Elephants: Symbolism Across Cultures

Elephants: Symbolism Across Cultures


Elephants are regarded as symbols of wisdom and strength across cultures throughout the world. In India and Africa they are symbols of great strength and wisdom. In the Ashanti traditions, elephants are considered to be their past leaders, reincarnated into the stoic and powerful beings. In Buddhism they represent one's inner strength, but perhaps the most well known is the image of the Hindu God, Ganesh. 


Ganesh is the patron of arts and sciences, deity of wisdom, and is worshipped in Hinduism as the bringer of auspicious beginnings.


There are a number of legends that describe the birth of Ganesh. He is said to be the son of Lord Shiva, the god of death and destruction. One of the most popular stories of his birth is that he was magically created by Shiva’s wife, the goddess Pavarti. Needing someone to guard her door while Shiva was away in battle, she created her son Ganesh out of clay. Ganesh took his job seriously and he refused to allow anyone to enter his mother’s house.


All was well until the Lord Shiva returned home from war unexpectedly. He was so angry at being stopped at his wife’s door by a stranger that he cut off Ganesh’s head. Pavarti was the only person in the world whom Shiva was afraid of, and she was outraged by what he had done to her son. The God of death and destruction became remorseful, and he promised to make amends. He decided to remove the head of the first animal he could find, and then used this to replace Ganesh’s amputated head. The first animal he came across was an elephant. Ganesh was thus restored to life and rewarded for his courage by being made lord of new beginnings and remover of obstacles.


When we wear or decorate our homes with images of Ganesh, his powerful energy attracts abundance and helps us to be wise and discerning in our decision-making.  He helps us to overcome obstacles through calm determination, and to think big while also recognizing the importance of tending to details.  Overall, he is an auspicious symbol and a powerfully positive deity, and it is no wonder he is one of the most revered in all of Hinduism!




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, immortality, fertility 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.


In Buddhism, there is what's know as 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. This tree became the religious site of Bodh Gaya, now over 2,500 years old. Due to this belief, the tree of life has become a sacred symbol of the path to enlightenment for those practicing Buddhism.


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.


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 across the Nine Worlds (the lands of the gods, humans, deceased, etc.) to 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, thought to be yew or ash, which unifies the Nine Worlds (the lands of the gods, humans, deceased, etc.) together through its branches that touch far into the heavens. The Poetic Edda, a compilation of Norse legends, mentions the tree several times, the first of which reads:

An ash I know there stands,
Yggdrasill is its name,
a tall tree, showered
with shining loam.
From there come the dews
that drop in the valleys.
It stands forever green over
The Ash Yggdrasill as depicted by Friedrich Wilhelm.

Islam knows the Tree of Life as the Tree of Immortality, which does not decay and whose story parallels that of Christianity’s story of Adam and Eve. 


In Judaism, the Hebrew translation is “Etz Chaim” or “Etz Hayim,” and yeshivas (Orthodox Jewish colleges or seminaries) and synagogues (Jewish place of worship) are commonly referred to by this name. 


The North American Iroquois legend, The World on the Turtle's Back speaks of a magical tree growing on a floating island in the sky, where the first people live. When a pregnant woman falls from the floating island, she is saved by the creatures of Earth. Together, the woman and the animals form a new world on the back of a giant turtle, by planting some bark from the heavenly tree—which becomes what we now know as the continent of North America. 


The Tree of Life connects us all in one way or another across the world, and that is no exception in the Mexicali Blues stores. We have a fond appreciation for the symbol and its many followings—as you can tell from our tapestries, jewelry, apparel, and macrame hangers. If you share this same appreciation and adoration for a global symbol of life, check out how you can bring them into your own space.

Shop our unique items featuring the Tree of Life!


Buddhist Deities Explained: Tara

Buddhist Deities Explained: Tara

Tara is the goddess of peace and protection.  She is also known as the “Great Compassionate Mother” and the Buddha of enlightened activity. According to legend, Tara was a spiritual and compassionate princess who would frequently bring offerings and prayers to the nuns and monks in her village.  Impressed by her kindness, the monks told […]

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