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SYMBOL OF LIFE : TREE OF LIFE
2001 / OCTOBER

The tree of life is one of the most widespread of all symbolic motifs in throughout history. The mythologies of diverse cultures feature trees, symbolising sometimes life, and sometimes the universe. It is a motif shared by peoples who otherwise appear quite unconnected.In France the oak, in Germany the linden, in Scandinavia the ash, in Lebanon the cedar, in India the banyan, in Siberia the beech, and in Turkey the cypress are invested with particular symbolism. Since the roots of trees are underground, their trunks above ground, and their leaves in the sky, they link the three levels of the universe, and the way in which they reach up into the heavens to seek the sun gives them a mystic quality. They also epitomise the cycle of life, their blossom in spring and bearing of fruit being associated with birth, and the falling of their leaves in autumn with the end of life. So trees represent the recurring cycle of life and the universe.The Book of Genesis tells how Adam and Eve were expelled from paradise for eating the forbidden fruit of a tree.

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SYMBOL OF LIFE : TREE OF LIFE
2001 / OCTOBER

This event marks the beginning of mankind's worldly journey. The Kuran (Rad Sura verse 29) speaks of a tree called the tuba, which was said to grow in the centre of paradise and have its roots in the air and branches beneath. In Tao philosophy, Kabala mysticism and Siberian shamanism the tree of life symbolises the cosmos, and is the centre of the world, linking the underworld to the heavens. By interesting coincidence both shaman and Siu native American tents have beech poles in the centre symbolising the centre of the world. Among the Chinese, the kiyen-mu tree is believed to be the centre of the world, and its eight branches symbolise the eight levels of the sky. Similarly, tree of life motifs used by Seljuks have either seven or nine leaves which also represent the levels of the sky. The cypress tree was the emblem of Pluto, the god of the underworld in ancient Greek and Roman mythology, and this may be one reason why the cypress tree is planted in cemeteries.At the same time, the fact that this tree is an evergreen means that it symbolises immortality.

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SYMBOL OF LIFE : TREE OF LIFE
2001 / OCTOBER

The tree of life figures prominently in Turkish culture, the species varying amongst the different Turkish tribes, sometimes being a beech, sometimes an oak, and sometimes a cypress. When we look at its manifestations in Turkish culture over the centuries, we see just how widely it was used, and in what similar forms. In the legend of the birth of the Uighur ruler Bögü Han, an evergreen tree represents fertility. One night a divine light falls from the heavens upon this tree, and nine months later the Uighurs find five babies beneath it, one of whom is Bögü-Han. Similarly the Er-Sogotoh legend of the Yakut Turks speaks of a tree of life which guided the first man on earth. This was an enormous fir tree which grew in the Altai Mountains and stretched so high that it pierced the sky. The god Bay-Ülgen was seated in the canopy of this tree, which had nine branches and is described as the sky tree. Some Tartar tribes in Siberia have similar legends about a sacred beech tree with seven branches which stands in the centre of the world and rises up into the heavens. The tree of life of the Seljuks has many

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SYMBOL OF LIFE : TREE OF LIFE
2001 / OCTOBER

features in common with that of the shamanist cultures of Siberia and Central Asia. In both, the tree's branches represent the levels of the sky. Here the trees in question are the beech and palm tree. Some Seljuk tree of life motifs have serpents at the base and a great eagle at the top symbolising the underworld and heaven respectively, so again we have the three levels of the universe combined in the tree of life motif.
The tree of life in Ottoman Turkish culture was the cypress, which we find on tiles, kilims, carved on fountains, painted on walls, and in a myriad other contexts. The use of cypress motifs, often flanking the tap of fountains, expresses the life giving nature of water. Sometimes birds are shown perching on the branches, and these symbolise human souls, which will fly off when their term of life is over.

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SYMBOL OF LIFE : TREE OF LIFE
2001 / OCTOBER

The resemblance between cypresses and minarets is further confirmation of the sacred associations of this tree in Ottoman culture.

* Ömer Kokal is a freelance writer

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