When the Ancient Celts began to clear land for settling, they realized how truly immense the forest that they lived in was. The large trees surrounding them provided for both humans and animals alike with nourishment and shelter, but also a home.
At the very center of each field, a single tree was left behind that became known as the Crann Bethadh, roughly translated to the “Tree of Life” in English, to all of those who inhabited the area. This particular kind of tree was described as having a force capable of caring for all life on Earth.
Celtic Druids only lived in places where such trees were present. The appointment of chieftains, influential meetings between high ranking officials, and schooling were all some of the activities held under the Tree of Life. Sacred rituals were performed to mark the different stages a community’s tree went through. These marked its birth when the tree began to take root, death when it shed its leaves in autumn and hibernated in the winter, and rebirth with the growth of new leaves in the spring. The Tree of Life was valued for its longevity, wisdom, and strength.
The Tree of Life is often depicted as a large oak tree with its branches reaching out towards the sky, and intertwined with its roots that are spread deep into the earth. According to Celtic mythology, the tree’s roots were so far underground that they could actually reach the underworld. The tree’s broad trunk is the only part of the tree that remains visible from a human point of view, left to represent the connection between the invisible worlds.
Trees were believed to be magical and mystic beings. They were powerful enough to provide portals into other worlds, including the land of fire, the world of the dead, and the land of Asgard. Trees were used as mediums to deliver messages to entities from other worlds, enabling mere humans to communicate with their gods.
Another meaning associated with the Tree of Life is “Creator”. The Druids believed that humans originated from trees. Because of this, they were called the ancestors. Stories tell that the trees were elder beings full of knowledge, who taught humans how to use the alphabet, the calendar, and the entrances to the hidden realms of the supernatural.
The Celts were almost completely surrounded by trees. They made use of them in their everyday lives, whether it was for warmth through the firewood they provided, food, or even the letters in their alphabet. Today, it can be found on a large variety of items, including tapestries, jewelry, and tattoos. Truly, it should come as no surprise to see that the symbol of the Tree of Life has still maintained its popularity more than hundreds of years later.