The Human Side of Trees

Diane Wirth has an interesting article at the Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum (, “Cutting Down a Tree: a Metaphor for Death in Scripture and Mesoamerica.” It draws some connections between the symbolism of trees in Mesoamerica with those of the Old World, especially the Near East. This is a meaningful topic in the Book of Mormon also, where we have, for example, the profound imagery of the olive tree/vineyard in Jacob 5, the imagery of the tree of life in Lehi’s vision and elsewhere, and other instances of tree-related symbolism.

After reading Diane’s article, I suggest reading further about the ancient concept of the Axis Mundi or Cosmic Tree. Wikipedia could be a place to start. (You may also see many concepts that link the LDS temple firmly to its ancient roots.)

One of Diane Wirth’s points is that in the Old World and in Mesoamerica, there was a tendency to invoke trees as symbols of humans and divine beings. This reminds me of something right here in Shanghai.

 In the midst of the tallest buildings in Shanghai, near the center of the town, lies an unexpectedly serene and generally overlooked park with one of Shanghai’s most intriguing mysteries. Lujiazui Park is a beautiful but small park, offset against the towers on all sides. But within its borders lies the mystery of two unusual figures, rising and hovering over the city, sculpted by an artist who I understand to be a Christian. These angels begin as trees rising from the earth, and then transform into feminine angels watching over and nurturing the inhabitants below.

Angels? Sculpted by a Christian, in a public park in a Communist nation founded firmly on atheism?

Angels are not only a symbol from Christianity or Judaism. They play a role in numerous cultures and beliefs, and even for a formally atheistic society, I believe the Party leaders here recognized that angels of this kind can be widely appreciated symbol of protection and favor of China, be it heavenly favor, cosmic, spiritual, or whatever. Yes, there can be a touch of mysticism and cosmic imagination here without subverting official policies. And for those of us who wish to see further dimensions to the art, I welcome the concept of heavenly favor of China. May real angels watch over this grand nation and its peoples!

Author: Jeff Lindsay

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