Lots of jewelry designs honor nature in beautiful ways, and many specific nature designs carry significant historical and cultural meaning. One example is tree of life jewelry.
The tree of life is a symbol so widespread across cultures throughout history that it has become a universal archetype.
Is it good to wear the tree of life? Most people would say yes! Tree of life jewelry is said to bring good luck and, according to some, divine wisdom.
So, what does the tree of life mean in jewelry? That’s what we’ll be answering as we explore the various religious and cultural meanings of tree of life jewelry, from the symbol’s origins to its meanings today.
You’ll see a lot of “tree of life” references in ancient to modern literature, mythology, and folklore. Some of its monikers are the tree of knowledge, sacred tree, world tree, or cosmic tree, to name a few.
Designs differ, but traditionally, the tree of life symbol is depicted as a large tree with lots of deep roots and expansive, spreading branches, often resembling a baobab tree. Ancient depictions often add two people on either side of the tree, symmetrical and facing each other.
On a larger scale, the tree of life is depicted at the world’s center, often within a sacred garden.
Which tree is known as the tree of life? Not every culture names a specific species of tree, but one notable exception is the South Asian Moringa oleifera tree, commonly called the “moringa” tree.
Meanings differ — and we’ll break those down soon — but overall, the tree of life generally symbolizes:
Connection between all lives
Connection of heaven and Earth
Is the tree of life a religious symbol? Not always now, but it did originate as a religious symbol.
Pictured above: Temple Pendant with Two Birds Flanking a Tree of Life (front) and Geometric Lead Motifs (back), ca. 1000 - 1199 AD | Image credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Public Domain
Since the tree of life started as a religious symbol, what religion is the tree of life from?
It’s difficult to trace the first appearance of the tree of life symbol, but most scholars credit the first known use to Assyrians in ancient Mesopotamia (3,100 BC to 539 BC), a historical region in western Asia.
Assyrians in ancient Mesopotamia depicted goddesses of fertility like Inanna or Ishtar beside the sacred tree. Other art had the tree bearing pomegranates or representing a generational tree of their gods.
From these origins, the tree of life spread, appearing in myths and folklore around the world.
Some notable mentions of the tree of life in cultural mythology include:
Chinese: Tree of life often carved with dragon (symbol of immortality) and phoenix, together representing good fortune, sometimes with leaves representing people; In Taoism, the tree produces peaches every 3,000 years that grant immortality when eaten.
Persian (Zoroastrianism): Sacred tree with seeds for all Earth’s trees, guarded from an evil frog by two fish sent by Ahura Mazda, the good Zoroastrian creator god.
Egyptian: Sacred sycamore connecting life and death or acacia tree (symbol of immortality) where first deities were born.
Norse (Vikings): Huge, sacred ash tree called Yggdrasil that encompasses and unifies the nine worlds of the cosmos
Native American: Magic “Great Tree” in the Iroquois creation myth, The World on the Turtle’s Back, is on a floating island in the “Sky World” forbidden from being harmed
These are all ancient mythological meanings, so next, we’ll examine the popular religious meanings behind tree of life jewelry today.
Is the tree of life sacred? In many religions, absolutely. But the sacred significance varies, so we’ll go over some popular religious interpretations of tree of life jewelry.
Most Celtic tree of life jewelry has a Crann Bethadh, the Irish name for their tree of life, usually an oak tree. Celts traditionally planted a tree in the center of a clearing when settling somewhere, using it for sacred gatherings and shelter.
Symbolically, the Celtic tree of life represents:
Harmony and balance
Cycle of life
Connection between heaven and Earth
Connection between the mind and body
Other Celtic beliefs stated that the tree of life brought wisdom and blessings from their gods, served as a portal to an invisible spirit realm called the Otherworld, and housed their ancestors.
Shifting to monotheistic interpretations, the tree of life appears in all of the Abrahamic religions — Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.
What does the Bible say about the tree of life? The tree of life is mentioned in multiple books of the Bible, most notably in the Old Testament.
The first book of the Bible, Genesis, describes the first man and woman (Adam and Eve) living in the idyllic Garden of Eden. God told them about two sacred trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (or just “tree of knowledge”).
The tree of life was a life-giving tree that sustained Adam and Eve to live forever… until they ate from the forbidden tree of knowledge (the “fall of man”), which doomed them and humanity to eventual death.
Christians believe the tree of life symbolizes the nourishment and eventual eternal life achieved through a relationship with God.
Pictured above: Kabbalah tree of life diagram | Image credit: RootOfAllLight, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license
Judaism also follows the book of Genesis, but adds more lore. In additional Jewish texts, the tree of life is also called the “tree of souls” or “tree of mercy.”
The “tree of mercy” name comes from the Greek Apocalypse of Moses or Life of Adam and Eve, where it’s said that Adam (after being banished from the garden) believed the tree’s oil would heal his sickness.
In Jewish mythology, all new souls blossom from the “tree of souls” and they’re guarded by Lailah, the Angel of Conception, until they’re born. The tree’s roots also sprout righteous souls.
In Kabbalah, a Jewish mysticism tradition, the tree of life is a diagram. The tree (pictured below) is arranged using sacred geometry to represent:
Path to God & divine illumination
Order of the universe’s creation
Map of the universe
Interestingly, scholars believe the Kabbalah tree of life originated from the Assyrians mentioned in the Origins section above!
Making another connection, wearing tree of life jewelry in Kabbalist and Celtic traditions is said to bring you divine wisdom, helping you establish a greater connection to the universe.
The Garden of Eden story in the Qur'an mentions just one tree, called the tree of immortality by Satan to Adam, an equivalent to the Biblical tree of knowledge.
This version has Satan telling Adam and Eve that the only reason God didn’t want them eating from the tree is because it would make them angels.
Additionally, the Prophet Muhammad made references about taking care of trees and the environment: that planting trees is a charitable act that will bring you blessings, that trees should be respected, and that maintaining a tree is an act of faith.
In Buddhism, the tree of life is a literal fig tree (the Bodhi Tree) called the “tree of enlightenment” or “tree of awakening.”
According to beliefs, the tree of enlightenment is where Siddhartha Guatama, the Buddha, meditated motionless for days until he reached enlightenment. Afterwards, he traveled to teach the path of awakening.
The current tree of awakening, the “Mahabodhi Tree,” is allegedly a descendant of the original tree and resides in Bodh Gaya, India, a popular Buddhist pilgrimage destination.
In Buddhist art, the Bodhi Tree has distinct heart-shaped leaves. It symbolizes enlightenment, spiritual wisdom, and inner peace.
Beyond religious significance, what is the meaning behind the tree of life? Some non-religious interpretations of the tree of life include:
Family: Many people wear tree of life jewelry to signify their family’s generations and connect to their family. Family-oriented tree of life jewelry often depicts a large tree with branches connected to the roots, forming a circle to symbolize the circle of life or the preservation of your family history.
Connection: The tree of life’s roots underground and leaves sprouting toward the sky represent the connection of all humans to each other, our connection to nature, and the harmony of taking care of nature as it takes care of us.
Growth: Just as a huge oak tree starts as a small acorn, we each learn from our experiences and continue to grow into better versions of ourselves.
Knowledge: In a similar vein, the tree of life can symbolize the branches of knowledge and study, like René Descartes’s “tree of knowledge” metaphor.
Strength & Resilience: The tree of life can be a symbol of unwavering strength and stability amid the storms of life. After tragedy, trees are often planted as a symbol of hope and healing.
Rebirth: Just as trees adapt to the seasons by shedding and growing new leaves, we must adapt in the face of change, seeing it as an opportunity, not a setback.
Tranquility: What’s more serene than nature? Tree of life jewelry can remind you to slow down and appreciate the present moment.
Tree of life jewelry can be found in an array of designs, from traditional to modern, abstract, embellished or simple — you can even incorporate your birthstone!
Tree of life jewelry can be made with virtually any material or even mixed materials.
For those who love to shine, you can find gorgeous silver or gold tree of life jewelry, as well as options in alternative metals like titanium or platinum. Gold is also the color of the divine tree Kalpavriksha in Hinduism.
You can also find tree of life jewelry like bracelets that combine a metal tree of life charm looped with a leather or fabric wrap, great for an earthy or Bohemian aesthetic.
Tree of life pendants are the most popular type, but the symbol isn't limited to necklaces. You can find small or large tree of life earrings, metal or fabric tree of life bracelets (as mentioned above), tree of life charms, and even subtle tree of life rings.
If you want to bring the positive energies of the tree of life to your space without wearing it, you can even opt for a tree of life jewelry holder.
You might expect nature-oriented pieces like tree of life jewelry to only come in earthy designs, but you’d be wrong! You can find tree of life jewelry in simple to maximalist styles and everything in between.
Love minimalist jewelry? Then you may like some simple gold tree of life pendant on a thin chain or a silver carved tree of life ring.
Want a bit of pizzazz? Tree of life bracelets come in different styles: leather, metal, beaded, you name it! You can also find tree of life earrings with some color to sparkle alongside your dazzling smile.
Looking for statement tree of life jewelry? You’ll love tree of life pendants with gemstones as the branches or fruit, which often have different colored gems to create a rainbow-like effect.
Those looking for tree of life jewelry to honor their family or heritage can even choose gemstones based on the birthstones of their loved ones.
The tree of life is rooted in spirituality, but its branches reach beyond one singular concept. It is an evergreen depiction of vitality and strength, learning and growth, and one beautiful thing that connects us all: life.
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