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Q: Tree of Life or World Tree ( Answered,   1 Comment )
Subject: Tree of Life or World Tree
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Books and Literature
Asked by: millerman1121-ga
List Price: $40.00
Posted: 04 May 2005 08:31 PDT
Expires: 03 Jun 2005 08:31 PDT
Question ID: 517660
I'm thinking of getting the linked image as a tattoo, but would like
to know the history, and religious significance. It's referred to as
the "tree of life" or "world tree". It is the center image in the
pictures. I would also be interested in the first appearance of it and
if it predates Christianity.
Subject: Re: Tree of Life or World Tree
Answered By: jdb-ga on 08 May 2005 02:58 PDT
Hello millerman1121, 

The tree of life image shown on the links that you gave is an
interesting and beautiful design. I have found some sites that give
the history of the tree of life as an image depicted in many cultures
and religions throughout history, as well as history of the Celtic
tree of life in particular. The tree of life is closely associated
with the cross, both in image and symbolism, as are the Celtic Cross
and Celtic Tree of Life. I have included excerpts from these websites,
and you can go to the links for further material.


Cross of Life

"Often associated with the Tree of Life, the Celtic Cross predates
Christianity, the oldest example from 10,000 BC."
Or use:


Celtic Cross and the Tree of Life

  "Although today the symbol we usually think of when we hear the word
cross brings to mind the Christian cross, the Celtic cross is much
older. The oldest example of crosses are those engraved or painted on
flat pebbles, dating from 10,000 B.C.E., found in a cave in the French
Pyrenees. These ancestor stones were believed to contain the spirits
of the dead.
  The Celtic cross symbolizes the four roads of the four corners of
the earth(forerunners of our parallels of latitude and longitude), and
the meetings of these roads at a central point formed a cross,
indicating the center of the world body.
  The center of the cross is also representative of the center place
where all forces of Life, source of the four mystic rivers, summit of
the world mountain, and other interpretations of the X that marks the

And further down the above site:

"The 'Tree of Life' concept is found in many cultures worldwide
including Celtic. It is often regarded as an all-nourishing,
all-giving Mother, many myths tell of the Tree of Life or World Tree
as being involved in the creation of the universe. Britain was once
covered by huge oak forests and tree reverence is a major feature
within the Celtic religion. They reflect a link between the upper and
lower worlds.
  The art forms represented here come from the 'Book of Kells'.
According to George Bain, author of "Celtic Art the methods of
construction", the Celtic 'Tree of Life' completes the total of
created life, the seven created beings of the Celtic world, Plant,
Insect, Fish, Repetile, Bird, Animal and Man. There is a distinct
similarity between these and examples from Buddist art, perhaps
helpful in proving the Celtic migrations to these lands.
  In most 'Tree of Life' examples, the plants and trees have a logical
growth pattern with branches from a main stem to form cornucopia from
which other branches with leaves and fruits emerge. It is interesting
to note that in most examples the plants bear a remarkable resemblence
to mistletoe, one of the Druids most sacred plants."


This site provides an illustrated history of the tree of life.

The Tree of Life

  "In Jewish and Christian mythology, a tree sits at the center of
both the Heavenly and Earthly Edens. The Norse cosmic World Ash,
Ygdrassil, has its roots in the underworld while its branches support
the abode of the Gods. The Egyptian's Holy Sycamore stood on the
threshold of life and death, connecting the worlds. To the Mayas, it
is Yaxche, whose branches support the heavens. The tree has other
characteristics which lend easily to symbolism. Many trees take on the
appearance of death in the winter - losing their leaves, only to
sprout new growth with the return of spring. This aspect makes the
tree a symbol of resurrection, and a stylized tree is the symbol of
many resurrected Gods - Jesus, Attis, and Osirus all have crosses as
their symbols. Most of these Gods are believed to have been crucified
on trees, as well. The modern Christmas tree hearkens back to trees
decorated to honor Attis, the crucified God of the Greeks. A tree also
bears seeds or fruits, which contain the essence of the tree, and this
continuous regeneration is a potent symbol of immortality. It is the
fruit of a tree that confers immortality in the Jewish creation story.
In Taoist tradition, it is a divine peach that gives the gift of
immortality. In ancient Persia, the fruit of the haoma bears this
essence. The apples of Idun give the Norse gods their powers, much
like the Gods of the Greek pantheon and their reliance on Ambrosia.
  A tree also bears seeds or fruits, which contain the essence of the
tree, and this continuous regeneration is a potent symbol of
immortality. It is the fruit of a tree that confers immortality in the
Jewish creation story. In Taoist tradition, it is a divine peach that
gives the gift of immortality. In ancient Persia, the fruit of the
haoma bears this essence. The apples of Idun give the Norse gods their
powers, much like the Gods of the Greek pantheon and their reliance on


This site is particular to the Celtic tree of life, showing a different version.

Celtic Tree of Life (Crann Bethadh)

  "The image shown here is a representation of the Celtic Tree of
Life. The Tree was an central part of early Celtic spirituality. To
the Celts, the tree was a source of sustenance - a bearer of food, a
provider of shelter and fuel for cooking and warmth. Trees were also
associated in the Shamanic beliefs of the Druids and other Celtic
peoples with the supernatural world. Trees were a connection to the
world of the spirits and the ancestors, living entities, and doorways
into other worlds. Wood from sacred trees had magickal properties,
which was reflected in the Celtic Ogham alphabet, wherein each letter
represents a particular sacred tree (modern Ogham divination is based
on the uses and importance of these sacred trees to the Celtic
people). Some trees provided food, some wood for making hunting
weapons; others were sacred to the fairy-folk or to the Gods. In
Celtic creation stories, trees were the ancestors of mankind, elder
beings of wisdom who provided the alphabet, the calendar, and entrance
to the realms of the Gods.
  The most sacred tree of all was the Oak tree, which represented the
axis mundi, the center of the universe. The oak was the doorway to the
Otherworld. Its Celtic name, daur, is the origin of the word door. The
word Druid, the name of the Celtic Priestly class, is compounded from
the words for oak and wise - a Druid was one who was "Oak Wise,"
meaning learned in Tree magick.
...The interlaced figures known popularly as Celtic knots represent
sacred trees and plants, and the sacred animals of the forest."
Or use:


This online book chapter provides a history of Paganism, including
Druids, and discusses the Tree of Life.


  "The meaning of the word "Druid" is elusive, but the closest
interpretation is "wise man of the oak". Druids were originally an
intellectual and religious cast among the tribal peoples of Pagan
Europe; they were the custodians of the cultural and spiritual
heritage in the centuries before the Common Era (BCE). Practising
their rites in urban shrines and woodland groves, Druids hold the
natural world as sacred, and honour, in particular, certain trees,
plants, animals, streams, lakes and springs. Mistletoe is treated as
sacred, because the berries are seen as semen with the seed not yet
having touched the ground. Cutting the mistletoe at Yule enacts the
moment of conception and incarnation.
  Historians generally associate Druids with the Iron Age Celtic
culture that spread out from central Europe between 800 and 200 BCE;
yet the Celtic people of Gaul maintained that Druidism originated in
Britain, and that Druids from continental Europe came to Britain to
study. Archaeological evidence suggests that many aspects of Celtic
ritual sites echo those of the Neolithic period, with similar bank and
ditch enclosures, internal settings of posts and astronomical
  In Norse mythology...Central to the Northern tradition is the symbol
of the tree of life called Yggdrasil. It has nine worlds: Midgard,
Land of Ordinary Mortals; Asgard, Land of the Aesir; Hel, World of the
Dead; Vanaheim, Home of the Vanir and Freya's Hall; the Land of Fire;
the Land of the Light Elves; the Land of the Dark Elves; the Land of
the Ice Giants; and the Land of Fog."
Or use:


The Celtic Tree of Life or World Tree

  "Back In the days of the Celts, Northern Europe was covered with
forests so thick it was said a squirrel could hop from branch to
branch from one end to the other without touching the ground. Italy
was covered from coast to coast with dense woods of oak, elm and
chestnut; A great Hercynian forest rendered Germany impenetrable in
Caesar's time; Scotland was clothed with the magnificent Caledonian,
Ireland with oak-woods, the whole of Southern England with the ancient
trees of Anderida.
  The forest was the matrix of a tribe's sustenance, culture and
spirituality. A bountiful food-store of nuts, berries and game, a
pharmacopoeia of medicines, a wood supply for shelter and the kindling
of sacred fires ? the forest was everything to the early Celtic


This site demonstrates an interesting connection between Druids and Christianity.

"The Truth about the Druids and their place in Celtic Society"

  "The ancient Druids were probably the the most learned of all men of
their time. Druids were not simply masters of religion. They were also
not, as Christianity has painted them, a barbaric bizarre priesthood
practicing macabre sacrifices, cutting out the hearts of their
  The Druids were accounted philosophers, natural scientists,
physicians, astronomers, mathematicians, musicians, poets,
legislators, judges, and teachers of religion and education. They were
trained in 'international law' as well as tribal law.
  "Dru" refers to truth - making a "Dru-id" a truth-knower. It is said
that the Druids could walk between two armies waged in war and dispel
the hostilities causing them to discontinue the fight.

Records From Irish Monks

  Because of the Druids considerable knowledge and the high
international reputation of Irish scholarship, the Christian Church of
the times found necessary to send missionaries of the highest
intellectual calibre. So much for ignorant pagan savages.
  These Irish monks were intrigued and captivated by Celtic Oral
traditions and recorded a vast amount of Celtic lore. There may have
been some books and manuscripts before then, but these are lost to us,
if they existed at all.
  We have some written records from Ireland and Wales that can help us
see into the druid mind. This great body of lore was recorded by
Christian scribes who were not bound by the Druid prohibition against
writing. They contain a Christian outlook and veneer thus the Druids
role in Irish mythology appear mainly as wizards, masters of the
supernatural arts, instead of merely learned men. Though these
medieval manuscripts were written and edited by Christian monks, much
wisdom yet remains there"


Of Norse Loki and the Celt Lugh 

The Mythic History of Lugus and Loki 

  "This god is shown together with birds; horses; the Oriental Tree of
Life motif; dogs or wolves; and twin serpents. But the imagery most
intimately connected to him is the mistletoe leaf or berry. Most often
the mistletoe leaves are shown at either side of his head, like horns
or ears; but sometimes the symbolism is reversed, and the god's head
appears as the berry of a mistletoe plant. During the 300's the
mistletoe-leaf motif combines with that of the twin serpents
(portrayed as facing S's) into a new motif archaeologists call the
"palmette". This shape, crowning the god's head or attached to some
animal figure, is common (especially on coins) until ca. 200 BCE.
Thereafter the twin serpents appear alone in what is still clearly a
glyph representing this particular divinity. The fact that
representations of the god and of his symbols appear most frequently
on objects related to formal aristocratic banquets (such as the famous
wine flagons from the Basse-Yutz burial in the Rhineland) strongly
suggests that he was in some way associated with sacral kingship."


A celtic tee of life book displays numerous designs

"Resources for understanding the Celtic Tree of Life

  For those of you who are fascinated by the artistic quality of the
Celtic Tree of Life, I highly recommend Aidan Meehan's book, Celtic
Design: The Tree of Life. It's a good guide for anyone who wishes to
understand the meanings in the design of the Celtic Tree of Life
symbol. If you are already experienced in Celtic art, this book will
help you create your own designs. But the Tree of Life is too complex
a design for the novice Celtic artist. It is not a good starting point
in creating your own Celtic designs."


Tree of Life Project
describes the symbol of the Tree of Life among two dozen world cultures


Theosophical article on the Kabbalah and the Tree of Life


I hope that you find this information useful. If I can be of furthur
assistance, please let me know. jdb-ga
Subject: Re: Tree of Life or World Tree
From: hammer-ga on 04 May 2005 09:04 PDT
The concept of a world tree is both common and ancient. A number of
belief systems include something similar and most of them predate
Christanity. One example of this is Yggdrasil, the World Tree of Norse

- Hammer

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