The Tree of Life has appeared in countless cultures, religions and mythologies all over the world and throughout history. Clearly, the idea of a mystical tree which embodies the essence of life is not unique to any one civilization.
Almost every faith has its own version of the Tree of Life, including Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism. The Tree of Life symbol even appears on Ancient Egyptian tomb carvings, possibly predating any other culture. However, the Tree of Life is particularly prominent in Celtic tradition and is one of the most enduring and meaningful Celtic symbols.
Trees were pivotal to Celtic life and played an important role in the structure of Celtic society and beliefs. Firstly, the trees of Ireland served a number of invaluable practical purposes. Trees were a natural, abundant source of shelter, food and medicine, and their wood was extensively used for building, weaponry and to create fires for warmth. Native Irish trees were clearly essential to Celtic life and were held in such high regard that they were considered sacred.
It was believed that trees served a significant spiritual purpose and acted as a gateway or portal between this world and the next. The Celts believed that the trees of Ireland held the spirits of their ancestors and that different types of trees had different magical powers that could aid them in times of hardship and adversity.
Tribes and druids would often hold ceremonies and gatherings under trees that were seen as especially hallowed. Under the sprawling coverage of a vast, tremendous tree, they would appoint chieftains in political procedures or perform elaborate rituals to appease the gods.
The Tree of Life was seen as a symbol of nature’s immense forces coming together and intertwining to create balance and harmony in the world. It was seen as a representation of strength, durability, protection, knowledge, experience and wisdom.
Ultimately, the Tree of Life was a perfectly balanced combination of all the forces necessary to maintain and enrich life on Earth. The entwined branches and roots symbolise how all living things are irrevocably interconnected and bound together, dependent on one another for survival.
The symbol is depicted as an Oak tree, as this tree was the largest, strongest and longest-living of all trees. The Oak tree would often attract lightning due to its staggering size and height. The Celts perceived this as a sign from the gods and worshipped the Oak as the most sacred tree of all the native Irish trees.
The Celtic word for Oak is daur, which is the origin of the word door. This reinforces the Celtic idea that native Irish trees were doorways to other worlds. Some believed that if you fell asleep under an Oak tree, you might awake in another world.
The ancient Irish term for the Tree of Life was Crann Bethadh, which literally translates as ‘The Feeding Tree’. If the Celts ever had to clear land in order to build new settlements, they would plant an Oak tree in the centre of the clearing in order to honour the Tree of Life and ensure prosperity.
If Celtic tribes were ever at war with one another, they believed that cutting down their enemies’ Crann Bethadh tree was a devastating blow to their defences that would render them powerless and vulnerable to attack. During warfare, cutting down such a tree belonging to an adversary was seen as a major victory.
The perfect symmetry of the roots and branches of the Tree of Life was also given great meaning by the Celts. The branches spread freely in the open air, reaching for the sky above, while the roots unfurled and burrowed underground, reaching deep down into the earth.
This is symbolic of the connection between heaven and earth, mind and body, the physical and the spiritual. In this way, the Tree of Life also represents the incessant cycle of life and the gift of rebirth. Like many other Celtic symbols, the Tree of Life is comprised of a Celtic knot. This illustrates how the Tree of Life is eternal, without beginning or end.
Today, the Tree of Life is an extremely popular design or symbol, particularly for those of Irish heritage. It is used to decorate and adorn a number of items from jewellery to various types of containers, and is even commonly used as a tattoo.
Due to its potent symbolism, the Tree of Life is the perfect design to feature on a Celtic cremation urn. Handcrafted urns engraved with the ancient Celtic symbol can be found at Irish Urns and make the perfect resting place for anyone with Irish ancestry.
It is possible to continue the Celtic tradition of the Tree of Life today and have your own Oak tree (or any native Irish tree) planted in the Irish countryside. You can have a tree planted for any conceivable reason, whether it be for a birthday, an anniversary, a wedding, or any other occasion.
Planting a native Irish tree in honour of someone you love who has passed away is a wonderful and deeply touching tribute. Memorial trees are a perfect way of celebrating and preserving a person’s legacy. You can also plant a tree in memory of someone as a sympathy gift or memorial gift for a friend or family member who has lost a loved one. The memorial tree can be planted in the name of the deceased with an official planting certificate sent to the bereaved afterwards.
For more information on memorial trees and sympathy gifts, please click here.
Planting a native Irish tree in honour of a loved one helps to keep alive the Ancient Celts deep connection with nature.