The Celtic Tree of Life Symbol (Crann Bethadh): Its Meaning And Origin

History, meaning, and more

Celtic Tree of Life Crann Bethadh
Photo left: artdock. Right: zizar (shutterstock)
One of the most well-known Irish and Celtic symbols is the Celtic Tree of Life.

The Celtic Tree of Life (Crann Bethadh as Gaelige), like the many other Celtic symbols, dates back centuries.

The symbol shows a tree with broad branches and a spreading root system. In many designs, the Tree of Life is symmetrical, so when you flip it 180 it appears the exact same.

In the guide below, you’ll get an insight into the Celtic Tree of life meaning, its history and what it symbolizes. 

What is the Celtic Tree of Life Symbol?

Celtic Tree of Life Symbol
Photo by Voyagerix (Shutterstock)

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 Celtic Tree of Life is arguably one of the most important Celtic symbols as it directly features an oak tree.

The Importance of Trees

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.

Celtic Tree of Life Meaning Explained

Celtic Tree of Life Meaning

The Celtic Tree of Life meaning, like all of the other Celtic symbols and their meanings, is widely disputed online. The meaning that I’ve outlined below is the one that appeared most frequently during my research.

The symbol is found throughout Celtic history, faith and culture. The Celtic Tree of Life meaning is said to represent balance and harmony, which is at the heart of the Celtic culture.

They saw the Tree of Life as a representation of the three stages of life: birth, death and reincarnation in another life.

Enter the Oak

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.

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 gods that the tree was special.

As the tree grows old and dies, 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.

What Crann Bethadh Symbolizes

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.

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.

Crann Bethadh in other cultures

irish tree of life
Photo via Shutterstock

After reading the section above, you can easily see why the Celtic Tree of Life symbol was revered by the Celts.

Although the Tree of Life symbol is strongly associated with Irish Celtic culture, this symbol has been found elsewhere in the world.

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.

Celtic Tree of Life Knot Design

Like many other Celtic knot symbols, such as the Motherhood Knot and the Dara Knot, the Tree of Life knot is endless with no beginning or end.

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.

Like the Celtic Tree of Life symbol, many of the Celtic knots represent the belief that everything important in the world is found in threes.

They saw the Tree of Life as representing the three stages of life: birth, death and reincarnation in another life.

Have a Question About the Celtic / Irish Tree of Life?

If you’ve had a nosey through the guide above and you still have a question about the Celtic / Irish tree of life, ask away in the comments below.

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