At the heart of symbolism

The Tree of Life of the Biblical World (Detailed page)


The Tree of Life and the tree of knowledge

By its vertical trunk from which horizontal branches are spreading, by its double nature at once unified and dual, the tree raises an ambiguity that we rediscover in the Garden of Eden. In fact, two trees grow in the Garden: the Tree of Life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. However, the relationship between these two trees remains unclear:

  • Is it about two distinct trees or a unique tree ? In the latter case, would the Tree of Life be depicted by a central trunk and the duality of the tree of knowledge by two lateral ones ? For more of details on the representation of the tree, see the World Tree.
  • Could the tree of knowledge of good and evil stand, as the Tree of Life, in the Centre of the Garden ? Does the Centre not symbolize the place or better the state, where opposites balance each other, transform themselves into complements and merge into Unity ?

Nevertheless, it is certain that the Tree of Life gathers all opposed aspects in a unified state. It follows that the tree of knowledge is, in a way, the terrestrial manifestation of the celestial Tree of Life. Therefore, the denomination of terrestrial Paradise.

The source of four rivers is located at the foot of the Tree of Life. These four rivers are oriented according to the compass points and water the terrestrial world. They are associated with the four elements or states of the terrestrial world: water (north), fire (south), air (east) and earth (west). The elements are coming from a unique source, the primeval ether, equally situated at the foot of the Tree. The ether symbolizes the other elements in a unified state and stands at the base of the World Axis linking Earth and Heaven.

The source also symbolizes the "teaching fountain" of the primeval Tradition related to the Centre and the four rivers, its transmission to the guardians of the Tradition. We rediscover here the link mentioned in the quest for the Holy Grail between the cup and the Tradition.

The branches of the Tree of Life carry the fruit of eternal Life, symbolizing the unified state beyond antagonisms and associated with the World Centre. It is about the state where the being's will and divine Will coincide, where the being sees unity beyond all things and all things in the perfect simultaneity of the Eternal present.

These fruit, products of the elevation of the sap from Earth to Heaven, are twelve (sometimes ten) in number. This number corresponds to the twelve Stations of the Sun during its yearly zodiacal run. This is why they are often called “golden fruit”.

The Tree of Life, carrier of fruit of eternal Life, is guarded by a serpent. Made in the image of the Tree, the serpent gathers antagonisms in a unified state. Its beneficial and malefic aspects are of course related to the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

The access to the Tree of Life or to the tree of knowledge depends on the degree of spirituality reached by the postulants:

  • The beings that have succeeded in rejoining the Centre and the unified state will be able to taste the fruit of the Tree of Life giving access to eternal Life, to immortality proper to the spiritual world;
  • The beings that have moved away from the Centre and are living in the dualistic world will only be able to taste fruit of the Tree of knowledge. It will help them to become aware of their condition of ordinary being and of the lost unity.

We know which fruit Adam and Eve tasted, but was it their real intention ?

Adam and Eve

Stained-glass window representing Adam and EveGod placed the first being close to the Tree of Life. The original Adam consequently symbolized the primeval Androgyne, integrating both masculine and feminine sides. He became male when Eve was born from one of his sides (and not ribs). The unified Primeval Androgyne transformed himself into a masculine/feminine couple. Their common will to conceal their differences under fig tree leaves could not delude anyone. Despite the fact that they came from a same flesh, they nevertheless were man and woman. They had moved away from the Centre. Nowadays, when a man introduces his wife or companion in life while talking about his “better half”, he is surely not aware of evoking the half of the lost unity that he has frantically tried to rediscover through the quest of the soul mate.

To rediscover the lost unity, Adam and Eve wanted to taste the fruit of the Tree of Life in all innocence. However, only the forbidden fruit of the Tree of knowledge were henceforth accessible 1. So, Adam became conscious of the double nature of the tree of knowledge and acquired “knowledge of good and evil”. He discovered that he would rediscover the Centre, the unified state, the primeval state only after the fall into the world of duality and the passage through a number of tests destined to restore the original state. In reality, Adam and Eve had no choice. They had to die in the innocence state to be reborn into the consciousness one.

Adam sins by lack of discernment, the only fault that God cannot forgive. No remission for the being unable to discern truth from error. It is not sufficient to taste fruit of the Tree of Life to ipso facto rediscover the original state. It is necessary to first reintegrate the Centre after having unified all facets of the being and overcome a number of tests thus letting us understand how much things are interrelated. Then, Adam and Eve could rediscover innocence, but in full consciousness.

The original Adam, the primeval Androgyne, the unified being is associated with the Tree of Life; the couple Adam/Eve, the world of duality is linked to the tree of knowledge. The two trees evoke the Principle and its manifestation, God and manifested beings. In other words, both trees symbolize creation.

According to a legend of the Middle Ages, Christ's cross was cut in the wood of the tree of knowledge. It means that after having been the instrument of the fall, the tree became the instrument of redemption. Consequently, duality can always reintegrate unity and the Tree of knowledge can rediscover its place in the Tree of Life.


  • Book of Genesis:
  • Text.
  • René Guénon:
  • “Symbols of Sacred Science”, Sophia Perennis Publisher 2004;
  • Notably, chapter 53 on “The tree of life and the Draught of Immortality”.
  • “The Symbolism of the Cross”, Sophia Perennis Publisher, 2002;
  • Particularly, chapter 9 on “The Tree in the midst”.

1 back Tasting the forbidden fruit can not simply mean transgression of the divine Word. The notion of transgression is properly western for reasons easy to understand; it is not current in the East and can not be applied to the entire mankind and, even less, to the first man on Earth.