The Tree of Life: What the Symbolism Is All About

By: Ranilo Abando (Manila, October 10, 2020) ***

The symbolism of the Tree of Life is ubiquitous in ancient literature, cylinder seals, clay tablets, sacred books, and cultures, yet it seems that nobody is telling us about what it really means.  It has been mentioned in the Bible’s Genesis as the tree in the middle of the Garden of Eden that is associated with the story of Adam, Eve, and the serpent.  The tree had been engraved in ancient Mesopotamian cylinder seals.  It has been associated with creation stories, like the Philippine creation story where a bamboo tree produced the first man and woman.  It is mentioned several times in the 5,000-year-old Epic of Gilgamesh of ancient Mesopotamia, in the Osiris legend of ancient Egypt, in the parables of Rig Veda, in the Book of Revelation, in pre-Columbian cultures of Central America, and in the story of the Buddha.

The Tree of Life even has many sub-variations or sub-symbolisms, such as the cross, the staff of Moses, the pillar of smoke and fire, the stick, the rod, the obelisk, Buddhist temple stupa, Hindu towers, and that benign-looking Christmas tree. 

No allegorical description of the Tree of Life is more detailed than the account of the World Tree, Yggdrasil.  According to Norse cosmology, Yggdrasil is an immense ash tree located in the center of the universe.  Sounds familiar, right?  Yggdrasil is discussed in the Prose Edda, documented in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson from very old oral traditions of Northern Europeans.

From Chapter 16 of the Prose Edda book Gylfaginning:

“There is much to be told.  An eagle sits at the top of the ash tree, and it has knowledge of many things.  Between its eyes sits the hawk called Vedrfolnir.  Nídhogg is the serpent who gnaws at the root of the tree.  The squirrel called Ratatosk runs up and down the ash.  He tells slanderous gossip, provoking the eagle and Nidhogg.”

The compiler, Snorri, did not mention why a hawk is strangely sitting between the eyes of an eagle or what role it plays.

In the Poetic Edda poem Grímnismál, the god Odin says:

Ratatosk is the squirrel who there shall run

On the ash-tree Yggdrasil;

From above the words of the eagle he bears,

And tells them to Nidhogg beneath.

In the King’s Book scripts:

“I know that an ash-tree stands called Yggdrasil,

a high tree, soaked with shining loam;

from there comes the dews which fall in the valley,

ever green, it stands over the well of fate.”

      (Seeress’s Prophecy)

My interpretation of the above ancient Norse allegory is the following:

I had a discussion in my previous holy mountain allegory post about the true center of this virtual physical universe.  Therefore, I think that the Tree of Life actually represents the mind column of a human being — just like what the mountain allegory represents.   Metaphorically, the eagle at the top of the Yggdrasil tree is a seat of consciousness that stays above the mind column, which I will discuss further in a future post — including the “words” emanating from that eagle.  The hawk that sits between its eyes represents the consciousness of the eagle.  The serpent Nídhogg is the world serpent, representing the natural tendency of our physical world towards disorder or deterioration (Second Law of Thermodynamics).  Nidhogg gnaws at the root of the tree, which represents our lower mind that builds this virtual physical world. 

The squirrel Ratatosk that runs up and down the tree is a human’s seat of consciousness.  Our seat of consciousness periodically travels up and down the various types of realities produced by the mind column.

In the poetic lines above that are lifted from the King’s Book, the dews that come out of the world tree and then waters the valley is similar to the metaphor of the river coming out of the Garden of Eden, as well as the river coming down from the summit of Mount Meru.

There are a lot to discuss, Folks.  So stay tuned.

(Thanks to pexels.com – Daniel Watson for the tree photo above)

Published by rabando

I am a Filipino and a geologist by profession but I have also been an ardent searcher for answers to the fundamental questions of human existence ever since 42 years ago. It has been a long, lonely and difficult journey. Why are we here? Where did we come from? What on earth is this world where I found my self in? Surprisingly, I found out that the answers are right there under our noses. There just need to be some adjustments in the way people think.

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