What is the Tree of Life?
The Tree of Life also called World Tree, Tree of Knowledge or Cosmic Tree has great spiritual meaning for many people and religion. The Tree of Life is a universal symbol found in many spiritual traditions. It stands for many things, including wisdom, protection, strength, bounty, beauty, and redemption.
Two main forms are known and both employ the notion of the world tree as centre.
In the one, the tree is the vertical centre binding together heaven and earth; in the other, the tree is the source of life at the horizontal centre of the earth.
In the vertical, tree-of-knowledge tradition, the tree extends between earth and heaven. It is the vital connection between the world of the gods and the human world.
In the horizontal, tree-of-life tradition, the tree is planted at the centre of the world and is protected by supernatural guardians. It is the source of terrestrial fertility and life. Human life is descended from it; its fruit confers everlasting life; and if it were cut down, all fecundity would cease.
Various Trees of Life are recounted in folklore, culture and fiction, often relating to immortality or fertility. They had their origin in religious symbolism.
Religions and Mythology
The Mayan believed heaven to be a wonderful, magical place on Earth hidden by a mystical mountain. Heaven, Earth, and Underworld were connected by the ‘world tree’. The world tree grew at the locus of creation, all things flowing out from that spot into four directions. The Mayan tree of life is a cross with its centre being the point of ‘absolute beginning’, the source of all creation and its branches passing through each of the three layers of existence - underworld, earth, and the sky.
Tablet of the Foliated Tree of Life
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 in Assyrian palace reliefs by human or eagle-headed winged genies, or the King, and blessed or fertilized with bucket and cone. Assyriologists have not reached consensus as to the meaning of this symbol. 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.
Carved Assyrian Tree of Life - British Museum
In Egyptian mythology, the first couple are Isis and Osiris. They have emerged from the acacia tree of Iusaaset, which the Egyptians considered the tree of life. Egyptians considered the Tree of Life to be the tree in which life and death are enclosed. The direction East was associated with the direction of Life, the direction of the rising Sun, and the direction West was seen as the direction of death, of under-world, because Sun sets in the West. Egyptian creation myths refer to a serpent and a primordial egg, which contained a bird of light.
In Buddhist tradition, The Bo tree, also called Bodhi tree, is the tree under where Buddha sat when he attained Enlightenment (near Gaya, west-central Bihar state, India).