The tree of life is a classic representation that is central to many religions, philosophies, and folklore from across the world. Its symbolism has transcended time and cultures, and it's as highly valued today as it was thousands of years ago.
Core to all beliefs around the tree of life is the inescapable unity of all of creation. It conveys the message that although we're born into this world as seemingly unique individuals, spiritually, we remain connected to all that is.
Let’s explore some of the traditions and beliefs around the tree of life symbol so you can include its mysticism in your life.
What is the Meaning of the Tree of Life
While the tree of life has a central meaning, interpretations vary substantially. However, most belief systems break the tree down into three prime components:
- Roots that anchor it into the earth
- A trunk that connects the roots to the branches
- Branches that grow upwards and expand sideways
Some traditions attach water and the underworld to the roots and the divine to the branches reaching skywards. Others limit the tree of life symbolism to activities on earth, such as personal growth, ancestry, and heritage.
There's no right or wrong analysis of the tree of life meaning. So, if you feel attracted to the spiritual tree of life in a specific way, you can create your own belief. Afterall, it’s our intention that makes symbols what they are to begin with.
When you bring any spiritual item into your life, you can blend its energy with yours by spending some time in meditation while holding it.
As you sit in quiet contemplation, visualize your growth intention or purpose for your new tree of life. Feel its energy and then feel yours. Sense how your energies blend and open your heart to any wisdom the tree has to share.
What Does the Tree of Life Represent Across the Globe?
In many cultures and traditions, the tree of life is a symbolic representation of spiritual wisdom, and in others, it's a real tree. Because the tree of life has had such significance for thousands of years, there's no telling where the concept originated.
One theory is that the symbolism wasn't shared or passed from one culture to another. Instead, since trees are central to the survival of humankind and the planet, all cultures respected and revered them.
Let’s look at some philosophies that have come about over the years...
Chinese mythology generally contains a tree of life flanked on either side by a phoenix and a dragon. The phoenix symbolizes renewal, rebirth, immortality, and resurrection, while the dragon represents immortality. Consequently, in Chinese tradition, the tree of life is an icon of immortality.
A Taoist legend tells of a tree that bears a single peach of immortality only once in three thousand years. Anyone found to be deserving of eating this fruit will be granted the gift of eternal life.
In Buddhism, the tree of life is known as the Bhodi-tree or the tree of enlightenment. Regarded as a sacred symbol, it's the tree under which Buddha finally found enlightenment in Bodh Gaya, India.
The tree of life is mentioned on a few occasions in the Old Testament, firmly entrenching it in Christianity. The book of Genesis illustrates it as the source of eternal life situated in the Garden of Eden.
In the book of Revelations, the tree of life is described as being in the new garden of paradise, where those who did as God commanded in life will "have a right to the tree of life."
Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed the Holy Cross as the true tree of life, and Saint Bonaventure and other Christian scholars declared Christ as the tree of life.
Therefore, to many Christians, the tree of life symbolizes God, Christ, or both. Some extend this to include unconditional love and freedom from sin and suffering.
The Hindu Sanatana Dharma speak of divine wish-fulfilling trees, known as Kalpavriksha, in the gardens of Indra, who is the king of the gods. There are five different Kalpavriksha, each granting different kinds of wishes.
Known as the "tree of immortality," a motif of the tree of life appears in the Quran. It's found in Eden and is symbolic of a way of life, either good or bad. The shape of the tree is complex, but its central axis is balanced. It's connected to spiritual growth through prayer, amongst other meanings.
The tree of life, or Etz Chaim, is a common term in Judaism. It's so important that it's applied figuratively to the Torah in many places. Judaism distinguished between the tree of life and the tree of knowledge. The tree of life is associated with wisdom and calm, whereas the tree of knowledge relates to good versus evil.
It's widely believed that God will provide those listed in the book of life with fruit from the tree of life at the time of judgment. The tree of life is, therefore, what nourishes and sustains life.
In the Kabbalah, the tree of life is presented as ten interconnected nodes that symbolize Jewish mysticism. It is made up of the divine realm's ten Sefirot powers.
Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican societies widely used the concept of world trees. They were the embodiment of the four cardinal directions linked to a symbolic axis. The axis connected the underworld and the heavens to the earthly plane.
Aztec, Izapan, Mayan, Mixtec and Olmec art displays world trees as a focal point. The tomb walls of the ancient Mayan king, K'inich Janab' Pakal I of Palenque contain many tree of life inscriptions, illustrating its importance to the people at that time.
Ancient Celtic belief associates the tree of life with the Celtic god, Lugus, a sun god who was a fierce warrior and the god of thunderstorms.
Germanic paganism has many references to trees in general and trees of life relating to different gods.
On the other hand, Nordic paganism speaks of a specific tree of life, Yggdrasil, a colossal tree steeped in folklore. It's known that Germanic tribes honored sacred trees, and the goddess of apples and eternal youth, Iðunn, was believed to give out apples that provided immortality. Apples are also related to fertility.
Slavic tradition tells of there being one source for all rivers. It's from the rock, Alatyr, that has the tree of life standing on it. Located on the island of Buyan, its roots represent the underworld, and its branches reach the divine kingdom.
Other Tree of Life Meanings
Apart from ancient cultural and traditional meanings, there are other popular denotations to the tree of life, as well.
Notwithstanding its symbolism of the interconnectedness of all that is, it can be used to symbolize togetherness. Whether it's in reference to humankind and the earth or within families, the tree of life is a potent reminder that we're never truly alone.
Caring for Mother Earth
Another popular meaning is that we, as human beings, rely on nourishment from Gaia, Mother Earth, and divine energy to survive. It's a crucial reminder in these times of climate change. By destroying the earth, we're killing ourselves as well.
Peace & Calm
The tree of life can be used to bring peace and calm into any space. In nature, trees exude a sense of peace and tranquility where relaxation is easy. A tree of life symbol acts as a constant reminder that we too should encourage peace and calm into our lives at every opportunity.
Strength & Resilience
For most of us, trees are tall, vigorous plants with great strength that can weather extreme conditions. Many use the tree of life symbol as a representation of this. It can be about physical growth and strength or spiritual development, resilience, and awakening.
Immortality & Rebirth
Immortality and rebirth are often connected to the tree of life. To the eye, trees' stark nakedness in the winter months looks like death. But below the surface, new life waits to burst out when spring arrives.
This is powerful symbolism for healing and recovery, starting over, and overcoming major challenges. Just because you're down now doesn't mean you won't come back better and stronger.
Individuality & Authenticity
The tree of life can symbolize individuality, as well. Even though trees might be of the same species, each has unique features formed by the branches, trunk, bark, and leaves. It makes an excellent symbol of each individual life journey and destiny filled with unique experiences and interpretations.
Of the most beautiful trees in any forest are those that are slightly askew, with gnarled branches and interesting patterns in their bark. Each twist, groove, and hollow is an indication of survival in times of distress and overcoming adverse conditions.
Ancestry & Fertility
Many also relate the tree of life symbol with ancestry, genealogy, family ties and fertility. The roots, which represent the traditions and people who came before, keep the tree stable and balanced. The trunk usually represents the living individuals within the family, and the branches symbolize living children and those yet to be born.
The tree of life brings together past, present and future across many generations. It also encourages fertility, ensuring the survival of the family tree and carefully tending the young.
The tree of life symbol is deeply spiritual, universal, adaptable and potent. It can be used and adapted in so many different ways throughout your life journey. So there's no need to wonder “what is the tree of life?” before you bring one into your life.
Use a tree of life to enhance your energy or gift it to a loved one to mark an extraordinary achievement or convey love and encouragement.
At Karma and Luck, we know the importance of symbolism in all aspects of spiritual life. For that reason, we stock only ethically-made tree of life pieces handcrafted with love and care by artisans around the world.