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The concept of a tree of life has been used in biology, religion, philosophy, and mythology. A tree of life is a common motif in various world theologies, mythologies, and philosophies. It alludes to the interconnection of all life on our planet and serves as a metaphor for common descent in the evolutionary sense. The term tree of life may also be used as a synonym for sacred tree.
The tree of knowledge, connecting to heaven and the underworld, and the tree of life, connecting all forms of creation, are both forms of the world tree or cosmic tree, according to the Encyclopædia Britannica, and are portrayed in various religions and philosophies as the same tree.
In pre-Islamic Persian mythology, the world tree is a large, sacred tree which bears all seeds. Ahriman (Ahreman, Angremainyu) created a frog to invade the tree and destroy it, aiming to prevent all trees from growing on the earth. As a reaction, God (Ahura Mazda) created two fish staring at the frog to guard the tree. The two fishes are always staring at the frog and stay ready to react to it. Because Ahriman is responsible for all evil including death, while Ahura Mazda is responsible for all good (including life) the concept of world tree in Persian Mythology is very closely related to the concept of Tree of Life.
Another related issue in ancient mythology of Iran is the myth of (Mashy and Mashyane) two trees who were the ancestors all of living being. This myth can be considered as a prototype for the creation myth where living beings are created by Gods (who have a human form).
In Egyptian mythology, in the Ennead system of Heliopolis, the first couple, apart from Shu and Tefnut (moisture and dryness) and Geb and Nuit (earth and sky), are Isis and Osiris. They were said to have emerged from the acacia tree of Iusaaset, which the Egyptians considered the tree of life, referring to it as the "tree in which life and death are enclosed." Acacia trees contain DMT, a psychedelic drug associated with spiritual experiences. A much later myth relates how Set killed Osiris, putting him in a coffin, and throwing it into the Nile, the coffin becoming embedded in the base of a tamarisk tree.
The Egyptians' Holy Sycamore also stood on the threshold of life and death, connecting the two worlds.
In ancient Armenia, the Tree of Life (Կենաց Ծառ) was a religious symbol and was drawn on walls of fortresses and carved on the armor of warriors. The branches of the tree were equally divided on the right and left sides of the stem, with each branch having one leaf, and one leaf on the apex of the tree. Servants stood on each side of the tree with one of their hands up as if they are taking care of the tree.
The Assyrian Tree of Life was represented by a series of nodes and criss-crossing lines. It was apparently an important religious symbol, often attended to by eagle-headed gods and priests, or the King. Assyrilogists have not reached consensus as to the meaning of this symbol. It is multi-valent. The name "Tree of Life" has been attributed to it by modern scholarship; it is not used in the Assyrian sources. In fact, no textual evidence pertaining to the symbol is known to exist.
The concept of the tree of life appears in the writings of the Baha'i Faith, where it can refer to the Manifestation of God, a great teacher who appears to humanity from age to age. An example of this can be found in the Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh:
"Have ye forgotten that true and radiant morn, when in those hallowed and blessed surroundings ye were all gathered in My presence beneath the shade of the tree of life, which is planted in the all-glorious paradise? Awestruck ye listened as I gave utterance to these three most holy words: O friends! Prefer not your will to Mine, never desire that which I have not desired for you, and approach Me not with lifeless hearts, defiled with worldly desires and cravings. Would ye but sanctify your souls, ye would at this present hour recall that place and those surroundings, and the truth of My utterance should be made evident unto all of you."
A distinction has been made between the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The latter represents the physical world with its opposites, such as good and evil and light and dark. In a different context from the one above, the tree of life represents the spiritual realm, where this duality does not exist.
In Chinese mythology, a carving of a Tree of Life depicts a phoenix and a dragon; the dragon often represents immortality. A Taoist story tells of a tree that produces a peach every three thousand years. The one who eats the fruit receives immortality.
An archaeological discovery in the 1990s was of a sacrificial pit at Sanxingdui in Sichuan, China. Dating from about 1200 BCE, it contained three bronze trees, one of them 4 meters high. At the base was a dragon, and fruit hanging from the lower branches. At the top is a strange bird-like (phoenix) creature with claws. Also found in Sichuan, from the late Han dynasty (c 25 – 220 CE), is another tree of life. The ceramic base is guarded by a horned beast with wings. The leaves of the tree are coins and people. At the apex is a bird with coins and the Sun.
In addition to the Hebrew Bible verses, the tree of life is symbolically described in the Book of Revelation as having healing properties: " And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.  In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, [was there] the tree of life, which bare twelve [manner of] fruits, [and] yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree [were] for the healing of the nations." (Revelation 22:1-2)
In Catholic Christianity, the Tree of Life represents the immaculate state of humanity free from corruption and Original Sin before the Fall. Pope Benedict XVI has said that "the Cross is the true tree of life."  Saint Bonaventure taught that the medicinal fruit of the Tree of Life is Christ himself. Saint Albert the Great taught that the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, is the Fruit of the Tree of Life.
In Eastern Christianity the tree of life is the love of God.
The tree of life appears in the Book of Mormon in a revelation to Lehi (see 1 Nephi 8:10). It is symbolic of the love of God (see 1 Nephi 11:21-23). Its fruit is described as "most precious and most desirable above all other fruits," which "is the greatest of all the gifts of God" (see 1 Nephi 15:36). In another scriptural book, salvation is called "the greatest of all the gifts of God" (see Doctrine and Covenants 6:13). In the same book eternal life is also called the "greatest of all the gifts of God" (see Doctrine and Covenants 14:7). Because of these references, the tree of life and its fruit is sometimes understood to be symbolic of salvation and post-mortal existence in the presence of God and his love.
According to Swedenborgianism, the first twelve chapters of Genesis are a symbolic retelling of ancient truths. In his Arcana Coelestia, Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) expounded on the symbolism and underlying spiritual meaning of both Genesis and Exodus, and the symbolism regarding the tree of life.
In Eden in the East (1998), Stephen Oppenheimer suggests that a tree-worshipping culture arose in Indonesia and was diffused by the so-called "Younger Dryas" event of c. 8000 BCE, when the sea level rose. This culture reached China (Szechuan), then India and the Middle East. Finally the Finno-Ugaritic strand of this diffusion spread through Russia to Finland where the Norse myth of Yggdrasil took root.
In Germanic paganism, trees played (and, in the form of reconstructive Heathenry and Germanic Neopaganism, continue to play) a prominent role, appearing in various aspects of surviving texts and possibly in the name of gods.
The tree of life appears in Norse religion as Yggdrasil, the world tree, a massive tree (sometimes considered a yew or ash tree) with extensive lore surrounding it. Perhaps related to Yggdrasil, accounts have survived of Germanic Tribes' honouring sacred trees within their societies. Examples include Thor's Oak, sacred groves, the Sacred tree at Uppsala, and the wooden Irminsul pillar. In Norse Mythology, the apples from Iðunn's ash box provide immortality for the gods.
The Tree of Immortality (Arabic: شجرة الخلود) is the tree of life motif as it appears in the Quran. It is also alluded to in hadiths and tafsir. Unlike the biblical account, the Quran mentions only one tree in Eden, also called the tree of immortality, which Allah specifically forbade to Adam and Eve. Satan, disguised as a serpent, repeatedly told Adam to eat from the tree, and eventually both Adam and Eve did so, thus disobeying Allah. The hadiths also speak about other trees in heaven.
Etz Chaim, Hebrew for "tree of life," is a common term used in Judaism. The expression, found in the Book of Proverbs, is figuratively applied to the Torah itself. Etz Chaim is also a common name for yeshivas and synagogues as well as for works of Rabbinic literature. It is also used to describe each of the wooden poles to which the parchment of a Sefer Torah is attached.
The tree of life is mentioned in the Book of Genesis; it is distinct from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. After Adam disobeyed God by eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he was driven out of the garden of Eden. Remaining in the garden, however, was the tree of life. To prevent the man's access to this tree in the future, Cherubims with a flaming sword were placed at the east of the garden. (Genesis 3:22-24)
In the Book of Proverbs, the tree of life is associated with wisdom: "[Wisdom] is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her, and happy [is every one] that retaineth her." (Proverbs 3:13-18) In 15:4 the tree of life is associated with calmness: "A soothing tongue is a tree of life; but perverseness therein is a wound to the spirit."
Jewish mysticism depicts the Tree of Life in the form of ten interconnected nodes, as the central symbol of the Kabbalah. It comprises the ten Sephirot powers in the Divine realm. The panentheistic and anthropomorphic emphasis of this emanationist theology interpreted the Torah, Jewish observance, and the purpose of Creation as the symbolic esoteric drama of unification in the Sephirot, restoring harmony to Creation. From the time of the Renaissance onwards, Jewish Kabbalah became incorporated as an important tradition in non-Jewish Western culture, first through its adoption by Christian Cabala, and continuing in Western esotericism occult Hermetic Qabalah. These adapted the Judaic Kabbalah Tree of Life syncretically by associating it with other religious traditions, esoteric theologies, and magical practices.
The concept of world trees is a prevalent motif in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cosmologies and iconography. World trees embodied the four cardinal directions, which represented also the fourfold nature of a central world tree, a symbolic axis mundi connecting the planes of the Underworld and the sky with that of the terrestrial world.
Depictions of world trees, both in their directional and central aspects, are found in the art and mythological traditions of cultures such as the Maya, Aztec, Izapan, Mixtec, Olmec, and others, dating to at least the Mid/Late Formative periods of Mesoamerican chronology. Among the Maya, the central world tree was conceived as or represented by a ceiba tree, and is known variously as a wacah chan or yax imix che, depending on the Mayan language. The trunk of the tree could also be represented by an upright caiman, whose skin evokes the tree's spiny trunk.
Directional world trees are also associated with the four Yearbearers in Mesoamerican calendars, and the directional colors and deities. Mesoamerican codices which have this association outlined include the Dresden, Borgia and Fejérváry-Mayer codices. It is supposed that Mesoamerican sites and ceremonial centers frequently had actual trees planted at each of the four cardinal directions, representing the quadripartite concept.
World trees are frequently depicted with birds in their branches, and their roots extending into earth or water (sometimes atop a "water-monster," symbolic of the underworld). The central world tree has also been interpreted as a representation of the band of the Milky Way.
The Epic of Gilgamesh is a similar quest for immortality. In Mesopotamian mythology, Etana searches for a 'plant of birth' to provide him with a son. This has a solid provenance of antiquity, being found in cylinder seals from Akkad (2390–2249 BCE).
The Book of One Thousand and One Nights has a story, 'The Tale of Buluqiya', in which the hero searches for immortality and finds a paradise with jewel-encrusted trees. Nearby is a Fountain of Youth guarded by Al-Khidr. Unable to defeat the guard, Buluqiya has to return empty-handed.
In a myth passed down among the Iroquois, The World on the Turtle's Back, explains the origin of the land in which a tree of life is described. According to the myth, it is found in the heavens, where the first humans lived, until a pregnant woman fell and landed in an endless sea. Saved by a giant turtle from drowning, she formed the world on its back by planting bark taken from the tree.
In Serer religion, the tree of life as a religious concept forms the basis of Serer cosmogony. Trees were the first things created on Earth by the supreme being Roog (or Koox among the Cangin). In the competing versions of the Serer creation myth, the Somb (Prosopis africana) and the Saas tree (acacia albida) are both viewed as trees of life. However, the prevailing view is that, the Somb was the first tree on Earth and the progenitor of plant life. The Somb was also used in the Serer tumuli and burial chambers, many of which had survived for more than a thousand years. Thus, Somb is not only the Tree of Life in Serer society, but the symbol of immortality.
The World Tree or Tree of Life is a central symbol in Turkic mythology. The blue sky around the tree reflects the peaceful nature of the country and the red ring that surrounds all of the elements symbolizes the ancient faith of rebirth, growth and development of the Turkic peoples.
The tree of life is a metaphor describing the relationship of all life on Earth in an evolutionary context. Charles Darwin talked about envisioning evolution as a "tangled bank" in On the Origin of Species; however, the book's sole illustration is of a branched diagram that is very tree-like.
From the first growth of the tree, many a limb and branch has decayed and dropped off; and these fallen branches of various sizes may represent those whole orders, families, and genera which have now no living representatives, and which are known to us only in a fossil state. As we here and there see a thin, straggling branch springing from a fork low down in a tree, and which by some chance has been favoured and is still alive on its summit, so we occasionally see an animal like the Ornithorhynchus (Platypus) or Lepidosiren (South American lungfish), which in some small degree connects by its affinities two large branches of life, and which has apparently been saved from fatal competition by having inhabited a protected station. As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and overtop on all sides many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever-branching and beautiful ramifications.—Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species
The evolutionary relationships of the tree of life were refined using genetic data by the American microbiologist Carl Woese, the discoverer of the domain Archaea and a pioneer in molecular (genetic) methods in evolutionary biology. In February 2009, BBC One broadcast an animated, interactive tree of life as part of its "Darwin Season."
The Tree of Life Web Project is an ongoing Internet project containing information about phylogeny and biodiversity, produced by biologists from around the world. Each page contains information about one group of organisms and is organized according to a branched tree-like form, thus showing relationships between organisms and groups of organisms.
A 2½ story high "Tree of Life" sculpture by Wisconsin artist Nancy Metz White was installed in Mitchell Boulevard Park in Milwaukee in 2002. The tree is made of brightly painted welded steel and forge flashings recycled from Milwaukee heavy industry.
Austrian symbolist artist Gustav Klimt portrayed his version of the tree of life in his painting, The Tree of Life, Stoclet Frieze. This iconic painting later inspired the external facade of the "New Residence Hall" (also called the "Tree House"), a colorful 21-story student residence hall at Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston, Massachusetts.
Double album "Bath"/"Leaving Your Body Map" by avant-garde metal band maudlin of the Well was constructed based upon a parallel qabalistic Tree of Life structure.
The double album Axis Mutatis by the electronic group The Shamen contains in some limited editions the instrumental album "Arbor Bona Arbor Mala." The title refers to the tree of life, the ancient symbol found in virtually all Shamanic cultures, linking the underworld with the earth and the heavens. Also, on the cover of Axis Mutatis appears a representation of the tree of life by William Latham.
In Korean boy band, EXO's Music Video MAMA, the twelve forces (EXO's members) will be the one to restore the tree of life.
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