• Editorial: Theories of Magic: Tree of Harmony

    For all intents and purposes, the Tree of Harmony(ToH) is the primary source of Friendship Magic in Equestria. It might fall into the headcanon territory, but ask anypony who knows about the tree and I’d bet they’d back up that assumption.

    Mysterious, powerful and lacking in real leaves, the ToH was nothing more but the conduit from which our adorable heroines drew their friendship power.

    But then What Lies Beneath happened. ToH has made it clear it can think, plan, desire and teach! The ToH is no longer a magical object, but it is a plot driving character that is growing, changing and, more importantly, redefining what magic is in Equestria.

    It’s theory time again after the break!

    File:Princess Celestia and Princess Luna with Tree of Harmony S04E02.png

    The ToH started out as a mystic plant that gave us the Elements of Harmony. It had the power to contain the Everfree Forest as well as provide protection against threats like Nightmare Moon and Discord.

    File:Tree of Harmony's image appears on the map S7E26.png
    Who could have guessed a seed could grow into a sentient tree!
    Originally planted by the good intentions of the Pillars, the ToH has grown to surpass any of their expectations to hold magical properties and characteristic unlike Equestria has seen before.

    File:Plunder Vines around Tree of Harmony S4E02.png

    We know that the tree can grow weak without the EoHs. And that a direct attack is a bad idea when it has the elements in its branches.

    File:Plunder Seeds S4E02.png

    The tree is rather powerful. Not even Discord wanted to go head to head with the thing opting instead to use Plunder Seeds to try to kill the tree. Of course, the seeds were only able to get at it once the tree became weak.

    File:Clone ponies approach the Tree of Harmony S8E13.png

    I feel I need to point out that the ToH doesn’t just attack at the first sign of trouble either. It allows rather threatening characters around itself waiting either until it is sure they are evil or until their takedown would result in the most dramatic effect.

    Theory 1: The Tree of Harmony is a Character.

    File:Tree of Harmony pulsing with black energy S8E13.png

    Okay, so this isn't really a theory anymore and it kinda changes this magic theory stuff into a character review, but the fact that this happened means that magical objects in Equestria can all become alive.

    By the episode Mean Six, the tree clearly shows its reasoning skills. It can sense when others mean to do it harm and it can fight back. Perhaps this is something the Cyrstal Heart is doing too? It's thinking about keeping snow and evil kings away.

    File:Sewer grate emitting a bright glow S8E22.png
    Tree: Want your A, student 6? I only repeat myself because you really do not seem that eager.
    We’ve also learned the ToH can listen to creatures that are located far away from itself. And because the school wasn’t built by the tree like the castle was, we know this listening power extends beyond things the tree creates. (Though it probably has some form of limitations)

    This listening power has come in handy as it could explain how the Cutie Map knows about friendship problems.

    File:Cutie marks floating over Ponyville S5E1.png

    The ToH is actively listening to creatures not sensing emotional disturbances in friendships. If the tree is listening for a pony to express uneasy in their friendships, this means it can form plans tailored specifically to the pony instead of the problem.

    Perhaps the Pillars' magical objects grew their magical properties by listening to the specific traits of their pony?

    File:Twilight and Spike look at the glowing Cutie Map S7E15.png
    Considering Spike was creating the problem, I don't think the tree had to think too hard on this one.
    The tree doesn’t interfere with every friendship dispute because it can’t hear them all. But when it does, it makes an educated decision on who to send. Magic is Equestria thinks!

    The tree is a full-fledged character by this point and this made it possible for any other magical object to potentially become sentient. Alicorn Amulet, the Pairing StoneAmulet of Aurora, whatever. 

    And what about other types of magic? Love, Chaos, Dream magic; the list goes on and on with the potential for any of these magics taking their own forms.

    Theory 2: The Tree Isn’t Necessarily Good

    File:Fluttershy and AJ about to touch the water S8E23.png
    AJ: If I'll never be able to speak again, I just want to say, I still think I was right!
    Have you noticed the tree has a tendency to pick ponies it knows will have conflict? Many of the pairs end up fighting each other and these friendship missions have the capability of ending badly.

    The ToH only cares about the lessons learned not the route by which it takes to get there.

    The ToH is more than willing to entertain conflict in its overall goal; spread friendship. Sure friendship is good, but threatening others into embracing it isn't.

    File:Astral Twilight Sparkle "fail the test" S8E22.png
    You know that nightmare where you show up at school and there's a test you didn't study for and you forgot your pants? The tree is that nightmare!
    The ToH used the fear the student 6 as the backdrop for its own personal friendship lesson. From their fear of the return to oppression to trapping the kids inside of their worst phobias, the tree pressed the envelope of friendship lessons.

    File:Gallus "what you think of him" S8E22.png
    Gallus: Don't worry, Silverstream, I was paying attention during the trauma lecture in psychology class!
    You also have to remember that just because the ponies are on a mission doesn’t mean they will be successful. But the ToH doesn’t really mind because its only focus is building friendships not maintaining mental, physical or emotional health.

    Needless to say, this is not the kind of instructional lesson I’d expect a master of friendship to give. But the tree is completely motivated by friendship. It doesn't care about anything but spreading this concept to every creature by any means possible.
    File:Sunset Shimmer crown surges with power EG.png
    Sunset: Why Is An Element Of Harmony Hurting Me!?
    The tree grew its power into the elements themselves and because the tree itself doesn’t seem to mind teaching through extreme measures, it grew the elements to all be neutral parties.  Whoever possess the elements is able to use them in any way they wanted good or bad.

    Independent of the tree, the EoH can be used in any crazy way.

    Never forget the true power of the Tree of Harmony.
    With the tree, both the negative and positive aspects of all the elements can be used to teach lessons and enforce justice on friendship disrupters.

    The tree is on a lawful evil quest to bring friendship to the ultimate level of perfection!

    Theory 3: The Tree of Harmony Is Confused

    Okay, okay, the tree being Tartarus-bent on forcing friendship is, of course, a rather audacious claim. Perhaps the tree doesn't know how to use it's powers to their best abilities.

    File:Tree of Harmony addressing the Young Six S8E22.png
    "Like all living things, I change as I grow-" 
    File:Gallus angry at the Tree of Harmony S8E22.png
    Gallus: I'm going to be scared for life because of this!
    File:Astral Twilight "you chose what you saw" S8E22.png
    Tree: Yeah, but it's not like anypony died. "You chose what you saw in my roots." See, I'm helping!
    With the ToH admitting it is still learning, the dichotomy of its powers could just be missteps on the tree’s part and not malicious attempts to force friendship (though I don’t personally don't like this theory because I’m secretly rooting for the tree to be evil and the mane 6 have to destroy it!).

    The tree is still trying to figure out the best approach to teaching friendship. So this super-powered character doesn't know what it's doing. It has a mission to spread friendship, but that's about it.

    File:Tree of Harmony chest close-up S4E25.png
    Tree: Twilight likes puzzles; this will make for a great object lesson.
    Remember the ep Princess Twilight Sparkle? The ToH used a mystery box to get the mane 6 to go out and experiences the ‘teaching’ moments that would give them the keys.

    Either the tree wasn’t able to talk yet or maybe it didn’t know how to express the point to the mane 6,
    but nopony was able to recognize that they had gathered the keys from the lessons they learned.

    File:Friendship journal balanced on Twilight's horn S4E25.png
    You know your lesson plan was a failure when chaos is better organized and color coordinated.
    The instructions were so confusing for our heroines that Discord had to get involved.

    Having been the primary protection of the nation simply by banishing, the tree isn’t certain how to
    teach lessons outside of testing friendships.

    File:Mane 6 back at the Tree of Harmony S4E26.png
    If the tree really knew what it was doing, would they have these designs?
    The tree is not just an object empowering the whims of friendship, it is a character that can be flawed or make mistakes. The tree isn’t all-knowing and doesn’t have the perfect solution to any of the problems its solving.

    File:Spike offers to go in Starlight and Sunburst's place S8E8.png
    Spike: The tree thought I could help others once; turned out I was only useful in starting the conflict my friends would have to solve without me or the tree.
    It’s calling characters it thinks know how to solve the problem but it's not really sure. The tree is new to being able to interact with the world the way it does with the map. It doesn’t understand the complexity of everything yet and thus watches to see what others are doing.

    File:Twilight Sparkle Speech S2E2.png
    Twilight: The fact that my friends treated me horribly but I was so easily convinced to fight for our friendships makes me the poster child of strong relationship building skills!
    The tree chose to interact on its first friendship mission as Twilight because it views her as an expert on the topic. It’s copying what it's experiencing to work even if some of its lessons fall short of safe or normal.

    But conflict is a needed component of relationships. Even in places without magical foes, arguments and discrepancies are a natural part of interaction. They're healthy to have, believe it or not.

    File:Main ponies looking angry at Twilight S8E13.png

    And the tree knows that only by addressing these darker emotions and experiences can true friendship bloom. So even when conflict arises from its lessons, it chooses to view them as learning opportunities.

    The magic in the tree comes from friendship and the tree is growing the more it's taught. To retain the harmony of it's magic it can't just embrace the positives of the elements so it willingly engages in the negative. The ToH may have become one of the most powerful characters in the show, but it's still subject to faults.

    So what do you think? Is the ToH becoming a character enhancing the magic of Equestria or could it possibly be the nation’s downfall? 

    I personally can’t wait to see what season 9 does with this new character! Whether good, evil or completely neutral, the ToH has permanently changed the dynamic of magic in Equestria and it's gonna be interesting.