Tree of Life
In world mythology, the Tree of Life is associated with the world’s axis connecting Heaven and Earth, and man aspiring to spiritual heights, with the cycles of life, death and revival and with the universe’s journey of perpetual renewal. Ancients believed in a relationship between man and tree, akin to that of communicating vessels – anything happening to one, translates to the other. Hence, a tree can become a man’s twin brother, a friend, a soul mate. By watching the ‘twin’ tree in the most crucial moments of a man’s life, they were able to determine if he was taking the right step and how the next chapter of his life was to unfold.
In Japan, bits of paper with messages are tied to certain sacred trees, trees that are considered to be abodes of ‘kami’ spirits or Shinto gods. The Charter Oak (White oak or Quercus Alba) became part of American history and Connecticut’s state tree as depicted on its 50 State Quarter. In essence, this is a metaphor of the tree reflecting the phenomena of human life. Using a metaphor, we give human aspirations tangible substance through the concepts of a tree’s growth and development.
1. TREE as an embodiment of life itself, carrying the flow of vital energy that nourishes the Universe - The painting shows the currents rolling down the tree and turning into rivers. According to ancient Chinese mythology, the sap of the Tree of Life is heavenly dew, a life-giving drink bringing rejuvenation. Whoever partakes in the fruits of this tree becomes immortal. In the painting, a tap fitted into the tree yields a precious drop of immortality.
2. TREE as a road, without beginning or end - In horizontal projection, the trunk turns into a pathway branching out, or a river that joins the ocean (see also the leaf in the ocean). In a myth, Ariadne gives Theseus a ball of thread to help him find his way out of the labyrinth. In the painting the ‘threads’ of the tree trunk converge into a waterway and on the horizon, we see Don Quixote with a huge needle of a spear.
3. TREE of life connecting earthly and heavenly life - In Slavic myths, the World Tree stands at the end of the Universe, its top in Heaven and roots in Hades, with gods descending and ascending. The ancient Slavic epic ‘The Lay of Igor’s Campaign’ reads, “For he, Boyan the Seer, when composing a song to someone, soared in his thoughts over the tree (of wisdom), ran as a grey wolf over the land, flew below the clouds as a blue-grey eagle,” hence the Russian expression, “spreading your thoughts all over a tree.”
4. TREE as a metaphor linking human fate with heaven – Like the cathedrals in Amiens and Reims, the Chartres Cathedral was built in the pattern of the stars of Virgo (Mary). In Chinese mythology, the Tree of Life is a ladder to the ‘everlasting faraway’ by which the Sun and Moon, the wise men and rulers, ascend and descend. Man gathers ‘Heavenly Fruits’ standing at the top of this ‘Staircase to the Sky,’ the analogy, Adam and Eve partaking in the fruits of the tree in the ‘Garden of Eden.’ A ‘broken’ apple lies on the ground, suggesting the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
5. TREE as a phenomenon of time - Time turns material in the ‘currents’ flowing down the tree, the yearly growth rings recording the time. The web woven by the spider weaves the same phenomenon of time, the measuring out of the thread of one’s life, as referred to by the ancient Greek Parcae sisters.
With the aid of metaphor, a tree opens up various interpretations of man and his spiritual journey including:
- The coming of age (flying out of the nest)
- Love (watching the sunset together)
- Family (the bees)
- Spiritual progression (the tree spiral)
- Physical exercise/athletics (jumper, surfer)
- Fantasy world, the workings of the mind (the web of Eiffel, a symbol of Paris)
- Philosophy (the darkness of the hollow in the trunk, Plato’s ‘cave of ignorance’ contrasted by the Eiffel ‘web of knowledge’).
Note 1. Imagine this painting is a [single] flow or a large tree and you can see how other paintings come into it like streams or branches.
Note 2. The painting is dominated by yellow and green, the colors of life and the part of the spectrum that the human eye is quickest to catch.
I know for sure
I’m the tree of eternity
And my blood
Is the sustenance of stars.
The birds in the foliage
Are my dreams and fancies.
So if I fall
Prey to death
The sky will come down
~ Juan Ramon Jimenez