T is for Tree of Life
Symbols in Stories from Around the World
Many kinds of trees have been the “Tree of Life,” a tree sacred or magical or both. I dreamed of a willow-type tree that glowed with pink and purple flowers that I called the Yip Yap Tree because of the fairies that would awaken from the blossoms and fly around the tree on a full moon. People nearby could hear the “yip” and “yap” of the fairies and thus it got its name.
Though, there are many actual trees thought to be the “Tree of Life” as seen here:
- Sycamore, Date Palm = Egypt
- Olive Tree, Fig Tree, Date Palm Tree, Grape Vine = Near East
- Oak Tree = European
- Cedar Tree = Some Native American tribes
- Ash Tree = Vikings
- Baobab Tree = Masai tribe and throughout Africa
- Waxacá Tree = Brazil and Guyana
Oftentimes, the Tree of Life is part of a creation story as it is for the Near East. At one time, these people believed the earth was a flat circle and the heavens above were supported by a tree. The roots dug into the earth while the branches spread throughout the heavens. This tree was the world’s axis.
In Egypt, two turquoise sycamore trees are on either side of heaven. Sycamore were also associated with the sky goddess Nut as well as with motherhood goddess Hathor and the military and fertility god Sobek. The sycamore tree easily was seen as the Tree of Life.
A famous “Tree of Life” is named Yggdrasill and means “Odin’s horse” or “gallows.” Such a definition is linked to the story of Odin wishing to control destiny. He could not decipher the runes to have this power. The tree Yggdasill connected the nine worlds through its branches and roots. The Norns, three maidens of fate, carved runes into this tree to travel to any of the nine worlds and influence destiny. Odin’s only way to gain this power was to sacrifice himself. He hung himself from the tree for nine days. He resurrected and then understood the runes.
In Africa, the baobab tree is known as the “Tree of Life” as well as by the names of “Bottle Tree,” “Monkey-Bread Tree,” and “Upside-Down Tree.” The baobab has several origin stories. One is that God gave each of the animals a tree to plant and hyena planted the baobab upside down. Another is that God heard the whines of the baobab of its looks and got tired of the complaints and turned the tree upside down. The huge trees look the branches are roots reaching for the sky. No matter the looks, this tree grows a fruit that has more potassium than a banana and more calcium than milk. The fruit has more iron than red meat. Poor and rich alike have benefited from the baob ab. This tree is found throughout Africa though the baobab is the national tree of Madagascar.
The Christian world sees the Tree of Life as different than the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that held the fruit that Adam and Eve partook. The Tree of Life could give immortality. Within this Christian faith, the people from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, read about the Tree of Life in the Book of Mormon. Lehi, a prophet and a father of some righteous and wicked sons, had a dream of the Tree of Life that glowed white and had fruit that shone. When Lehi partook of the fruit, he was filled with happiness and wished for his family to also partake. A rod of iron led to this Tree of Life though fog and cliffs and a great and spacious building all were obstacles for people to partake. Only the faithful would make it, as the fruit of the Tree of Life was the greatest of all gifts of God, the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The tree itself was the love of God.
The Babylonians saw the Tree of Life within a Garden of Paradise that was surrounded by the Apsu, sea of creation. The waxacá tree in Brazil said that all plants came from this Tree of Life.
For some Native American tribes, especially the Northwest coast, the cedar tree was used as an incense and as a healing plant. The cedar was used during prayer, dreams, and for fighting diseases. Some tribes use the cedar as a clan symbol such as with the Hopi.
Some stories that feature a Tree of Life:
- “Odin and Yggdrasill,” Viking tale, Odin wants to control destiny and must die within the Yggdrassill tree to show that he is worthy of this gift
- “The Widow who Gathered Sticks,” Masai tribe (Africa), a widow wished to have children and was told to pick the fruit of a baobab tree, place them in jars, and discover children the next day
- “Glooskap and the Fearful Warrior,” Mi’kmaq tribe (Canada), a warrior did not want to die and travels long and hard to see Glooskap that grants his request to live a long life—longer than man—and becomes the first cedar tree (similar stories found among other First Nations and Native American tribes as to longevitly/immortality of cedar trees)
What stories do you know that feature a Tree of Life? What type of tree is that Tree of Life, if revealed? Please comment below and share with others.
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One thought on “T is for Tree of Life–A to Z Blog Challenge”
If I recall correctly, a tree is central to a ritual in Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” where Shadow goes through death and resurrection while hanging on a tree. The book, of course, is rooted in ancient mythology (no pun intended).