Trees of life have been depicted in art and mythology for centuries, serving as a powerful symbol of growth, renewal, and interconnectedness. From ancient cultures to modern times, the tree of life has held significant meaning across various societies and religions. Whether as a representation of the natural world or a spiritual symbol, the tree of life continues to captivate our imagination and inspire us with its profound symbolism. In this blog post, we will delve deeper into the meaning of the tree of life, exploring its significance in different cultures and belief systems. We will uncover the various interpretations and representations of this timeless symbol, shedding light on its enduring appeal and relevance in today’s world.
Celtic Tree of Life meaning:
Celtic people felt a deep connection to nature, especially to trees. Trees were not simply inanimate objects to be used for food and shelter but were also places to gather, with spiritual connections to ancestors, deities, and the Celtic Otherworld.
This reverence towards trees grew out of a profound appreciation for what trees provide for people. The Celts felt that, without trees, life would have been much more difficult. Trees provided food, shelter, warmth (through firewood), and a home for many animals and insects.
When Celtic people cleared a piece of land, they would leave one large, single tree in the middle, believing it had special powers to take care of all life on earth. This tree was called the crann berthed. It was considered so powerful that the Celts believed that cutting down the sacred tree of an enemy would render them helpless.
In addition to having the power to take care of life on Earth, trees also had connections to the supernatural world, to spirits and ancestors.
The Celtic word for ‘oak’ is ‘daur’, the origin of the modern word ‘door’. Thus, the root of the word actually signifies a doorway to the ‘Otherworld’, the realm of the dead and other powerful spirits.
To this day, one can pass through Irish country and find trees decorated with ribbons. These trees, also known as wishing trees, fairy trees or May bushes, are places where people tie ribbons to ask for blessings from saints, spirits, and fairies.
The Celtic tree symbol was a symbol of the nourishing powers of Mother Earth, a connection to ancestors and the spirit world, and a representation of the journey of spiritual growth. The Celtic knot Tree of Life has branches that reach into the sky and roots that dig into the earth. All of these join into the endless circle of the knot, symbolizing the interconnectedness of heaven, earth, and all living things.
The Tree of Life in the Bible
The tree of life is mentioned three times in Genesis 2, in Eden, and again four times in Revelation, three of those in the final chapter. These instances seem to refer to Eden’s literal tree of life. We’re told the tree of life is presently in Paradise, the intermediate Heaven (Revelation 2:7). The New Jerusalem itself, also in the present Heaven, will be brought down, the tree of life and all, and placed on the New Earth (Revelation 21:2). Just as the tree was apparently relocated from Eden to the present Heaven, it will be relocated again to the New Earth.
In Eden, the tree appears to have been a source of ongoing physical life. The presence of the tree of life suggests a supernatural provision of life as Adam and Eve ate the fruit their Creator provided. Adam and Eve were designed to live forever, but to do so they likely needed to eat from the tree of life. Once they sinned, they were banned from the Garden, separated from the tree, and subject to physical death, just as they had experienced spiritual death. Since Eden, death has reigned throughout history. But on the New Earth, our access to the tree of life is forever restored. (Notice that there’s no mention of a tree of the knowledge of good and evil to test us. The redeemed have already known sin and its devastation; they will desire it no more.)
The Tree of Life in Other Cultures
According to this Mesoamerican culture, a mystical mountain on Earth was hiding Heaven. A World Tree connected Heaven, Earth and the Underworld and grew at the point of creation. Everything flowed out from that spot in four directions (North, South, East & West). On the Mayan Tree of Life there is a cross in the centre which is the source of all creation.
The Egyptians believed that the Tree of Life was the place where life and death were enclosed. East was the direction of life whereas West was the direction of death and the underworld. In Egyptian Mythology, Isis and Osiris (also known as ‘the first couple’) emerged from the Tree of Life.
There is a Taoist story in Chinese Mythology which describes a magical peach tree that only produces a peach ever 3,000 years. The individual who happens to eat this fruit becomes immortal. There is a dragon at the base of this Tree of Life and a phoenix on top.
The Tree of Immortality is mentioned in the Quran and is different from the Biblical account insofar as only one tree is mentioned in Eden which was forbidden to Adam and Eve by Allah. The Hadith do mention other trees in heaven and while the tree symbol plays a fairly minor role in the Quran, it became an important symbol in Muslim art and architecture and is also one of the most developed symbols in Islam.
Understanding the different symbolism of the Tree of Life and its relevance to different cultures helps us to understand and appreciate how this symbol has remained throughout the ages.