In today’s post, we will be examining an ancient symbol shared by many cultures and religions around the world, the tree of life. Let’s get right into it, here is everything you should know about the tree of life, its origin, symbolism and meaning.
What is the Tree of Life?
The tree of life is a universal symbol with varying connotations in different cultures, folklore, mythology, and religions.
A tree is in itself a source of life as it produces oxygen which sustains humans and animals alike while also being a source of sustenance, shelter.
Even after their “death”, trees can be used to build homes and construct structures allowing them to carry on living, in a sense, while supporting the lives of other creatures in this form.
The concept of the tree of life is rooted in religion and spiritualism, therefore, it has become one of the most prominent ancient symbols throughout history which has been used commonly in symbolism to represent:
Tree of Life in Different Cultures
There is folklore and mythology associated with the tree of life in different cultures. Even the origin of the tree of life is unclear as there have been mentions of the tree in various ancient civilizations such as the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Assyrian civilizations.
The oldest depiction dates back to 7000 BC in the Domuztepe Mounds of Turkey. But there have also been some depictions discovered in Arcadia (in ancient Greece) going back to 3000 BC featuring pine trees, evergreen plants with extended lifespans, which makes them a perfect reference for the Tree of Life.
Now, let’s take a closer look into the existence of the tree of life in religions and different cultures around the world.
Celtic Tree of Life, Crann Bethadh
In ancient Celtic culture, the tree of life is also known as Crann Bethadh, and it appears as a symbol of peace, harmony, and balance, which is visually represented with a deep-rooted Oak or Ash tree with overarching branches in a circle.
Celts greatly respected and admired trees as the Oak tree was especially revered by the druids who performed religious rites and sacraments under the tree.
Celts believed that the tree of life represented the entire universe. The great tree would sustain all life and help nurture it – almost identical to how a mother would care for her young.
Nordic Tree of Life
In Nordic mythology, the tree of life is called Yggdrasil, the World Tree. It is considered to be the connection to everything in the universe as it stands at the center of Asgard. The tree is eternal and expands its branches across all the 9 worlds in Norse mythology.
3 giant roots uphold Yggdrasil. The first one is in Asgard, where the Gods reside. The second one is in Jotunheim – where the giants live. The third one reaches to the depths of Niflheim – the world of the dead. The tree is, therefore, a symbol of life, death, and rebirth.
Tree of Life in American Mythology
Native Americans had stories about mythical trees, such as the Natchez tribe, who believed a large cedar tree connected the heavens, earth, and underworld.
Some other people believed that people lived in a giant tree in the sky before the world was created while the earth was water and provided sustenance for the tree. As the story goes, a pregnant woman reaching for fruits fell into an endless sea taking a piece from the bark of this tree down with her.
The woman was saved from drowning by a giant turtle who put her on top of its shell, and she planted the bark there making the turtle’s shell the foundation of the earth as we know it.
Tree of Life in Eastern Mythology
In Chinese mythology, they have the concept of a world tree that connects heaven, earth, and the underworld, similar to the Native American depiction. The tree is considered a gateway to different worlds that gods and shamans can access.
In this concept, the tree of life has a phoenix and a dragon on either side; the phoenix symbolizes rebirth, immortality, strength, and resurrection, while the dragon primarily represents immortality making the tree an ever-present symbol of immortality.
The stories of achieving an eternal life are also rooted in legend as there is a Taoist tale of the power of a single peach from the tree of life, which grants immortality.
Tree of Life in Religion
Christianity: The Tree of Life in the Bible
In Christianity, the tree of life is mentioned in the Old Testament and the Book of Genesis as an entity that symbolizes God or Jesus.
The tree is assumed to be the source of universal wisdom and knowledge, and according to the Bible, it is located in the Garden of Eden; it is also considered the source of eternal life.
In the Book of Revelation, the tree of life is considered a reward for believers who follow God’s commandments as it will provide access to great wisdom in the garden of paradise.
Additionally, the tree is believed to produce unconditional love while protecting humanity from corruption, and it also offers superior healing properties through its fruit.
Judaism and Kabbalah: Tree of Life
In Judaism, the tree of life is separate from the tree of knowledge as the tree of life is associated with wisdom, whereas the tree of knowledge is linked with good and bad intentions and actions.
The tree of life is not mentioned in the Torah, but it is applied to its teachings. There is a belief that God will provide those individuals who are named in the Book of Life with fruit from the tree after judgment making it a source of nourishment.
The Kabbalah also mentions the tree of life as the symbol that contains ten sefirots which are channels of spirituality and acts as a reflection of the connection between God and his creation.
Tree of Life in Islam
In Islam, the tree of life is known as the tree of immortality, and similar to the Christian interpretation, the Quran mentions the tree is located in the Garden of Eden.
Adam and Eve were forbidden from tasting the fruit of the tree by Allah, and their transgressions changed the course of humanity as they were cast down to the earth.
However, Allah provided them guidance and allowed them to repent, making the tree a symbol of growth and learning.
This wraps up our post on the tree of life symbol, its origin and meaning. If you liked it, you should definitely check out our posts on sacred geometry symbols here and symbols of rebirth here. Thanks for reading on Symbols and Meanings!