by Bruce Johnson —
Bruce Johnson has over 30 years of study in the fields of Ancient Wisdom and occultism. He has taught classes on a wide range of topics, from Atlantis to mediums to Zoroaster. He is also a spiritualist minister, with a background in spiritual astrology. He lives in Colorado with his wife and their cat.
Tree symbols have existed in numerous forms throughout history, and communicate a wealth of inner meaning to the one who studies them. Let’s begin with the World Tree, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, sometimes called the Tree of Knowledge.
The World Tree, also known as the Cosmic Tree or the Mundane Tree, symbolizes the central axis of the universe that links all planes together with its roots, trunk and branches. The World Tree signifies the macrocosmic unity of all creation manifesting in diverse forms. Cosmic Trees can be either right-side-up, or up-side-down depending on the philosophy they’re connected with. When drawn up-side-down like the Sephirothic Tree, they are always indicative of the Emanation process. The Mundane Tree is often seen blended with the Tree of Life into one central tree expressing the qualities of both trees.
The Tree of Life when not merged with the World Tree, is frequently depicted in a duality with the Tree of Knowledge, or in some cases, with the Tree of Death. The Chinese sacred tree Sung-Ming-Shu, like the revered Indian banyan tree, fuses the Trees of Life and Knowledge into one tree. The Tree of Life is active, solar, unitary in nature, linked with the heart, and corresponds to the pole of spirit, and the white column of Solomon’s Temple. In Gnostic doctrine, the five light-radiating trees existing in Paradise emanate from the Tree of Life. The Trees of Life and Knowledge of Good and Evil are pictured on The Lovers Tarot card.
Both the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge can be fruit-bearing trees. In the third labor of Hercules, he attempts to acquire the highly desirable golden apples from the sacred Tree of Wisdom in the Hesperidean Garden. The Garden of Righteousness from the Book of Enoch, like the biblical Garden of Eden, contains various fragrant and beautiful trees bearing fruit. With no specific Tree of Life, the aromatic Tree of Knowledge is the central tree in the Garden of Righteousness. Its fruit resembles fine grapes, endowing great wisdom to whoever eats them. The Tree of Knowledge depicts duality, the pole of matter and the black column of Solomons temple. It is passive and lunar in nature and corresponds to the mind.
The primeval symbol of one or two serpents wound around a pole, tree or cross can be seen in the imagery of India, Egypt, Greece, and elsewhere. Hindu art shows the cosmic serpent Sesha coiled around the central world axis. Egyptian serpent/pole symbols include- a crowned snake atop a T-shaped pole [Tau cross], and a serpent-entwined Staff of Hermes topped with a falcon head and solar uraeus. Serpents, as symbols of Life and Wisdom, can be combined with World Trees, Trees of Life or Trees of Knowledge. The Hellenic Tree of Life named Gogard held a snake within its boughs. A 100- headed dragon/serpent guarded the Tree of Wisdom diligently sought by Hercules. The Caduceus or Staff of Mercury includes two snakes symbolizing balanced opposing forces, intertwined around a central vertical pole. A serpent spiraling around the branches of the Sephirothic Tree is a well- known symbol to Kabbalists. Some versions of the Alchemical Tree symbol incorporate one or more serpents or dragons, either protecting the tree, or dwelling in it.