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Celtic Tree Of Life(Crann Bethadh) – Meaning, History And Symbol

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Celtic Tree Of Life(Crann Bethadh)  Tree of Life Celtic Symbol - Image

The Celtic tree of life(in Irish Crann Bethadh) plays an intricate part in Irish heritage and is among one of the most popular Celtic symbols.

The Celtic tree of life and its symbol is featured in nearly all forms of history and religion.

It is an exceptionally old symbol that symbolises both harmony and balance, dating back to ancient Egypt, where the tree of life appeared on tombs. Possibly even predating the Celts. In modern times this Celtic symbol is used for decorations, tattoos and artwork.

What is the main meanings of the Tree of Life symbol?

  • It represents life and how as we move through life, our knowledge, experience, and wisdom grow just as the tree does, becoming stronger every day. The tree of life symbolises the forces of nature are coming together in perfect harmony to maintain balance in the universe.
  • It is known that when a new settlement was formed in Ireland, a tree was planted in the middle of the plantation known as Crann Bethadh(basically meaning Tree of Life)
  • Trees were an important part of Celtic culture. The Celts believed that trees were the ancestors of human beings.
  • It was believed in Celtic mythology that the Celtic tree of life possessed special powers. 
  • People used to hold assemblies beneath it, and it also provided shelter and food and acted as a home for wildlife. Without trees, life would have been extraordinarily difficult.

What type of tree is the Celtic tree of life?

The Celtic tree of life is the Oaktree. It was the most sacred tree of all, which represented the centre of the world. The Celtic name for oak, Daur, is the origin of the word door- the root of the oak tree was literally the doorway to the Otherworld, the realm of Fairy.

  • Countless Irish legends revolve around trees. One could fall asleep next to a particular tree and awake in the fairy realm.
  • This is why the tree of life symbol itself relates qualities to it, such as wisdom, strength & longevity.
  • The Celts believed their enemies would be rendered powerless if their sacred tree were cut down.
  • The Celts derived the meaning of rebirth from the seasonal changes they would see each tree go through(Summer to Winter and so on).
  • Rituals were often performed on the basis of birth and death, and rebirth.
  • It was believed that the tree’s roots penetrated depths of the lower world, branches of the tree reached out and stretched out to the heavens, and the trunk remained on the earth’s plain.

Other things to note about what the tree of life (Crann Bethadh) symbolizes

It was believed that the tree was able to bless people with prosperity. The towering height of Oak trees is associated with qualities such as endurance and nobility. Basically, the bigger the tree, the more fertile the land and the more the settlement would thrive. 

The Oaktree is also known to attract lightning; this tree characteristic is considered to be of great importance by celts and in Celtic symbols.

As you can see, the Celtic tree of life holds quite a big place in Celtic Symbols. Like the Celtic Cross, it is extremely popular in modern-day tattoos.

In physical products, the tree of life appears in everything from jewellery to wall plaques.

The Tree of life in other religions and movies:

The Norse had a Tree of Life emblem, which they may have carried with them when they conquered Ireland. However, the ash tree, which they named ‘Yggdrasil,’ was their sacred tree, not the oak.

The Tree of Life motif may also be seen on Egyptian tomb sculptures, potentially predating Celtic civilization.

The tree of life also appeared in a dramatic movie from 2010 starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. Watch the trailer here; it is a fantastic movie.

Final notes:

Some of you might dismiss the tree of life and what it represents as untrue. It is totally understandable, especially in the modern age.

What is the tree of life in Genesis? The Eastern Orthodox Church has traditionally understood the tree of life in Genesis as a prefiguration of the Cross, which humanity could not partake of until after the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus.

But keep in mind that all mythology, no matter how bizarre, originated from some truth.

You can learn about more Celtic symbols here.

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What is the meaning of the tree of life symbol?

It represents life and how as we move through life our knowledge, experience and wisdom grows just as the tree does, becoming stronger every day. The tree of life symbolises the forces of nature are coming together in perfect harmony to maintain balance in the universe.

Is the tree of life an Irish symbol?

Yes and no. While it was extremely important in Celtic mythology it also appeared in anchient Egyption tombs and the Norse had a tree of life symbol as well, which arguably could have been brought to Ireland.

Does the Celtic tree of life appear in the bible?

There are several references to the tree of life in the bible, including:
“And now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever… So He drove out the man, and He placed at the east of the garden of Eden cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.”
(Genesis 3:22-24)

“And the Lord God brought forth of the ground all manner of trees, fair to behold, and pleasant to eat of: the tree of life also in the midst of paradise: and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”
(Genesis 2:9) Douay-Rheims Bible (Catholic)

“And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.”
(Genesis 2:9) King James Bible

Is the Tree of Life Celtic or Norse?

Good question. One could argue both points but evidence suggests that the Norse brought it to Ireland. It  appears in Norse religion as Yggdrasil, the world tree, a massive tree with extensive lore surrounding it.

What is the Egyptian Tree of Life?

Acacia Nilotica is portrayed hugely in Egyptian mythology. It is referred to as the tree of life, and from under this tree the first gods of Egypt were born. Osiris, god of the underworld, rebirth and the spirit was also born from an Acacia Nilotica tree.

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tina shoemaker

Monday 14th of October 2019

Was interesting. Have a mixed Irish and northwestern European history. I find the Irish most interesting.

Gloria Freeman

Friday 17th of August 2018

Really enjoyed the article and looking forward to more.

Kevin Muldoon

Friday 3rd of August 2018

My name is Kevin Muldoon and I love this can you please send me all the information on Ireland heritage.