The Tree of Life and Ancient Tree Worship

Baal and Tree Worship

Through the insights of archaeology, we can gather tree worship, worship of agriculture (and the sun of course, which nurtures the crops) were very prevalent in ancient mythology. We can see a clear relationship here, between the Hebrewʼs view of olive oil being sacred, its use in “sacred healing”, not unlike the relief pictured below of “a protective spirit taking part in the ‘cone-smearing’ rite”. The Hebrews viewed Olive Oil, as a sacred oil of their Jehovah, not unlike Funk and Wagnalls states “druids were also versed in … the mysterious powers of plants”.

The prophet Zoroaster of the Persians, (which Christianity received many of its customs from) taught “cultivating the good earth was, in itself, a sacred duty”. Many evidences exist in archaeology, of the ongoing worship of the Sun and Earth and Agriculture.

Like the Hebrews, the Babylonians and Assyrians also taught of a sacred “Tree of Life” and rituals of “sacred agricultural products” associated with the spirit world. (see photographs below).

Source: Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible
Baker Book House, 1988; Volume 1, excerpts from page 239, 240

Baal. Name of the most prominent Canaanite deity. As the god of fertility in the Canaanite pantheon (roster of gods), Baalʼs sphere of influence included agriculture, animal husbandry, and human sexuality… Baal worship became prominent in the northern kingdom of Israel during the days of King Ahab when he married Jezebel of Tyre. It later infiltrated the Kingdom of Judah.

Places for worship of Baal were often high places in the hills consisting of an altar and a sacred tree, stone. or pillar.

In the ugaritic epic material Baal is pictured as descending into the netherworld, the domain of the god Mot. That descent was evidently part of a cycle intended to coincide with the cycle of seasons. In order to bring Baal up from the realm of Mot and thus insure initiation of the fertile seasons, the Canaanites engaged in orgiastic worship that included human sacrifices as well as sexual rites. Sacred prostitutes evidently participated in the autumnal religious ritual…”

Abraham, the Patriarch father of the Hebrews, is recorded to have came out of Mesopotamia (Region containing Babylonia/Assyria). El and YHWH or Jehovah were deities worshiped in the region, and the Hebrews carried on these beliefs throughout their biblical writings.

Teachings of “Sacred Trees” were not exclusively limited to Babylon, Assyria and Baal Worshippers. These customs were widespread throughout ancient cultures.

Source: Mythology by Edith Hamilton
New American Library, 1942, page 312

The Creation

In the Elder Edda a wise woman says —

Of Old there was nothing,
Nor sand, nor sea, nor cool waves.
No earth, no heaven above,
Only the yawning chasm.
The sun knew not her dwelling,
Nor the moon his realm.
The stars has not their places.

But the chasm, tremendous through it was, did not extend everywhere. Far to the north was Niflheim, the cold realm of death, and far to the south, was Muspelheim, the land of fire.

From Niflheim twelve rivers poured which flowed into the chasm and freezing there filled it slowly up with ice. From Muspelheim came fiery clouds and turned the ice to mist. Drops of water fell from the mist and out of them there were formed the frost maidens and YMIR, the first Giant. His son was Odinʼs Father, whose mother and wife were frost maidens.

Odin and his two brothers killed Ymir. They made the earth and sky from him, the sea from his blood, the earth from his body, the heavens from his skull. They took sparks from Muspelheim and placed them in the sky as the sun, moon and stars. The earth was round and encircled by the sea. A great wall which the gods built out of Ymirʼs eyebrows defended the place where mankind was to live. The space within was called Midgard. Here the first man and woman were created from trees, the man from an ash, the woman from the elm. They were the parents of all mankind.

A wondrous ash-tree, Yggdrasil, supported the universe. It struck its root through the worlds.

Three roots there are to Yggdrasil
Hel lives beneath the first.
beneath the second, the frost-giants.
and men beneath the third.

It is also said that “one of the roots goes up to Asgard.” Beside this root was a well of white water. Urdaʼs Well. so holy that none might drink of it. The three Norns guarded it, who

Allot their lives to the sons of men,
And assign to them their fate.

The three were Urda (The Past), Verdandi (The Present), and Skuld (The Future). Here each day the gods came, passing over the quivering rainbow bridge to sit beside the well and pass judgment on the deeds of men. Another well beneath another root was the Well of Knowledge, guarded by Mimar the Wise.

Over Yggdrasil, as over Asgard, hung the threat of destruction. Like the gods it was doomed to die. A serpent and his brood gnawed continually at the root beside Niflheim, Helʼs home. Some day they would succeed in killing the tree, and the universe would come crashing down…

Though mythologies differ on creation accounts, a clear association is demonstrated here, as in Genesis, with relation between a tree and knowledge, as well as a tree or trees of life. :
Odin paid a special price. Odin plucked out his eye and threw it into the well and thus won the privilege of drinking the magical water, gaining future sight and special knowledge of the Ragnarok. Thereafter, Odin left Asgard to wander the earth among humans in the guise of a beggar until the day when he would lead the Gods and dead warriors in the battle between good and evil at the end of time.

Source: Funk and Wagnalls, on “Druidism”, 1950 edition

Druids offering a Human Sacrifice

Druidism, the religious faith of ancient Celtic inhabitants of Gaul (q.v.) and the British Isles. It flourished from the 2nd century B.C. until the 2nd century A.D., but in parts of Britain which the Romans did not invade, druidism survived until it was supplanted by Christianity two or three centuries later. The tenets of this religion included a belief in the immortality of the soul, which, upon the death of an individual, was believed to pass into the body of a new-born child. According to the writings of Julius Ceasar, which are the principal source of information on this subject, the followers of druidism believed themselves descended from a Supreme Being, and, in common with the Romans, worshipped such deities as Mercury, Apollo and Mars.

The druids were also versed in astrology, magic, and the mysterious powers of plants and animals; they held the oak tree and the mistletoe, especially when the latter grew on oak trees, in great reverence; and they customarily conducted their rituals in oak forests.

[- note The Hebrews held the Olive tree, its fruit, and oil, likewise, in great reverence. - note]

The superior military strength of the Romans, combined with subsequent conversions to Christianity, led to the disappearance of the religion.

References to “Tree of Life” in the King James Old Testament
Gn:2:9: 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 midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Gn:3:22: And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
Gn:3:24: So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.
Prv:3:18: She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her.
Prv:11:30: The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.
Prv:13:12: Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.
Prv:15:4: A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit.

References to “Tree of Life” in the King James New Testament
Rv:2:7: He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
Rv:22:2: In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
Rv:22:14: Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.

Mystical fruit, that enables mortals to obtain immortality?
that they may have right to the tree of life

The Chinese attribute great symbolic meanings to the Peach fruit. It is believed that almost every part of the Peach Tree entails great symbolism. For instance peach wood was said to posses the power to ward off evil spirits. It is not surprising to find that most Taoist spiritual tools are made of peach wood. Charms, amulets and seals are made of peach wood for its protective powers. This tradition has lived until today.

“The Chinese believe oval peaches which are very red on one side, to be a symbol of long life… According to the word of Chin-nough king, the peach Yu prevents death. If it is not eaten in time, it at least preserves the body from decay until the end of the world”. - from a famous poem entitled “Nine Nectarines and Other Porcelain.”

The Peach Fruit itself carries the most symbolic meaning in Chinese culture. The peach fruit is believed to be the fruit of immortality in Chinese mythology. It is said that the Goddess Hsih Hwang Mu (Goddess of the West) has a magical tree that bears the peaches of immortality. However who has the eaten the peaches will attain immortality. The Chinese concept of immortality refers to a long, tranquil and prosperous life.

The Peach is synonymous with spring time in China. Spring, as Chinese believed are the best time for young couples to tie the matrimonial knot. That is why the peach is a symbol of marriage. Placing the symbol of Chinese Peaches in your bedroom is said to bring about the auspicious chi of marriage enhancing the single men or womenʼs love luck.

The Babylonians
H.W.F. Saggs
Folio Society; 1962, 1988
Page 307

An eagle-headed protective spirit before the Tree of Life: a relief from the palace of Ashur-nasir-pal II at Nimrud, 9th century BC

The Religious Role of the King

The Tree of Life
The king, at least in Assyria, was the primary participant in another fertility rite, quite distinct from the Sacred Marriage. This is the rite usually called ‘cone-smearing’, frequently represented on the monuments, especially Assyrian bas-reliefs of the first millenium BC. The rite is usually explained as relating to the pollination of the date-palm. But this will hardly stand, since the tree depicted is not usually a palm, whilst the cones, supposed to be the male date spathes, are applied not to the female flower but to the king and his weapons. Most probably the tree, which is frequently overspread with the winged disc, was the Tree of Life, and the purpose of the ceremony was magically to identify the king with the Tree of Life and so to invest him with the fertility and longevity of the tree. The Tree of Life was probably originally the grapevine; the two syllables of the Sumerian word for ‘grapevine’, G E S H T I N, mean ‘tree’ and ‘life’. For the grapevine as the Tree of Life in religious imagery, we may also recall Christʼs words, ‘I am the vine, ye are the branches’ (St John 15:5).

Relief from the palace of Ashur-nasir-pal II at Nimrud, 9th century BC. Ashur-nasir-pal II and a protective spirit taking part in the ‘cone-smearing’ rite before the Tree of Life.

Olives, Judaism and the Land of Israel

by Rabbi Jo David
(excerpts below)

“I am like a green olive tree in the House of God; I trust in the love of God for ever and ever.” Psalms 52:10.

For a humble fruit, olives have made an indelible impression on the Jewish soul and on the customs and writings of the Jewish people. According to the Bible, olives were cultivated in the land we now call Israel even before the settlement of the Israelites. (Deuteronomy 6:11).

From biblical to modern times the people of the land of Israel have had a long association with the olive tree, its fruit, and the oil extracted from it. The olive tree has been a symbol of hope, beauty, peace and fertility.

The olive tree and its oil have been major components in the culture and rituals of Ancient Israel and the economy of its inhabitants throughout history. Its prominent status is revealed by numerous verses in the Old Testament, the Mishnah and the Talmud.
The Bible reflects this scale of values, and in the Hebrew culture olive oil was used to consecrate the Ark of the Covenant, the religious ornaments and the priests.
Jesusʼ name means “the Anointed”. This is a study guide to help further understand the significance of the olive oil as a Christian.

Holy Anointing Oil

And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, This shall be an holy anointing oil unto me throughout your generations. Exodus 30:31

Olive oil in Godʼs Word was used for:
An olive leaf was first carried by the dove to the ark
Olive oil was used to anoint for healing
Olive oil was used to anoint spiritual leaders, priests
Olive oil was used to represent prosperity
Olive oil was used to anoint the rock Jacob slept upon in which the Lord blessed his seed
Olive oil was used to light the tabernacle
Olive oil was used to represent adoration, dedication to the Lord
Olive oil was used as a symbol of the Christian people
Christʼs name means “Christos” or “the anointed”
Olive oil is the truth in the lamps of the 10 virgins in that last hour
At the last trump, when Christ returns his feet will touch the mount of Olives

God Loves Olive Oil

By Father Harold Hammond

I have heard that the olive tree never dies. It will live on and on and on. The only way you can kill it is to rip the roots out of the ground and burn them.

Oil was seen as a gift from God, and so was associated with Godʼs outpouring of the Spirit.
Therefore Jesus said the Spirit of God was upon him because the Lord has anointed him, poured over him the oil of the Spirit.

Prophets, priests and kings were anointed with oil because they were separated, consecrated, made holy to the service of God.

There is one thing of earth that God really loves-olive oil.
He talks about olives and olive oil all through the Bible.

Candles / Holy Water
Adult believers are baptised in deep water. Thereʼs no choice here; the water must be deep enough for the convert to be immersed. But the water is not referred to as ‘holy water.’ The same thing applies to oil. Elders may use olive oil to anoint a sick person as the Apostle James points out in 5:13-15; but the oil is not referred to as ‘holy oil.’ To be sure the oil represents the Holy Spirit; but it is ordinary olive oil just as the baptismal water is ordinary water.

Archaeological Museum, Kibbutz Ein Dor

Educational Activities
We have prepared an activity around the theme of the Exhibition “The Olive Tree - the Past That is also the Future”. This deals with the Emblem of the State of Israel and deliberates the question why the designers of the Emblem chose the components: the Menora (Temple Candelabra), the olive branches and the name “Israel”.

Source: Augustus Cæsarʼs World
by Genevieve Foster
44 BC to 14 AD ; page 173-174

Zoroaster had been killed by one of the jealous priests of the old religion, which he had tried to purify. Left without their leader, the Magi had let the religion slip from the high standards which Zoroaster had set. They had loaded it with mysterious rituals, added star lore learned from the Chaldean or native priests of Babylon, and brought back the worship of Mithra, the old god of the sun.

Mithra was now to be worshipped as the son of Ahura Mazda, who had been sent to earth to help win the war against Evil and save mankind from being overcome by Darkness and Death.

Mithra seemed nearer and much more real to ordinary people than the pure Spirit, Ahura Mazda. They were eager to be baptized in the blood of the bull, become his soldier in the war against evil, and so earn life everlasting in Paradise, that seventh heaven of bliss. So Mithraism had grown popular and spread beyond the limits of Persia, into Armenia, Syria and all of Asia Minor. Now it was being carried to Rome.

Within the next hundred years Sun Worship would become the leading religion of the Romans. Only with difficulty would it be made to give way to the next and last oriental religion to be adopted to them. But as the fire on the altars died away, this Persian religion was to leave behind as a heritage to future generations their Christmas holiday and Sunday.

For in years to come, when the early Christian fathers were uncertain on which day of the year to celebrate the birth of Jesus, it was to be decided that it would be wise to use that day, long held sacred to the sun.

“And we do rightly so?” St. Chyrsostom was to say. “The worshippers of Mithra call this December 25th the birthday of the sun, but is not our Lord the Sun of Righteousness?”

And so, a new way of life was to blend into an old, and the old be gradually forgotten. That is the way the world grows, one civilization after another, layer upon layer.

We Still Call It Sunday

Sunday, the first day of our week, also came to us in that same way from the religion of the Persians. One day out of every seven was kept sacred by them to the Sun. It was the Sunʼs day. And like the sabbath of the Jews, it was a day of rest. On the Sunʼs day all work was forbidden — except what was necessary in the fields. For cultivating the good earth was, in itself, a sacred duty, as taught by the prophet, Zoroaster.

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