|Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow - M. Snyder|
As humans have done throughout history our ancestors created and used symbols to express complicated or mysterious concepts, like the natural cycles of life. Animals often eat in the shelter or shade of trees, leaving what they do not want to “melt” slowly into the ground. Animals also die under trees, their remains melting into the ground, nourishing the trees. Thus nourished, the trees grow and bloom, again providing shelter and food for the animals. The ancients noticed this cycle - death providing food for the tree, which in turn thrives and provides food for life - and a symbol was born.
Yggdrasil (the Cosmic Tree, later the World Tree or Tree of Life) represents the link between Heaven, Earth, and the Underworld, uniting Above and Below. The trunk of the tree, or Axis Mundi, symbolizes the path between the material and spiritual realms; a sort of life line (the path of nourishment). The children’s poem Rock-a-bye Baby comes from this mythology - the baby is suspended from the branches of the tree, between Heaven and Earth (in the path of nourishment), to be blessed and protected. This practice, hanging the baby from tree branches, developed while the parents worked in the field and tended herds of pigs (which would attack a baby). The precious babies, hanging from a branch, were safe from animals while the adults were busy.
The Cosmic Tree, like the Axis Mundi, is considered to be at the center of the world, at the junction between the home of the gods, the realm of men, and the underworld (Heaven, Earth, and Hell). All sacred and holy places, temples and sanctuaries, are an assimilation of this symbolic archetype. In Christian depictions, Yggdrasil is two trees: the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life.
Symbols of Yggdrasil are found world-wide, from prehistory to the present. The ancient tree, with roots deep underground, a trunk through which flows nourishment for life, and branches which spread out in the heavens, is considered the giver of blessings. Yggdrasil is also a giver of spiritual wisdom; Odin received the gift of language, and Buddha his enlightenment from this tree.
The Allerød Yggdrasil from c. 9000 BC is the ancestor of our Norse, Celtic, Hebrew, Vedic, Christian, and Mohammedan Tree of Life. Yggdrasil symbolizes the origin and cycles of life and death, and attributes them to something beyond the corporeal world. Trees also bear seeds and fruit, which regenerate both trees and Earth; from this the tree has become a symbol of immortality. Yggdrasil is guarded by fearsome beings such as dragons, fiery serpents, or angels with swords of fire.
|Allerod Yggdrasil, 9000 BC|
Yggdrasil images are still created and used to express that which is best communicated symbolically. Archetypal psychologist James Hillman points out that the soul reveals itself through images. Religious sequence throughout the world is the same - from chaos to birth, life, and death, then dissolution back to chaos and reconfiguration. The image of the ancient tree Yggdrasil symbolizes this process. The similarity of these images indicates commonality in the mythologies they represent. Family “trees” showing genealogy imply the same flow of life through the generations of those related by family ties.
About Symbologist Michelle Snyder
Michelle earned her post-graduate degree at the University of Wales. She is an author, columnist, publisher, artist, and teacher. Her artwork, inspired by her love of symbolism and folklore, has appeared in galleries from Massachusetts to California. Michelle is co-owner of White Knight Studio with her husband Jay Robert.
Books by Michelle, available at Amazon:
Symbology ReVision: Unlocking Secret Knowledge
Symbology: Hidden in Plain Sight
Symbology: My Art and Symbols
Symbology: My Art and Symbols
Symbology: Fairy Tales Uncovered
Symbology: Decoding Classic Images
Symbology: World of Symbols