The World Tree is an unimaginably mighty tree with branches and roots that connect the many realms of existence. Its roots spread into the underworld, its trunk is in the mortal world, and its branches reach up into the heavens.
The World Tree, also known as the Tree of Knowledge or the Tree of Life, is a common theme in the world’s mythology.
A sampling of the many examples of the World Tree from around the world follow:
- In Babylonian mythology, the World Tree was known as Kuluppu, and it stood on the bank of the Euphrates River. Its wood was said to be medicinal.
- In Hindu mythology, as related in the Bhagavad Gita, the World Tree was a great fig tree called Asvattha. Its roots reached down into the underworld, and its branches reached up into the heavens. On its leaves were inscribed the holy words of the Vedas.
- In ancient Persian mythology, the World Tree was also the first tree, the Saena Tree, which grew in the middle of the primal ocean, Vourukasha. From the Saena, also known as the Tree of Life or the Tree of All Remedies, came all the world’s plants.
- In the Hebrew Kabbalah, the Sephirothal Tree of Life has been pictured as a palm, its ten branches spreading outward from the lowest world up to the heavens. Another image portrays tree upon tree, reaching up to the heavens.
- For the Norse, the World Tree was known as Yggdrasil, from which the chief god, Odin, hung himself for nine days to gain his knowledge of the runes.
- To the Buryat people of Siberia, the World Tree is a great birch or willow. It has no name, but it connects the underneath realm, the present, and the sky, and the point where the tree meets the earth is the center of the world and of all time and space. The Yakut people, also of Siberia, have a similar concept, although they see all trees as sacred.
- The World Tree in Mayan mythology was the Yax Imix Che, the “first green ceiba” tree, with its roots in the underworld and its branches in the heavens. It is also the Wakah Chan, the “raisedup sky,” which is symbolized by the Milky Way.
|Tree of Life|
Because the World Tree concept relates to the image of the family tree as well—the linked “world” of a specific family and its generations is often depicted as the image of a tree—the World Tree is clearly a living mythic concept.