Understanding the Tree of Life
If you’re new to animism, you may have heard us talk about the tree of life, but not known what that is or why it matters. As the tree of life is a symbol that has existed across cultures and throughout time, no one “owns” it. Nor is there just one meaning. I’ll give you an overview here so you can have an understanding of the tree of life and are able to use it in your animist practice.
Which Tree is the Tree of Life?
The type of tree changes from culture to culture. The first known depiction, the Assyrian tree of life, is a non-existent tree that combines the lotus and pine which both symbolize fecundity and immortality. The Teutons, Norse, Celts, and Druids used the oak and ash. Hebrews and Christians used palms and cedars. Egyptians used sycamores. In east Asia the cassia and bo trees were popular. In Africa, the long lived baobab tree is the tree of life. Obviously the local landscape influenced the choices.
What Does the Tree of Life Symbolize?
Humans have always held trees in awe. They are long lived and stand through war, famine, birth, and death. They see us through our own lives, were there for our grandparents, and will be there for our grandchildren. Trees give us shade, shelter, and sometimes food.
As a tree moves through the seasons, we see it leaf out in the spring, mature, decline, and “die, only to return to life again. So the tree of life symbolizes immortality. Death is always followed by rebirth. This may be the same organism returning, or it can mean transformation to other form. It can also indicate that life continues through our children.
The tree is also a symbol of family, ancestors, and fertility. The ancestors are our roots. We can see how our ancestors hold us strong as we branch out and grow.
Strength and flexibility is another symbol for the tree of life. Trees bend in the wind, but stand strong. They endure through the ages.
The tree of life’s roots, trunk, and branches bind together the three realms of Sky, Earth, and Otherworld. This symbolizes the interconnectedness of all things. It’s a web of life where the animals, plants, minerals, humans, and spirit world are all a part of each other. Yin and Yang are partners. Everything is a part of the All. We are whole.
Sacrifice is shown when the tree gives its fruit, bark, leaves, or roots for food and medicine.
Finally, the tree of life represents home. The tree provides us with everything we need to thrive: food, medicine, shelter, protection, wisdom, and a foundation (roots). Its life is a template for how we can move through life. When we stray from these teachings, we become weak and lost. Yet the tree always remains where it always was, giving us a beacon to find our way back home.
If you ever find yourself lost, simply look to your feet. Put your feet on the ground. Imagine yourself becoming deeply rooted into Mother Earth, into your ancestors. Feel the top of your head reaching to Father sky. Then allow yourself to feel how connected you are to all that is. When you feel empowered in who you are, move forward with that knowledge inside of you.