Tree of Life

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Berthold Furtmeyr: Tree of Death and Life, Salzburg Missal (15th century)
This drawing shows the Kabbalistic Tree of Life with the two pillars Jachin and Boaz and the mediating pillar between them. Together they form the three pillars of manifestation. Jachin, the white pillar on the right, is marked with the Hebrew letter י (Jod), which, as we already know, stands for the I-power of the Elohim, from which our own I also sprang. Boaz, the black pillar on the left, is marked with a ב (Beth), but written without a dagesh, i.e. without a dot, and therefore pronounced as a W. It is the undulating, heaving power of the Elohim, from which our own I springs. It is the undulating, envelope-forming creative force that gives rise to entities more or less separated from the rest of the soul world. From Malchut, which represents the earth world, the Sefirot are assigned to the planetary spheres up to the Primum Mobile in a zigzag course. From the Earth, ascending diagonally to the left, one comes to Mercury, horizontally to the right further to Venus, from there again ascending to the left one meets the Sun in the middle and goes on to Mars, from where one reaches Jupiter in a horizontal line to the right. From here one ascends to the left to Saturn, passing through the so-called "invisible sphere" Da'ath (this connecting line with the invisible sphere Da'ath lying on it is not to be found in the first drawing). Horizontally to the right we go to the zodiac and from there up to the Primum Mobile, which corresponds to the Crystal Heaven (as in Dante's depiction of the celestial spheres). In this way, one simultaneously passes through the dominions of the celestial hierarchies, from the Angels in the lunar sphere to the Cherubim, the beings of the zodiac, and the Seraphim, who already reach the Crystal Heaven. Beyond these are the three veils of the Unlimited, pointing to the Trinity - the Empyrean of Dante. Read in reverse order, starting from Kether, this is the Path of the Flaming Sword, which connects the 10 Sefirot in the order in which they were created.

The tree of life (Hebrewעץ החיים °ez ha-chajjîm; Greekτὸ ξύλον τῆς ζωῆς to xylon tēs zōēs; Latinlignum vitae), spoken of in Genesis, is closely related to the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Together they form the world tree, which is told about in the mythology of many peoples. In the language of the Elohim, which they had already developed on the Old Sun, the tree of life is the etheric body of man, while the tree of knowledge means the physical body (Lit.:GA 253, p. 58ff). In a handwritten note by Marie Steiner it says: "Tree of life means God-revealed wisdom." (Lit.:GA 265, p. 342) Specifically, the tree of life comprises the two highest ethers, the sound ether and the life ether. As a result of the Fall, man was deprived of the dominion over these two etheric species. Through the Christ, who is "the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6) and was sent into the world as Redeemer, access to the tree of life and its fruits is reopened to human beings.

An image for the tree of life is also the Sefirot tree of the Kabbalah. The tree of life also represents the forces that regenerate the human organism every night during sleep and thereby largely heal the damage caused by the waking daytime consciousness. This work is done by those spiritual beings who are called Laj'lah (Hebrewלילה "night") in Genesis. They are Spirits of Personality retarded in their development on the Old Saturnian stage, who served the Elohim as Spirits of Darkness or Spirits of Night during the Six Days of Creation.

„This breaking down of our physical body, which we have today during the day awakening, was not allowed to be present during the Old Saturnian existence. If this had already been present during the Old Saturnian existence, then the first structure of our physical body would never have been able to form at all. For of course one cannot form anything if one begins to destroy. Saturn's activity on our body had to be a constructive one. This was ensured during Saturn's existence. The processes of destruction in our body take place precisely during the day, during the influence of the light; but the light was not yet present during the old Saturnian existence. Thus Saturn's activity for our physical body was a constructive one [...]

We must therefore hold that when we consider our present existence, we must regard this interplay, so to speak, of solar light-power and Saturnian dark-power as a necessity of our existence. When, therefore, the Elohim, through the weaving of the light-power, through that work which is done on us human beings or on the beings of the Earth in general during the influence of the light, appointed the Spirits of Personality as their sub-beings, they had to add to them as comrades the Saturnian beings who had remained behind. They had to weave together the whole work of the Universe from the correctly advanced and the retarded Archai. The retarded Archai work in darkness. Therefore the Elohim, trivially speaking, do not merely employ the beings designated by jom, but they oppose them with those who work in the darkness. And it is said, therefore, with wonderfully realistic description of the facts: And the Elohim, they called that which waved as spirits in the light, Jom, day; but that which waved in the darkness they called Lailah. - And this is not our abstract night, these are the Saturnian Archai, which at that time had not advanced to the solar stage, and these are also those who are still active in us today during night sleep, working on our physical and etheric bodies as constructive forces.“ (Lit.:GA 122, p. 101f)

In the life between death and a new birth, on the other hand, the next earthly incarnation is consciously prepared with these night forces.

„There, where it is said with reference to the life in paradise: The divine spirit decided that man, after he has acquired this or that, for example, the ability to judge good and evil, should not also receive an insight into the forces of life. - There is a passage in the Bible where it is pointed out that man should not witness the revival of his being during sleep, and should not witness the revival of his being during his physical existence on earth. He should not be a witness to it. And when the human being wakes up, the whole process of life is actually a process of destruction, a process of wear and tear [...]

This becomes different in the life between death and the new birth. This whole life between death and the new birth is destined to bring into the human being the forces which can serve to build up the next life, to suck these forces, so to speak, into the human being from the whole starry world. But in this process it is not as it is on Earth that one does not, so to speak, know oneself as a human being. For on Earth one does not know oneself. What does man know of the processes that take place in his organism? He knows nothing of it through direct observation; and what is gained through anatomy, biology and so on, is not real knowledge of the human being, but something quite different. But in the life between death and new birth, man looks at how the forces from the starry world act on him, on his beingness, how they gradually build him up again.“ (Lit.:GA 141, p. 73)

„This tree of life and this tree of knowledge must have something to do with the human being itself. The prohibition against eating from the tree of knowledge means - you will find this out in the end - that the soul of man should not seek knowledge that clings to the physical body; the present sensual conception arose from this. To "eat of the tree of knowledge" means to unite with the physical body in such a way that the present kind of knowledge - and I described it the other day - brought about by Lucifer, came into being. So the Elohim meant something about the human being itself when they spoke of the tree of knowledge. And again, they must mean something about the human being itself when they speak of the tree of life. One must ask oneself: Yes, how does man see as he sees today? How does he perceive in this way? Because his spiritual-soul, saturated with Lucifer's essence, is embedded in the physical body and eats away at it. This was not determined from the outset, that the soul should be embedded in the physical body as it is now. This physical body is the tree of knowledge, and the tree of life is the etheric body. Men, having allowed themselves to be seduced by Lucifer into using their physical body for the knowledge to which we are accustomed, should at least not now also have knowledge through the etheric body. This is denied them.

If one really thinks, my dear friends, one can come to such trains of thought. And then one must ask oneself: Why then do the gods call the physical body the tree of knowledge in their language? Why do they speak of a tree? And why do they call the etheric body the tree of life? Why do they speak of trees?

Now, one can easily understand what is meant in the language of the gods, if one considers that the gods of whom we are speaking had their special evolution during the Solar Time, that is, that they absorbed something essential precisely from the Solar Being. Now consider: Old Saturnian time - everything stands on the standpoint of the mineral; old solar time - everything stands on the standpoint of the vegetable. If, then, the gods whom we call the Elohim have acquired the character of their language during the Solar Time, they will, when they speak out, not speak of that which can only be experienced on the Moon and on the Earth, but of that into which the cosmos has developed up to the Solar Time, namely, the vegetable. That is why, when they speak in their language, they speak of trees, because they speak in the language of the Sun.“ (Lit.:GA 253, p. 60f)

Through the Fall, Adam was thus deprived of part of the powers of his etheric body; after he had eaten of the tree of knowledge, he was not to taste of the tree of life as well. The Luciferic influence also extended its effects into the astral body of this main couple, Adam and Eve, so that it was impossible to let all the powers that were in Adam and Eve also flow down through the blood of the descendants. The physical body had to be allowed to reproduce down through all the generations, but something of the etheric body was retained in the leadership of humanity.

Adam was now transferred much more deeply into earthly materiality than had previously been the case. Only now did the time begin when man could incarnate into the solid earth element, into that crystalline earth element which had only come into being through the exit of the Moon. This deeper embodiment was possible because the coarsest, most brittle substances had left the Earth with the Moon. But now the time begins from which the human being begins to develop his independent self, which before was still entirely enclosed in the bosom of the spiritual world.

A part of the powers of the etheric body was thus taken from Adam and consequently did not pass on to his descendants. This part, as Rudolf Steiner puts it, was kept in the great Mother Lodge of humanity. The innocent part of the Adam soul, as it were the innocent heavenly sister soul of the earthly Adam, was later, much later, incorporated into the Nathanian Jesus boy as a "provisional I", as Rudolf Steiner says. The part of the progenitor of humanity that remained free from the Luciferic powers, the old Adam, was now reborn as the new Adam in the Nathanian Jesus child. Rudolf Steiner is right to speak here of a provisional I, for at first there can be no question of an actual human I, since this innocent sister soul of the earthly Adam had never been incarnated in earthly circumstances before the turn of time, but the development of the human I is not possible without an earthly incarnation.

„Men have enjoyed of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that is, what came from the Luciferic influence; but it was also said: Now we must deprive them of the possibility of also enjoying of the tree of life! That is to say, a certain sum of powers of the etheric body was retained. These did not flow down to the descendants. So there was a certain sum of powers in Adam that were taken from him after the Fall. This still innocent part of Adam was kept in the great Mother Lodge of humanity, was nurtured and cared for there. This was, so to speak, the Adam soul, which was not yet touched by human guilt, which was not yet entangled in that which caused human beings to fall. These primal forces of the Adam individuality were preserved. They were there, and they were now conducted as a "provisional I" to where the child was born to Joseph and Mary, and in the first years this child Jesus had within him the power of the original progenitor of earth-manhood.“ (Lit.:GA 114, p. 89)


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
Email: URL:
Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.