A tree of life is a mystical concept, a metaphor for common descent or a motif in various world theologies and philosophies.
Conceptual and mythological "trees of life"
Various trees of life
appear in folklore
, often relating to immortality
. These often hold cultural and religious significance to the peoples for whom they appear.
- The Assyrian Tree of Life was represented by a series of nodes and criss-crossing lines. It was an important religious symbol among these peoples, often attended to by Eagle Headed Gods & Priests, or the King himself.
- In Chinese mythology a carving of a Tree of Life depicts a phoenix and a dragon – in Chinese mythology the dragon often represents immortality. There is also the Taoist story of a tree that produces a peach every three thousand years. The one who eats the fruit receives immortality.
- An archaeological discovery in the 1990s was of a sacrificial pit at Sanxingdui in Sechuan, China. Dating from about 1200 BCE, it contained 3 bronze trees, one of them 4 meters high. At the base was a dragon, and fruit hanging from the lower branches. At the top is a strange bird-like (phoenix) creature with claws. Also from Sechuan, from the late Han dynasty (c 25 – 220 CE) is another tree of life. The ceramic base is guarded by a horned beast with wings. The leaves of the tree are coins and people. At the apex is a bird with coins and the Sun.
- In Egyptian mythology, in the Ennead system of Heliopolis, the first couple, apart from Shu & Tefnut (moisture & dryness) and Geb & Nuit (earth & sky), are Isis & Osiris. They were said to have emerged from the acacia tree of Saosis, which the Egyptians considered the tree of life, referring to it as the "tree in which life and death are enclosed". A much later myth relates how Set killed Osiris, putting him in a coffin, and throwing it into the Nile, the coffin becoming embedded in the base of a tamarisk tree.
- The Egyptian's Holy Sycamore also stood on the threshold of life and death, connecting the two worlds.
- In Germanic paganism, trees played (and, in the form of reconstructive Heathenry and Germanic Neopaganism, continue to play) a prominent role, appearing in various aspects of surviving texts and possibly in the name of gods.
- The tree of life appears in Norse religion as Yggdrasil, the world tree, a massive tree (sometimes considered a yew or ash tree) with extensive lore surrounding it. Perhaps related to Yggdrasil, accounts have survived of Germanic Tribes honouring sacred trees within their societies. Examples include Thor's Oak, sacred groves, the Sacred tree at Uppsala, and the wooden Irminsul pillar.
- In Norse Mythology it is the apples from Iðunn's ash box that provides immortality for the gods.
- The Tree of Life is mentioned in the Book of , in which it has the potential to grant immortality to Adam and Eve, in where it's a simile for a blessing.
- A Tree of Life, in the form of ten interconnected nodes, is an important part of the Kabbalah. As such, it resembles the ten Sephirot.
- Etz Chaim, Hebrew for "Tree of Life", is a common term used in Judaism. The expression, found in the Book of Proverbs, is figuratively applied to the Torah itself. Etz Chaim is also a common name for yeshivas and synagogues as well as for works of Rabbinic literature. Further, it is also used to describe each of the wooden poles to which the parchment of a Sefer Torah is attached.
- Among pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures, the concept of "world trees" is a prevalent motif in Mesoamerican mythical cosmologies and iconography. World trees embodied the four cardinal directions, which represented also the fourfold nature of a central world tree, a symbolic axis mundi connecting the planes of the Underworld and the sky with that of the terrestrial world.
- Depictions of world trees, both in their directional and central aspects, are found in the art and mythological traditions of cultures such as the Maya, Aztec, Izapan, Mixtec, Olmec, and others, dating to at least the Mid/Late Formative periods of Mesoamerican chronology. Among the Maya, the central world tree was conceived as or represented by a ceiba tree, and is known variously as a wacah chan or yax imix che, depending on the Mayan language. The trunk of the tree could also be represented by an upright caiman, whose skin evokes the tree's spiny trunk.
- Directional world trees are also associated with the four Yearbearers in Mesoamerican calendars, and the directional colors and deities. Mesoamerican codices which have this association outlined include the Dresden, Borgia and Fejérváry-Mayer codices. It is supposed that Mesoamerican sites and ceremonial centers frequently had actual trees planted at each of the four cardinal directions, representing the quadripartite concept.
- World trees are frequently depicted with birds in their branches, and their roots extending into earth or water (sometimes atop a "water-monster", symbolic of the underworld).
- The central world tree has also been interpreted as a representation of the band of the Milky Way.
Ancient Armenia (Urartu)
- In ancient Armenia around 13th to 6th century BC, the Tree of Life was a religious symbol, drawn onto the exterior walls of fortresses and carved on the armour of warriors. The branches of the tree were equally divided on the right and left sides of the stem, with each branch having one leaf, and one leaf on the apex of the tree. Servants (some winged) stood on each side of the tree with one of their hands up as if they are taking care of it. This tree can be found on numerous Urartu artifacts, such as paintings on the walls of the Erebuni fortress in Yerevan, Armenia.
- The symbolism of the tree is mentioned in the 135th hymn of the 10th book of Rig-Veda, and in the 15th chapter of Bhagavad-gita (1–4) and is called the Ashvatta.
- In the Japanese religion of Shinto, trees were marked with sacred paper symbolizing lightning bolts, as trees were thought to be sacred. This was propagated by the fact that after they passed, ancestors and animals were often portrayed as branches on the tree.
- The Book of One Thousand and One Nights has a story, 'The Tale of Buluqiya', in which the hero searches for immortality and finds a paradise with jewel-encrusted trees. Nearby is a Fountain of Youth guarded by Al-Khidr. Unable to defeat the guard, Buluqiya has to return empty-handed.
- The Epic of Gilgamesh is a similar quest for immortality. In Mesopotamian mythology, Etana searches for a 'plant of birth' to provide him with a son. This has a solid provenance of antiquity, being found in cylinder seals from Akkad (2390 – 2249 BCE).
- One of the earliest forms of ancient Greek religion has its origins associated with tree cults.
- Pictoral representations of the Tree of Life can be found in the album artwork for rock band Mudvayne's L.D. 50(NOPE); and on the outer casing of the album Salival, by rock band Tool. In addition, the Tree of Life was used in the visual displays shown during several of Tool's concerts, especially during the song Triad.
- Metal band Dååth (pronounced 'doth') also uses the Tree of Life as a basis for their music.
- In their album Emissaries the black metal Melechesh make a reference to the Tree of Life in their song "Touching the Spheres of Sephiroth".
- One of the tracks on the soundtrack album for the film The Fountain is called "Tree of Life".
- The duo "Trees of Life" did the soundtrack for the animated film Tamala 2010.
- The song "Nidhogg" (2007 album "Seas of Blood") from gothic rock band, By Blood Alone, is entirely based on the Yggdrasil mythology and the lore of the great dragon who gnaws the roots of the Tree of Life.
- Guitar virtuoso Steve Vai has a Tree of Life inlay in his Ibanez JEM guitars
- Dillinger Escape Plan bassist Liam Wilson has a Tree of Life tattoo on his chest
"Tree of life" excerpt from Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species:
From the first growth of the tree, many a limb and branch has decayed and dropped off; and these fallen branches of various sizes may represent those whole orders, families, and genera which have now no living representatives, and which are known to us only in a fossil state. As we here and there see a thin, straggling branch springing from a fork low down in a tree, and which by some chance has been favoured and is still alive on its summit, so we occasionally see an animal like the Ornithorhynchus or Lepidosiren, which in some small degree connects by its affinities two large branches of life, and which has apparently been saved from fatal competition by having inhabited a protected station. As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and overtop on all sides many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever-branching and beautiful ramifications.
- The Tree of Life on the Web is an ongoing Internet project containing information about phylogeny and biodiversity, produced by biologists from around the world. Each page contains information about one group of organisms and is organized according to a branched tree-like form, thus showing hypothetical relationships between organisms and groups of organisms.
- The phrase the tree of life is often used in association with the DNA molecule, and has sometimes been associated with the maternal placenta.
- The neuroanatomical term tree of life describes the branching pattern between the cortical grey matter and subcortical white matter of the cerebellum.
- In the world's rain forests, trees' leaves and branches form a canopy, which traps moisture and protects the diverse ecology underneath from the equatorial Sun. The phrase trees of life is used to describe this protective barrier, as, in its absence, life quickly abandons the area, due to extinction or migration.
- Darren Aronofsky's film The Fountain (as well as the graphic novel based on the screenplay) centers around immortality given by the Tree of Life
- In the anime movie Ghost in the Shell (Kokaku Kidotai), the auditorium in the old sunken part of Newport City shows one of the walls of the building bearing one type of the Tree of Life being shot at from its base by a tank.
- In the movie, The End of Evangelion, the Eva series summon the Tree of Life with the Eva-01.
- In Homeworld, there is a map called the Tree of Life, probably named after the distinctive shape that the space dust forms.
- The solitary tree in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot is often thought to be a representation of the Tree of Life.
- The Hyperion Cantos contains several concepts and (indirect) references to the Tree of Life.
- In the manga Fullmetal Alchemist, the Gate of Alchemy depicts a representation of the Tree of Life.
- In Mana games and video game The Legend Of Dragoon the Mana Tree and the Divine Tree, respectively, may possibly represent the Tree of Life.
- In the games Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Phantasia, the world tree Yggdrasil appears as the source of mana for the world.
- The Media.Vision developed videogame Wild Arms 3 (for the Sony Playstation 2) references the "Tree of Life" by referring to it as Yggdrasil. This element of the game's storyline is an obstacle for the characters to overcome.
- The fledgling angels of Haibane Renmei live in a town surrounded by a gigantic wooden wall. Although the series never shows what exists beyond the wall, the town may be a "nest" on the Tree of Life.
The grandfather of British studio pottery, Bernard Leach
, famously used a 'tree of life' on many of his works. Something which was continued by his Son David Leach
, among others.
Physical (real) "trees of life"
- The Arborvitae gets its name from the Latin for "tree of life".
- The Tule tree of Aztec mythology is also associated with a real tree. This Tule tree can be found in Oaxaca, Mexico.
- There is a Tree of Life in the island country of Bahrain in the Persian Gulf.
- Metaphor: The Tree of Utah is an 87-foot high sculpture in the Utah Bonneville Salt Flats that is also known as the Tree of Life.
- In some parts of the Caribbean, coconut trees are given the title of "tree of life", as they can produce everything needed for short/medium term survival.
- The West African Moringa oleifera tree is regarded as a "tree of life" or "miracle tree" by some because it is arguably the most nutritious source of plant-derived food discovered on the planet. Modern scientists and some missionary groups have considered the plant as a possible solution for the treatment of severe malnutrition and aid for those with HIV/AIDS.