The Tree of Life: Symbolism Across Cultures & Time

Tree of Life tapestry

The Tree of Life is a universal symbol found in many spiritual and mythological traditions around the world.  Sometimes known as the Cosmic Tree, the World Tree, or the Holy Tree, the Tree of Life symbolizes many things, including wisdom, strength, protection, abundance, beauty, and redemption.  It also illustrates the interconnectedness of life, here on Earth and also with the spirit world and the Universe at large!  While most philosophies hold this concept of connectivity in common, there are a wide variety of meanings of this tree across different cultures.

Tree of Life and Buddhism

It was beneath the Bodhi tree, the great Tree of Enlightenment, that Buddha (at that time known as Siddhartha Guatama) completed his spiritual quest to reach enlightenment.  Vowing not to rise until he was enlightened, he sat under the tree for many days, not moving, not eating, just meditating, until finally he arose as a fully enlightened being.  Soon after, he attracted a band of followers and, as the Buddha, spent the rest of his life traveling and teaching the path of awakening he had discovered.

Tree of Life and the Ancient Celts

The Irish Druids believed that the Tree of Life had the power to reveal messages from the gods.  Believing that all living things were spiritual, mystical beings, they believed that trees in particular were a source of great wisdom and power.   With branches and roots stretching between earth and sky, trees bridged the gap between the upper and lower worlds and brought blessings from the gods.  The wood of many trees was also considered magical, particularly that of the oak tree, which was thought to symbolize “axis mundi”, the center of the universe.

The Celtic Tree of Life was also a symbol of a person’s quest for spiritual fulfillment.  The Celts believed that at the center of each of us is a “golden child”, a being more valuable than all the gold in the world.  They knew that in order to find our inner golden child, we must each first recognize our connection to the Earth, and the Tree of Life and all other trees were a clear and tangible symbol and reminder of that part of the quest.

Tree of Life and Nordic Mythology

Nordic cultures believed that Odin, the ruler of all magic, guarded the great well of wisdom and knowledge at the root of the World Tree, whose strength supports the whole universe.  Under the branches of the World Tree, known as Yggdrasill, Odin came into his magical and Shamanic powers, obtaining inner sight and healing abilities.

Yggdrasill’s branches reach up into the spiritual realm Asgard, which also represents an individual’s higher self.  The trunk of the Tree is the world of Midgard, the realm of the human ego and persona.  The roots reach down to the underworld of elves and tree dwarves, the place of unconscious shadow senses and instincts.  Yggdrasill, the Tree of Life, is the strong axis around which the three planes of existence orbit.

The Tree of Life is symbolic also in Christianity, Judaism, Shamanism, Alchemy, Kabbalah, and many other ideologies.  Though the interpretations each have their own flavor and details, the Tree of Life is always a positive symbol of connection.  What symbolism does the Tree of Life hold for you?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s