03 October 2008

World Tree


I recently went though the list of specific mythos I’ve blogged about here: Breton, Irish, Slavic, Basque, Egyptian, Norse and Central American mythologies, as well as the occasional touch on Classical mythology. One thing that stood out is that several of these cultures share a “world tree.”

The Norse have Yggdrasil, where Odin hung for nine days to receive knowledge.
The MesoAmericans have the ceiba tree.
The oak tree of the Slavic gods.
The ashvastha, or sacred fig, of Hinduism.
An ancient religion of the Mongols and Turkic people believed in a world tree, culturally linking Siberia and Koreans. The Crown of Silla, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, portrays a world tree.
Judeo-Christian beliefs begin in the Garden of Eden, and Eve’s incident with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Even Charles Darwin utilized the metaphor of a “Tree of Life” to illustrate his theory of evolution, where different species share a common ancestor.

The tree is a universal symbol of the different planes of existence. The branches in the realm of gods, the roots in the grasp of death, the solid trunk of mortality.

The Tree of Life is the constant in a constantly changing world, representing immortal wisdom, giving protection, rest and nourishment to its people. Only the brave and true may climb it and take its fruit and gather its strength. To become part of the tree, as Odin did in his sacrifice, is to become part of the godhead, part of eternity. To become part of the tree, or partake of its fruit, however, also requires sacrifice. Odin lost an eye for the privilege, Adam and Eve lost Paradise because they knew too much of sin.

It’s the permanent nature of the tree that draws us, as well as its ultimate mortality. The roots that draw food from the earth, the solidity of the trunk that provides a strong base, the branches reaching toward the sun, toward the light. The metaphor crosses all boundaries: no mountain or ocean can contain it, no language can distill it.

So next time you look out your office window, see what place the tree has in your story.

Image: World Tree by Doug Stapleton
Resources: “World Trees” by Hazel Minot
Wikipedia: World Tree See also, Tree of Life
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