What does a tree mean spiritually

Wish tree - www.wunschbaum.de - On the symbolism of trees - About trees and people

Home / Tree symbol / Tree of life / Tree of life and self-reflection

The tree of life and
the reflection of the self

"Like the tree, the prince of the forest,
Certainly man is equal to him.
His hair matches the leaves
the outer cortex resembles the skin.
Like the sap from the bark of the tree,
blood flows from the wounded man,
like sap from a tree that has been injured.
The meat is comparable to wood,
like the strong tendon of the bast.
The bones are the wood inside
the mark compares itself to the mark. "
(from the Upanishads)

Trees are excellent symbolic forms that people use as mirrors. The reflection as a pictorial projection of one's own personality has the purpose of observing oneself in the projected image in order to be able to better control one's own life and fill it with meaning. The pictorial power of the trees is not exhausted in a specific area of ​​our existence. Rather, we can establish relationships with different levels of our being in the living trees and in symbolic representations of trees, as well as in tree rites and symbol trees. If you compare trees and people and try to work out parallels, similarities, reciprocal relationships and dependencies, the result is a dense mixture of biological, mental, spiritual, spiritual, historical and socio-cultural contexts that can only be artificially separated from each other. The tree as a living being has taken on the role of a highly differentiated and universal symbol in this form since ancient times, in which people find themselves in the most varied of situations and levels of consciousness. On the question of how this self-reflection in the tree works exactly and under what conditions it is, there are numerous references and explanations in the literature, all of which show that the physical experience of living trees with culturally traditional ideas of their meaning and archetypal ones mental patterns go together.

Shape and physical expression

People obviously have a very original connection to trees. This can be seen e.g. B. human history in the representations of tree symbols in early cave drawings, life history in the frequent occurrence of the tree motif in children's drawings, mythological in the cultural history numerous stories explaining the world (world tree) and the life of people (tree of life), popular in many customs and rites in all parts of the world that relate to trees and turn their symbolism, for example in the particularly plastic custom of planting a tree on the occasion of the birth of a child, which may accompany this child during its lifetime. The preference for the tree symbol to illustrate meaningful life processes that take place between inner and outer worlds, between physical and spiritual existence, is also based on the external shape of the trees and on observed or assumed similarities in the physicality of tree and man . Viewed objectively, the differences between the two forms of life are obvious: Trees are firmly rooted and always remain in their species and their respective ecological environment. People, on the other hand, are capable of spatial, social and cultural development within certain limits. The structural similarity of the shape, however, is unmistakable. It allows people to see themselves in the image of the tree as an abstract sign, namely as a living unit of root, trunk and crown. Just as the tree is rooted in the earth, man stands with his feet on the earth. Just as the tree rises vertically towards the sky, man stands and walks with an erect spine. And just as the tree spreads its crown in the air and grows upwards, so the person opens up the space around him with the help of the reaching out arms. It is this standing between heaven and earth that connects people and trees on a physical level. In myth, poetry and art, this is expressed in the humanization of trees and, conversely, in the "treeization" of people. In the language of everyday communication, various expressions are used that also begin with precisely this similarity: "A man like a tree", "being rooted" in a social group, "being made of the same or different wood". This shows that the physical reflection in the tree is practiced more or less consciously and thus makes the tree a natural symbol for humans.

Hildegard Marcus meets in her book »Baum und Mensch. Life symbols between nature, shape and spirit "with regard to the shape symbolism" tree-man "exact distinctions. In their opinion, the root, trunk and crown form a connection that is only viable as a unit. All three need each other: the root the sunlight from the fan of the crown, the crown the energies from the depths of the rhizome. The trunk connects the two similarly shaped branches. In the perception of trees and in the self-reflection of people in the tree, its abstract shape comes into play, because in recognizing the shape of the tree nature and spirit are combined, the tree refers to something spiritual beyond its material being. It is precisely this that makes it a symbol of human life as well. Each of the three elements of the figure is assigned meanings that mark the similarities but also the differences between people and trees.

That's how it stands rootarea for the soul, the feeling and the sensitivity. For the feminine, dark, maternal-nourishing quality. Behind or below the externally visible reality is the secret, that which cannot be completely reconstructed, which conceals the essence, the essential origin and the creative germ of the individual. The awareness, the memory of the roots, backgrounds and dark areas is often seen as a prerequisite for the further development of individual life, but also of human life per se. This is the starting point for research in various sciences, from evolutionary theory and archeology to history and psychology. All spiritual teachings also relate to this, which as a rule see the exploration of the roots as an important element on the way to an originally existing, but lost spiritual unity in individual life. Your own roots, which include A distinction can be made between social, geographical, cultural, political, moral, and spiritual. Seen in this way, they are platforms for expeditions into life or sources for very different life experiments. The awareness of the (maternal, deep, dark) origin is just as important for humans as the awareness of growing up, growing, changing oneself. It is both a nutrient and a content specification for new paths.

The treetribe forms the stable framework and the channel for the counter-current flow of water (from bottom to top) and nutrients (from top to bottom). It symbolizes the basic orientation of naturally growing life, the connecting channel between the "dark" root area and the "light" crown, the narrow energy path between the expansive areas of the root and the crown. Here, too, the comparison reveals many similarities and differences. The static framework of humans is the spine, with the spinal cord as a life channel between the pelvic region and the head, a prerequisite for the control of important body functions via the brain. Both the spine and the trunk give the living being its stability and characteristic vertical alignment. But they are also a prerequisite for growth. Physical growth happens from the bottom up, as well as from the inside out, this also has a parallel. But there are also differences: for the trunk, the conical symmetry applies, while the mirror symmetry, which characterizes the human body structure, is only found in the leaves and partly in the branches of trees. Most trees show a thrust-like vertical growth behavior, which is limited to a period of two weeks to two months per year, depending on the species, it usually ends after 10% of the total life expectancy of a tree. The latitudinal growth, on the other hand, takes place continuously up to a certain age, but then slows down when the tree stops growing and at some point actually dies, usually due to internal rot. Such differences, however, do not detract from the symbolic strength of the trees. What matters is the impression and charisma, as we do it with the senses, v. a. perceive with the eye. And so our idea of ​​a tree, and equally of a person, depends to a large extent on the impression of standing upright. Just as the plumb balance conveys additional straightening and life energies in both, deviations are automatically interpreted as disturbances of the balance, as a sign of illness or as a sign of special environmental influences. A tree that is permanently exposed to strong winds from a certain point of the compass can give in to this influence and adjust its trunk and crown branches in a streamlined manner to the wind direction. And so a tree that receives light from only one direction will adapt its growth to this direction, even if this may involve twisting or bending the trunk. If a person observes such growth forms, he immediately projects himself as a physical being into the tree, a form of empathy automatically arises - a Explanation for the strong role of trees as symbols of life. »So«, thinks the human being, »just as this tree has adapted its growth to environmental influences in order to be able to continue to live and develop in its individuality, so I too am constantly forced to make adjustments in order to achieve a balance that is right for me . «This symbolic power is very often used for artistic purposes. The allegorical depiction of trees in pictorial representations of painting, drawing, sculpture and film is omnipresent and, despite its long history, has lost none of its immediacy and clarity to this day.

The comparison between the Crown and the human head area seems rather daring at first glance. On the other hand, when viewed under the surface, very interesting similarities can be identified. The brain is an extremely ramified structure of nerve fibers that correspond to the microstructure of individual nerve cells. The nerve cell as a whole also reflects a complete tree structure: The Synapses correspond to the roots that sheathed Axon the trunk with the bark that Dendrites are comparable to the crown and branch structure. The latter technical term is also from ancient Greek to dendron (Tree) derived. Accordingly, trees and their components are constantly present in the human body on a physiological level, where they perform important tasks of transferring energy. The grown unity of root, trunk and crown can only fulfill its functions as a whole. What is striking is the formal similarity between the poles root and crown, which makes the tree a conduit: energy is absorbed, passed on and transformed into a changed state. And that is exactly what the trees and their symbolic equivalents seem to be about primarily: the process of exchange and tension between polar opposing worlds: root-crown, feeling-thinking, body-mind. These tensions determine the course and development of life between heaven and earth. Both poles must be placed in a controlled relationship to one another for healthy growth. No pole can do without the other.

Relationship of living beings

We know them from fairy tales, stories, esoteric literature, the arts of illustration and dance: the diverse natural beings, among which the elves, fairies and dwarfs are certainly the best known. In the texts, but also in visuals Illustrations and theatrical representations become three-dimensional. And although most people have never really seen a natural being in reality, many believe they know what such beings look like. That the imagination of the beings from the realm of plants is often human-shaped is shown not only by these artistic constructs, but also by the innumerable descriptions of people who were allowed to encounter natural spirits. For example, the English elf researcher Marjorie Johnson (nature spirits. True experiences with elves and dwarfs) has collected experience reports from all over the world for over sixty years, which reveal a wide and amazing spectrum of the most diverse nature spirits. Not always, but often, the descriptions come close to the fairy tale book depictions known from childhood days, which show beings with a human shape, but often with superhuman abilities and special characteristics. Regardless of the belief in the actual existence of such beings, people undoubtedly have a great need to take the nature around them, and especially the ostensibly dumb plants, seriously as life partners that not only grow like themselves and physically over time change, but also have a soul that gives content and meaning to their life. This assumption is especially true for the relationship between people and trees. If, for example, we keep looking for a particular tree on walks to which we feel drawn, then this presupposes the tacit and mostly unconscious assumption: that you have something to "say" to yourself. It is not absolutely necessary to recognize a human-shaped elf in the tree or a gnome at its roots. Even without such visualizations, the essential similarity can be felt, which creates a kind of friendly bond.

In the myths of peoples all over the world, trees play an important role as beings with personality and soul. What is remarkable is the frequently occurring transformation of people, nature beings or gods into trees and occasionally vice versa. The transformation of the essential forms is apparently taken for granted. Jacques Brosse (mythology of trees) knowledgeably describes numerous transformation processes of this kind: The Phrygian god Attis and his transformation into the pine, the Phoenician god Adonis and his birth from the myrrh, Daphne and the laurel tree, the nymphs Leuke (silver poplar), Philyra ( Linden) and 281 pitys (black pine) who escape the covetousness of the gods by turning them into trees, the laconic king's daughter Karya, who is transformed into a walnut by her father, the Thracian princess Phyllis, who dies of lovesickness, and Hera, the goddess of true love, is turned into an almond tree, and many more examples. The transformations of the mythical stories, which are usually embedded in complex sequences of action, usually reveal a substantive connection between what is happening and the meaning of the trees in question. As a rule, the protagonists later take on the role of protective gods of the tree species or certain species are consecrated to individual gods. Conversely, the tree stands for a certain content that can be subject to culture-dependent changes in the course of history. Even outside of the ancient world of myths, legends and stories give the trees human traits that suggest a mutual assignment of (character) properties. The idea of ​​a mutual transmission and utilization of energies plays a role here.

From the more recent contemporary literature on the symbolism of trees, the culture of the Celts can be recognized as a particularly popular historical field of observation. Numerous publications on the so-called "Celtic Tree Circle" are based on documented historical truths, namely the undoubted importance of certain tree species for the spiritual practice of the Celts. The construction of a time-phase model with the assignment of certain tree species and a "Celtic tree calendar," as presented by Michael Vescoli (The Celtic Tree Calendar), on the other hand, is demonstrably speculative despite knowledgeable attempts at explanation. If such publications find numerous readers who see the horoscopes derived from the construction as an attractive means of mirroring one's own self, this shows, on the one hand, the willingness and need to perceive one's own personality in other natural beings. On the other hand, it makes it clear that people attribute essential traits to certain tree species that they are able to rediscover in themselves. At this moment historical truth becomes obsolete and the analogies develop their symbolic power. The general assumption of an essential correspondence between tree and human is additionally reinforced by the reference to individual tree species and can be used for individual human life through the rich, historically grown fund of meanings and correspondences.The esoteric tree literature of the present may help to raise awareness of the at least latently always present connection to the essence of trees. Without this assumption of a connection between trees and human fate, the explanation of cosmological relationships and the origin of the world in the creation myths, which are based on the model of a world tree, would have been inconceivable. Only on the basis of a collectively shared intuitive knowledge could the continuity and origin of the world as well as the role of humans in the world as a whole be formulated in these models. One thinks, for example, of the Germanic world ash Yggdrasil or the nine-branch world tree of the Yakuts in northeastern Siberia.

While mythical explanations of the world of ancient ways of thinking, nature-mystical conceptions of later cultures and esoteric considerations of beings in nature complement each other to form a historical pool of knowledge that is consciously different depending on the interests and can therefore only have selective effects on modern thinking, consciousness is global-ecological Connections, at least in the industrialized nations, are a child of our time and are more widespread due to the thematization in the mass media. Here, too, we can see a confirmation of the always valid certainty that all life in the world is interrelated in various forms and on different levels. The ecological importance of trees has been anchored in public discourse at the latest since the 1970s and the debate about “tree death”. Since then it has been possible, also rationally, scientifically justified, to recognize that all life on earth ultimately depends on the trees. This is meant less in the way that Gertrud Höhler in her text »The Tree of Life« (in this: The Trees of Life) relates to early oriental cultures, in which the date palm was literally food because it was also food , Building material and (fuel) energy supplied. In most modern societies, for conceivable reasons, this extreme dependence can no longer be observed. But all living beings, wherever they move on earth, need oxygen to breathe. The gas produced and emitted by the chlorophyll-bearing plants, above all the trees, by converting the carbon dioxide makes the pulsation of life in the rest of nature only possible, is the basic requirement for all stages of life and creates an atmosphere that is so unique to the earth makes all known celestial bodies of the universe. One cannot imagine a clearer argument for the absolutely mutual life partnership between humans and trees. With the awareness of these ecological relationships as the basis for the continued existence of life on earth, the moral obligation also grows to respect oxygen-producing plants, especially trees, as equal beings of nature, to respect their contribution to the functioning of the whole. This is followed by the political demand to do everything possible in practical form, to learn from man-made ecological sins of the last centuries and to make the principle of sustainability the guiding principle of our relationship to the totality of natural life. In the ecological debate, the self-observation of people in the trees gains an additional communicative, moral and political dimension.

Archetype and mirror of the soul

Structural and essential relationships between people and trees mark important components of the concept of the tree of life. But trees can also have an influence on the inner actions of people and they can influence the processes of self-knowledge and Support personality development. The theologian and psychotherapist Helmut Hark (dream image tree. From the root of the soul) deals intensively with dream analysis and especially with tree dreams as part of his therapeutic work. A survey he carried out of over 500 people interested in psychology showed that most of them experience an emotional relationship between us humans and the trees. Women in particular internalize trees in their dreams and thus turn them into symbols of life. This symbolic power can be used for therapeutic purposes, because it can stimulate self-knowledge, self-realization or in general for necessary processes of change. The interpretation of tree dreams can thus z. B. Convey strength and courage to face life. Above all, it says something about the fundamental, culture and time-independent relationship between people and trees, about their relevance for psychological development.

In addition to the analysis of tree dreams, psychological tree tests, in which a spontaneous tree picture is drawn or painted, can provide information about the physical and mental condition. The dreaming or painting often project something human into trees. The properties of the observed or dreamed tree correspond to personal sensitivities or a desired state. This equation is possible because the tree represents one of the most original symbols of the human self, which means not only the physical shape, but above all the individual soul, which is expressed in the physical. The memory of real trees of their own (past) lifeworld is common in such tree dreams, but not a must. The dream trees do not always reflect impressions of past experiences in external life, which are used to represent a problem of the present. The formulation of the current problem in the tree symbol is only one way of interpreting tree dreams. In other cases the dream tree can also indicate development opportunities and give impetus to develop the soul further and to grow personally. Always when well-trodden paths have led to a dead end and a change of direction is required in times of crisis in order to develop a new identity. The tree, with its property of growing steadily and renewing itself again and again, can symbolically give courage and help. In other tree dreams, on the other hand, the tree compensates for one-sided orientations of conscious life, the opposite pole of which is created by the unconscious itself, so that the personality finds its way back to a sovereign whole.

Regardless of the specific experience and sometimes in addition to it, the tree acts as an abstract primal symbol, the meaning of which seems to be unquestionably and directly connected to the image of the tree. What is meant is an unmediated, almost unreflected link between image and meaning or, better still, between image and emotion, which precedes all culturally traditional content. Such connections, which go beyond personal experience, can be grasped as archetypes with C. G. Jung. Archetypal dream trees differ from purely personal tree symbols in that the emotional involvement is much stronger and they require unconditional recognition and follow-up that goes beyond one's own life and emotional experience. In this role, the tree becomes an abstract tree of life, which does not directly represent individual life, but rather for characteristics of life itself, the awareness of which also enables 287 personal interpretations as a basis for self-knowledge and self-realization. Of course, other archetypes can also appear in dreams, in which one can feel safe, provided that one recognizes them as such. For example, as elements of the mythical narrative of past cultures or contemporary peoples, which were very often based on archetypal systems of symbols. A distinction must be made between the archetypes and the traditional worlds of symbols that go back to cultural and religious traditions and that can vary historically and geographically as elements of the experienced or learned wealth of knowledge. Such elements can of course also be relevant for the interpretation of tree dreams, if z. B. not just any tree, but an oak is imagined, which is associated with the attributes "strength" and "strength" in Europe. Similarly, depending on culture, almost every species can be assigned certain humanized characteristics. The archetype, however, which underpins and colors all further experience and interpretation in dreams, as well as in real encounters with trees, marks an abstract dimension. In it, trees appear automatically as messengers of the natural life force that people find in themselves. This visualized life force conveys the idea and feeling of a holistic life that integrates parts of the levels of being that are often viewed separately in the waking state. The symbol is perceived as a whole, it is only through theoretical effort that we can subsequently make distinctions that may explain the archetypal symbolic power of the trees. For example, based on the architecture of the trees: the branches stand for the conscious personality with branching, growing possibilities of expression that reach into (social) space. The trunk stands for the feeling of body and life, the roots for the hidden and unconscious depths of our life and soul. And everything forms a unit that flows from bottom to top and from top to bottom. From the area of ​​the unconscious with its energy sources to the spiritual consciousness with its creative tendency. And from the area of ​​the spiritual source of all being to the concrete shaping of individual life. This view is shared by the psychotherapeutic American author Chris Hoffman (Tree of Life and Life Circle). He also recognizes a linearly aligned primordial symbol in the tree of life for describing personal development processes and for articulating the self. According to this, the tree of life symbolizes in all major religions and explanations of the world of the past and present those elements of our development that go down into the depths of the soul and up towards spiritual transcendence. He is in a symbiotic relationship to the circle of life, which denotes the horizontally oriented social component. Taken together, both provide an excellent theoretical framework model for interdisciplinary studies that are devoted to the investigation of the connection and interactions between soul, body, spirit and the higher self.

We see particularly clearly in the tree dreams that trees touch the soul and represent a mirror of inner sensitivities in many areas of life. But every encounter with real trees or culturally reshaped symbol trees (maypole, Christmas tree, wishing tree) speaks to our innermost being, mediated through archetypal forces. Any kind of exchange with trees is therefore of great importance for human self-observation. Like communication with other people, it is an effective way to bring out what is hidden, to look at it more closely and possibly to transform or develop it further. This detour via the strong symbolic system of the tree, rooted in a connecting elementary force, helps us to align our path of life towards becoming whole.

© Bernhard Lux


Under the title "Trees as a mirror. About a symbol of life"
this text was published in:
Diktynna. Yearbook for Nature and Myth 2009


  • character
  • Essence
  • similar
  • personality
  • Archetype
  • dream
  • soul
  • intuitive
  • mirror
  • Nature beings
  • myth
  • transformation
  • lively
  • tribe
  • Crown
  • root