The trees around us are showing off their seasonal looks as they change from green to vibrant shades of yellow, orange and red. Our minds are racing ahead to Christmas trees and what to put on and under them. It’s the perfect time to think about another type of tree, one revered by our Irish ancestors. The Celtic tree of life motif appears on Irish gifts from glamorous jewelry to earth t-shirts. But what are the roots of this sacred symbol? When did it began to appear and what does it mean?
The Celtic tree of life motif is distinctive. The tree’s branch curve in a downward arc while the roots stretch upwards to complete the circle. It can include intricate Celtic knotwork or be more minimalist. The circular outline is what signals that it is not an ordinary tree. The branches bending down to the roots also remind us of how much our own roots matter to us and how we can feel deeply connected to previous generations who were gone long before we arrived.
Tree of life symbolism is not unique to the ancient Celts. Similar symbols have been found all around the world, particularly in Europe and Asia, which suggests how powerful and primal the idea is. Trees illustrate the cycle of life, death and rebirth perfectly with their dramatic annual loss of leaves every autumn. In nature, those leaves decompose at the tree’s roots, nourishing the next rebirth in the spring. The Celtic tree of life featured on Irish gifts today is different from other culture’s versions, but the power of the tree symbolism links these various trees of life together reminding us of how much we all have in common.
Ancient Ireland’s Trees
Today, Ireland is known for rolling green fields, but in the time of the druids, it was forested. It is hard to imagine now, but before these lands were dotted with fluffy sheep grazing, they were a densely wooded. Those iconic green fields are beautiful, but today we understand just how important trees are. We know the science of how they capture carbon and give us clean air. We know that their root systems can help prevent landslides on hills in heavy rains if they are extensive enough. But before we knew the science of it, our ancestors instinctively knew that trees were life.
To the druids, the tree of life was much more than a beautiful symbol on Irish gifts. They believed the trees had spirits. When they did have to cut down trees, they always left one in the center of the clearing. They named the symbols of the ancient ogham alphabet after trees. The Irish for tree of life is crann bethadh.
The Celtic tree of life motif reminds us of the connections between generations and our connection to the earth and nature. Irish gifts with this powerful symbol are beautiful presents to give your children or your parents. They are also perfect for anyone who loves nature and the outdoors.