The Tree of Life and the Legend of the Soul's Journey

The legend that is referred to in the title is the Greek story (probably borrowed from Egypt) that the soul comes from and returns to the Milky Way via seven planetary spheres (which includes the sun and moon). As Albert Pike tells the story, "Through the seven planetary spheres, represented by the Mystic Ladder of the Mithriac Initiations, the Souls descend to be united to their human bodies and through those seven spheres they must re-ascend, to return to their origin and home". (p 851 Morals and Dogma) You will recall that in the Bible Jacob "dreamed and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to the heavens: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it". (Gen 28 KJV)

Adding the Milky Way at the 'top' and the earth at the bottom, we arrive at a total of nine spheres; two extremes with seven in between. The menorah used for the Festival of Lights comes in seven and nine candle versions. In what follows, I contend that this legend is less a doxology (a statement of belief) and more an astronomy learning tool; meaning that I don't think that the Greeks, Egyptians, or Albert Pike believed this story to be literally true.

The emmanation story of creation says that matter, the world etc, comes from and returns to the One in sucessive stages, which again happen to correspond to celestial forms, so in the Bible we see a creation in seven days and the days being named after planets (gods and goddesses)- Sunday, Monday, etc. Both stories share the exile and return theme; the world (matter) is exiled from it's Source, and the soul is exiled from it's home (allegorically). Remember that this is not a natural history, as some would have you believe, but a kabbalistic legend - the development of a contemplative conceptual framework.

The Royal Arch story of Enoch, the cube, and the nine excavated chambers is the same story but told allegorically using alchemical symbols. The white cube represents matter and the name of God within a golden triangle inscribed on the cube represents the 'divine spark' inherent in all Creation (universal life hidden in matter). Illumination = the recognition of the radiance of this one eternity through all material things; this is the lesson of alchemy.

Fulcanelli defines alchemy as the investigation of Transformations of the Original Substance, Elementary Matter and suggests that "the Virgin Mother, stripped of her symbolical veil is none other than the personification of primitive substance... the very essence of things". He points to an image at the cathedral in Paris that he says depicts alchemy as a woman, seated on a throne (Isis means throne) with her head in the clouds. In front of her is a ladder with nine rungs indicating "the nine sucessive operations of the hermetic labour". The nine rungs and the subterranean chambers in the Enoch legend refer not only to the nine planetary spheres (arcs, arches) but also to nine months in the womb.

  • For some reason Kabbalists added the Throne of God into the equation and produced a system with ten spheres. The Tree of Life is a graphic image that depicts both the legend of the soul's journey and the emmanation story of creation using ten spheres, rather than seven or nine. No matter the number, the basic theme remains the notion of 'incarnation', spirit joining with matter, the crossing of the macro and microcosms.

    Symbols of Transcendence

  • In the study of myths (in anthropology) and the analysis of dream imagery (in psychology) we encounter what are called symbols of transcendence which conceptually connect or mediate between two (or more) realms, spheres, or states of being. Think of the snake that lives partly undeground and partly on the surface, or the bird that lives on the earth and in the air, or the notion of a journey from one place to another.

    Sometimes we see composite symbols like the feathered serpent, the winged dragon or horse, Capricorn the water/goat, Sagittarius the horse/man, Minitaur (Gemini + Taurus), Sphinx (Leo + Virgo) and the cadeusus etc; we also see hermaphoditic symbols like Baphomet and the Rebus.

  • We find that these conceptual images can utilize both vertical and horizontal metaphors (a tree, ladder, column or pillar is a vertical metaphor while a bridge or arch is a horizontal one), and they often relate to notions of growth and development, periods of transition, or striving for realease, liberation or attainment, etc. Gothic cathedrals employed a vertical metaphor and symbolically connect the earth to the heavens as the priest connects Man and God.

    Pyschic symbols of growth and liberation differ from symbols of containment and stability, what we might call the status quo. The story of the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt fits here, as do legends about the soul's journey.

  • Symbols of transcendence 1) posit a duality (or a multiplicity), 2) highlight the notion of mediation, and 3) introduce an intermediate form - the Mediator. Note bene: philosophically, the primary dualities are male and female, and mankind (or the world) and God (heaven and earth).


    The Djed pillar in old Egypt, the raising of which was intended to restore order between the earth and the heavens, was said to 'be' the backbone of Osiris which ties it conceptually to the notion of an axis mundi, Kundalini Yoga and other vertical metaphors. Remember that Osiris is 'the one in the tree', and that after a journey by water his coffin was encompassed by a tamrask tree and the tree was used as a 'pillar' in a temple. In Rev 3:12 we read "him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God". In a temple, a pillar mediates betweeen the floor and ceiling seen as representative of the earth and sky (as temples and lodges are symbols of the world and the Universe).

    Osiris is a transcendent symbol of stability, and mediates between the earth and the sky, with a sky mother (Nuit) and earth father (Geb). Note that this is just opposite to the Mesopotamian way where the god is above and the goddess is below. Nuit was the sky/heaven goddess.

    [Saturn was a Roman god of agriculture and harvest, and the son of Uranus, the heavens, and Gaia, the earth. Saturn seized power by castrating and overthrowing his father Uranus. Cronus (Saturn) was one of the the Seven Titans and with them, reigned supreme in the Universe for untold ages, until they were deposed by Zeus, the sixth child of Rhea, Saturn's sister and wife. In Roman mythology when Jupiter (Zeus) ascended the throne, Saturn (Cronus) fled to Rome and established the Golden Age, a time of perfect peace and harmony, which lasted as long as he reigned. In memory of the Golden Age, the Feast of Saturnalia was held every year in the winter at the Winter Solstice (when the sun enters Capricorn ruled by Saturn). Remember that it was Osiris who taught agriculture to mankind in Egypt. These two stories parallel one another at times.]

    As Above So Below

    The code reads 'as above, so below' (a vertical metaphor) and it means that things happen analogously in different realms. Different parts of the Universe are similar to one another by reason of anology, according to this idea. Analogy is the Law of Transcendence, and it suggests that the macrocosm can be understood by understanding the forms in the microcosm; that the microcosm reflects the macrocosm. (Anthropologists call this anthropomorphisism, which basically consists of projecting human qualities onto the world and deity.) It has been proposed that a realization of the equivalence between the human menstral cycle and the lunar cycle was the beginning of both mathematical and astronomical reckoning as well as a recogntion of the analogy between celestial and earthly rythms of life.

    The vulture and cobra symbolizing the upper
    and lower kingdoms
    depicted side by side.

    Menes is reported to have been the first person to 'unite the two kingdoms' of Egypt, and his crown (worn by King Tut above) bears a cobra and vulture, symbols of the upper and lower kingdoms, the sky and the earth, and spirit and matter. While the unity of Egypt legend is related as if it is historical, Menes is a metaphysical mediator like Osiris and Saturn. When Zarathustra descends from the mountain into the city he takes with him a serpent and an eagle. The idea here is that X (the mediator) is balanced between two extremes and it is used endlessly by story tellers. Remember the story of Daedalus and the wings made of wax and feathers, how he was cautioned not to fly too close to the sun or the wax would melt or too close to the sea, and how he suceeded by flying the middle way.

    The intention always appears to have the upper and lower realms in harmony as we saw in the Djed ritual, or in some cases, it's the left and right sides (a horizontal metaphor). It has been suggested that the Unity of Egypt image below is an early prototype of the Tree of Life. Here we see Set and Osiris tying a knot on a windpipe and standing on a pair of lungs.

    Osiris is said to mediate between the 'living and the dead' and is traditionally depicted with his lower half wrapped in linen like a mummy. (Compare to Levi's Baphomet figure.) You should know that to the Egyptians 'the dead' meant souls entrapped in the prison a body. In Egypt the noon time sun symbolized the soul in it's rightful home in the heavens, actually the Milky Way, since they taught that we derived from the stuff of the stars. The soul in the body was symbolized by the night time sun. The sun set represented the incarnation of a soul in a physical body, and sun rise represented the soul's eventual release. The realms of the living and dead are essentially heaven and the earth, the upper and lower kingdoms.

    The legend of the 'murder' of Osiris is actually a story of the soul's journey, where Osiris represents the soul. He (the soul) is sealed in a coffin (the body) by his brother Set (as in sun-set, which symbolizes incarnation) and cast into the Nile River (symbolic of the Milky Way). Eventually he comes to land (earth, the material plane) and the coffin is surrounded by a fast growing tree which is eventually made into a pillar in a temple. The body is the temple of the Living God. The story has most all the vertical elements, the tree, the pillar and the spine.

    The US Great Seal

    In the upper half of the figure above we see Osiris with a crook on one shoulder and the flail on the other, and we are reminded of the eagle on the US Great Seal that holds arrows in one claw and olive branches in the other, symbolic of peace and war. In terms of governing styles, the crook speaks of Jupiter and the flail of Mars (the god of war). While the imagery of a pillar is decidedly vertical, the eagle on the Seal and Osiris figures are both vertical and horizontal metaphors.

    Conceptually, both the eagle and the pyramid seen on the Great Seal, can be said to mediate between the earth and the sky. It was the Eagle that carried the thunderbolts of Zeus and retrieved them after they were thrown - a legend about the soul's journey. The pyramid is grounded by a four square base, but as it comes out of the earth it strives for the heavens like a cathedral.

    The Tree of Life

    Note how Osiris' crown correlates with the triple crown of the tree, the top three spheres; compare to a pope's mitre. The crook on the left shoulder at sphere 4 represents the pillar of mercy, the flail on the right the pillar of severity. Spheres seven and eight represent the hips. Kundalini Yoga also uses the notion of three pillars. FYI, the image of the tree as three pillars is actually the candidate between two pillars forming the tree image, this happens every time we go through a door way and is alluded to in the Enoch stories about the two pillars of knowledge and the nine arches.

    While the body is clearly being depicted in these images, so is the world and Universe by way of analogy. By analogy the legend of the soul's journey parallels that of the story of the creation of the Universe and the earth. A cosmology is a picture of the world, and a cosmogeny is a story about how the world came to be as it is. The Tree of Life (in it's various forms) is an image that depicts man and the world, and which illustrates the legend of the soul's journey and the creation of the world. It is for good reason that Dion Fortune calls the tree the most comprehensive meditative symbol that we have.