The Sacred Celtic Tree of Life
As above, so below...
One of the most sacred Celtic symbols of all
is the Celtic Tree of Life.
The symbolism of the Celtic Tree vividly comes to life in this design by Celtic artist, Jen Delyth...
Their branches reach high into the heavens. Their roots dig deep into the Earth.
Yet all are woven together, signifying the connection between all things in the Heavens and the Earth.
The Celtic Tree of Life
is a fundamental element
of Celtic spirituality.
In fact, the Irish Druids believed the Sacred Tree had the power to reveal messages from the gods.
The ancient Celts believed all living things were spiritual, mystical beings, not just inanimate objects to be exploited. They believed trees in particular were a source of great wisdom with the power to bridge the gap between the upper and lower worlds and bring blessings from the gods.
The Celts were the dominant ethnic and cultural group of Northern Europe for ages. In those days, thick forests dominated the land. With trees as far as the eye could see in Celtic lands, it is no wonder that they were such sacred symbols in all Celtic tribes.
Trees provide sustenance for people and animals. They are a source of healing medicinal extracts. Their wood provides materials to build shelter as well as fires for preparing nourishing meals, warming the body on a frigid night, or engaging in spiritual rituals.
The wood of many trees was also considered magical. The Celtic Ogham (pronounced OH-um) alphabet is a system of divination which some say was created by the Celtic Druids.
In the Ogham alphabet, each of the letters represented a sacred tree or plant. The Oak was the most sacred tree of all to the Celts. They believed the Oak tree symbolized the "axis mundi", which means the center of the universe. They believed the Oak was a passageway into the Otherworld.
Messengers of the Gods
There are numerous stories in Irish folklore involving mystical trees. Some say that if you fall asleep under certain trees, you will awaken to find yourself in the midst of fairies in the Otherworld. The idea that trees were messengers to the gods still holds out in Irish superstitions as well. As you drive through the Irish countryside, you can still see trees decorated with ribbons and "prayers" to the gods asking for health, wealth, and love.
According to Mara Freeman, author of Kindling the Celtic Spirit...
When a tribe cleared the land for a settlement in Ireland, they always left a great tree in the middle, known as the crann bethadh (krawn ba-huh), or Tree of Life, as the spiritual focus and source of well-being. They held assemblies and inaugurated their chieftains beneath it so that they could absorb power from above and below. One of the greatest triumphs over its enemies was to cut down their sacred tree, their foundation of strength and support.
The Irish people believed that the Celtic tree of life was rooted in Uisneach, the center of the Land. They believed the sacred tree of life sheltered all Life on Earth. According to folklore, the Celtic tree of life grew 26 miles high, provided nourishment to all the four corners of the Earth, and that it's branches reached up into the heavens and touched every single star.
When people in ancient Celtic Ireland were building their stone circles, they would use the sacred tree as an axis to align the sun in the sky with their monuments. The point where the sun was aligned with the circle became the central source of spiritual connection between the Earth and the Heavens.
Trees also represented Mother Earth's bounty and the eternal cycle of the seasons. The Celtic tree of life also is a symbol of the individual's quest for spiritual fulfillment. The ancient Celts believed that at the center of each of us is a golden child, where we are worth more than gold. They knew that in order to find our "inner" golden child, we must first recognize our connection to the Earth to the four corners-North, South, East, and West.
But the Celts were not alone in their regard for trees as sacred living things. Cultures all over the world hold trees in a place of high honor. Trees are a central part of most creation stories in cultures around the world. According to Jennifer Emick, "In Celtic creation stories, trees were the ancestors of mankind, elder beings of wisdom who provided the alphabet, the calendar, and entrance to the worlds of the gods."
Many ancient people believed the tree symbolized the entire Cosmos, the infinite Life Force. Ms. Emick adds, "Trees were a connection to the world of the spirits and the ancestors, living entities, and doorways into other worlds."
The artistic design of the Celtic tree of life is unique by its interconnectedness as well as the common practice of incorporating intricate Celtic knotwork in its design.
Cari Buziak of Aon-Celtic.com is one of the most accomplished Celtic artists today who has created distinctively Celtic renditions of the sacred tree.
Her "Tree of Creation" uses knotwork throughout the design, and symbolizes the journey of spiritual growth and the interconnectedness of all living things.
Books on the Celtic Tree of Life
For those of you who are fascinated by the artistic quality of the Celtic Tree of Life, I highly recommend Aidan Meehan's book, Celtic Design: The Tree of Life
. It's a good guide for anyone who wishes to understand the meanings in the design of the Celtic Tree of Life symbol. If you are already experienced in Celtic art, this book will help you create your own designs. But the Tree of Life is too complex a design for the novice Celtic artist. It is not a good starting point in creating your own Celtic designs.Celtic Tree Mysteries
, by Steve Blamires, offers a comprehensive look at the mystery surrounding the Celtic Tree of Life, with powerful insights as well as clarification of many often misunderstood aspects of the theories. After reading this book, you will understand the physical, mental, and spiritual lessons of each of the sacred 20 trees and be able to start incorporating that wisdom in your own life. You can read this book again and again and always gain fresh insights and deeper wisdom to live a better, more enlightened life.The Celtic Tree Oracle
is a great resource for learning how to use wisdom of the Celtic Oracle in your daily life. Based upon the ancient divination system, this modern version presents clear insight into the meaning and history of sacred Celtic trees. The gift-quality package includes a book explaining each of the 25 cards as well as instructions for using them. The authors of the book explain how each card's meaning is connected to the history of its corresponding tree.For a more detailed look at the meaning of the Celtic tree of life, there is no better resource than Mara Freeman.
She has made it her life's work to study Celtic spirituality and holds degrees in Literature, Education and Psychology.
Mara Freeman is the author of Kindling the Celtic Spirit, which is highly regarded by critics and readers alike as the definitive source for understanding Celtic spirituality and how it can be applied in modern life. Rather than being shallow and fluffy, as so much literature about Celtic spirituality is out there today, she brings academic authority to the subject, yet writes with honesty and clarity.
The Search for Meaning
Whether you are here because you find the symbolic design inspiring or are seeking a deeper understanding of the ancient mysteries of Celtic spirituality, the Celtic Tree of Life holds something magical for everyone.
We all have wisdom to gain along the road of life, and perhaps we can learn from the sacred trees how to live in Harmony with the Earth and the cycles of seasonal changes we all experience.
I hope I have helped you to understand the history behind this sacred symbol a little better. And I sincerely wish for you all the insight and wisdom that you need in your own personal quest for enlightenment.
Return to the TOP of this page
Go from Celtic Tree of Life
to our Complete Celtic Symbols Guide