The tree of life is one of the fundamental concepts that inhabits most of the world’s mythologies, legends, religions, and philosophies.
Across multiple different traditions, be they written or oral, and cultures, the tree of life stands firm as a mythical symbol in our minds. It has been that since ancient times and has become a symbol that defines people’s understanding of the world.
As a piece of artwork to have tattooed on your body, there are not many other images that are so universally understood, accepted, or praised. It is a wonderful tattoo to get, however what are the traditional meanings of this tattoo, well depending on where you are from in the world, that answer can change.
Depictions of the tree of life have existed since the times of the first civilizations, with the Ancient Mesopotamians and Iranians carving depictions of such trees in many religious texts.
Although we are not certain of the purpose, the idea behind them is generally considered to grant fertility and permit immortality. This is also true of Ancient Chinese mythology, with the tree portrayed with a dragon and phoenix and said to give a fruit every three thousand years that grants eternal life.
The modern Western notion of the tree of life comes from two sources: Christianity and the paganism of Germanic, Norse, and Celtic peoples.
In Christianity, the tree of life is described as part of the Garden of Eden along with the tree of knowledge.
The tree of life here grants eternal life, however once Adam and Eve are cast from the garden for eating of the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge, a cherub and a flaming sword are placed to guard the way to the tree of life.
In Paganism, trees were hugely important, being associated with sacred places and the names of gods. For the Celtic people’s, Lugus (or Lugh or Lleu) was often depicted with the tree of life in iconography.
For the Norse people, Yggdrasil was the world tree, an immense and sacred tree, everything existed around Yggdrasil, including the world of the gods.
These concepts still live on in the West today, through legends and religion, however there are many more versions of the tree of life story, including those of Mesoamerica, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Turkic, etc., showing how universal the concept is to humanity.
The meaning of the tree of life as a symbol or depiction is as varied as the many origins of the tree of life, and these multiple meanings carry into the designs that have been created for it.
However, there are a few prominent ones that we can tie to different cultures, designs, or are universal to the idea of the tree of life:
Cycle Of Life And Connection To Everything
This is especially true in Celtic cultures today, which is why their tattoo designs are a tree enclosed in a circle. This shows the interconnectedness of everything in the world, with the roots of the tree of life touching everything and everyone.
Immortality And Rebirth
This is especially true of the Abrahamic, Chinese, and Mesopotamian cultures. The tree somewhat dies in winter and is reborn in spring, cycling through death and rebirth every year.
The tree also continues to produce seeds that carry on its essence until an ancient age, showing it continuing to live through its saplings.
Wisdom And Strength
Trees are seen as sources of wisdom through almost all cultures. As the tree ages, it grows in strength of mind even as it loses strength of body, allowing it to continue to endure and learn from the growing years.
This is also true for people and reminds us of the skills that still grow in us, as we lose others.
Ancestry And Family
As the tree grows, so do its branches and its seeds, all are connected to the tree, and all keep growing. In this, the branches and seeds represent our growing and changing family and that no matter how far we are, we are still connected at the core of ourselves.
Fertility And Vitality
The tree grows new leaves, new branches, new saplings, and new seedlings every year with the same lush, verdant green that it always has.
This fertility can be anything you can imagine, new skills, hobby’s, friends, love and vitality is about remaining strong through the years, no matter how weak our bodies may become.
These are some of the most prominent meanings of the tree of life, however there are many more meanings that different cultures and peoples have tied to the tree. You may even have your own, that are deeply personal, and you should not feel any shame in applying them to your own tattoo.
There are many already existing designs for your tree of life tattoo to take inspiration from, and many of these have already been applied successfully to other people’s skin. You may even want to make your own, however just in case we will talk about a couple of common ones that people already use.
The Celtic Tree Of Life (Or Crann Bethadh)
We already mentioned this one, but it is a fairly common symbol, especially in Ireland. It is a tree with interwoven branches and roots that create a circular pattern around the tree. It is commonly applied with the Dara knot or the Triskelion.
Birds flying out of the tree of life
This tree often has a flock of birds flying away from the branches. It can look freeing and beautiful or dark and menacing depending on your want.
Hands Holding The Tree Of Life
This has the tree and soil being cupped from underneath by a pair of hands. It portrays a very nurturing approach to the natural side of the world.
Colorful Tree Of Life
Many people are opting for a more colorful tree of life, with reds, greens, blues, or even a rainbow coating the leaves, giving a fascinating look to the beautiful symbol.
The tree of life has existed as a symbol throughout almost all the world’s cultures for many years. It shows how important trees are to humanity, and they have fascinated and delighted our minds and imaginations for generations upon generations.
Now, with the wonder of the tree of life captured in tattoo form, that wonder will be captured in an entirely new format.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Does It Mean To Have A Tree Of Life Tattoo?
A great many things. The meaning of the tattoo is dependent on the culture, history, knowledge, and desires of that particular person.
The most common meanings of the tattoo and symbol are listed above, however, to list all of them would require an entire website and, potentially, a historian level knowledge of mythology and ancient cultures.
Is The Tree Of Life A Peace Sign?
While not as prominent as the peace sign that everyone knows, the tree of life can be considered a peace sign. It is all about the interconnectedness of life and a sense of togetherness with the world.
It is also a symbol most cultures know and recognize, making it ideal for the purpose.
Which Tree Is The Best Symbol For The Cycle Of Life?
Any deciduous tree would be perfect, as they shed their leaves every winter and grow them back in the spring.
This shows the constant cycle of change that we all go through and continue to go through throughout our lives. If you want an immortality symbol, an evergreen is more appropriate.
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