What is the Tree of Life?
The Tree of Life is a hugely recognisable symbol of how all things in the universe are interconnected in some way. It can be considered a comforting symbol that indicates we are all united in some form and a reminder that we are forever deeply bound with this world. The deeply winding roots of the tree represents our receiving of the earth’s nurturing abundance and the tree’s reaching tendrils represents our receiving of vitality from the sun and moon.
When the symbol is taken as a whole, we see a visual representation of the interconnectedness of mother nature and ourselves as human beings. We see the strong bonds and roots tying us on this physical plane to a higher, more spiritual realm. Our relative insignificance as individual beings and our reliance on mother nature’s fruitfulness to flourish is captured by the imagery.
What is its history?
The history of the Tree of Life dates back thousands of years and has been a staple symbol in various cultures, both ancient and modern. While the exact mythology and traditions related to the Tree of Life will vary by community, the symbol is universal in its spiritual depiction of the power of mother nature and our connectedness to her. Below are various examples of different cultures’ interpretation of the sacred image.
The Celts possibly had the most standard portrayal of the tree of life, again emphasizing the deep bond between the physicality of the earth and spirituality of the forces above. However, what makes the Celtic concept particularly unique is their belief that trees took the form of passed human ancestors, standing as a portal of sorts to other unreachable worlds.
The Tree of Life in Buddhist culture is referred to as the ‘Bodhi’ tree. This type of fig tree is considered sacred by Buddhists for its longevity and intricately entwined branch structure. It is said that Buddha reached enlightenment while beneath the Bodhi tree thus the tree became a larger symbol of humans’ journey to their higher selves.
In certain African cultures, the ‘baobab’ tree is revered as the Tree of Life as it is stores water gifted by mother nature and turns this energy into fruit despite existing in barren and scorched lands. When droughts and famine hit, the tree is regarding as a last ray of life-giving hope for its ability to produce nourishment in times of dire need.
For ancient Egyptians, the Tree of Life symbolized the beauty of both life and death – trees themselves are not immortal, but while they reside on the earth, their purpose is to provide life and nourishment. The Tree of Life is regularly depicted in Egyptian art and captures the idea of eternal cycles of time.
The Tree of Life plays a central role in Christian tradition as it is witnessed in the Garden of Eden. Some Christians view the tree of life as a source of everlasting life. Other view it as humanity’s purity, void of flaws and sin. Others see the tree in the Garden of Eden as a warning to man, as Eve’s sin of taking the tree’s forbidden fruit condemned mankind to sin for eternity. Despite these differing concepts, all Christian beliefs are unanimous in the understanding that the Tree of Life is an incredibly powerful symbol.
In Islam, the Tree of Life is bound to the idea of immortality. Both the Bible and Quran make reference to the Garden of Eden, emphasizing humankind’s sin for taking the tree’s forbidden fruit. Similar to the other cultural interpretations mentioned, in Islam, the tree holds a sacredness so pure and eternal that it is enormously potent in symbolizing higher forces at work in the universe.
What do the Tree of Life’s branches represent?
In more modern contexts, the Tree of Life is thought to bear significance in different facets of human life. Each branch is depicted as its own component that makes us whole, ranging from our ancestry to our own abilities in growth and strength. Below are some ‘branches’ of the tree that we may find value in cherishing and applying to our own life’s mantras.
The life cycle of a tree is cyclical. As the seasons change throughout the year, trees will move from dormancy, to sprouting nourishing flowers, fruit and leaves. Just like this cycle of the tree, our own lives will encounter waves of birth and death. Using the tree as a symbol of comfort can help us find acceptance in these painful inevitabilities of life. Just like the death card in tarot, the tree implies that death does not have to equal a definitive end but instead the start of new beginnings.
Family and ancestry
The phrase ‘family tree’ and ‘ancestral roots’ are indicative of how trees play a central role in our concept of life. The tree’s branches are a visual representation of connectivity to past generations and symbolic of reaching up towards the heavens. Just like the tree’s roots, our bodies are laid to rest in the ground after death and just like the tree’s branches, our soul makes its journey upwards to higher realms.
Personal growth and strength
Trees are widely recognised as wise and grounded life forms, depicted in this manner in many different stories and movies. Moreover, trees are considered strong, powerful and uniquely individual, so we too must take inspiration and see ourselves in the same light.
As a tree ages, their forms are weathered and battered as a result of harsh surroundings. Each tree has its own unique surroundings and faces its own challenges so despite the damage and scarring, we must embrace the individuality that results from the tree’s own individual experience. Us humans are no different, as our own personal journeys are what make us beautifully individual.
Trees are beacons of calm and tranquillity. Their study, unwavering structures last lifetimes and their fluttering leaves are all ambiances that are truly remarkable in bringing us peace and grounding us to nature. Unsurprisingly, the Tree of Life captures this serenity and serves as a comforting reminder of nature’s goodness when we face turbulent times.
How can we apply the lessons from the Tree of Life into our lives?
Throughout human history, the tree has been a symbol of a door between different realms. The tree is recognised as not only a physical stairway to heaven, a sign of ancestors long-passed and a calming beacon of stability, but also it is recognised as a force not to be reckoned with. The tree of life is pertinent throughout art, literature, architecture and holy scriptures, teaching mankind of the powerful forces that are not physically tangible. It has been worn in jewelry and carved into talismans for centuries. The tree’s structure is immense, unwaveringly sturdy and bares its own individual markings, showcasing the individual journey it has embarked upon. Other than the sea and mountains, no other living entity on earth can rival the enormity of the tree – a living, breathing ecosystem fostering life and providing sustenance in its own right. A world within a world. When we examine the tree, we witness cycles reminiscent of human life; birth, growth, abundance and death. The concept of a tiny seed flourishing into such a vast structure is in some ways fantastical, lending credence to the idea of higher spiritual forces playing with the physicality of earth.
The system of the tree is remarkable also; it retrieves stagnant energy from the ground and carriages this into an abundance of beautiful flowers and fruits while asking for nothing in return. We humans forget that we are nothing more than a product of the natural word, a system of chemicals and elements, a vehicle of energy. Therefore, we must take lessons from the tree, using our own stagnant energy to make a similar abundance of positive and meaningful impacts on those around us.
The tree does not discriminate; its fruit, leaves and bark are all able to be stripped down and provided energy to those in need. Everyone regardless of race, religion or creed is able to be fed by the tree, teaching us that we too need not judge our peers but rather simply provide our energy and resources when they are needed. The tree does not engage in fickle matters or child’s play, instead it stands tall and defiant against the elements that challenge its integrity. When we face times of loss and feel distressed, the tree stands as a symbol of re-birth, comfortingly reminding us that with every loss comes an array of new beginnings. Like the tree, we need to embrace and appreciate our unique individualities as they paint a picture of our journey and show the long and winding path that has taken us to our current point.
In sum, the Tree of Life is an emblem sacred to many different cultures and communities. Everything that the tree represents is extraordinary and beautifully spiritual, teaching us many lessons about peace, growth, strength, death that transcend time and should be incorporated into our own lives.
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