Tree of Knowledge: Mankind's Everlasting Quest for Immortality

In diverse traditions remote in both time and space, the tree is the symbol of the universal life force, that spreads out in manifestation the same way the plant energy spreads from its invisible roots to the trunk, branches, leaves and fruits.

Associated with the tree are superhuman consciousness and immortality, but also destructive forces, mortality and frightening natures such as demons, dragons and serpents. The tree also plays a central role in a whole cycle of theatrical mythological events, in the biblical myth of the fall of Adam and many of its variants.

An image of the World Tree
An image of the World Tree

The World Tree across Cultures

The tree as the source of immortality and universal knowledge is not unique to the Bible. We meet the concept of "The World Tree" in many ancient traditions.

  • In the Vedas and Upanishads, it is inverted to suggest the source of its power (its roots) is in "the above," in the heavens. From it drips the nectar of immortality (amrita) and in its foliage hides Yama, the goddess of beyond the grave.
  • In Iran, we find a double tree. One comprises all seeds, the other produces the drink of immortality (haoma) and is the source of spiritual knowledge. We can think of the trees of Paradise, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge as the biblical counterparts of the Iranian double tree.
  • In the Qabalah, we encounter the great and powerful Tree of Life that elevates life on high. With it is connected a sprinkling by virtue of which the dead are resurrected. This sprinkling is, of course, the equivalent of the Vedic amrita and the Iranian haoma.
  • Similar to the above trees, in Assyro-Babylonian mythology, there is a cosmic tree rooted in Eridu, the House of Wisdom.

The Nature of the Tree and the Universal Force

What's common in every ancient tradition is the association of the tree with the Divine Mother.

  • The tree becomes the personification of those great Asiatic goddesses of Nature: Anat, Cybele, Ishtar, Tammuz.
  • This idea of the feminine nature of the universal force is also corroborated by the goddess consecrated to the Dodona oak, a place of oracles and a fountain of spiritual knowledge in Irish tradition.
  • It is also confirmed by the Hesperides, charged with guarding the tree whose fruit has the symbolic value of the Golden Fleece,
  • and an immortalizing power that the tree of the Irish Mag Mell legend possesses.
  • In the Edda, the goddess Idhunn is charged with the task of guarding the apples of immortality, while in the case of the cosmic tree, Yggdrasil, she becomes a dragon that contains the principle of all wisdom.
  • Similarly, in Slavic mythology, we find a saga in which there is an oak on the island of Bajun guarded also by a dragon. This tree is said to be the residence of a feminine principle known as "The Virgin of the Dawn."
  • The symbolism is also prevalent in hermetico-alchemical texts. The fountain of Bernard of Treviso is sheltered by a tree in whose center is the dragon Ouroborus that represents the All. It represents the Lady of Philosophers or else the Water of Life that resurrects the dead. Ouroborus stands for a dissolving force, a power that kills and is guarding the Tree of the Sun and the Tree of the Moon that produce crowns in place of fruits.

This tree symbolism is the repository of a supernatural science, a force capable of giving immortality and ultimate knowledge, but also warns of a multiple danger. It is easy to understand that when one seeks the conquest of immortality and enlightenment by getting in touch with this universal force, he must be capable of withstanding overwhelming grandeur. And so making contact either brings ruin and damnation for the darer or it transforms him into a god.

The Roman God, Mithras
The Roman God, Mithras

Heroes that conquered the Tree

  • Just as Adam uses the power of the tree to acquire its knowledge, Buddha also sits under the tree to attain enlightenment. Although, Adam gets exiled from Paradise for what he has done, he is as successful in his achievement as Buddha is.
  • The chief of the Devas, Indra, also appropriates amrita from a linage of anterior beings, the Ashuras.
  • Odin, head of the pantheon of Norse gods, by means of hanging himself in sacrifice from the tree Yggdrasil, is also successful in passing its knowledge on to the human race.
  • The Roman god Mithras, after fashioning a cloak from the leaves of the tree and eating its fruits, was able to dominate the Sun.
  • Nemi, the King of the Woods and husband of a goddess (a tree woman) is the hero of an ancient Italic myth. His power and dignity would pass to whomever could seize and kill him. However, anyone who would attempt this, must first seize a branch of the sacred tree to prove his worthiness of challenging Nemi.
  • Similarly, the Hindu tradition talks about the cutting and felling of the Tree of Brahma with the powerful axe of Wisdom.

Heroes that failed

  • Agni, the hero of the Vedas, in the form of a hawk manages to snatch a branch of the tree. Unlike Indra, however, he is struck down and his feathers scatter over the earth producing a plant whose sap is the terrestrial soma. This may be an obscure allusion to the passing of the legacy of his deed to another race, now terrestrial.
  • For the same deed, that is, passing the knowledge of the gods on to the human race, Prometheus is chained and he has to suffer the torment of the eagle lacerating his innards.
  • Jason of the Uranian race, after returning with the Golden Fleece that he found hanging from a tree, dies under the ruins of the Argo, the ship which, having been build of Dodona's oak, conveys the very power that had made the theft possible in the first place.
  • In the Eddas, Loki steals the apple of immortality from the goddess Idhunn and is then exiled.
  • The Chaldean Gilgamesh, after cultivating the crystalline fruit, finds the entrance blocked by guardians. (Unfortunately, this saga is incomplete, so we don't exactly know what happens to him after.)
  • However, the Assyrian god Zu who steals the tables of destiny and so the power of prophetic knowledge, is seized by Baal, made into a bird of prey and exiled.

It is apparent that while some, such as Indra, Odin or Mithras, were successful in gaining the knowledge of the tree, others were not so. The conquest of the tree appears to be an event insolving fundamental risk and uncertainty.

Giordano's Fallen Angels
Giordano's Fallen Angels

Knowledge of Arts and Crafts and the Fallen Angels

Tertullian reports that in Arab-Syrian alchemical hermetism, the secrets of metals, the virtues of plants, the forces of magical conjurations and the science of the stars were all revealed to men by the fallen angels. The notion of the B'nai Elohim (fallen angels), who descended (fell) to Mount Hermon, in the Book of Enoch, is in direct correspondence with the lineage of Witnesses and Watchers, who came down to instruct humanity, in the Book of Jubilees.

In the Book of Enoch, Azazel, who seduced Eve, taught man the use of weapons that kill and so infused in him the warrior spirit. When we interpret the myth of the fall, that is, "the angels were seized with desire for women" we should not forget what 'woman' means in connection with the tree. This notion is further confirmed when we look at the Sanskrit word shakti which is used to refer to the wife of a god and at the same time to his power. And it is further confirmed in Tibetan symbolism wherein wisdom appears as a woman, while method or art plays the part of the man in coitus with her.

So is it easy to undestand that the angels were prey to the desire for power and in mating fell to earth. The powerful race of the Titans, the Nephilims, were born from this union. They are, in the Book of Baruch, called glorious and warlike. They awoke in men the spirit of heroes and warriors and invented the arts. The word root chema, from which alchemy and chemistry derive, turns up for the first time in order to refer to a tradition of this kind.

The Will of God

In the biblical myth of the tree, God say,

"The man has become as one of us, to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also the tree of life, and eat, and live forever."

In this quote God recognizes the divine dignity of Adam that he has won, and after that implicitly refers to the possibility of transferring his achievement to the rank of universal power and immortality. God, however, did not want this. He wanted to assure the purpose of the human when he put in him the diverging elements of body and soul. He did not want the human to live forever, so He imprinted in him the fear that makes the human submit to His superiority.

About the domination of the two natures, body and soul, we find in the Corpus Hermeticum the following words,

"Man loses no worthiness for possessing a mortal part, but very much on the contrary, mortality augments his possibility and his power. His double functions are possible for him precisely because of his double nature: because he is so constituted that it is possible for him to embrace both the divine and the terrestrial at the same time."

No god leaves his sphere to descend to earth whereas man ascends to heaven and measures it. Also,

"The soul of man sees much more deeply than the angels, because it sees as much of heaven as of hell."

And because of that man lives in grave danger in this world.

This is the repost of my hub, Adam, Eve and the Tree of Knowledge, that I wrote using my Pacal Votan avatar.

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Comments 23 comments

missmaudie profile image

missmaudie 6 years ago from Brittany, France

I can't keep up with all your hubs! This looks really interesting but I need to sit down and concentrate on it. Could you post a link to the Adam, Eve and the Tree of Knowledge hub please? Can't find it after a cursory look.

Haunty profile image

Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary Author

Hey missmaudie! :) Nice to see you.

You don't have to look. This one is that hub. I posted it again, because I deleted my other account and so the hubs that went with it. Thanks for stopping by.

missmaudie profile image

missmaudie 6 years ago from Brittany, France

sorry for being such a dimbo! I misread 'repost'. OK I've read this now, and it covers a huge range of faiths and traditions you must have done a lot of research. As well as trees being present in many ancient faiths,many of them also have a Noah's Ark type story where there is a catastrophe of some kind. Maybe you could write a hub about that. Luckily I don't want immortality, just to live as long as I can. Great hub, lots to think about, thank you.

missmaudie profile image

missmaudie 6 years ago from Brittany, France

PS I was going to use the Adam and Eve story for your http://hubpages/hub/An-Invite-To-Write hub but chickened out.

Haunty profile image

Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary Author

As much as you don't want immortality, missmaudie, you will live forever. If not in this body then in other shapes and forms.

One thing studying the traditions of these cultures afforded me was the realization that their belief systems were essentially the same. This means that one doesn't have to study all of them to gain access to their spiritual knowledge. It's enough to study but one to understand all. I have found comfort in it.

Thank you for coming back.

myownworld profile image

myownworld 6 years ago from uk

Loved reading this....yes, the tree is a very powerful symbol in Asian culture and myths too, esp. as the divine Anat, Ishtar and Tammuz. In some ancient indian practices, they actually forced girls into a marriage with trees also! (can you believe that!) Anyway, great hub...nicely presented. (rated up!)

Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 6 years ago from Stepping past clutter

I do love Yggdrasil and was happy you included its story. (Was that from the Poetic or Prose Edda? I will have to check it out.) Norse mythology is what my ancestors trusted before they were brutally converted to Christianity, i.e., convert or die.

I love getting down to "Source" material, though it takes a great deal of time. So many of the Christ concepts are found in the Old Testament, Summarian stories, etc. I find it deepens understanding, do you? Would that be called plagarism or expansion of and sharing of spiritual knowledge? I appreciate this hub and plan to print it out for further study.

Haunty profile image

Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary Author

mow - Thank you. :) I can believe that. Trust me, I can believe practically anything these days.

Storytellersrus - I think it deepens understanding or even puts things in new perspective. Although, I used book as sources, most everything can be found on the Internet. If you plan to study things like what is Ouroboros or the Book of Baruch, I recommend your using more than just one source as these can be ambiguous and confusing.

Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 6 years ago from Stepping past clutter

Hey, I saw Avatar last night! Was this hub inspired by that movie? It certainly was relevant regarding mythology/spirituality and Trees. It was an awesome movie and I look forward to seeing it again some day. BTW, I don't really get the connection of immortality and Tree spirituality. Guess I will have to read the hub again...

Haunty profile image

Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary Author

Hey :) It must be a coincidence then, because I haven't seen the movie yet. But I heard it's good. I don't know why but the connection is a given in most mythologies. There usually are a tree of knowledge and a tree of immortality. In the Bible, Adam ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge and so learned the art of the crafts. Then he was expelled from Paradise before he could have eaten the fruit of the tree of immortality, which would have made humans immortal. At least, that's my understanding of it.

I have see The Fountain (Weiss, Jackman) a while back though.

cosette 6 years ago

wow, what an interesting hub. i love trees and find them to be really special. the world definitely needs more of them, and i cringe when i see forests leveled to make things like bar stools and whatnot.

Haunty profile image

Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary Author

Thank you, cosette. I feel the same way. Trees are just wonderful as well as other representatives of the vegetable kingdom. :)

frogdropping profile image

frogdropping 6 years ago

Haunty I have an excellent book all about the Tree Of Life. And it's more of a transcript than a book. But it's fascinating. I've had it roughly 17 years or so, maybe more. If it's here somewhere, I'll send it you.

If not it's in the UK and I'll try and dig it out next time I'm over there.

And your hub is a great 'compact' version. Really - it's great :)

Haunty profile image

Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary Author

Thank you, frog. :)

This hub was lost, but I recovered it from the cached page of Google. I wanted my first crappy poem too (what an idiot! but you already know that), lol, but it hadn't yet been indexed at the time I deleted my account. At least I've got the tree back. :)

Fluffymetal profile image

Fluffymetal 6 years ago from Texas

I love the Tree of Life. Thanks for writing more about it. Get hub.

raisingme profile image

raisingme 6 years ago from Fraser Valley, British Columbia

Beautifully written and I got to add to my own tree of knowledge through reading it! I was reminded of a time a few years ago when I was going through a tough patch and had taken a walk in a forest to clear my mind. At one point I sat down at the base of a tree with my back resting against it and as I did so a song began playing in the theater of my mind - "Lean on me, when you're not strong. And I'll be your friend. I'll help you carry on." I have found nothing better for putting a little harmony back in my universe than a walk in a forest! Thank you for writing this hub and for sharing the knowledge that you have!

Haunty profile image

Haunty 6 years ago from Hungary Author

If you knew my preconceptions about trees, you'd probably wonder if I'm sane at all. One of them is: an "intimate relationship" with trees helps you stay in good health. It's good to know you have something to turn to when you're going through a rough patch. I know others who do this too. Thank you, raisingme. :)

raisingme profile image

raisingme 6 years ago from Fraser Valley, British Columbia

There is a good deal of difference between a precept and knowledge. 'Tis not your sanity I would question at all but the sanity of the collective UN-consciousness of that which calls itself humanity. Now that is riddle with preconceptions! Most of them false!

Ardie profile image

Ardie 5 years ago from Neverland

I must be a complete moron because I never realized how important trees are in ancient tradition and all they symbolize. When I take my walk through my woods tomorrow I will have a new appreciation for all the trees I pass under and between.

This will sound silly but I've named a few of my favorite trees on our land. They scare me because they're HUGE and could wipe out our barn and house along with the neighbor's house...I hope the sign of respect keeps them deep rooted and holding on to their massive branches. Your presentation of this information was spectacular.

Haunty profile image

Haunty 5 years ago from Hungary Author

I wrote this after I took an online writing course. After rereading it, I realize it's a difficult read because of the many alian names and concepts.

I used to be in an "intimate" connection with trees in my childhood, if that makes sense. I didn't exactly hug trees, but I loved to touch them and be around them. So you can imagine it doesn't sound silly to me that you named your trees.

Trust me, a tree has its way of making sure it stands. It knows how to keep it up. ;) But of course, be on the lookout for misbehaving ones. We had to fell a big pine because it was threatening to fall on us.

Ardie profile image

Ardie 5 years ago from Neverland online writing course?! I didn't even know they had those! I don't touch my trees but I talk to them :D But then again I talk to anything that can't run away from me. My large named trees are pines. I know their roots don't go deep so they worry me. They have a lot of character though.

I thought the hub was very well written. The words were very descriptive and if a name came up I wasn't familiar with I used search to help.

Haunty profile image

Haunty 5 years ago from Hungary Author

Oh I didn't say that to impress. I just said that was the reason this hubs turned out the way it did. And just so you know, I'm the type of person who sometimes goes crazy and takes a writers course. :)

thanks 3 years ago

thanks for your insites into the tree. Been in the process of writing a book on this topic. Its taking a very long time. Many of the ancient cultures see the sacred tree as a type of portal to te underworld and upper spirit realm.

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