Visions of The World Tree

A bright, warm day, more like late March than mid-February. The sky is a clear, vibrant blue beyond the bare trees. Daffodils have sprouted in the yard.

There is a motif that spans most cultures, the image of an immense tree that ties together all of creation. This is the World Tree, its roots firmly anchored in the lower world, trunk inhabiting the middle world, and branches filling the upper world. On this tree grow all beings as they await birth into the middle, everyday, world. In shamanic cultures the World Tree literally supports the structure of the universe, provides a means for shamans to travel between the worlds, and is the fount of creation.

Often the World Tree is portrayed as vibrant and beautiful, but sometimes it appears to be ill or dead, as in winter.  When the tree is perceived as ill or in hibernation, the visionary may express concern for the state of the community or the larger world, and invite the community to perform ceremony to renew the Tree.

While the World Tree is often perceived as abiding in the North, it is also understood to be symbolic of the Amazon and other tropical rain forests, the terrestrial ecosystems that create much of the oxygen we breath and drive the Earth’s climate system. In the 1970’s, when I began to be aware of the vastness of the shaman’s world, many people were having visions of the World Tree as dying. Some saw the tree as perishing in ice, others in fire. When we met, we shared our visions and tried to understand what we had been shown.

Being young many of us took the vision literally. Now we understand that while the world, as we know and love it, may well be dying, Pachamama will rejuvenate after our long winter, as she always has. We are, after all, hardly the first organisms and events to trigger mass extinctions. Nor is our presence required for Her renewal. Our species existence is but a blink of Her Eye.

We need Her more than She needs us. Still, in the magic that is reciprocity, we humans and Pachamama both do better when we can be aware of Her and grateful for Her generosity and support. How wonderful to feel Her heart beating in our chests and Her concern holding us close and safe! How lovely to express our love and appreciation to Her!

We are indeed living in a time of great peril, a tumultuous era in which our species’ survival seems in question. Still, we remain connected to Pachamama and all life that preceded us. Do not the anaerobic bacteria that first populated the world alive within our cells?

In the great cycles of birth and death that mark the life of our small planet, the current one seems larger to us because we are living it. But from the perspective of the World Tree, it is simply a passing season that will result, once again, in renewal. The world is as it is and we can only do our best, and that is all that is asked of us. Let us do our best to bring awakening and peace, joy and abundance; let us work together for the renewal of the Tree.


One thought on “Visions of The World Tree

  1. Nice message, Michael. I find that I am most at peace when I am simultaneously able to be mindful and grounded in my present even though it is sometimes overwhelmingly frightening and also able to hold in my mind that we are but a speck in time and are likely to be doomed to extinction. Thanks for reminding me of this.

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