The Tree of Life
January 29, 2015 § 1 Comment
Photos by William Price.
I’ve long been fascinated by the Tree of Life – an ancient image that is sacred in many religions and cultures.
The tree reaches both down into the earth, and up into the heavens. I have read that for some, the branches represent male, and the leaves female. The Tree of Life symbology also incorporates the four directions, as well as the Milky Way.
It can represent the spiritual realm, where the dualities of light and dark, or good and evil do not exist. Think of the Bodhi Tree, under which sat Buddha until he attained enlightenment. In Christianity, the tree can represent the cross, and the blood of Jesus Christ is referred to as the Fruits of the Tree of Life. And of course there is the tree from which Eve plucked a forbidden apple to eat, thus finding herself and Adam banished from the Garden of Eden
Probably the stories that I am most familiar with involve the Norse legend of Yggdrasil, a most sacred tree that is at the center of all life. It reaches far into the heavens, as well as below the earth, therefore connecting it to all nine realms. Gods would regularly visit the tree, and it is from this tree and the tales surrounding it that other trees, such as ash or oak, have come to have sacred meanings and uses.
I first became interested in crafting my own Tree of Life some seven years ago, whilst living in QLD. We bought a good friend of ours an Egyptian representation of the tree on papyrus paper. The accompanying description of its meaning intrigued me deeply, as this was the first time I had seen birds present.
In the Egyptian Tree of Life, there are four or five birds depicted, representing the different stages of life from infancy through to adulthood and death, or for me more personally, the four stages of womanhood: maiden, mother, magii, and crone. All but one bird faces the East. In the Egyptian telling, the East, being where the sun rises, represents life. The West, embodied by one bird facing this way, looks toward eventual and inevitable death. I often look at the birds and think of the stages of womanhood I have passed through, and those I have yet to meet.
My husband, being a very talented artist, helped me draw the first template of my internal vision. Then, taking felt, my preferred textile, I created. The very first Tree of Life I made went to a dear friend, wise woman and mentor, for the occasion of her own Harvest Queen Ceremony. Since then I have made four more: one for my own mother, one for myself, and two sold – not to strangers, but to women who I know or know of in my community. Because of this, I think the pieces have remained highly meaningful, and indeed have become even more powerful in their symbolism and beauty (at least I hope so!).
Each Tree of Life is slightly different in leaf colour, in bird positioning, and of course through the normal variations that occur when making by hand. In this final piece, pictured above, I have tried to reflect the seasons through the changing color of the leaves. Every aspect is made by me: the felt, hand dyed. The leaves and bird shapes, cut by hand. And everything hand stitched in place. After seven years and five different variations, the Tree of Life still remains one of my favourite creations.