Mesoamerica

World trees are a prevalent motif occurring in the mythical cosmologies of Mesoamerica. This includes the Olmec, Toltec, Aztec and Mayan cultures etc…

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A Mesoamerican Tree of Life, connecting the heavens and the underworld below. Early Photograph of Izapa Stela 5, 1976, V. Garth Norman.

In Mesoamerica the world tree embodied the four cardinal directions (South, West, North, East) that connected the realms of earth with the realms of the sky.

Directional world trees are also associated with the four Yearbearers and the directional colors and deities. Multiple mesoamerican sites and ceremonial centers had trees planted in the four directions as markers.

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Aztec Cosmic Tree of Life.

World trees are frequently depicted with birds in their branches, and their roots extending into earth or water, sometimes atop a “water-monster,” symbolic of the underworld.

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They also felt that the trunk of the World Tree was anchored within the center of our earth acting as the Axis Mundi, our earth’s pole. They believed that another Celestial Tree of Life existed in the center of the Milky Way.

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For many centuries past, the Mayan people have revered the Ceiba tree. They believed it to be the tree of life which stood in the middle of the earth, uniting the terrestrial and spirit worlds. For the Maya, the central world tree was conceived as or represented by a ceiba tree, and is known variously as a wacah chan or or Ya’ axche, meaning “Green Tree” or “First Tree.”

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The ceiba is a gigantic Tree of Life in Maya religion and cosmology and the point of beginning where the world came into existence. The ceiba grew deep into the underworld; its branches reached upwards towards the heavens and supported it. According to myth, a great tree once stood at the center of the still void Cosmos.  It impregnated itself and bore on its branches a multitude of fruits, one for each thing known to humankind: animals, plants, clouds, stars, stones, lightening, and even time itself.

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A tableau from the Western Mexico shaft tomb tradition, showing a multi-layered tree with birds. It has been proposed that the birds represent souls who have not yet descended into the underworld, while the central tree represents the Mesoamerican world tree.

Eventually all the fruits became so heavy that the tree could no longer carry them. One by one they fell to the ground and scattered their seeds. Underneath the protective canopy of the tree, they germinated, took root and grew.

The Mayans still offer incense and prayers to these ancestral spirits and thus ensure the continued fertility of the land.