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Yggdrasil

An 1847 depiction of the Norse Yggdrasil as described in the Icelandic Prose Edda by Oluf Olufsen Bagge.

The concept of a tree of life as a many-branched tree illustrating the idea that all life on earth is related has been used in science, religion, philosophy, mythology, and other areas. A tree of life is variously;

  1. a motif in various world theologies, mythologies, and philosophies;
  2. a metaphor for the livelihood of the spirit.
  3. a mystical concept alluding to the interconnectedness of all life on our planet; and
  4. a metaphor for common descent in the evolutionary sense.

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, the tree of knowledge, connecting heaven and the underworld, and the tree of life, connecting all forms of creation, are both forms of the world tree or cosmic tree.[1] According to some scholars, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, portrayed in various religions and philosophies, are the same tree.[2]

Conceptual and mythological "trees of life"

Various trees of life are recounted in folklore, culture and fiction, often relating to immortality or fertility. They had their origin in religious symbolism.

Ancient Egypt

  • 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 Egyptians' Holy Sycamore also stood on the threshold of life and death, connecting the two worlds.

Assyria

  • What is known as the Assyrian Tree of Life was represented by a series of nodes and criss-crossing lines. It was apparently an important religious symbol, often attended to by Eagle-Headed Gods and Priests, or the King. Assyrilogists have not reached consensus as to the meaning of this symbol. It is multi-valent. The name "Tree of Life" has been attributed to it by modern scholarship; it is not used in the Assyrian sources. In fact, no textual evidence pertaining to the symbol is known to exist.

Baha'i Faith

The concept of the tree of life appears in the writings of the Baha'i Faith, where it can refer to the Manifestation of God, a great teacher who appears to humanity from age to age. The concept can be broken down still further, with the Manifestation as the roots and trunk of the tree and his followers as the branches and leaves. The fruit produced by the tree nourishes an ever-advancing civilization.

A distinction has been made between the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The latter represents the physical world with its opposites, such as good and evil and light and dark. In a different context from the one above, the tree of life represents the spiritual realm, where this duality does not exist.[3]

China

  • In Chinese mythology, a carving of a Tree of Life depicts a phoenix and a dragon; the dragon often represents immortality. A Taoist story tells 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 Sichuan, China. Dating from about 1200 BCE, it contained three 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 found in Sichuan, 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.

Germanic paganism and Norse mythology

Jewish sources

  • 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.
  • The tree of life is mentioned in the Book of Genesis; it is often considered distinct from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. After Adam and Eve fell from God's favour by eating fruit from the tree of knowledge, they were cast out of the Garden of Eden. Remaining in the garden, however, was the tree of life. To prevent access to this tree in the future, two cherubs with a flaming sword were placed at the garden's entrance. (Genesis 3:22-24)
  • In the book of Proverbs the tree of life is associated with wisdom: "[Wisdom] is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her, and happy is every one that holdest her fast." (Proverbs 3:13-18) In 15:4 the tree of life is associated with calmness: "A soothing tongue is a tree of life; but perverseness therein is a wound to the spirit."[4]
Tree-of-Life Flower-of-Life Stage

The Kabbalah Tree of Life derived from the Flower of Life.

  • The Tabernacle and The Ark of the Covenant were both made of acacia or shittah-tree (Ex 25:10, 26:15), identified by the Egyptians with the Tree of Life. Traditionally, the burning bush was believed to be acacia.
  • The prophet Ezekiel's vision of restoration, recorded in chapters 40 to 48 of the Book of Ezekiel, includes: "Along the river, on either bank, will grow every kind of fruit tree with leaves that never wither and fruit that never fails; they will bear new fruit every month, because this water comes from the sanctuary. And their fruit will be good to eat and the leaves medicinal." (Ezekiel 47:12)
  • The Book of Enoch, generally considered non-canonical, states that in the time of the great judgment God will give all those whose names are in the Book of Life fruit to eat from the Tree of Life.
  • Jewish mysticism depicts the tree of Life in the form of ten interconnected nodes, as an important part of the Kabbalah. As such, it resembles the ten Sephirot.

Christianity

  • In addition to the Hebrew Bible verses mentioned above, the tree of life is symbolically described in the Book of Revelation as having curing properties: "the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve fruits, yielding one fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations." (Revelation 22:1-2)
  • In Eastern Christianity the tree of life is to love God.[5] Many Christians consider the acacia the tree of life.

Christian — Latter-day Saints

The tree of life appears in the Book of Mormon in a revelation to Lehi (see 1 Nephi 8:10). It is symbolic of the love of God (see 1 Nephi 11:21-23). Its fruit is described as "most precious and most desirable above all other fruits," which "is the greatest of all the gifts of God" (see 1 Nephi 15:36). In another Mormon scriptural book, salvation is called "the greatest of all the gifts of God" (see Doctrine and Covenants 6:13). In the same book eternal life is also called the "greatest of all the gifts of God" (see Doctrine and Covenants 14:7). Because of these references, the tree of life and its fruit is sometimes understood to be symbolic of salvation and post-mortal existence in the presence of God and his love.

India

  • Flora in general play a central role in the Indian culture, which has largely a vegetarian tradition. 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).
  • Two varieties of the fig (called Ashvatta in Sanskrit), the banyan tree and the peepal tree are the most revered in the Indian tradition, and both are considered the trees of life. The banyan symbolizes fertility, according to the Agni Purana, and is worshipped by those wanting children. It is also referred to as the tree of immortality in many Hindu scriptures. The banyan is believed to have nourished mankind with its ‘milk’ before the advent of grain and other food.
  • The fig tree is either a player or an observer in several scriptural events in Hinduism. The sages and seers sit under the shade of the fig tree to seek enlightenment, hold discourses and conduct Vedic rituals. The Bodhi tree under which Gautama Buddha achieved enlightenment is a peepal tree.
  • The fig tree assumes special importance in the Indian tradition owing mainly to its 'two-way growth' (aerial 'roots' growing downwards).

Turkic world

Flag of Chuvashia

Tree of Life, as seen as in flag of Chuvashia, a Turkic state in the Russian Federation.


Urartu

Urartu Helmet Fragment 2~

Fragment of a bronze helmet from Urartu, with the "Tree of Life" depicted.

  • In Urartu 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.

Mesoamerica

  • 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.[6]
  • 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.[7] The trunk of the tree could also be represented by an upright caiman, whose skin evokes the tree's spiny trunk.[8]
  • 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.[9] 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.[10]

Other cultures

  • In the Japanese religion of Shinto, trees were marked with sacred paper symbolizing lightning bolts, as trees were thought to be sacred. After they died, 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.
  • In a myth passed down among the Iroquois, The World on the Turtle's Back, explains the origin of the land in which a tree of life is described. According to the myth, it is found in the heavens, where the first humans lived, until a pregnant woman fell and landed in an endless sea. Saved by a giant turtle from drowning, she formed the world on its back by planting bark taken from the tree.
  • Contemporary Welsh artist Jen Delyth created a Celtic Tree of Life symbol, in part based on ancient Celtic veneration of trees and traditional Celtic designs.
  • The tree of life motif is present in the traditional Ojibway cosmology and traditions. It is sometimes described as Grandmother Cedar, or Nookomis Giizhig in Anishinaabemowin.

Modern interpretations

Modern use

Art

  • A 2 1/2 story high "Tree of Life" sculpture by Wisconsin artist Nancy Metz White was installed in Mitchell Boulevard Park in Milwaukee in 2002. The tree is made of brightly painted welded steel and forge flashings recycled from Milwaukee heavy industry.

Music

  • Pictorial 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.
  • 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
  • American jam band O.A.R. featured a tree of life both on the cover art and on the actual c.d. for the album In Between Now and Then
  • Double album "Bath"/"Leaving Your Body Map" by avant-garde metal band maudlin of the Well was constructed based upon a parallel qabalistic Tree of Life structure.
  • The double album Axis Mutatis by the electronic group The Shamen contains in some limited editions the instrumental album "Arbor Bona Arbor Mala". The title refers to the tree of life, the ancient symbol found in virtually all Shamanic cultures, linking the underworld with the earth and the heavens. Also, on the cover of Axis Mutatis appears a representation of the tree of life by William Latham.

Science

Tree of life SVG

Graphical representation of the modern "Tree of Life on the Web" project.

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 (Platypus) or Lepidosiren (South American lungfish), 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.

Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species[14]

  • 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.
  • In February 2009, BBC One broadcast an animated, interactive tree of life as part of its "Darwin Season". The program was narrated by Sir David Attenborough.

Fiction

Literature

. references to 'the tree of life' are in Samuel Beckett's play Wainting for Godot.

  • In J.R.R Tolkien's The Silmarillion, the Two Trees of Valinor are the sources of light in Middle-Earth.
  • In Stephen Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, The One Tree (or Tree of Life) is the tree from which the Staff of Law was produced.
  • In C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, the Tree of Life plays a role, especially in the sixth published book (the first in the in-world chronology) The Magician's Nephew
  • In Terry Brooks' Shannara series, the Ellcrys, an Elf-turned-tree, plays some sort of role in many of the novels
  • In Robert Jordan' Wheel of Time the Tree of Life – "Avendesora" – as the last of its kind plays a pivotal role. This tree also linked to the Buddhist "Bodhi" tree, beneath which the Buddha attained Nirvana
  • The Tree of Life appears in Larry Niven's Known Space novels
  • The Hyperion Cantos series of novels contains several concepts and (indirect) references to the Tree of Life
  • In the Roger Zelazny's 1978 novel The Chronicles of Amber: The Courts of Chaos prince Corwin encounters Ygg (a nick from Ydgrassil), a tree who speaks and is planted on the border between Order and Chaos, between Amber and Courts of Chaos
  • In The Sea of Trolls written by Nancy Farmer, the Tree of Life (Ydgrassil) is a place holding magical powers.
  • In Michael Chabon's 2002 novel Summerland, the four great limbs of the Lodgepole – also known as the "Tree of Worlds" and the "Ash o' Ashes" – hold up the four Worlds of the Summerlands, the Winterlands, the Middling, and the Gleaming.

Video games

  • In the Mana series of video games, there is the Mana Tree which feeds the world its life force. Players are often granted Mana power and the Sword of Mana by the tree, on top of a mission to remove a certain threat to the Mana Tree, and thus the world.
  • Similarly, the sentient Great Deku Tree in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time grants eternal youth and protection to the inhabitants of Kokiri Forest.
  • The Norse Tree of Life, Yggdrasil, is either featured or referenced in many games, including those of the Tales RPG-series, the 2002 video game Wild Arms 3 and the 2008 video game Too Human.
  • In the Atari 2600 game Swordquest: Fireworld, the map of the game world is patterned after the Kabbalah Tree of Life.
  • In the 1997 video game Final Fantasy VII the main antagonist, Sephiroth, gets his name from the Kabbalah Tree of Life.
  • In the 1999 video game The Legend Of Dragoon the Divine Tree represents a Tree of Life.
  • In the 1999 video game Homeworld, there is a map called the Tree of Life, probably named after the distinctive shape that the space dust forms.
  • In the 2000 video game Final Fantasy IX an ancient Tree of Life - known as the lifa tree - is featured.
  • In the 2000 video game The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask there appears a tree in an open field just before the final boss battle with a tree very much like the Tree of Life.
  • In the 2002 video game Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, a Tree of Life is the central building of the Night Elf race.
  • In the 2004 MMORPG World of Warcraft, the Tree of Life is a shapeshifting form used by druids for healing fellow party members.
  • In the 2004 video game Warlords Battlecry III, the Wood Elves have a Tree of Life.
  • In the 2007 video game Dragoneer's Aria, The Great Spirit guards a World Tree.
  • In the 2008 video game Prince of Persia, a gigantic, ancient tree in the middle of the desert is used to keep the evil deity Ahriman sealed in a temple at its trunk. This game's story heavily borrows from Zoroastrianism.
  • In the 2009 video game Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, the Tree of Life grows within the city of Shambala, and the sap or fossilized resin from the tree is seen to be consumed by the inhabitants of the city. This in turn grants the user incredible regenerative abilities, strength, increased height and possible biological immortality. The sap from the tree represents the Cintamani Stone of Buddhist mythology, a giant raw sapphire with supposed wish-fulfilling properties.

Film

  • 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 Pokémon: Lucario and the mystery of Mew, a tree of life was also shown.
  • In The 2008 movie "The Librarian," Religious mention of the Tree of Life is clearly seen in Parts with a Crusade-era Picture of a knight with his shield in that of the Tree of Life. Another part of the movie depicts a Fake Secret Area Beneath a New York City Museum, where there are historical items such as the Fountain of youth and Noahs arch. At the end of the movie the camera angle changes and the Grounds walking surface is revealed to be that of the Tree of Life.
  • In Dragon Ball Z's Third Movie Tree of Might A giant tree named the Tree of Might is represented as an evil version of the Tree of Life. It's roots takes so much nutrients from the planet it's been seeded on that it kills the planet to support it's fruit and growth. It is also a very massive tree much like the Tree of Life can be represented as.
  • In the 2009 film Avatar, the Na'vi live in Hometree, the spiritual and physical home of the tribe; over 300 meters tall, Hometree is connected with all the other plant life of Pandora through a neural-like network.
  • The Tree of Life is a Terence Malick film due to be released in May 2011, starring Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain.

Anime

  • 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 1997 anime movie The End of Evangelion, the Eva series summon the Tree of Life with the Eva-01
  • In the anime Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water there is a giant tree beneath Antarctica that is identified as the Tree Of Life by Captain Nemo
  • In the manga Fullmetal Alchemist, the Gate of Alchemy depicts a representation of the Tree of Life
  • In the anime Genesis of Aquarion the Tree of Life is being fed to create a new Genesis.

Other

  • The logo of American health service and insurance company CIGNA makes use of a tree of life motif.

Decorative arts

5kr obverse

5 kuruş coin features 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.
  • A motif of the tree of life is featured on Turkish 5 Kuruş coins, to be circulated in early 2009.

Physical "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 (27 m) high sculpture in the Utah Bonneville Salt Flats that is also known as the Tree of Life.
  • The ancient Zoroastrians and modern Rastafari consider cannabis to be 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.
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom theme park features an artificial tree dubbed "The Tree of Life", which has about 325 carvings of different species of animals. Inside the tree is the It's Tough to be a Bug! attraction.
  • An acacia tree in Tsavo East National Park, Kenya. It is a symbol of life in the vast expanses of thorny savanna, where wild animals come to take advantage of its leaves or its shade. Tsavo National Park in southeastern Kenya, crossed by the Nairobi-Mombasa road and railway axis, is the country's largest protected area (8,200 square miles, or 21,000 square kilometers) and was declared a national park in 1948.
  • 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.[15] Modern scientists and some missionary groups have considered the plant as a possible solution for the treatment of severe malnutrition[16] and aid for those with HIV/AIDS.[17]

See also

References

  1. world tree in the Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. [1]
  3. Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 122.
  4. For other direct references to the tree of life in the Jewish Biblical canon, see also Proverbs 11:30, 13:12.
  5. Saint Isaac the Syrian says that "Paradise is the love of God, in which the bliss of all the beatitudes is contained," and that "the tree of life is the love of God" (Homily 72).
  6. Miller and Taube (1993), p.186.
  7. Finlay (2003)
  8. Miller and Taube, loc. cit.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Freidel, et al. (1993)
  11. http://www.cannabisculture.com/articles/2661.html
  12. http://www.equalrights4all.org/religious/bible.htm
  13. So could Ida be the true missing link?
  14. Darwin, C. (1872), pp. 170–171. On the Origin of Species. Sixth Edition. The Modern Library, New York.
  15. Moringa
  16. Moringa Oleifera : Malnutrition Fighter : NPR
  17. The possible role of Moringa oleifera in HIV/AIDS supportive treatment

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