The Tree of Life, or Sacred Tree, carries significant meanings in both religious and spiritual philosophies. The Tree of Knowledge, connecting to heaven and the underworld, and the Tree of Life, connecting all forms of creation, are both forms of the world tree or cosmic tree, and are often portrayed as the same tree.
As a symbol, the Tree of Life goes all the way back to ancient times. The oldest known example was found in the Domuztepe excavations in Turkey, which dates back to about 7000 BC. It is believed that the symbol spread from there in various ways.
A similar depiction of the tree was discovered in the Acadians, which dates back to 3000 BC. The symbols depicted a pine tree, and because pine trees do not die, the symbols are believed to be the first depictions of the Tree of Life.
The Tree of Life also has strong significance to the Ancient Celts. It represented harmony and balance and was an important symbol in the Celtic culture. They believed it had magical powers so when they cleared their lands, they would leave one single tree standing in the middle. They would hold their important gatherings under this tree and it was a very serious crime to cut it down.
Multiple cultures have different mythologies involving the Tree of Life. References to the symbol have been found in Ancient Egypt, Ancient Iran, Ancient Mesopotamia and Urartu, and many more places. The symbol was widely recognised and used in ancient cultures so it is difficult to pinpoint its exact origins and how it spread throughout the world.
While the Tree of Life symbolises many different things, there are some common themes that the symbol represents across all cultures and religions.
A Connection to Everything: The Tree of Life commonly represents the interconnectedness of everything in the universe. It symbolises togetherness and serves as a reminder that you are never alone or isolated, but rather that you are connected to the world. The roots of the Tree of Life dig deep and spread into the earth, thereby accepting nourishment from Mother Earth, and its branches reach up into the sky, accepting energy from the sun and moon.
Ancestry, Family, and Fertility: The Tree of Life symbol also represents the connection to one’s family and ancestors. The Tree of Life has an intricate network of branches that represents how a family grows and expands throughout many generations. It also symbolises fertility as it always finds a way to keep growing, through seeds or new saplings, and is lush and green, which signifies its vitality.
Growth and Strength: A tree is a universal symbol of strength and growth as they stand tall and strong all over the world. They spread their roots deep into the soil to ground and stabilise themselves. Trees can weather the toughest of storms, which is why they are such a prominent symbol for strength. The Tree of Life represents growth as a tree starts out as a small, delicate sapling and grows over a long time into a giant, strong tree. The tree grows up and outwards, representing how a person grows stronger and increases their knowledge and experiences throughout their lifetime.
Individuality: The Tree of Life symbolises one's individuality as trees are all unique with their branches sprouting at different points and in different directions. It symbolises a person's personal growth into a unique human being as different experiences shape them into who they are. Over time, trees gain more unique characteristics, as branches break off, new ones grow, and as the weather takes its toll - all throughout which the tree remains strong and sturdy. This is a metaphor for how people grow and change throughout their lifetime and how their unique experiences mold them and enhance their individuality.
Immortality and Rebirth: The Tree of Life is a symbol for rebirth as trees lose their leaves and seem to be dead during winter, but then new buds appear and new, fresh leaves unfurl during the spring. This represents the beginning of a new life and a fresh start. The Tree of Life also symbolises immortality because even as the tree grows old, it creates seeds that carry its essence so it lives on through new saplings.
Peace: Trees have always evoked a sense of calm and peace so it is unsurprising that the Tree of Life is also a symbol for peacefulness and relaxation. Trees have a relaxing presence as they stand tall and still while their leaves flutter in the breeze. The Tree of Life serves as a reminder for the unique, calming feeling that one gets from trees.
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