The Tree of Life


The Tree of Life is an important symbol in nearly every culture. With its branches reaching into the sky, and roots deep in the earth, it dwells in three worlds- a link between heaven, the earth, and the underworld, uniting above and below. It is both a feminine symbol, bearing sustenance, and a masculine, visibly phallic symbol- another union.


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.

Shaman's drum, picturing the siberian Axis Mundi

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. This aspect of the tree as a giver of gifts and spiritual wisdom is also quite common.


It is while meditating under a Bodhi tree that Buddha received his enlightenment; the Norse God Odin received the gift of language while suspended upside down in the World Ash (an interesting parallel is the hanged man of the tarot). In Judeo-Christian mythology, the Tree of heaven sits at the center of creation, and is the source of the primordial rivers that water the earth-

The Tooba Tree of the Koran is a similar idea, from whose roots spring milk, honey, and wine.


YggdrassilThis tree and its gifts of immortality are not easy to discover. It is historically difficult to find, and almost invariably guarded. The tree of Life in the Jewish bible is guarded by a Seraph (an angel in the form of a fiery serpent) bearing a flaming sword. To steal the apples of knowledge, the Greek hero Hercules had to slay a many-headed dragon Ladon. In Mayan legends, it is a serpent in the roots that must be contended with. Similarly, the Naga, or divine serpent guards the Hindu Tree. The Serpent Nidhog lives under Ygdrassil, and gnaws at the roots.

The tree as the abode of the Gods is another feature common to many mythologies; in some, the tree itself is a God. The ancient Sumerian God Dammuzi was personified as a tree, as is the Hindu Brahman. The Byzantine World tree represents the omnipotence of the Christian god.

Mesopotamian Another form, the inverted Tree, represents spiritual growth, as well as the human nervous system. This tree, with its roots in heaven, and its branches growing downward, is most commonly found in Kabbalistic imagery.

A similar tree is mentioned in the Vedic Bhagavad Gita: “The banyan tree with its roots above, and its branches below, is imperishable.”

In Jewish Kabbalah, the inverted tree represents the nervous system as well- the ‘root’ in the cranial nerves, with the branches spreading throughout the body; it also represents the cosmic tree- rooted in heaven, the branches all of manifest creation.

Banyan of the Bhagavad Gita

{ 4 trackbacks }

[1A] Photo reference (research on the topic) | YWYW
April 7, 2013 at 10:11 am
Day 22 – Symbols: the tree (of life) | 366daystolearn
January 22, 2016 at 7:13 pm
‘The ghost of Prometheus: a long-gone tree and the artist who resurrected its memory’ by Carolina A Miranda | paula friis
February 4, 2016 at 8:11 pm
Object: Figurine - UTSA Institute Of Texan Cultures
September 27, 2018 at 10:08 am


Gail May 21, 2018 at 8:08 pm

You have compiled an excellent informative page. I found it interesting. I design and handcraft Tree of Life Jewelry and Wall Hangings. I began first with necklaces. I have, however, added a Petoskey Stone (Fossil) in the roots. I, like everyone else, have my own belief of the meaning of the Tree of Life. Each of my pieces comes with a card that states my belief in its meaning.
“What once held life gives way to the birth of new life” Gail Willson
Great information! Thanks.

Jennifer July 4, 2018 at 3:50 am

As a Michigander, i find that pretty awesome :)

Stig October 29, 2017 at 2:56 pm

Just a correction of some import. In the quote below you call the tree from the Vedic literature (Bhagavad Gita) a Banyan…it is the Ashwattha Tree.

“A similar tree is mentioned in the Vedic Bhagavad Gita: “The banyan tree with its roots above, and its branches below, is imperishable.”

Thanks for the site…:-)


Arthur August 23, 2017 at 3:34 pm

I am searching for a suitable name for my production company…. I want it to be along the lines of the tree of life…I was guided to this site and pleasantly received so much more than I was looking for. Great stuff…I’ll be back for sure. Thank you.

Georgia April 11, 2016 at 4:31 am

A bit confused as to why you’ve included a picture of a Sámi drum in this article. Sámi drums, typically made from turtle shells and leather, were used by shamans to connect with messenders of ancestors (or “spirit animals” for lack of a better term: a bird, a fish, a reindeer) who would show the shaman the future and which path to take. Drums are sacred to Sámi and the designs painted on them are representative of the journey the shaman must make to find the messengers. It has like…no relevance to Yggdrasil or any tree of life symbolism that modern scholars (or even Sámi since much of their religious beliefs and culture was destroyed by Christians in the 17th century) are aware of.

Jennifer April 11, 2016 at 8:23 pm

The central figure on many Sami drums is actually the sun, often with radiating spokes (a sun cross) or an axis mundi. So it very definitely falls into the category of a tree of life representation.

Of course, the Sami had a mythology similar enough to the Viking to draw parallels- Ylinen, Keskinen, Alinen are very similar in placement and function to the three worlds of Norse mythology.

Hope that helps. :)

Phreemessen November 14, 2014 at 1:54 am

The tree of life is actually the tree of death. The roots are in the ground (death). Man is reaching for divinity, thus the root points to the sky (the brain) and it is the very first thing that is developed in the fetus.

The symbol of the upside down pentagram is also the tree of life (death). Man is the only tree with it’s roots pointing towards heaven, thus divinity.

Karma Trance September 17, 2014 at 9:58 pm

“As above, so below”!!! (& “As within, so without”, reminding us to “go inside”(within ourselves) that our very essence, spirit, soul is what we have been seeking the whole time. To evolve, learn, accept, & LOVE the (non-egotistical, compassionate, & loving purity within us all). Just as Buddha & many others have discovered, including *this Witch* )O(

Russell Freeland May 11, 2013 at 3:19 pm

NM found it on Google image search. :)

Russell Freeland May 10, 2013 at 9:26 pm

I wonder if you could point me to a larger version of the graphic which is 5th on this page? (Tree of life in color with seraph? And something in the foliage as well?) Actually the fourth too…or any/all of them I am interested in checking out the details and can’t make them out!


Robert Searle November 29, 2012 at 7:34 am

My evolving project may have indirect relevance to this interesting, and excellent site

cr April 20, 2012 at 8:42 am

I enjoy the whole “Jewish and Christian mythology” right there in the beggining. It means this report is very unbiased towards different religions….now I need to actually read this.

Belinda November 26, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Thank you for the wonderful tree info, looking forward to returning to this site in the future.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: