are supplied to demystify symbolism (and the artwork in this
Click here to return to the online symbolism dictionary.
One of my favorite interpretations involves
more the forest as a symbol, than just the single tree: the
forest as a symbol for our deep, wild, subconscious as an
integral part of the natural world (vs. the manmade construct
of civilization) -- the deep psyche. But this is about TREE,
so we continue...
tree of life, tree of knowledge, the world tree, the burning
bush, mother nature, dryads, the family tree...all the way
through to ladders, ships, homes, furniture, paper, etc. The
tree covers so much ground (pun intended <g>) that I
just wouldn't know where to start on this one. The TREE is
a very potent and primal symbol with many aspects.
I wish I could find Joseph Campbell's words to quote here
(because he's always so succinct), but it's been a while and
I have a LOT of (re)reading to catch up on before that's going
to happen <lol>. Oh well, there's plenty, below, to
get you started :)
Posted: December 15, 2003.
links to the (expert) quotes below:
Biedermann: Dictionary of Symbolism
Estés: Women Who Run With the Wolves
Vollman: The Little Giant Encyclopedia
of Dream Symbols
of Symbolism, p. 350-352
Rooted in EARTH but with their branches pointing to the HEAVENS,
trees are, like humans themselves, creatures of two worlds,
intermediaries between ABOVE AND BELOW. Not only were specific
trees or an entire GROVE revered in many ancient civilizations
as the abodes of supernatural beings (divinities, elemental
spirits), but also the tree was widely seen as the AXIS MUNDI
around which the cosmos is organized--for example, the world-tree
Yggdrasill in Norse mythology, or the sacred ceiba or yaxache
tree of the Yucatan Mayas, which grows in the center of the
world and supports the layers of the sky: in each of the four
regions of the world one colored tree of this species serves
as a corner-pillar for the heavens. The importance of forbidden
trees in Eden is well known; for Buddhists the peepul or bo
tree (Ficus religiosa) under which Guatama Buddha attained
enlightenment, is the symbol of the "great awakening."
Ancient Egypt venerated the sycamore, from out of which the
goddess Hathor extended fortifying drink and nourishment to
the souls (the mobile, winged ba) of the dead. The
Sumerian god of vegetation, Dumuzi (Tamuz) was revered as
the tree of life. For the ancient Chinese the PEAR and mulberry
trees were sacred; for the Druids it was the OAK, which was
also the sacred attribute of the Germanic god of THUNDER and
the (Greek) king of the gods, Zeus. Sacred trees of this sort
are found among virtually all ancient peoples, to some extent
trees idealized into cosmic symbols.
Christian iconography the trees symbolizes life lived in accordance
with God's plan: its annual cycle refers to life, death, and
resurrection: a barren or dead tree, to the sinner. The Tree
of Knowledge is believed to have provided the wood for Christ's
CROSS, thus making it from then on, for the believer, the
Tree of Life. It was frequently depicted with branches and
leaves or likened to the family tree of the "root of
Jesse." Tree symbolism and reverence for trees carry
some trace, finally, of the natural religion of old, in which
trees were not merely a source of wood but the abode of nymphs,
and entities to which humans related emotionally. Trees with
saints' images on their trunks (called "forest devotions"
in Austria) go back to this, as does the Christmas tree, today
an almost universal symbol, consoling us in mid-winter with
the prospect of greening and rebirth.
all, the Virgin Mary was seen as the "tree of life,"
blessed by the Holy Ghost, and giving the world its fruit,
the Savior. Through this association, old village shrines,
places of pilgrimage, seem to carry into the present the tradition
of "sacred trees": Triple-Oaks of Our Lady, Mary's
Green, the Mary Linden, and so forth; Bishop Ezzo of Bamberg
celebrated the Cross as the tree of blessings: "Your
bough did heaven's burden bear. Your fruit is sweet and good,
sublime the blood upon you there." Throughout the Christian
Occident we find legends of dead trees, branches, or sticks
that turned green again as a sign of God's grace. Medieval
sculptures of the Cross as a tree, with the beginnings of
branches, are related to this symbolism of resurrection, an
association suggested by the way the new growth of spring
follows defoliation and winter's repose.
Jewish legend recounts that the progenitor ABRAHAM planted
trees everywhere he went, but that they did not thrive; only
one, in the land of Canaan, shot up tall. Through it Abraham
could tell whether someone believed in the true God or was
an idolator. Over the believer the tree would spread its branches
and offer its SHADE for protection, but not over the idolator,
from whom the tree would turn aside, refusing shade, stretching
its branches upward. Abraham, however, did not forsake the
idolators but rather sought to convert them. "By eating
from the Tree of Knowledge Adam brought death into the world.
But when Abraham came, he healed the world by means of another
tree." The legend of the tree that brings redemption
may be a transposition, into the world of the Old Testament,
of the Christian symbolic tradition of the tree of the Cross.
The early Christian text Physiologus tells of the Indian
tree Perdexion, on whose fruit DOVES feed eagerly but which
the SNAKE cannot come near, fleeing even the shadow that...
(pick up your copy of the book and turn to page 352 to finish
reading the definition :)
Posted: December 15, 2003.
Who Run With the Wolves, p.415
...the fruit tree, which in ancient times was called the Tree
of Life, Tree of Knowing, Tree of Life and Death, or Tree
of Knowledge. Unlike trees with needles or leaves, the fruit
tree is a tree of bountiful food--and not just food, for a
tree stores water in its fruit. Water, the primal fluid of
growth and continuance, is soaked up by the roots, which feed
the tree by capillary action--a network of billions of cell
plexuses too small to see--and water arrives in the fruit
and plumps it out into a beauteous thing.
of this, the fruit is considered to be invested with soul,
with a life force that develops from and contains some measure
of water, air, earth, food, and seed, which on top of it all
also tastes divine.
Posted: December 15, 2003.
Who Run With the Wolves, p.398
The flowering apple tree...symbolizes a beauteous aspect of
women, the side of our nature that has its roots sunk into
the world of the Wild Mother, where it is nurtured from below.
The tree is the archetypal symbol of individuation; it is
considered immortal, for its seeds will live on, its root
system shelters and revivifies, it is home to an entire food
chain of life. Like a woman, a tree also has its seasons and
its stages of growth; it has its winter, it has its spring.
Posted: December 15, 2003.
Little Giant Encyclopedia of Dream Symbols, p. 446-447
Protection; archetypal symbol for life (tree of life, tree
of the world, family tree) and for being human, rooted in
the earth. The crown of the tree, like the head of a human
being, reaches for the sky. Part of two worlds--reality and
obligation (earth) and spirit and freedom (heaven). Personal
development and growth of the dreamer. Family situation across
several generations. Connected to nature, as in FIELD, EAR
(OF CORN), FARMER, FARM. Concern for the environment as well
as personal growth.
the tree grow FRUIT? In what season did the image appear?
What is the condition of the root system (base of the root
as a symbol for the soul), the TRUNK, and the CROWN? Where
is the tree and how does it stand--alone, in a small group,
in the forest, in a park?
to Freud, the tree trunk is a phallic symbol.
entries found in the encyclopedia: Tree (Blossoms on), Tree-of-life,
and Tree Trunk.
Posted: January 17, 2004.
Want to know more? Go out and pick up a copy of the book(s) quoted and expand your mind :) These are MY teachers, the people who teach me about symbolism :) I hope the supplied definitions help you understand the art found on this site.