The Celtic Tree of Life
By Miriam Newman and Erin O'Quinn
Erin O’Quinn: Some months back, when I was writing the final chapters of my historical WARRIOR, RIDE HARD, I wrote a passage that hit me today like “déja vu all over again.” I had the immigrants to Derry choose a huge old oak tree as the spot to build their church. Gristle, the head of the expedition who had guided the people to that spot, removed a portion of the rugged bark and inscribed a slash mark to note “day one” of the settlement. It was here that the people built a large clay-and-wattle roundhouse that served as the Church of Derry.
Imagine my surprise when I read the following passage this morning from the internet source THE SACRED CELTIC TREE OF LIFE:
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. . . .
Even though I had no knowledge of the tradition, I naturally selected that old oak to be the spiritual center of a settlement whose very name Daire comes from the Irish Gaelic word for “oak.” My friend Miriam would tell me that the spirit that moved me to select that oak is the same spirit that drove people from time immemorial to place their spiritual center at or in a tree.
That same internet article on the tree of life goes on to say: From its roots drinking the waters of the Earth to its leaves reaching to the gods, such a tree was considered magical. The largest such tree in the middle of any settlement was invariably left standing and venerated. So respected was its power that the greatest ignominy warriors could inflict on a defeated village was to cut down their sacred tree, removing the life force from an entire group of people.
Miriam Newman: The druids of the lands we call “celtic” held trees in just such a place of sanctity. But the concept is an ancient one, and it transcends both countries and religious beliefs. I think that those of you who have some knowledge of the Jewish kabbalah will see a resemblance between the two images below:
|Art by Katelyn Mariah|
Both are modern images. The one above is a representation of how the druids connected numerals written in the ancient ogham style with different trees. The one on the right is a sketch by artist Katelyn Mariah from her blog “Medicine Woman Art,” a rendition of the kabblalistic tree of life. Both emblems are heavy with mystic connotations, but the message is clear nonetheless. The spiritual center is a tree, whose symbolism we understand on an almost subconscious level.
Many people have remarked on the fact that the well-known “celtic knot’ is a kind of tree of life itself, with roots and branches interwoven into an inextricable knot that echoes the endless cycle of life.
The imaginative tapestry below is a marvelous reflection of this immortal cycle, as the celtic knot becomes the root of the tree itself:
Note the similarity between the celtic knot tapestry above and this beautiful rendition of how the tree canopy echoes its roots:
It’s not much of a stretch to see how artists have seen the human form integrated with that of the tree of life:
I think the whole elemental concept of trees–their roots sunk into the Earth, drinking its knowledge–was so sacred to the druids that we feel that power even in our times. I believe the tree of life was simply that–the symbol of this life or any other. It was all the same to the druids. Nothing was ever lost, only changed, just as the water of the earth became the leaves that sheltered it. A very simple concept, really, yet so profound it represented an entire civilization.
|The Druid Stone in Austria|