The central quabalistic diagram on which are placed the ten sephiroth when it is called the world tree, it represents the psychic axis between this world and the other world, the bridge used by shamans and astral travelers to enter the Otherworld.
Our ancient ancestors knew that a seed must be buried in the earth in order for a plant to grow. If the seed were kept in a pouch it produced nothing. Therefore, to the primitive mind, the power to create a plant did not dwell in the seed but in the earth. There was seemingly something beneath the ground that generated life.
For our ancestors the underworld was a place of great mystery, life sprang forth from beneath the ground in a variety of forms. To the primitive mind it must have also appeared that something beneath the ground produced such creatures as the snake, weasel, badger and other animals that live in burrows.
The sun and moon appeared to arise from beneath the ground and return again each day/night. This perspective added to the belief that deep in the ground another world existed and so this mysterious realm came to be called the Underworld. Trees, with their massive roots extending deep into the ground, were thought to penetrate into the dark kingdom below, therefore the tree itself must know the mysteries hidden deep within the netherworld.
It is common knowledge that our European ancestor once worshipped or highly venerated trees. Some trees were believed to house various deities and spirits. Tales of holy trees abound in European lore. The oak, ash and hawthorn trees nature predominated in such lore. Other sacred trees include the rowan, birch, elder, willow, walnut and many others. Throughout Europe sacred groves were established and dedicated to various gods and goddesses.
Birds (messengers of the gods in ancient belief) descended and landed on tree branches. Some of the earliest carving of deities are bird figures and these later evolve into bird-headed humanoid figures. This prehistoric theme survived among the Egyptian deity forms, many of which possessed the head of a bird. Horus the hawk-headed and Thoth the ibis-headed are but two clear examples.
Just as the tree reached down into the Underworld and upward to touch the Overworld, It also stood firmly in the Middleworld of humankind. In this world was its trunk, and in many folktales a hollow at the base of the tree was a doorway into the faery realm or the Otherworld. In European lore trees stood as both doorways to hidden realms and as guardians to the entrance, their roots granted access to the underworld as a pathway, just as the branches allowed spiritual access to the Overworld. Traditionally the hawthorn tree was said to guard access to the portal pillar trees, which were the ash and oak. Together they formed the triple imagery symbolism of the woodland mysteries.
Tree branches were considered magical and were taken from the trees as staves. In later times wands were carved from the branches for ritual and magical service. Trees were once intimately connected specific deities represented by a sacred tree. To carry a scared branch was to declare oneself as intermediary of the deity or to be in some type of service to a specific god or goddess. The latter implied that one was also under the protection of his or her deity.
In Aegean/Mediterranean lore the “golden bough” allowed safe passage into the Underworld and in northern European lore the “silver bough allowed access to the Faery Realm. The mythical Odin hung on a tree and obtained enlightenment as well as the ability to foretell the future though the system of runic symbols. In European legend “slain-god” figures were bound to trees in a willing sacrifice. Even the sacrificial figure known as Jesus Christ technically died on a tree as well.
Slain-gods are intimately connected to the earth and the underworld. Slain-gods are typically buried in the soil or in a cave so as to return their power and fertility back to the land. In this sense they enter the Underworld and bring a renewed spirit back into the world of the living with the approach of spring. Standing stones or rings of stones frequently mark the sacred grounds associated with the slain-god Mythos. Such things as ancient standing stones, stone altars, decorated cave entrances and the sacredness of fire indicate older connections between this world and the next. As such they form a unified symbolism as the meeting point between the worlds. ~ Witchcraft (A Mystery tradition) by Raven Grimassi