The tree of life has been an integral part of almost every society and culture on the earth for as long as tales have been told. Of course, each different culture has their own version of a ‘tree of life’ motif—with some of them representing renewal, others representing immortality, and still others representing the foundations of the world. Trees are worldwide plants that have gained reverence thanks to their huge stature, compared to every other living thing. Even in areas where trees do not grow tall, they provide fruits and shade to sustain the life of other creatures. In today’s article, we’ll be talking about these different trees, their meaning and history, and some awesome tree of life tattoo designs!
Celtic Tree of Life Tattoo Meaning
The Celtic tree of life is undeniably the most suitable tree for getting a tree of life tattoo. This knotted tree is often drawn in a circle, representing the world. Its branches reach up to the heavens, and its roots reach to the world below. In this way, it is a bridge between heaven and earth. The knotted structure of the roots creates an infinite loop, representing eternity. This was a common Celtic theme, as you can see these eternal knots in many of their other tattoo designs, artwork, and sculptures. The tree also represented renewal—it thrives in the Summer, fades in the Fall, dies in the Winter, and is reborn in time for Spring. This further established the concept of eternal time.
Some Celtic tattoos will have branches that intertwine with the roots. This is just a way of firmly establishing the link between the heavens and the earth. Some variants of the Celtic tree of life depict a tree filled with fruit, so some tattoos will incorporate this into their design. They will add fruits, flowers, and animals to the tree. Birds and butterflies flying out of the tree an wolves howling at its feet represent life, sustenance, and wealth. It also means that the tree of life nourishes all forms of life equally, from the smallest bug to the largest beast—and we are just an animal somewhere in the middle of that scale.
Tree of Life Tattoo Meaning
Of course, there is more than one type of tree of life. While it is not used as a common tattoo design, Yggdrasil closely resembles the tree of life in Celtic cultures. Like the Celtic tree of life, Yggdrasil creates a bridge between the heavens and the earth. Unlike the Celtic tree of life, this is meant in the literal sense. The branches hold up the world that we live in, while the three major roots reach out to Asgard, Hel, and Jötnar, respectively. A serpent eats at the roots of the tree, a stag gnaws at the leaves, and an eagle sits at the top. A squirrel delivers messages from the serpent to a hawk that sits between the eagle’s eyes. Tattoos of Yggdrasil can look quite similar to the Celtic tree of life, since knotted roots appear in Norse artwork. The presence of a snake entwined in the roots and an eagle sitting in the branches gives away its true origins. Occasionally, artists will put in two ravens flying out of the tree. The ravens belong to Odin, and they are named Huginn and Muninn. They don’t really belong in the tree, but they do add a nice layer of complexity to Yggdrasil tattoos.
In Judeo-Christian cultures, the Tree of Life was there at the beginning of time. Nobody knows if it is the same tree as the Tree of Knowledge, since the grammar of that section is a little tricky. At the very least, they are in the same garden, and they serve roughly the same purpose. When Adam and Eve ate a fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, they realized that they were sinful creatures, and Yahweh removed them from the garden. The Tree of Life represents what could have been if Adam and Eve never ate that cursed fruit. Tattoos of this tree of life often focus on the fruit that the tree bears. There are no knots in the tree, instead featuring swirls lines with leaves and fruit. The tree of life tattoo would usually have apples as the fruit, since this is the first fruit people think of when thinking of the Tree of Life. The exact fruit remains unknown. The roots of the tree are rarely depicted extensively.
There are many other types of tree of life tattoos, myths, and lore…in fact, there appears to be one for every culture in the world! However, you won’t run into these much while you’re looking for tattoo designs, so let’s look at some additions that go well with tree of life tattoos.
Tree of Life Tattoo Designs
If you already know what type of tree that you’re getting, you can start looking at how to make your tattoo unique. The tree of life tattoo symbol is easy to couple with other symbols. Birds represent prosperity, sustenance, and wealth. You can even put dozens of these little guys sitting in the tree branches of knotted tattoo designs. The sun and moon represent both the heavens and the passage of time. The tree branches can connect with them, securing the bridge between earth and the heavens. On the other hand, the sun and moon can serve as a backdrop and represent renewal. The sun and moon take their turns in the sky, just as the leaves of the tree come and go with the passage of the year. The moon changes its course as the month passes, along with its phase—going from full, to new, to full again.
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The idea is that nothing is permanent. Life comes and goes, memories fade with time, and the world keeps on turning. Of course, we have the opportunity to watch as new life springs up after us, whether it is the new foliage of Spring or the laughter of a child. Tree of life tattoos encompass this notion of an ever-different, yet unchanging eternity.