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The Tree(s)

of Life

of World Religions




By:  David Deschesne


Fort Fairfield Journal January 31, 2018


   The Biblical creation story in Genesis mentions a Tree of Life and a Tree of Knowledge.  However, the Bible does not have a monopoly on the concept of Trees being used as religious symbols.  Most of the world’s major and historical religions—many pre-dating the formation of the Jewish creation story—also contain a Tree of Life motif.  Here is a brief synopsis of those trees from the oldest religions to the newest:



circa 4000+ B.C.



Tree type:  Banyon


Dating over 6,000 years old, the Hindu religion is one of the oldest in the world.  Hindu texts and stories predate the writing of the Old Testament by around 3,500 years or more.

   In the Hindu myth, the Banyon tree is the Tree of Life.  The tree was known as Vaibadha, wherein the infant Krishna rested in its branches during the cyclic phase of destruction and creation where the whole earth was enveloped by waters.1

  The Banyon is a fig-bearing tree which sends down roots from its branches that create new trunks.  The Hindus invoke it when they desire vengeance on their enemies.  In the Hindu mythology, Vishnu was born under the shade of the Banyon, which is also known as the Tree of Knowledge and is used by Indian ascetics and seers2, similar to the Shamans in other cultures.



circa 4000+ B.C.



Tree type: Persea


  The Kemetic religion is at least as old as the Hindu.  Kemet, known today as ancient Egypt, featured a Tree of Life & Knowledge called Ished.  This tree was located in Ra’s sun temple at Heliopolis and was considered sacred.

   Ished was typified by the Persea tree which is a leafy evergreen extant in Egypt and bears small pear-shaped fruit resembling avocados.

   The fruit that sprang from this mythical tree was not available to humans, but only to rituals associated with the pharaohs.3 The pharaohs ate the fruit in order to not only gain eternal life, but also to impart divine knowledge on how their kingdom was to be properly ruled.  In this sense, Ished functions concomitantly as a Tree of Life and Tree of Knowledge.  Unlike the Biblical narrative in Genesis, the knowledge derived from Ished was good and beneficial—not evil and destructive as the Judeo-Christian narrative puts it.

   Texts of the Kemetic creation myth tell that the Tree of Life was the axis of the universe, its branches supported the star- and planet-studded sky, while its roots reached down to the watery abyss of the Netherworld.  The Tree of Life was one of the most potent symbols of Kemet, symbolizing knowledge of the Divine Plan, or equivalent to a Map of Destiny.4

  In addition to the Persea, Ished was also associated with the Sycamore when the Persea became scarce.


Old Norse

(ancient Scandinavia)

circa 2000 B.C.



Tree type:  Ash


  Ancient Scandinavia dates back nearly 2,000 years before Christ and around 1,500 years before the Old Testament began to be formed.  The Old Norse Tree of Life is named Yggdrasil and is typified by the Ash tree.  Like the Kemetic Ished, it is considered to be at the center of the cosmos and is very holy in Norse mythology.    

   According to the Norse myth, the god Odin sacrificed himself by hanging himself on the tree Yggdrasil and was wounded in the side by a spear, similar to the Christian story.  The earth was refreshed and fructified by his shed blood.5  Because Odin was hung on it, it was nicknamed “Odin’s Gallows” which developed over time into “Odin’s horse.” It was at times represented by the topless Tau cross which early Christians also used to typify their crucified savior.

   An Eagle is said to live in the branches of Yggdrasil while a dragon or a number of serpents knaw at its roots.  When it ultimately falls from the serpents knawing at it, the worlds and heavens it supports will tumble down and fall apart in the Norse version of doomsday, or the end of the world.6

   The roots of Yggdrasil were said to be watered by the Well of Urd, which was also called the Divine Fount of Wisdom; thus making the mythical tree also a Tree of Knowledge.  Urd was also the name of the goddess who lived by the well of Urd.  Like Seshat of the Kemetic religion, Urd knew everything past, present and future and imparted her knowledge to the gods before they could render judgment.7

  Yggdrasil and the Well of Urd weren’t thought of as existing in a single physical location, but rather dwell within the invisible/mystical heart of anything and everything8 similar to the nature of a hologram where all parts of a three dimensional picture are stored over the entirety of a holographic plate in the form of interference patterns.


(Meso-American cultures)

circa 750+ B.C.


Ya’ axché

Tree type:  Ceiba


  The Ceiba, a genus of trees in the Malvaceace family which can grow more than 230 feet tall, was the holy Tree of Life of the Meso-American cultures of what is now South America dating back to the Olmec period of around 2500 B.C.

   The Mayan culture, which began around 750 B.C., just before the time the Jewish Torah was being formed on the other side of the world, ultimately symbolized the great tree as the axis mundi which connects the planes of the Underworld with the sky and terrestrial realm.

  According to the Mayan religion, Ya’axché was the most sacred tree and was a symbol of the universe.  There are 13 heavens which open by means of the branches of Ya’ axché. In the famous legend of Popol Vuh, the creator gods planted four Ceiba trees in the four cardinal points of the heavens and a fifth tree in the center of the universe.  This tree had located at its roots the dwelling of the dead, at its base was a place called Kab—the land where the humans live—and in its trunk and branches was established a place of dwelling for the gods.  The top of the tree was considered the origin of all the gods in the form of a magnificent, heavenly Quetzal bird.  Due to the importance of this tree in the life of these civilizations, it was always planted in the center of the plazas.9

   Ya’ axché connected two supernatural realms.  At the top, the skies were arranged in thirteen layers, six steps up and six steps down, terraced in the form of a pyramid.  Each level related to gods of varying rank and aspect, mainly good.  Dominating them was Itzamná, or Lizard House, considered to be the Supreme Being of both sky and earth to many Maya.  The Underworld, on the other hand, was connected at the roots and had nine levels—four steps down and four steps back up.  Like the later Christian “hell” this realm was one of dread and terror, bounded by rivers of abomination and choked with the stench of blood and rotting corpses and was a place where innumerable evil gods lived.10

  Ya’ axche was also a tree of the afterlife where it was believed after death, the good would go to a delightful place with an abundance of food and drinks, and no pain.   Souls would then rest under the cool shade of the ceiba tree, Ya’ axché where they would be free from labor forever.11 This is similar imagery to the Christian heaven which would be developed hundreds of years later.



circa 500 B.C.


Sri MahaBodhi

Tree type:  Bodhi


   Buddhism is an offshoot of Hinduism.  In the same way Protestants broke away from the Catholic church for differences in religious beliefs, the Buddhists broke away from Hinduism essentially due to a protest of the caste system where different classes of people were treated with degrees of greater or lesser respect depending on where they stood on the socio-economic-religious scale.

   Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Guatama, who was later known as Guatama Buddha. 

   Siddartha was  born in the mid-500s B.C. the son of a clan chief in northern India.  Similar to the story of Jesus, who began his ministry at age 30, Siddartha become a wandering monk at age 30 after becoming disillusioned with the suffering of the world and ultimately renounced it.  At the age of 36, while meditating in the small village of Uruvela he attained “Nirvana” under the cover of the Bodhi tree.  This motif is brought forward and interpolated from the Hindu religion’s Tree of Life, Vaibadha narrative.  The Bodhi tree is a type of fig tree with the botanical name, Ficus religiosa.

   In the centuries after the Buddha, the Bodhi tree became a symbol of the Buddha’s presence and an object of worship.  Similar to the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years, Guatama Buddha traveled for 40 years throughout the Ganges valley teaching his Dharma and making disciples.12



circa 500 B.C.



Tree type:  Mulberry


  The religion of the far East of China and Japan, Tao began to be developed around 500 B.C. by Chinese philosopher, Lao-tze.

   Fusang can refer to several different entities in ancient Chinese religious literature, often either as a mythological tree or a mysterious land in the East.

   In Tao mythology, a carving of a Tree of Life depicts a phoenix and a dragon; the dragon often represents immortality.  According to the Tao religion, the Fusang produces a peach of immortality every three thousand years, and anyone who eats the fruit receives immortality.13

  In Chinese mythology the Fusang is the Mulberry tree.  Legend has ten birds (typically ravens) living in the tree, and as nine rested, the tenth would carry the sun on its journey.14



(ultimately adopted by Christianity)

circa 600 B.C.


Tree type: None mentioned in texts


   The Judeo-Christian Tree of Life was developed from ancient Egyptian and Sumerian texts around the same time Buddhism and Taoism were formed and contained the same veiled references to immortality for those who ate its fruit, as in the myths of the ancient near East.15

  Unlike the myths in the other, older religions of the world, the creation story in Genesis splits the attributes of life and knowledge apart and creates two trees; the former blessed, the latter cursed.

   Contrary to popular belief, the Tree of Knowledge was likely not an apple tree.  Neither tree is identified in the Biblical story which contains them, but parallels from older religions can be found in both of them.



1.) Life#Hinduism

2.)  Funk & Wagnalls Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend, ©1972 Harper & Row, p. 114.



5.)  Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, ©1983 Barbara Walker, p. 733

6.) op cit. p. 1096

7.) op cit. p. 1029



10.)  The Mysterious Maya, ©1983 National Geographic Society, p. 54

11.) op. cit. p. 122

12.) www/



15.)  The New Encyclopedia of Judaism, ©2002 Jerusalem Publishing House, p. 783



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