The Mythology Of The Tree Of Life

Tree of Life with Setting Sun - Rays of Wisdom - Healers & Healing - The Mythology of the Tree of LifeThe concept of a tree of life as a many-branched tree is an illustration of the idea that all life on Earth is related. With the help of mythology and religions, philosophies and science, time and again throughout the ages, the Angels introduced our world to the idea of a tree of life as a symbol of evolution and growth. This mystical concept draws humankind’s attention to the interconnectedness of all life on our planet and a metaphor for the common descent of every lifeform from the Great White Spirit, Father/Mother of all life.

The tree’s part above the Earth represents humankind’s earthly existence and its roots are going simultaneously down into the spirit world, the inner level of life, that which is hidden from normal earthly view and knowledge. Individually and collectively, the more highly evolved we become, the higher our branches reach into the sky and the more our roots penetrate into the wisdom and knowledge of the spirit realm. Ultimately, this process reconnects us with the conscious awareness of our oneness with God, the source of our being.

To this day, among humankind’s best friends on the Earth plane from the cradle to the grave, quite literally, have been trees. Forever faithful and true, never complaining no matter how much humankind sins against them, these our most faithful and reliable companions of our earthly sojourns can be relied upon to be there for us. Their blessings have constantly reached through every aspect of our existence, from a shady resting place on hot days, to generously providing the materials for the manufacture of our first and last receptacles, the cradle and the coffin.

Trees have always held a great fascination for humankind. In times gone by, many cultures have honoured them as symbolisms and expressions of the love and devotion of the Great Mother of all life to all her earthly children. Life itself has been depicted as a tree and some of the myths and legends surrounding this tree must be as old as life on Earth itself. And so, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the Bible images mentioned in the previous chapter were by no means invented by Christianity. Adopted from the concepts of much older pagan traditions, they were re-written to make them suitable to be included in the teachings of the New Testament.

For example, the Greek Goddess Hera’s magical apple garden contained the Tree of Life and the sacred serpent. The Christmas tree is also one of the many symbols for the tree of life or tree of knowledge. The custom of cutting an evergreen and bringing it indoors goes back to ancient Norse Yule celebrations for the return of the Sun during the shortest and darkest days of winter. It was imported into the Christian teachings during the times when converting the so-called pagans to their new faith was high on the agenda.

Barbara Walker wrote in ‘The Woman’s Encyclopaedia Of Myths And Secrets’: ‘On the night before a holy day, Roman priests called Dendrophori or ‘tree-bearers’ cut one of the sacred pines, decorated it and carried it into the temple of the Great Mother of all life. Figures and fetishes attached to such trees in later centuries seem to have represented the whole pantheon of pagan deities on the World Tree.’ The modern Christmas tree followed this tradition in its own way.

The tree of life is also known as the World Tree. In ‘Man, Myth and Magic: The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Mythology, Religion and the Unknown, edited by Richard Cavendish, explains: ‘An infinity of symbolic detail accompanies the different parts of the world-tree… The cosmic tree often bore fruits which the Gods ate to ensure their immortality: and so it became a tree of life.’

The idea of trees as symbolisms of the Universe goes back to Scandinavian mythology, where the Oden Ash or Yggdrasil was believed to possess this quality. In India it was the fig tree or Asvattha. In the Hindu religion the Banyan tree is the symbol of the tree of life. The Lord Buddha is said to have meditated under such a tree until he found his enlightenment. However, because the Buddha is as much a legendary figure as the Master Jesus, the tales about this vary considerably regarding the length of time this took and also the type of tree under which they sat. Christianity has adopted the apple tree form the pagan traditions and many other religions have similar ideas, including China and Russia.

The Celts and Druids represented the World Tree as the sacred oak, which with its branches and roots connected the three worlds of the Upperworld, Middle-Earth, and Underworld. The concept of the axis mundi also is visualized as a world tree, for example in the Mayan culture as Wacah Chan. Wikipedia states: ‘It is a common shamanic concept, the healer traversing the axis mundi to bring back knowledge from the other world. The axis mundi both connects Heaven and Earth as well as providing a path between the two…’

When, in times long gone by, we walked the Earth as our own ancestors, we used the evergreen Holly with its thorny leaves and red berries in our winter celebrations. The Burning Bush of Moses’ vision was a holly. It was also important to the Druids; it represented death and regeneration to them. And it was the plant of Mother Holle or Hel, the Norse underworld Goddess. In Germany, witches used Holly for making wands. Barbara Walker writes: ‘Red holly berries showed the female blood-of-life colour, corresponding to white mistletoe berries associated with male elements of semen and death.’ At Yule tide, the winter festival of the Divine Marriage, these two plants were displayed together.

 The Dionysian cult of Roman times displayed the holly together with the ivy, as the symbol of feminine and masculine balance during times of the solstice festival. Because of its connection with sex it was renounced by the early Christian bishops, Tertullian and the Council of Bracara in particular. Although it was considered to be unfit for Christian celebrations, the practice of adorning doorways with holly and kissing under the mistletoe continued. The latter originally represented a blessing for the union between the master and the mistress of a house. When the Church realised that these ancient customs could not be suppressed altogether, the holly was eventually declared to be symbolic of the crown of thorns and the drops of blood on the Saviour’s head.

To this day, apples are significant in our culture, from sayings like ‘The apple of my eye’ or ‘an apple for the teacher,’ and ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ to folk tales about Johnny Appleseed, and the always popular apple pie. From the pagan traditions, Christianity adopted the apple tree as the tree of knowledge in paradise. Its fruit was declared to be the key to original sin, the fall of grace from God. John Bradner’s writes: ‘By tradition the apple is the fruit of the Paradise Tree. It is used sometimes as a symbol of Christ, the new or second Adam.’ However the apple’s five-petalled blossoms, like the rose and pentagram, appeared in the much older Indo-European tradition. Here it represents the knowledge of sacred femininity, sexuality and immortality.

The Goddesses’ magical paradise took the form of apple groves in many traditions such as the Celtic ‘Apple Land’ of Avalon, the Norse Goddess Idun’s magical apples kept the Gods immortal. And here we also encounter the Greek Goddess Hera’s magical apple garden which contained the tree of life and the sacred serpent, mentioned earlier. A significant connection of the apple with witches and gypsies is the five-pointed ‘star’ that contains the apple seeds in the core of every apple when cut transversely. This relates to mythology about the Virgin Kore or Core within her the Earth Mother Demeter. Isn’t it astonishing that, in this instance, even the word ‘core’ has been preserved in the English language?

Barbara Walker explains: ‘The five-pointed star in a circle was the Egyptian hieroglyph for the underworld womb, where resurrection was brought about by the mother-heart of transformations.’ This is how it came about that in later gypsy and pagan traditions the apple symbolised the sacred union of the physical and the spiritual world.

I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry roots are pressed
Into Mother Earth’s sweet loving breast.

A tree that looks at God all day
And lifts its many arms to pray.

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in its hair,

Upon whose blossoms snow has lain
And who loves every drop of rain.

Poems were made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Joyce Kilmer
Edited by Aquarius

Recommended Reading:
•    ‘Yggdrasil – The Tree of Life’
•    ‘The Barren Fig Tree’
•    ‘The Budding Fig Tree’
•    ‘The Rich Harvest’

Recommended Viewing:
•    ‘In Praise Of Trees’
•    ‘The Birth Of An Oak Tree’

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This article is a chapter from ‘Healers And Healing’.
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