The Uniter of Worlds
Tree of Life is an important symbol in nearly every culture. With its
branches reaching into the sky, and roots deep in the earth, it dwells
in three worlds- a link between heaven, the earth, and the underworld,
uniting above and below. It is both a feminine symbol, bearing
sustenance, and a masculine, visibly phallic symbol- another union.
Jewish and Christian mythology, a tree sits at the center of both the
Heavenly and Earthly Edens. The Norse cosmic World Ash, Ygdrassil, has
its roots in the underworld while its branches support the abode of the
Gods. The Egyptian's Holy Sycamore stood on the threshold of life and
death, connecting the worlds. To the Mayas, it is Yaxche, whose
branches support the heavens.
The tree has other characteristics
which lend easily to symbolism. Many trees take on the appearance of
death in the winter- losing their leaves, only to sprout new growth
with the return of spring. This aspect makes the tree a symbol of
resurrection, and a stylized tree is the symbol of many resurrected
Gods- Jesus, Attis, and Osirus all have crosses as their symbols. Most
of these Gods are believed to have been crucified on trees, as well.
The modern Christmas tree hearkens back to trees decorated to honor
Attis, the crucified God of the Greeks.
A tree also bears seeds
or fruits, which contain the essence of the tree, and this continuous
regeneration is a potent symbol of immortality. It is the fruit of a
tree that confers immortality in the Jewish creation story. In Taoist
tradition, it is a divine peach that gives the gift of immortality. In
ancient Persia, the fruit of the haoma bears this essence. The apples
of Idun give the Norse gods their powers, much like the Gods of the
Greek pantheon and their reliance on Ambrosia. This aspect of the tree
as a giver of gifts and spiritual wisdom is also quite common. It is
while meditating under a Bodhi tree that Buddha received his
enlightenment; the Norse God Odin received the gift of language while
suspended upside down in the World Ash (an interesting parallel is the
hanged man of the tarot). In Judeo-Christian mythology, the Tree of
heaven is the source of the primordial rivers that water the earth-
similar to the Tooba Tree of the Koran, from whose roots spring milk,
honey, and wine.
This tree and its gifts of immortality are not
easy to discover. It is historically difficult to find, and almost
invariably guarded. The tree of Life in the Jewish bible is guarded by
a Seraph (an angel in the form of a fiery serpent) bearing a flaming
sword. To steal the apples of knowledge, the Greek hero Hercules had to
slay a many-headed dragon Ladon. In Mayan legends, it is a serpent in
the roots that must be contended with. Similarly, the Naga, or divine
serpent guards the Hindu Tree. The Serpent Nidhog lives under
Ygdrassil, and gnaws at the roots.
The tree as the abode of the
Gods is another feature common to many mythologies; in some, the tree
itself is a God. The ancient Sumerian God Dammuzi was personified as a
tree, as is the Hindu Brahman. The Byzantine World tree represents the
omnipotence of the Christian god.
Another form, the inverted
Tree, represents spiritual growth, as well as the human nervous system.
This tree, with its roots in heaven, and its branches growing downward,
is most commonly found in Kabbalistic imagery. A similar tree is
mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita, "The banyan tree with its roots above,
and its branches below, is imperishable." In Jewish Kabbalah, the
inverted tree represents the nervous system as well- the 'root' in the
cranial nerves, with the branches spreading throughout the body; it
also represents the cosmic tree- rooted in heaven, the branches all of
the Celts, the tree was a source of basic sustenance- a bearer of food,
a provider of shelter and fuel for cooking and warmth. Without trees,
life would have been extraordinarily difficult.
sacred trees had magickal properties, which was reflected in the Celtic
Ogham alphabet, wherein each letter represents a particular sacred tree
(modern Ogham divination is based on the uses and importance of these
sacred trees to the Celtic people). Some trees provided food, some wood
for making hunting weapons; others were sacred to the fairy-folk or to
the Gods. In Celtic creation stories, trees were the ancestors of
mankind, elder beings of wisdom who provided the alphabet, the
calendar, and entrance to the realms of the Gods.
also associated in the Shamanic beliefs of the Druids and other Celtic
peoples with the supernatural world. Trees were a connection to the
world of the spirits and the ancestors, living entities, and doorways
into other worlds.
The most sacred tree of all was the Oak
tree, which represented the axis mundi, the center of the world. The
Celtic name for oak, daur, is the origin of the word door- the root of
the oak was literally the doorway to the Otherworld, the realm of
Fairy. The word Druid, the name of the Celtic Priestly class, is
compounded from the words for oak and wise- a Druid was one who was
"Oak Wise," meaning learned in Tree magick and guardian or the doorway.
Long after the Druids of old have vanished into the mists of
time, the lore of trees continues as a vital part of Celtic myth and
folklore. Countless Irish legends revolve around trees. One could fall
asleep next to a particular tree and awake in the fairy realm. In
Celtic legends of the Gods, trees guard sacred wells and provide
healing, shelter, and wisdom. Trees carried messages to the other
realm, and conferred blessings- to this day, trees can be seen in the
Irish countryside festooned with ribbons and pleas for favors, love,
healing, and prosperity.
The interlaced figures known popularly
as Celtic knots represent sacred trees and plants, and the sacred
animals of the forest. The Green Man or foliate god is the animus of
nature; the spirit of the forest and of the hunt, and is pictured as a
spirit face in the form of gathered leaves and sprouting tendrils