Tree of Life – Meaning and Symbolism

The tree of life is a worldwide spread archetype and it appears in different mythologies and religions.

It is related to the general concept of a sacred tree with more or less similar symbolism.

Sometimes it is called the tree of knowledge (as in the Bible) or the tree of life, or the cosmic tree, etc.

All these names depict the same tree appearing in different cultures and religions.

These trees are often related to concepts of fertility or immortality, but have many other symbolisms and meanings attached to them. 

Tree of Life – In mythology, culture, and religion

The origin of the concept of the tree of life dates way back into history. It is present in the ancient Iranian tradition. There is a well-known myth in the ancient Iranian mythology which describes two trees which were considered the ancestors of all living creatures on earth.

Also, there is the ancient Mesopotamian or Assyrian symbol, in modern times called the tree of life, represented by nodes and intertwined lines which resemble a DNA helix. That tree was considered one of the most important religious symbols.

It was often depicted standing between two eagle-headed winged beings – genies, or demi-gods.

Still today there isn’t a definite consensus by scientists regarding the meaning of that symbol. There is no textual evidence related to this symbol and the name tree of life is just recently attributed to it.

In the ancient Urartu kingdom, there was also a religious symbol, which depicted a tree of life with branches equally divided on both sides and each branch with only one leaf, and a leaf on the apex of the tree.

Each side of the tree had a servant by its side presented as taking care of it, similarly as in the previously mentioned Assyrian depictions of their so-called “tree of life” symbol.

The Buddhists also have a special sacred tree, called the Bodhi tree, which was the ficus tree under which the Buddha reached enlightenment.

The ancient Chinese mythology describes a tree of life with a phoenix and a dragon usually depicted with it. According to a Taoist story, every thousand years, this tree produces a peach of immortality which gives that gift to anyone who eats that fruit.

In Christianity, the tree of life is first mentioned in the Bible, in the Book of Genesis, as the tree in the Garden of Eden which represents the source of eternal life. Eating the fruit from the tree of life was the cause of the eviction of the first humans, Adam and Eve, from Eden.

The tree of life is also mentioned in the Book of Revelation standing in the new garden of paradise where access for the chosen ones is no longer forbidden.

In the words of many leaders of the Christian church, there were many referrals to the tree of life. The tree of life was often equaled with the Cross and Christ himself. Also, the blood and body of Christ were often equaled with the fruit of the tree of life.

According to Mormon beliefs, the prophet Lehi and his son Nephi had a vision of a path which leads to a tree that was a symbol of salvation.

In Norse mythology, the tree of life appears as a world tree (Yggdrasil). That was a big ash tree, standing in the center of the cosmos. It was considered very holy and was much respected.

Its branches extended into the heavens, and it had three roots that extended to far away special locations.

In the Islam, the “tree of immortality” appears in the Quran. Like in the Bible, that was the tree in the Garden of Eden. Allah forbade Adam and Eve to consume its fruits, but Satan finally managed to convince Adam to eat the fruits, so they both disobeyed Allah.

The tree of life is often represented in Islamic architecture in different manners and patterns.

In Judaism, the term Etz Chaim is commonly used for the tree of life. The tree of life is also mentioned in the Book of Genesis and is not the same as the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve ate the fruit from that tree which drove them out of Eden.

The tree of life remained in the Garden. In Judaism, this tree is associated with wisdom.

The Book of Enoch, which is considered a non-canonical book, says that during the great judgment God will allow the ones whose names are written in the Book of Life to eat the fruit from the tree of life.

In the Kabbalah, the tree of life consists of 10 nodes, which symbolize various archetypes, as well as 22 lines which connect these nodes. The nodes are called sephiroths. They are usually depicted as spheres, while the lines resemble paths connecting these spheres.

These nodes represent the aspects of existence, the human psyche, or God, while the lines represent the relationship between the meanings and symbolism of different spheres.

The nodes or spheres are also related to angels, deities, celestial bodies, certain numbers, etc. This tree is the central symbol of the Jewish Kabbalah.

In pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures exists the concept of world trees. These trees embodied the four main directions and the central position, which connects the planes of the sky and the underworld with the terrestrial world.

These depictions of world trees are present in the cultures of the Aztec, Maya, Olmec, and others. These trees are often presented with birds on their branches, and roots extending into water or earth.

Among the Native Americans, there are many myths describing the tree of life as well.

In the Hindu sacred books a divine tree is also mentioned.

For the Celts trees were very important. They were strongly connected to nature and were respecting trees immensely. They appreciated very much all the benefits and good they provided for them, making their shelters and tools out of them, or using them for other useful purposes.

The Celts used forests and trees as places to connect to each other, gather and create bonds with each other. They were also respected as connections to their ancestors and different deities. Trees were also considered a connection to the otherworld.

The Celts had a habit of leaving a large tree in the middle of a land they cleared. That tree was considered sacred and was considered a disaster if the tree would be cut down. This tree was considered their protector from harm.

They believed that trees were protectors of life on earth but they were also their connection to the spirit realms and their ancestors. They were considered a gateway to the otherworld, the realms of spirits and the dead.

Remnants of these beliefs are still visible in Ireland, where some trees are decorated with ribbons. These are wishing trees, where people tie their ribbons asking their saints, spirits, and fairies to fulfill their desires.

The Celtic tree of life or the knot tree of life, has branches reaching the sky and roots digging the inside of the earth, but they all join together into an endless circle of the knot. This tree symbolizes the interconnection of all things, i.e. the earth, the heaven and all living beings.

In the African culture, the baobab is known as the tree of life. This tree is very enduring and stores water inside so it can survive even in the harshest of climates and still produce fruit.

This tree is considered a savior of life and the African people has great respect for it.

In Ancient Egypt, the tree of life symbolized abundance and death. The branches if the tree represented the heavens, the tree itself symbolized the Universe, and the roots represented the underworld.

In the Turkish culture, the tree of life is an important symbol as well. This tree is often depicted on their handcrafts, such as carpets.

The tree of life is also present in popular culture. It is a popular motif for jewelry and is a symbol many people choose to wear close by their side in different pieces of jewelry.

People give this symbol their own attributes and meanings.

Tree of Life – Meaning and Symbolism

The tree of life has many different meanings and symbolism for different cultures and religions throughout the world. This is one of the most known and widely spread symbols.

Usually the meaning of inspiration, calmness, and groundedness is attributed to this symbol. This symbol connects different cultures and religions.

In modern culture, the tree of life is usually represented as a large tree with long and lingering branches and roots, spreading high and below, and is usually placed within a circle.

The tree of life is certainly one of the oldest existing symbols in the world, and reaches back to the beginning of humanity. Its meaning and symbolism is diverse.

There are many interpretations of its meaning and that enables every person to choose the meaning it relates to the most.

Some general meanings of tree of life are:

Groundedness

The tree of life symbolizes groundedness. Its roots go deep into the ground keeping it firm to the ground. This symbol is a reminder to remain grounded regardless of the circumstances.

Don’t let anything get you out of balance and distract your focus. Try to remain grounded and if you feel that the circumstances have shaken you and left you feeling unstable, find a way to restore your stability fast.

Go in nature and find a beautiful big tree. Stand or sit next to it to absorb its positive energy and restore your balance.

Strength

The tree of life is also considered a symbol of strength. The branches of the tree could break, but they can grow back even stronger than they were.

Just the sight of this tree inspires us with feelings of strength and invincibility. The tree is depicted as strong and able to endure any hardship.

This symbol is helping us gain or restore faith in our personal power and strength to achieve anything we desire.

It also inspires us to overcome all challenges and persevere through different hardships without much effort and with strong faith in our strength to endure.

Growth

The tree of life symbolizes growth. The tree is depicted with branches full of leafs and strong and long roots. The image itself reminds us of growth.

New leafs emerge every spring, symbolizing new life, and the roots go deeper into the ground as the tree grows, making it stronger and more stable.

The symbolism of growth is an encouragement to remain patient and wait for the right amount of time to pass so we can reap the fruits of some of our past efforts.

All things need time to grow. This symbolism also relates to the growth of the person and development of their personality through time.

Interconnectedness

The tree of life is an essential symbol of interconnectedness. Simply put, all things in this Universe, all living beings are connected and the tree of life embodies that fact.

Symbolically, the circle around the tree is a symbol of the world, while the tree inside the world represents all that exists in the world. This symbol reminds us all to be aware of that fact in every moment in time.

We are all one, although most people might not be aware of that fact.

Stability

The tree of life symbolizes stability. Its deep roots stretch long into the ground giving the tree its necessary stability. The tree of life inspires us to establish and maintain stability in our lives.

Stability is a precondition for accomplishing our goals and being able to persevere on the path of accomplishing them.

We need stability to be able to deal with all the obstacles and challenges we might encounter along the way.

Using a tree of life as a symbol of stability, you will feel inspired to establish it and maintain it in your life as well.

Individuality

The tree of life also symbolizes individuality and uniqueness. It is no wonder, all trees, like all living beings are unique and special in their own way.

The tree grows and develops its own personal traits, just like we grow and develop our unique and special character traits. The symbolism of the tree of life reminds you to love yourself and your uniqueness.

Be proud of who you are and don’t let anyone make you doubt your qualities and beauty. Enjoy who you are and others will respect you for that.

Life

As its name says, the tree of life also symbolizes life itself. It reminds us to be aware of the preciousness of our life and asks us to appreciate every moment of it.

People are often so consumed by trivial matters which occupy their time and energy that they forget to simply enjoy the fact that they are alive. They usually remember to do that during their older age, when they realize their time is slowly running out.

The tree of life reminds us to celebrate life at all ages.

Rebirth

The tree of life symbolizes rebirth. Trees lose their leafs during autumn and new leafs appear during spring.

This symbolically represents the rebirth of the tree because new life emerges from the branches.

Because of that the tree of life is a symbol of endings but also new beginnings, just like symbolically the falling off of leafs in autumn represent endings, and the emerging of new leafs in spring represents new beginnings.

When the tree of life symbol appears in our life it could be a sign of some new beginnings awaiting us, after we first experience some endings.

Immortality

The tree of life also symbolizes immortality. The reason for that is that trees keep being born again in a way that their seeds have their essence which continues to live through the trees which grow out of these seeds.

It is similar with humans and the way they procreate while the essence of their beings remains in their children, and their children’s children, and so on.

Evolution

The tree of life symbolizes evolution of the living beings on this planet.

The image of the tree depicts that fact, where the circle around the tree represents the Universe and the tree inside is the representation of all existing life on the planet.

Fertility

The tree of life symbolizes fertility. Trees can self-reproduce by dropping their seeds on the ground.

Sometimes the process of creating a new life (tree) doesn’t require special conditions.

Also, its green color and leafs symbolize fertility as well. The tree of life symbol should be used by people, especially women who struggle to conceive as a means to support their faith that they will fulfill their desire to have children in the end.

Family ties and ancestry

The tree of life is often considered as a symbol of ancestry and family ties. Trees are often used to depict the links and family lineage through different generations.

Symbolically, trees carry the genetic material of many generations before them and that is another tie to the symbolism of family and ancestry.

Like the tree and the generations of trees before it, we are all connected through our parents and their parents, to many generations of people who are in that way related to us.

This also symbolizes the traits we have inherited through our ancestors and family members.

Peace and relaxation

The tree of life symbolizes peace and relaxation. The reason is that trees naturally have the ability to calm us, instill peace inside us and relax us.

They have a soothing and relaxing effect which also helps us restore our strength and balance.

If you feel a lack of balance, or you feel stressed out and need to relax, the simplest way to recharge your batteries and restore your calm is to spend time in nature surrounded by trees.

Absorb their healing energy and you will immediately feel rejuvenated and fresh.

Spirituality

The tree of life is related to the symbolism of spirituality because of its relation to many religions throughout the world.

It could indicate a person’s quest for spiritual development aiming to reach spiritual enlightenment in the end.

If you are currently on that path, use the tree of life as a symbol to boost your faith and endurance to reach your final goal.

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