Sunday, November 28, 2010

Trees of Knowledge

By Beat Schwendimann

Since ancient times, philosophers distinguished between two world: The material world and the world of ideas.

The two world are connected with each other: Man cannot exist without ideas, and ideas would not exist without man (Or as Hermes Trismegitus put it: "As above, so below". Hermes Trismegitus is the representation of the syncretic combination of the Greek god Hermes and the Egyptian god Thoth, more about Thoth see below.

Humans strive to gain more knowledge ("justified true beliefs") to improve our lives. We have two different ways to approach truth: Through the study of the natural world through science, and through the study of the world of ideas through philosophy and theology. Both approaches try to approximate true knowledge as closely as possible; however, both approaches are subject to human interpretation and our human constructs can only approximate Truth without ever reaching it.

In Norse mythology, the two worlds were represented in Yggrasil, the tree of life. Yggdrasil connects the world of man with the divine (upper and nether) world.
Yggdrasil (The tree of life) connecting the world of man to the divine world
The world of objects is directly observable through our senses and measurable with scientific instruments. The world of ideas on the other hand is abstract.

The source of knowledge in many ancient myths is a tree - symbolizing that knowledge represents the connection between ideas from different worlds, for example the world of man and the divine world (see blog entry on Gods representing Knowledge and Wisdom here)

Adam and Eve at the Tree of Knowledge
The tree of life is a tree planted by God in the Garden of Eden, whose fruit gives everlasting life. Next to the tree of life, God planted the tree of knowledge, whose fruit give the divine knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9). After Adam and Eve ate a fruit from the tree of knowledge, God said, "The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever." (Genesis 3:22)[3]

The tree of life (or World Tree) is represented in several examples of sacred geometry and is central in particular to the Kabbalah (the mystic study of the Torah), where it is represented as a diagram of ten points. 
Sephiroth - the tree of life in the Kabbalah
The tree of knowledge (World Tree) is found in many religions and mystic traditions: 

  • Tree of Eden
  • Holy Tree made by Ahura Mazda,
  • Norse Yggdrasil, 
  • Hindu Aswatha, 
  • Gogard,
  • Hellenic tree of life
  • Tibetan Zampun, 
  • Kabalistic Sephiroth Tree.
There are different ways how to get knowledge closer to Truth. Gods and humans alike often have to pay a high price to gain great knowledge (see previous blog entry). The ultimate reason why we want to gain more knowledge but the same: To learn more about ourselves and the world around us to improve our lives and find happiness.

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