For many years I've made "tree of life" images. I'm not sure where I got the image from originally, but the Tree, and images of women with roots and branches, have been an inner iconography for as long as I can remember. In early lithographs I made often a woman within the Tree, or the Tree was a backdrop to everything else in the painting (not unlike the Web motif I also became fascinated by in my later "Spider Woman" Project). In my 1993 "Lovers" card from my Rainbow Bridge Oracle, or the 1986 lithograph below I called "Axis Mundi". The "Tree" is ubiquitious for me, and it's taken me a while to notice that.
The large painting I called "Gaia" (1986) for my MFA program (it was 9 feet long) showed the Goddess as a Trinity, and the barren Tree behind them. I only was able to show that painting once, and it was destroyed eventually. Large paintings don't last very long I'm afraid, especially when they come off the frame. That painting is still important to me, especially the confrontational gaze of the Trinity: I wanted them to confront the viewer with the loss, destruction and disrespect our civilization has wrought on the Tree of Life.
Which was also Asherah, the Great Mother. The Great Mother who was banished from the Bible and banished from what became the religious underpinnings of western civilization as the Patriarchs of Jerusalem erased the Feminine to create the first monotheistic religion (that we know of). Yawah became the sole God, male and "a jealous God who would have no other". The Goddesses, along with sundry other regional Gods, became "the great abomination" to those who were the "Chosen" of Yaweh. Later this concept evolved into Christianity and Islam. And the Goddess continued to be written out of religion, although She kept making Her appearance here and there. It is not easy to completely eliminate the divinity of half the human race, although the his-story of Western religion demonstrates a long and continuing effort, sometimes by negation, as in turning Asherah into "abomination", or sometimes by mythological co-option. It is interesting, for example, that the ancient and ubiquitous Trinity, the 3-part Goddess such as Persephone/Demeter/Hecate, which represented the cycles of nature as embodied withing the Great Mother, was later absorbed into Christianity as the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. In fact, this Trinity may be very ancient indeed, and may also even preceed the Hindu Brahma/Vishnu/Shiva Trinity (Creator/Sustainer/Destroyer).
A whole lot of co-option and re-mything goes on as religions evolve! Especially, it seems, if theologians are determined to get rid of the Goddess all together.
As I began to explore clay sculpture and leather sculpture later in life, I found myself fascinated with torsos that became the Goddess, emerging from the trees, sustaining, the Mother within the Tree, breasts and belly.
So, the Mother who was a Tree called to me, as I believe She has called to many. As the great evolutionary Crisis of our time - ecological destruction and the possibilities of nuclear war - have arrived, so must the Great Mother arise from the depths of humanity's collective unconscious and it's layered Mythos.
Her time has come, and She is speaking, loud and clear.
It was a few years back that I finally learned about Asherah, the ancient Canaanite and early Hebrew Goddess associated with pre-monotheistic Judaism. She likely has much earlier origins as well. As Asherah was often represented as a tree, the ubiquitous "Asherah poles" (ashirim) associated with Her worship in early (pre-monotheistic) tribal Judaism were possibly made of wood, and possibly they were taken from sacred trees dedicated to Asherah, as there is Biblical mention of groves. These (presumably wooden) icons may have been household icons dedicated to Asherah, and were believed to invoke prosperity and fertility. Asherah is sometimes referred to as the "wife of Yahweh", whose name became something that could not be uttered, only represented as "the Lord". The Asherah poles, and eventually the name of Asherah itself, were banned from worship as Judaism became monotheistic and established the sole deity as male.
Interestingly, with the early advent of Gnostic Christianity, Asherah is perhaps re-born in the form of Sophia, the feminine face of deity, often called the "mother" and sometimes also called the "wife" of Yaweh. The emblem for Sophia was often a dove.
I never would have associated the Tree of Life archetype, which has been a part of my artistic and spiritual vocabulary for more years than I remember, with Asherah had I not had a kind of visionary experience during a healing session in the early Fall of 2017 with an alternative healer.
Not unlike Reiki practitioners she worked with me for over an hour, helping me to enter into an altered state of consciousness. As I closed my eyes, the session began with a vivid inner appearance of a white dove. But it was not a literal kind of bird, it was more like a sacred emblem or symbol, what one might see in a church. I immediately thought of the "Dove of Sophia", which is of course associated with Peace to this day. And Sophia, like Asherah, was eventually removed from monotheistic theology.
The healer, after the session was over, told me that she saw a Goddess form present during the healing. The healer, who was not much familiar with Goddess archetypes, said that the name she got was "Ashara". She also mentioned that somehow trees or wood were associated. I couldn't think of what that meant at the time, not until I later looked it up on the Internet. And then (of course!) I discovered the Hebrew Goddess "Asherah".
At that time, I felt this had to do with my passage into old age. Rites of passage, in my experience, are never easy or comfortable, cozy or predictable. They are thresholds. I like to think I was given a Blessing as I entered into the last part of my life. I reflect as well that at that time I was working to heal and release old wounds, familial wounds that were arising for examination.
It occurs to me now as then that it is not possible to talk of healing the wounds that are "personal" without seeing that they are also interwoven with what is universal. Familial abuse is about social abuse as well as including the long reach of ancestors, going back, and going forward. Roots.
And beyond that....... the Tree of Life, the roots beneath, the leaves above. All things woven.
Visions, like dreams, have multiple layers of meaning, and like dreams, exist outside of time. In my experience Spirit communicates in visionary, symbolic, mythic ways. As always, I am grateful to be graced at any time in my life with these Visitations of the transcendant and ineffable.
|Asherah, detail from an ivory box from Mīna al-Bayḍā near Ras Shamra|
(Ugarit), Syria, c. 1300 BCE; in the Louvre, Paris