The Tree of Life in ancient Egypt
I have briefly talked about the Tree of Life in my article " another vision of the Tree of Life " but I would like to go deeper into it.
Personally I find it exciting to return to the wisdom that existed at the time of the great Egyptian civilization, which is the mother of all civilizations.
The Egyptian civilization was the starting point of a new era on earth. From it came the civilization of the Hebrews, then Christianity and Islam. The tradition of light has thus been perpetuated in an uninterrupted way throughout history through the Sons of the Sun: the Pharaohs of Egypt, the Magi of Persia, the Prophets of Israel, the Essenes of Palestine, the Manicheans, the Templars, the Cathars, the Rose Crosses... generating the great civilizations and spiritual currents that have brought the light of wisdom to all peoples.
In a distant era, man was one with the elements. God was present in everything and man spoke to all beings.
All the creatures, the flowers, the trees, the animals, were the letters of his divine alphabet, the words of his teaching, of what he was saying to men. In the middle of the garden was the Tree of Life. This tree was the wise man, the guardian of the tradition that united heaven and earth.
Symbol of Life: the Ankh Cross
3000 BC - The Ankh, called the "cross of life", is associated with eternal life but also with man in his "I" ray. Its design symbolizes the morning sun joining the male and female principles of the heavens and earth. By wearing the ankh, one held the key to the Tree of Life (the immortal soul)
The ankh cross is the symbol of man, who is the key to open all the secrets of the universe: "Man, know thyself and thou shalt know the universe and the Gods", that is, the two poles of matter and spirit. Man is between the two as the awakened intermediary between the worlds.
The ânkh, also known by the various names of annealed cross, cross of life, key of life, Egyptian cross, Nile cross, is a hieroglyph representing the word ˁnḫ, which means "life". It was used by the Egyptians to symbolize life.
The Egyptians believed that their time on Earth was only a part of a greater eternal life. The cross of life therefore symbolizes not only mortal existence on Earth, but also their immortal existence in the afterlife.
The ankh cross is worn by gods who hold it by the loop or carry it in each hand with their arms crossed over their chest.
It often appears at the fingertips of a god or goddess in images that represent the deities of the afterlife conferring the gift of life to the mummy of the dead person. It is placed near the mouth and nose as if to breathe life.
Represented near the feet, it offers divine protection to the dead. Different deities are represented with the ânkh. Most often the goddess Isis, but also Maat, goddess of truth, Atum, god of the sun and Sekhmet, warrior goddess.
The pharaoh also holds the ânkh, emphasizing his divine nature.
The ânkh appears in Egyptian tombs, on the walls of temples, steles, statues and on friezes. It is used many times in funerary art because it is a symbol of imperishable life force.
Osiris and the Djed pillar
Some consider that the Djed pillar also symbolizes the tree of life, used in architecture. It is associated with the Osirian resurrection story. Osiris (God of Fertility) was seduced by his brother Set (God of Chaos) to lie down in a beautiful wooden chest. Set immediately closed it and threw it into the Nile. It floated down the Nile and across the sea until it was deposited at the foot of a sycamore or acacia tree. As the tree grew, it enclosed Osiris in its trunk. The tree was felled and used as a pillar in the palace of the king of Byblos in Syria.
Isis, (Goddess of magic, creation and fertility) retrieved the pillar and with the help of Thoth (God of Wisdom), she was able to breathe life into her brother/husband Osiris.
Isis became magically pregnant with Osiris and gave birth to their son Horus (god of the horizon, the all-seeing eye, the right eye is the sun, the left eye is the moon)
After the birth of Horus, Set cut the body of Osiris into several pieces that spread throughout Egypt.
Isis gathered all the pieces and once again with the help of Thoth, she brought the soul of Osiris back to his corpse.
The Djed pillar is a symbol of Osiris as a pillar/tree of life. The Djed pillar was used in architecture and as an amulet representing the backbone or spine of Osiris.
This myth of resurrection and rebirth made Osiris the Egyptian god of resurrection and the underworld. Thoth became the wise scribe who held the keys to the Tree of Life.
"I want to be stable, son of stable, begotten in the realm of stability". This word is a very ancient magical formula of consecration, which comes from the Egypt of the Pharaohs and the high priests of Osiris. Stability was called "the pillar Djed" and the mission of the priests was to straighten this pillar and keep it permanently stable.
This Djed pillar was the sacred link that unites man to the divine world, the Alliance of Light that unites heaven and earth. Thus, in the Egyptian and magical vision of the world, if this pillar were to collapse, to fall, it is all humanity that would collapse and fall. The Djed pillar is what carries Osiris, what carries the Divinity.
The sycamore: representation of the Tree of Life
In various parts of the ancient world, trees were associated with different gods, and Egypt was certainly no exception. We do not know of any tree, or indeed any other vegetation in Egypt that was honored as specific gods as were bulls or rams, for example. Nevertheless, various vegetations were linked to the gods and goddess in one way or another, or generally to the Egyptian religion and more particularly to the afterlife.
Several deities were associated with trees, a rare commodity in Egypt. Horus was associated with the acacia tree, while Osiris and Ra were linked to the willow and sycamore respectively. Osiris was sheltered by a willow tree after being killed, and for example, the Book of the Dead describes two "turquoise sycamores" growing at the point on the eastern horizon where the sun-god rises each morning. Re was also associated with the frozen tree. In addition, Wepwawet was associated with the Tamarisk, and the symbol of the god Heh was a palm branch, not surprisingly, we have both Thoth and Seshat, the two deities associated with writing, inscribing the leaves of the ished (or persea) tree with the Royal Title and the number of years of the reign of the pharaoh.
However, none of these deities were as associated with trees as a number of female deities
The sycamore tree was of particular importance in Egyptian religion. It was the only indigenous tree of useful size and sturdiness in Egypt, and perhaps most significantly, grew most often at the edge of the desert, which would also have placed it near or in necropolises.
Hathor, Nut and Isis were all given the name"Lady of the Sycamore". All three are considered a mother goddess. The Sycamore fig provides a milky substance that can sustain life, which was given to the dead in the afterlife.
Nut/Nu was then depicted as the Tree of Life swallowing RA (Sun) and protecting the earth from chaos during the night to rebirth RA in the morning. His back created a barrier against the chaos that protected the earth. Ra is the sun disk.
Nut (Sycamore fig) provided life in the form of milk from her breasts and fruit and sap from her body. Later, Nut was equated with the goddess Mut, Isis and Hathor as the world mother and eye of RA. "She who gives birth but is herself born of none." Her symbols were: a tree (Sycamore fig tree), a cow (Hathor), a vulture and the moon. Eventually, Isis became the name that represented the maternal essence of wisdom and creation that spread throughout the world.
The Tree-Goddess is a divine entity, exclusively feminine, manifesting herself through a tree and in particular through a sycamore.
This little-known deity appears in funerary iconography at the beginning of the New Kingdom. It is the culmination of the beneficent and regenerative conception of trees as found in the three great funerary corpus that are the Pyramid Texts, the Sarcophagus Texts and the Book of the Dead.
The iconographic study of the different modes of representation of this half-woman, half-tree goddess allows us to discover her different functions; the most important of which is to allow the deceased to pass from the status of dead to that of blessed among the gods.
She is therefore a mother-goddess, in the same way as Isis, Nut or Hathor, the three great goddesses of the Egyptian pantheon, with whom she is sometimes identified.
Other representations of the Tree of Life
Papyrus with birds
In the Tree of Life, the birds represent the different stages of human life: infancy, childhood, youth, adulthood and maturity.
Because each soul has a meaning on earth and a purpose, the tree with fruit is represented, ready to be harvested at each age of man.
The acacia tree in this papyrus is one of the Egyptian representations of the Tree of Life.
In ancient Egypt, the direction of the east was considered the direction of life, because the sun rose in the east. The west was considered the direction of death, of entering the underworld, because the sun set in the west. They believed that during the night the sun traveled through the underworld to return to the east so that it could rise in the east again the next day.
On the Tree of Life, note that the birds representing the first four phases of life all face east, but the bird representing old age faces west, anticipating the approach of death. The ancient Acacia tree from which legend says the first couple, Isis and Osiris, came.
Ramses II and the Tree of Life
The Tree of Life image depicts a scene from the tomb of Rameses II in which his name is recorded and inscribed on the leaves of the Tree of Life.
- The still young figure represented in the Tree of Life is Pharaoh Ramses II, shown with his symbols of royalty: crown, flail and scepter
- The figure on the left is the ibis-headed god Thoth who was the god of wisdom, magic, measurement and regulation of events and time. He was the secretary of the sun god Ra and scribe of the underworld and inscribed the name of the Pharaoh on the Tree of Life
- The first god on the right of the image is Ptah, the lord of truth and master of justice who was present at the justification ceremony in the Hall of Two Truths
- The goddess on the right of the image is Tefnut, the lion-headed goddess of water, is often depicted on the coffins of the deceased pouring a drink into a pitcher, to sustain the souls traveling through the underworld. She was also one of the 42 judges present at the justification ceremony
The Tree of Life is interwoven into Egyptian history, mythology, art and architecture. It has always been in plain sight for all to see and know.
The tree has always been a religious symbol for human beings. This living organism, with its branches reaching up to the sky and its roots plunging below the surface into the unknown lands of the underworld, has always been a fascination and essentially seen as a bridge between "two worlds".
The tree signified growth, strength and stability, and flexibility at the same time. One could become strong like a tree and be flexible in his being. And it meant "durability" against time and space, which brings us to the essence of a being that is beyond our reality - perhaps we can call it "God", or the "I", the "Self".
And also, a tree reminded man of what he was: he would grow and live in time as a man does. It grows old, bears fruit and seeds.
Thus, it also brings us the understanding of time and reality.
And paradoxically, a tree also reminded man of immortality and rebirth: over time, over the seasons, it died and came back to life again and again. Man, through the rites of vegetation could feel the essence of the soul of Nature: eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth. And among the many plants and living beings that have been symbols of this aspect, the tree "represents the living cosmos, constantly renewing itself
The tree is the man, it is the woman.
It reminds us of the meaning of life. It shows us how we must be in our roots, in our trunk, and in our higher being.
Focusing on this symbol allows us to awaken to this reality.