Sephiroth: The Tree of Life
The tree of life is often considered to be a universal and ancient symbol of deep spiritual and mythological significance. The many incarnations of the tree of life appear in a vast array of traditions including the Kabbalah, Christianity, Judaism and the Celtic tree of life. The origins and manifestations of this symbol does not end there, as the tree of life has bore significance in Buddhist and Native American traditions as well as in alchemy and psychoanalysis.
Kabbalah is the Jewish mystical tradition that underlies both Judaism and Christianity. The kabbalah tree of life symbol is represented in two distinct orientations; in other words, the tree of life can be depicted right-side-up or upside down.
The tree of life in its original form (upside-down) has a distinct meaning. The roots of the tree of life importantly symbolize the divine place of unity and infinite light as the roots reach upward. The trunk and branches represent the realms of spirit, psyche, and physical existence as they reach down towards us, connecting the two worlds.
The tree of life in its other form (right-side-up) represents the tree to be climbed in order to reconnect with the divine source and penetrate the worlds of the psyche, spirit, and divine unity. The kabbalah tree of life also represents the tree of evolution and initiation whereby it is the individualís responsibility to connect with the divine.
The Jewish Tradition
This tree of life symbol stems from the original Jewish myth of creation and as well as subsequent Jewish commentary traditions:
Yahweh planted a garden in Eden, and caused to spring up from the soil every kind of tree, each of which were enticing to look at and good to eat, with the Tree of Life in the middle of the garden.
The Jewish tree of life symbolizes the life source that sustains and nourishes us.
Like the Jewish tree of life, the tree of life in Christianity is linked to initiation; here, it is the life and teachings of Christ that serve as the model of initiation through the tree of life.
The tree symbolizes the vehicle by which sin (in the form of the serpent of the creation story) came into this world. It is also a symbol of redemption, since Jesus was crucified on a cross made from a tree.
In the Buddhist tradition, the tree of life is connected to the great Bodhi tree, also known as the Tree of Enlightenment and the World Tree. It is under the branches of this tree of life that Buddha redeemed the entire universe and transformed all negative energy into perfect enlightenment.
Celtic Tree of Life
The tree of life was an important symbol in early Celtic spirituality. The tree of life symbolized the source of sustenance as the bearer of food, the provider of shelter, and the fuel for cooking and warmth. The most sacred tree in this tradition was the oak.
In Celtic shamanic traditions, the tree of life was also linked to the supernatural world, as the connection between the world of the spirits and ancient ancestors, living entities, and as a doorway into other worlds.
Native American Tradition
In the Native American tradition, the tree of life is connected to the sun dance. Sun dancers are attached to a central pole made from a tree using a rope that is hooked to the flesh. The individuals then dance around this pole to promote vitality and generate energy around the axis of the tree. This energy is said to bring life into being.
The tree of life symbol has significance in the practice of depth psychology, the approach of analyzing the hidden and deeper parts of human experience which includes the historical approaches of Freud as well as Jung.
The tree of life is symbolic of lifetime growth and development of both the psyche and spirit. The fruits and flowers of the tree of life represent the emergence of a mature personality which can provide a gift to the wider world.
In the history of spiritual alchemy, the tree of life was the symbol of the Opus Magnum or the ultimate goal of the alchemical journey. A branch from the tree of life was said to protect the alchemist from the journey through separation, decay and purification in fires of the underworld.