TREE OF LIFE: SYMBOLISM ACROSS CULTURES
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:
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.
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