other materials as long as possible, like stone or bones. However wood is often better, say to have tools and weapons more efficient. Now different tribes will take different paths

  • Simply abandon their convictions, progress over traditions, maybe they expanded outside of the forest and don't recognize the tree goddess anymore since they now are farmers, it's the cereal god who's workshipped.

  • Ceremonial wood, wooden items are revered, viewed as brothers who sacrified themselves for the tribe. wood is used but it's precious and not wasted.

  • The tree mother's preffered childrens, we don't betray our godess, it's just that she view us as her best offsprings and decided that her first childrens will be sacrified to not be a liability to us

  • "what there are other people out here using wood ? good one oak" they simply don't know about other technologies for now as they're not pressured by more advanced peoples

Those are just examples because this isn't a bipolar question, you can invent all sort of justifications and interesting ideas even tough "they find a better way of surviving and stop following their traditions" is what would happen most likely it is better to take a more nuanced take wich is often more interesting.

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Here's a related question: if all plants have souls, what do the tribespeople eat, and how do they justify it?

It seems like they must at the very least consume windfall fruit/nuts, in which case there is already a precedent for making use of the bountiful gifts provided by the forest. They can use windfall wood. This may not provide the best quality materials though, so good-quality wood (especially for weapons) may be rare and precious.

If a whole tree is actually felled via natural causes then there could be a sudden boon in the supply of decent-quality wood, and it may be that there are societal conventions based around such an event (a thanksgiving, or tree-falling party, or somesuch). Perhaps there would be similar conventions that grow up based around when it is physically possible to build shelter for new families and/or weapons for new warriors.

Alternatively, perhaps the tribespeople are allowed to eat plants (or bits of them) in certain circumstances, in which case the other answers referring to coppicing or pruning trees would seem to apply.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this suggestion. Smaller trees could be felled by storms, drought, or any other number of causes. The small, periodic influxes of this higher quality wood would be more valuable, and so only tribesmembers of higher standing would have homes/belongings made with this wood, while most of the tribe would only have deadwood. $\endgroup$ – Doktor J Sep 15 '17 at 15:04
  • $\begingroup$ I think this is the most flavorful one here $\endgroup$ – Passer By Sep 15 '17 at 16:36
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There are other religions which praise their deity sacrificing for the good of the people.

They can justify the worshipping of the tree as respect for the gods which allow them to get shelter and resources by using their physical body. In exchange the humans will feed back the trees when they will be dead.

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Hunting and killing is natural. The animals do it. Offering thanks for the animal that gave up its life are common in many native cultures on Earth. Also, pre-hunting prayers that an animal that is willing to die will present itself.

Similarly, cutting and use of trees shouldn't be forbidden. However, they should favor trees that are damaged or that are too close together for good growth, etc.

Otherwise, is this is a PETA culture where the trees and animals are more important than the people. They should just sit down and wait to starve to death.

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It could be that these tribes are warlike, and will conquer each other and fell their trees to use as wood, to please the desires of their own tree.

Alternatively, the species of tree they worship could drop large branches that don't reach the sun, and the tribe could simply make do with these. Also, certain species of trees could be seen to be in a metaphysical cocoon that they need to die to escape from, and it could be that the tribes you describe have no qualms with killing trees such as this.

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    $\begingroup$ This does not seem to be a valid answer. "You can do anything, it's your world" is not a good answer here. Can you expand your examples and avoid "it could be"s ? $\endgroup$ – Vylix Sep 14 '17 at 21:42
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Another way to look at it, is it All trees that are sacred, or only some? A common point made by Vegetarians is the inherent issue of Pet vs Food-Source. What makes a pet a pet, and what makes livestock, livestock?

With regards to trees, perhaps its only pine trees that are sacred. Their evergreen nature is clearly an indication of their vitality and life, wheras the other trees "Die" in the winter and are reborn every spring. Would your tribespeople feel OK about harvesting their wood needs in the winter, stopping in the spring? Good practical reason for this to come about too - It's cold in the winter and less food is available, more wood is needed for hunting, heating and survival.

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I can't seem to find it right now, so sorry for the vague reference. This post contains Spoilers, so beware

There is an old comic book from The Phantom where there was an island or a jungle that had trees that grew with gold instead of wood. The trees were sacred for the tribesman, but they also had various things made of the gold of such trees.

However, they only used the gold from trees that died either from storm or fell from old age.

So your tribe could restrict themselves to using branches that fell from the trees naturally, or even trees that fell naturally. I would advise to work with the weather of the area too, to justify the amount of wood they have used.

So they can use lots of wood, but they have constant storms/hurricanes, in which, for their religion, the Great Tree protects them from.

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