The Celtic Tree of Life symbol (Crann Bethadh) is an impressive sight.
Below, you’ll discover the origins of the Crann Bethadh, the different designs and, of course, what it symbolises.
Quick need-to-knows about the Celtic Tree of Life symbol
Before scrolling down to see the Celtic Tree of Life meanings, take 15 seconds to read the points below, as they’ll get you up-to-speed quickly:
1. Trees were vital to daily life
The Celts saw trees as being vital to their very existence. They depended on trees for shelter, food, heat and trees were also home to some of the wildlife that they hunted.
2. The spiritual link
As the oak trees were some of the largest and tallest trees in the forest, they frequently attracted lightning. This was seen by the Celts as a sign from the Celtic Gods that the tree was special.
3. A symbol strength
Although there are several Celtic symbols for strength, few come close to the Irish Tree of Life. The Celts admired the immense power of the mighty root system that lay beneath the oak and held its weight (more below).
About the Crann Bethadh
The Celtic Tree of Life symbol is one of the many designs to come from an ancient group of tribes known as the Celts.
The Celts lived across Europe and, contrary to popular belief, were not Irish or Scottish – in fact, the exact origin of these ancient people is unknown.
The importance of trees
We’ve touched lightly on the importance of trees in Celtic culture, but this can’t be underemphasised.
The Celts believed in nature and the connection between the earth and the life beyond and it’s thought that they believed that trees held the spirits of their ancestors.
The Celts saw the towering strength and longevity (oaks can live for over 300 years) of the oak tree as a symbol of nobility and endurance.
Importance in community
When the Irish Celts formed a new community, they planted a tree right at its center, and it was called the ‘Crann Bethadh’, meaning ‘the Tree of Life’.
As the hub of the community, the tree’s shady branches were the place where important meetings were held.
Battle and spirituality
In times of warfare, the Celts believed that if they cut down the tree of their enemies, it would ensure their victory over them.
They regarded the root system of the tree as a physical doorway, penetrating the earth to the spiritual world beyond.
Although the symbol is found in many forms and variations, they all show a tree with spreading branches above and a network of roots below.
In some designs, the Tree of Life appears the same if you flip it upside down. Some designs, like ours above and below, are more elaborate, while others are minimalist.
Crann Bethadh in other cultures
The Norse had a Tree of Life symbol and they possibly brought it to Ireland when they invaded. However, their sacred tree was not the oak but the ash tree which they called ‘Yggdrasil’.
The Tree of Life symbol also appears on ancient Egyptian tomb carvings, possibly even predating Celtic culture.
Different Celtic Tree of Life meanings
There are many different interpretations of the Celtic Tree of Life meaning, so please be aware that nothing is definite.
Records from back when these symbols were used in everyday life are scarce, so we rely on calculated guesswork. Here are three Celtic Tree of Life meanings to consider:
1. Strength, wisdom and endurance
The most accurate Celtic Tree of Life meaning is that it symbolises strength and wisdom. The Oak tree can live for over 300 years.
During its life, it weathers storms, gets attacked and damaged by humans and animals and grows up to 40 meters in height.
The Celts saw the Oak as a symbol of strength, due to it’s intricate root system that holds the trees massive weight, wisdom, due to the time it spent on earth and endurance, due to the time and conditions it stands proudly through.
2. The stages of life
Another popular Celtic Tree of Life meaning is that it symbolises the three stages of life: birth, death and reincarnation in another life.
As the oak trees were some of the largest and tallest trees in the forest, they frequently attracted lightning strikes. This was seen by the Celts as a sign from the gods that the tree was special.
As the tree grows old and rots, its acorn seeds ensure new beginnings so the tree was seen as immortal. The Celts believed that trees were their ancestors in a reincarnated state.
FAQs about the Irish Tree of Life
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What’s a good Irish Tree of Life tattoo?’ to ‘What does it mean?’.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
What does Celtic Tree of Life mean?
Although there are several different Tree of Life meanings, the most accurate ones are strength, endurance and wisdom.
What tree is the Celtic tree of life?
The Celtic Tree of Life is arguably one of the most important Celtic symbols as it directly features an oak tree.
Keith O’Hara has lived in Ireland for 34 years and has spent most of the last 10 years creating what is now The Irish Road Trip guide. Over the years, the website has published thousands of meticulously researched Ireland travel guides, welcoming 30 million+ visitors along the way. In 2022, the Irish Road Trip team published the world’s largest collection of Irish Road Trip itineraries. Keith lives in Dublin with his dog Toby and finds writing in the 3rd person minus craic altogether.