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The heART of Ritual


The Tree of Life

The original symbolism of the Tree of Life involved a mythical sense of a world axis, the “axis mundi” around which creation was created, the unified center where all dualities and oppositions come together. As center point, the tree remains eternally still; yet as the living, breathing Tree of Life, it presents a core image of constant change. It grows repeatedly from the same unseen roots, for it is rooted in the imagination of life and in the living Soul of the World. It is also rooted in the old mind and old soul of humankind, where it must be watered by dreams and longings and be nourished by songs and dances that make things whole if only for a moment. Each return to the tree at the center becomes a return to the origins of life and thus a renewal of the world.

The relationship between trees and people is an ancient one. Thus, things could start up again if that ancient and mysterious relationship were to become renewed and revitalized. The Tree of Life appears in almost all cultural heritages; it takes shape as the luminous Christmas tree that glows in the long nights of the darkest time of the year and it is the naked cross on which the Christian savior hangs. It is also the sacred tree to which Native American braves tie themselves during the Sundance ritual. It is the hollow center of the Navaho Reed of Life and the White Tree of Peace of the Northern tribes. It appears as the Tree of Ascent and Descent where the shamans seek the heights of spirit and the depths of soul. It is the Tree of Sacrifice and the Tree of Death, appearing at times as the “hanging tree.” In the form of a bodhi tree it protects the Buddha and becomes the Tree of Enlightenment. It is the long-forgotten tree rooted at the center of paradise where it stands as the Tree of Unity.

The Tree of Life has always been there; standing in the midst of the archetypal pack of eternal symbols that keep arising into human awareness. In one sense, it is less real than any tree in a nearby garden or forest. In another sense, both a deeper and higher sense, the symbolic tree is more real than real. In that mythic sense, it is the original tree, the mother of all trees, the essence and source and sense of being rooted in life and central to existence. Centralizing symbols are needed to bring the mind and the heart to the doors of truth. Truth certainly appears differently to different people, but a genuine symbol speaks meaningfully to every seeker. A genuine symbol helps reveal what the seekers otherwise conceal from themselves.

Words by Michael Meade

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