In Ancient Egypt, the Tree of Life represented events that brought everything into existence. Learn about the significance and different interpretations of the Tree of Life across various religions and cultures, including Ancient Egypt, with this wiki page.
What was the Tree of Life in Ancient Egypt?
The Tree of Life is a significant religious symbol across various religions and cultures. In each culture and religion, the Tree of Life is known by a different name and holds another significance. However, despite the differences, all interpretations of the Tree of Life view it as the source of life, whether in a spiritual or literal sense.
In Ancient Egypt, the Tree of Life represented events that brought everything into existence. Various spheres within the Tree of Life portray the process of creation. The first two of these spheres symbolize the earth and are believed to have derived from the acacia tree of Iusaaset, which the Ancient Egyptians believed to be the Tree of Life.
The symbolism of the Tree of Life in Ancient Egypt
In Ancient Egypt, as with many other ancient religions, trees were of notable religious significance and associated with different gods. Horus was one of several Egyptian deities that were associated with specific trees. Horus was a god in the form of a falcon with several other functions, but primarily represented power, kingship, and the sky. He was heavily associated with the acacia tree. Moreover, Osiris, the god of the underworld, was associated with the willow tree, and Ra, the king of the deities and the father of all creation, was linked to the sycamore tree.
In Ancient Egyptian mythology, female deities were most heavily associated with trees. The three goddesses, Hathor, Nut, and Isis, were named the ‘Lady of the Sycamore.’ The sycamore tree was essential in Ancient Egyptian religion. Trees were not super common in Ancient Egypt, given its hot, dry climate, and the sycamore tree was the sole indigenous tree of generous size and sturdiness in the region. The sycamore tree also grew primarily at the edge of the desert near the necropolises, which were the resting places for the dead. It would have given it a particular significance in Egyptian religion. From the sycamore tree grows the sycamore fig, which produces a milky substance that can sustain life. In Egyptian mythology, this substance was fed to the dead in the afterlife as sustenance.
Furthermore, the goddess Nut, or Nu, is closely linked to the Tree of Life. She is depicted as the provider of life, which she would give in the form of milk, fruit, and sap from her body. As a result of her representation as the giver of life, she became known as the world mother and the eye of Ra. Over time, the goddess of fertility, Isis, also became the symbol of maternal wisdom, motherhood, magic, death, healing, and rebirth. As such, she is often represented throughout various paintings and illustrations as a sycamore tree.
Significance of the Tree of Life in different religions
The Tree of Life is highly significant in Ancient Egyptian mythology, beliefs, and cultures. Each of these religions and cultures interprets the symbol differently. Let’s have a look at the significance of the Tree of Life in different religions:
The Christian account of creation is detailed within the Book of Genesis in the Bible. In this book, it is written that the Tree of Life is located in the middle of the Garden of Eden and to be near it and eat from it is to be near God Himself. Eating fruit from the Tree of Life consumes God’s life power and presence. The first humans, Adam and Eve, are never told that they cannot eat from this tree, but they are expelled from the garden before they have a chance. They are, however, said that they cannot eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. However, they disobey God and eat from it anyway. The result of this is ‘the fall,’ which is the human descent into sin and darkness. Adam and Eve are forced to leave the Garden of Eden and live in the outside world without directly connecting with God.
In Christianity, the Tree of Life symbolizes Divinity.
In Hinduism, the Tree of Life is depicted as the eternal Banyan tree. During the cyclic destruction of creation, Hindus believe that waters enveloped the whole earth, but the infinite Banyan tree was untouched. Lord Krishna is also said to have rested on the leaves of the Tree of Life as a baby. What’s more, Buddha is believed to meditate eternally in the location of the eternal Banyan tree.
In Hinduism, the Tree of Life symbolizes the part of human beings that remains pure throughout hardship as long as they are rooted in spirituality.
In Islam, the representation of the Tree of Life is very similar to Christianity. However, in Islam, it is known as the Tree of Immortality. The Quran tells us that Adam and Eve were forbidden by Allah from eating from the Tree of Immortality but disobeyed his command. As a result, they were tempted to eat from the tree by the evil serpent and were banished from having a direct connection with Allah.
Facts about the Tree of Life in Ancient Egypt
Do you want to know more about the Tree of Life in Ancient Egypt? Then, check out these fun facts!
- In Egyptian mythology, the Tree of Life is said to have been kept in an open courtyard on full display in the Sun temple of Ra in Heliopolis. It is believed to have been held with the Ben-Ben Stone, a capstone in the shape of a pyramid that sat atop a sacred Obelisk.
- The Excellent Cat was a personification of the deity Ra, which is believed to have guarded the Tree of Life.
- In Egyptian mythology, the secretary of the sun god Ra and scribe of the underworld, Thoth, inscribed Ra’s name and the length of his reign on the leaves and fruit of the Tree of Life. The purpose of this was to protect Ra and preserve his name.
- Ancient Egyptians believed that eating the fruit of the sacred Ished Tree of Life that the gods had offered was a guarantee of eternal life.
- In Egyptian mythology, the Tree of Life was thought to have held the Knowledge of the Divine Plan. It was essentially a plan or timeline of all creation, starting at the very starting of time.
- The Tree of Life in Ancient Egypt was home to the Phoenix, also known as the Bennu Bird. As such, it held strong links with resurrection and represented the rising sun.
- Egyptian mythology details instances in which the Sun god, Ra, would split the Ished Tree of Life in the morning after victory over his enemies.
- The Tree of Life plays an essential role in the creation story in Ancient Egyptian mythology. The myth goes that the Tree of Life rose from the Sacred Mound. Once it had risen, the tree’s branches reached up and out into the sky, supporting the various stars and planets. However, its branches also reached down into the watery abyss of the underworld.
- The trunk of the Tree of Life is also of individual significance. The trunk is believed to have represented the World Pillar around which the heavens would revolve. The World Pillar was the center of the entire universe.
- At the foot of the Tree of Life were four river sources. The sources of these rivers would provide water to the world. The orientation of these four rivers was essential, as they all correlated with a cardinal point of the compass. Each point of the compass, and its corresponding river, was associated with a specific element. For example, water was associated with the North Point, the fire was related to the South Point, the air was associated with the East Point, and the earth was related to the West Point.