What is the Celtic Tree of Life?

Tree of Life Oak

The Tree of Life of Crann Bethadh is found throughout Celtic history, culture and faith. But what does this symbol, much loved by the Celts, signify and what are its origins?

Said to represent balance and harmony, the Tree of Life spans back centuries and features a tree with broad branches and a root system that spreads out widely. In many designs the Tree of Life is created as symmetrical so when it is turned upside down it appears exactly the same way. It can look particularly beautiful as a symbol used in jewelry and craft as an engraving or feature.

Tree of Life Silver Pendant
Tree of Life Silver Pendant

One of the most important and beautiful Celtic symbols, the Tree of Life features the mighty oak tree which symbolizes strength and solidity, nobility and endurance as it can live for over 300 years. The Celts were very influenced and led by nature and the connection between earth and the afterlife and believed that trees held the spirits and essence of their ancestors. They saw the root system below the ground as a physical doorway that would penetrate through to the world and afterlife beyond.

Balance and harmony is at the heart of Celtic culture and the Celts saw the Tree of Life as a representation of all stages from birth to death to reincarnation. The tree was seen as a symbol of immortality as every acorn pointed to new beginnings. At the heart of every community of Celts was an oak tree or Crann Bethadh. They held meetings there and placed it at the center of their living area for political and spiritual ceremonies to be held. When in times of war the Celts believed that if they cut down the tree of their opposition they would immediately gain victory.

Tree of Life Silver Bangle
Tree of Life Silver Bangle

The Tree of Life has an even broader reach and in addition to being an important Celtic symbol, it has also been found in other cultures. The Norse had a similar Tree of Life symbol but it was an ash rather than an oak and it was also seen on ancient Egyptian tomb carvings which are said to even predate Celtic culture. There are interpretations of the Tree of Life theme across Islamic, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish and Hindi traditions also.

The ancient Celts had a strong belief that every space in Celtic jewelry or weaponry had to be filled or evil would enter. They, as a result, developed their swirls and intricate knotwork and patterns from animals and nature. One of these symbols was the Tree of Life. In more modern times the Tree of Life is said to represent knowledge, health, love, courage and prosperity - everlasting themes that have stood the test of time!
Posted on January 11, 2022

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