The World Tree Symbol
The world tree is a common symbol found in many cultures and religions. It represents the axis mundi, or center of the world.
The tree symbol is a general one and often seen as a sacred place where heaven and earth meet. The world tree has widely been represented in art and literature throughout history. In more modern times, it has become a popular and widespread tattoo design and can be seen on flags, jewelry, clothing, and other items.
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What is the World Tree symbol?
The World Tree is a concept found in various ancient and modern cultures, in which a tree is seen as a symbol of the natural world, and is often associated with cosmic order and the passage of time. The World Tree is often depicted as a large, majestic tree that stands at the center of the world and connects the underworld, earth, and heaven.
The World Tree is a motif or symbol present in several religions and mythologies, particularly Indo-European religions. It is represented as a massive, colossal tree which supports the heavens, connecting the heavens, earth and underground through its roots. In some traditions, the world tree is associated with the creation of the universe and is believed to hold the secrets of life and death. It is often depicted as a source of knowledge and wisdom, and is seen as a sacred and holy place and is often associated with the passage of time.
The specific symbolism and significance of the world tree varies depending on the culture and tradition in which it appears. Some common themes that are associated with the world tree include growth, renewal, connection, and unity.
Where does the World Tree symbol come from?
One of the earliest known references to the world tree is found in ancient Sumerian mythology, where it is known as the “tree of life” or “sacred tree.”
The world tree also appears in ancient Egyptian mythology, Norse mythology, and various indigenous cultures around the world.
The concept of the world tree has also been adopted and adapted by various modern spiritual and religious movements, including some branches of Buddhism and Hinduism, where it is often seen as a symbol of the journey to enlightenment and the potential for spiritual growth.
The World Tree symbol has its roots in religion and mythology across Northern Asia and Siberia.
The specific origins of the world tree symbol are difficult to trace, as it appears in a wide range of cultures and has evolved and been interpreted in different ways over time.
What does the World Tree symbol mean?
The World Tree means Connection with the Spiritual
The world tree may be a symbol of the connection between the earthly realm and the spiritual realm, as well as the connection between different levels of existence.
The World Tree means Creation
In some traditions, the world tree is associated with the creation of the universe and is seen as a symbol of the foundation of all things exist.
The World Tree means Continuity of life, Eternal life
The world tree is often seen as a symbol of the continuity of life, representing rebirth. In some cultures, it represents eternal life through its connection to nature.
The World Tree means Unity
The world tree is often depicted as a solid, massive tree that unites different levels of existence, and is seen as a symbol of unity and interconnectedness of things.
The World Tree means Growth and Renewal
The world tree is often associated with themes of growth and renewal, and is seen as a symbol of the potential for spiritual growth and enlightenment – think about Buddhism.
The World Tree means Sacredness
In many cultures, the world tree is revered as a sacred and holy place, and is seen as a reliable source of knowledge and deep wisdom.
How is the World Tree symbol used religiously?
The World Tree symbol is used heavily in connection to religion. The World Tree is often associated with other archetypal symbols such as the tree of life or axis mundi (the point at which heaven and earth meet). It can also be used to represent complete devotion to God or other deities in some religions such as Hinduism.
Here are a few examples of how the world tree symbol has been used in different religions:
- In Norse mythology, the world tree is known by the name of Yggdrasil and is seen as a holy place on Earth.
- In Hinduism, the world tree is known as the Ashvattha tree and is seen as a symbol of the eternal life. It is also associated with the Hindu god Brahma, who is said to live within the tree.
- In Buddhism there is a Tree of Life as well, the world tree is known as the sacred bodhi tree and is associated with the story of the Buddha’s enlightenment.
Different World Trees
The world tree is originated in ancient mythology and has been used as a symbol for many religions since then. For example the oak tree in Slavic and Finnish mythology represents strength and endurance while Yggdrasil in Norse mythology represents wisdom. In Hinduism the Ashvastha (a Sacred Fig) represents knowledge of the universe as such.
There are many different versions of the World Tree concept found in various cultures and mythologies. A few examples:
- Yggdrasil: In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is the World Tree. It stands at the center of the universe and holds all of the Nine Worlds within its branches.
- Baobab Tree: In many African cultures, the Baobab tree is considered to be the World Tree. It is known for its massive trunk and branches, and is often seen as a symbol of strength.
- The Tree of Life: The concept of the Tree of Life appears in various cultures and religions, including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is depicted as a tree with branches reaching towards the heavens and sky and roots extending into the underworld or Abyss, and is seen as a symbol of the interconnectedness of all things. In the Bible there is also a Tree of Life.
- The Tree of Knowledge: In the Abrahamic religions, the Tree of Knowledge is a tree in the Garden of Eden, whose fruit imparts knowledge of good and evil.
- The Cosmic Tree: In Hinduism and Buddhism, the Cosmic Tree is a symbol of the natural order and the interconnectedness of all things. The tree may be depicted upside down with its roots reaching up into the heavens while its myriad branches bring blessings down to earth. It also can be associated with certain fruits or flowers that have special significance in different cultures around the world.
- The World Tree in Native American mythology: It is often depicted as a large tree at the center of the world, with its branches and roots extending out to the four cardinal directions of our world.
- The Maya world tree represents these metaphysical principles through its connection between life on earth and sky gods associated with different elements such as water or fire. It also represents a prop connecting life with death since it embodies natural processes such as birth and decay.
- In celtic mythology there are mystical trees and also a tree of life symbolism but Norse and Celtic are not the same.
In Samoyed mythology, the “world tree” connects different realities (underworld, this world, upper world) together while in Tengriism it represents Mother Earth who gives shamans their drums and helps them travel between worlds. Additionally it can be seen in designs from Korean culture such as the Crown of Silla which links it to Siberian peoples.
The World Tree in Maya Mythology
The Maya myth of the World Tree can be traced back to the sixth to thirteenth centuries, when Maya communities were using stucco reliefs, stone stelae, ceramic paintings and codices to depict it. The myth typically portrayed a plant whose basal stem was rooted in an aquatic underworld known as Xibalba and ascended from a skull of an aquatic god called the “Water Lily Monster” or “Quadripartite God”. Serpents, birds and solar imagery were also interwoven with the plant.
According to scholar J. Andrew McDonald, this “vegetative motif” symbolizes cosmogenesis (the creation of the universe), natural creation (how life came about), eternal recurrence (the concept that events will repeat themselves in cycles forever) and human hopes for everlasting life in the hereafter.
Versions of the World Tree
The World Tree should be classified into two main different versions: the Axis Mundi and the Tree of Life.
1. Axis Mundi
The Axis Mundi is a concept present in many religions and cultures, including Hinduism, Norse mythology, Buddhism and Judaism. It represents metaphysical principles through its connection between life on earth and sky deities, as well as energy flowing through both direction. In this version of the World Tree, energy flows down from heaven to earth through the branches of the tree.
2. The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life is found in various folklore traditions around the world, such as Lithuanian folk painting or Hungarian folklore stories related to it. In this version of the tree, life is believed to exist on its trunk level and its branches provide shelter for all living things below. The roots provide nourishment for those who live around while also connecting with other trees across different landscapes or continents for mutual benefit.
Is the world tree and the tree of life is the same?
No. The world tree and The tree of life is not the same although the concept is similar in many ways and are often used interchangeably. The world tree and the tree of life are both symbols of the interconnectedness of all living things, growth, renewal, and the continuity of life. They are also seen as sources of knowledge and wisdom in many cultures and traditions.
However, the specific symbolism and meaning associated with these two trees can vary depending on the culture or tradition in which they appear.
How is the World Tree Symbol used in mythology?
The World Tree serves as a symbolic link between this world and those of supernatural beings. Gods travel from world to world by climbing up or down the tree; for instance, in Norse mythology, Yggdrasill was an ash tree that nourished gods, humans, and animals and connected all living things.
In early Indian mythology (the Upanishads), Asvattha was understood to be the living universe which represented Brahman – the world spirit – with its roots above ground in heaven while its branches grew downward covering earth below it.
Is the World Tree Symbol found in multiple cultures?
The World Tree symbol is found in multiple cultures, such as Indo-European religions, Northern Asian and Siberian mythologies, and Tengriism.
- In Indo-European religions, the World Tree is represented as a huge tree which connects heaven, earth and underground through its roots.
- In Northern Asian and Siberian mythologies it serves as a connection between different realities (underworld, this world, upper world).
- In Tengriism where it represents Mother Earth who gives shaman drums to travel from one world to another.
The World Tree symbol is however not found in all cultures; for example it is not present in Western culture or mythology despite its popularity among other cultures around the world.
What is the significance of the trunk and branches of the World Tree Symbol?
The significance of the trunk of the World Tree symbolizes connection between the upper and lower worlds as it links them together.
The branches represent life force which is shared by all creatures on Earth. They also symbolize strength and longevity since trees have long branches that reach high up into the sky.
The tree trunk represents wisdom since it allows communication between gods and humans through its roots which penetrate into an underworld realm.
What is the role of the serpent in the World Tree Symbol?
In mythology and religion, a serpent or snake is often associated with the World Tree symbol. It represents guardianship, wisdom, temptation and rebirth.
- In Greek mythology, Ladon coiled around the tree in the garden of the Hesperides protecting the entheogenic golden apples.
- In Norse mythology, Nidhogg eats from Yggdrasil the World Tree.
- In Mayan mythology, The Vision Serpent lies at the center of their world as they conceived it and it fuels some cross-Atlantic cultural contexts.
- Apollo famously killed Python which guarded Delphi; its sacred space became associated with snakes and tree of life imagery from that point on.
- Renenutet was associated with both serpents and tree imagery as well as oracles for guidance; she remained an important deity throughout Egyptian history despite merging with another goddess later on who also bore her name (Wadjet).
How does the World Tree Symbol relate to immortality?
The World Tree symbol represents the connection between life and death and it is often associated with immortality due to its ability to connect these different existences.
- In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is said to have magical powers that grant those who drink from its waters eternal life.
- In Hinduism, Brahmins believe that bathing in the holy waters of a kalpa vrksa tree can purify one’s soul and lead them towards moksha (liberation).
- The Maya also viewed their world tree symbolically; it represented a vital linkage between an aquatic underworld, earth and its celestial realms – a concept which may have been used to convey hope for everlasting life in the hereafter.
What is the role of the eagle in the World Tree Symbol?
In many of these religions and mythologies, the eagle is associated with the world tree symbol. For example:
- In Samoyed mythology the eagle helps shamans travel between worlds by carrying their drums on its wings.
- In Tengriism – an ancient religion of Mongols and Turkic peoples – eagles are believed to be messengers of god Tengri who lives at the top of the world tree.
- The Silla kingdom used this symbol to connect them with Siberian peoples as well