The Kabbalah‘s Tree of Life is a complex symbol with many layered meanings. A cosmologist, an occultist, a poet, and a musician might all have different explanations of these ten circles arranged in strict relationship to each other, but in essence they would boil down to the same thing. This is how a glyph becomes effective—we all understand it in different ways, but those ways are doorways to a shared understanding. As a Pagan and a feminist, my understanding of the Tree of Life is to regard it as a living thing—evident in each actual tree, breathing with us and through us. This is an embodied Kabbalah.
Trees and humans have a long relationship. Weve always known trees, lived with trees, nurtured and exploited trees. We’ve planted and cultivated them, cut them down, created whole tree monocultures, worshipped them, celebrated them for their beauty, been sheltered and fed by them—the human-and-tree story is long and complex. Without trees, there probably wouldn’t be humans. This is not as true in the other direction, and currently we are even endangering these essential allies.
Although humans have lived alongside trees forever, and are interdependent with trees for so many things, including exchange of the very air we breathe, we know comparatively little about them. Each new discovery—trees share information and nutrients underground via the mycelial network! Trees can change their own chemistry in response to external threats to their health and well being! Trees have an intimate relationship not just to biodiversity, soil stability and nutrients but also to rainfall patterns and locations!—falls like a revelation into our human-centric world. We’d have to imagine that people who lived more simply and closer to trees understood most of this by observation, lore, and lived relationship.
I experience the Tree of Life as earthly and embodied. To me it is both a sacred symbol and a political one, existing in relationship to my own body. The body is sacred, it is only through and in this human body that we experience the divine (or anything else). The body is political, in its gender, race, privilege, age, history, and circumstance. Our bodies are composed of atoms that have been here, in changing forms, since the Big Bang began this comet’s tail of moments, leading all the way up to this time and beyond. As for trees—trees are sacred: the Druids’ groves, the Norse Yggdrasil, all the trees of myth and legend. Trees are political: think climate change, forestry versus national parks, imported species versus natives. And trees are comprised of these exact same atoms that we are. Bodies and trees breathe together, inhabit this beautiful world together, and share in our exaltation of the divine.
These are the flavors of my interpretation, but this is not the truth of the Tree of Life. The Tree is equally at home with cosmology, poetry, the occult, string theory and tonal resonance, religion, history, horticulture, and ecstatic worship. But for me, my body walks through the forest in wonder and awe, alive within, and as part of, the deep mysteries of the Tree.
Our thanks to Jane for her guest post! For more from Jane Meredith, read her article “10 Lessons on How to Fall Through the Tree of Life.”