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I've noticed references to the Kabbalah in a couple of anime I've watched. One of them is Fullmetal Alchemist.

Fullmetal Alchemist has the Tree of Life on the Gate:

Tree of Life

So, my question is, Is there any deeper meaning to the use of the Kabbalistic tree of life, or is it just used because it looks cool?

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    The fact that this engraving with the Tree of Life only appears to Ed may also be noteworthy. As can be read here, the gate's appearance differs from character to character, and only Ed sees the Sephirothic Tree of Life. – JNat Aug 13 '13 at 18:34
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The Tree of Life is one of the most important symbolism in western alchemy.

The spiritual nature was especially highlighted among early practitioners of alchemy, but I would say that it was more Hermetic occultism than religious Judaism/Christianity. (Therefore, some people might spell it Qabalah rather than Kabbalah.)

The 10 emanations/attributes and the paths in the Tree were associated with the alchemical metals, elements, and planets that govern the alchemical process. The image below shows the tree with astrological planetary symbols associated. In alchemy, these planets were associated with various metals and elements. Therefore, an emanation might correspond to the sun and hence gold, and so on.

The Tree of Life associated with planet

Therefore, it is only natural that it would make an appearance in an anime about alchemists.

For reference, you can find a giant essay here, although I haven't gone through all of it: "Secret Fire: The Relationship Between Kundalini, Kabbalah, and Alchemy"

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(Originally split from this answer)

The actual mythology of the show involving alchemy has a closer tie to religious symbolism than something like Evangelion (which was mainly to look cool). Within the Full Metal Alchemist show, historical in-universe events are tied to real world symbolism, like the Tree of Life, The Flamel (named after the real-life French alchemist), the Homunculi and the seven deadly sins, etc.

There's been several analysis of the religious symbolism in FMA:

Unlike with Evangelion, I don't know of any statements made by the staff to address the use of religious symbolism in the show, but I think it's pretty clear that it's more internally consistent than simply to look cool.

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In Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, two gates were shown instead of just one as in the original. Both of the gates have pictures of a tree on them. As you have already said, one of them is the tree of life.

To uncover the identity of the other gate, we have to bring to light the book of Genesis, which is where I personally believe the two gates originated from.

If you are familiar with the story of creation, you know that Adam and Eve lived happily in a garden where only one law existed. This law was simply not to eat the fruit which grew from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve were told that disobedience would lead to death.

We later realize that you would not actually stop breathing and became a cold lifeless shell, but instead, this death refers to dying to the flesh. Dying to the flesh means surrendering your life to your deadliest desires and choosing to never obtain fulfillment. Pretty dismal, right? Anyway, Adam and Eve decided to rebel and eat the fruit after being promised by the devil that such consumption would unfold the truth and enable them to understand the ways of God.

Back to the universe of Fullmetal Alchemist, alchemy was a powerful science that brought happiness to both those using its powers for good and those receiving aid from alchemists. A rule was given with this great gift: do not perform human transmutation. Ed and Al had repeatedly heard that death followed after a human transmutation.

Against better judgment, the two brothers gave into their deadliest desire to have their deceased mother be by their sides once again. Immediately following the human transmutation, Ed and Al passed through a gate with picture of a tree where they uncovered truth, both good and evil knowledge that governed alchemy and even the world itself. Because of the boys' disobedience, Al lost his entire body and could not be entirely happy or fulfilled without it. He died to the flesh... LITERALLY!

For these reasons, I am led to believe that the tree on the gate resembles Adam and Eve's tree of knowledge of good and evil found in the Bible.

  • I'm unsure about this explanation. Where do Ed and Al hear that "death followed after a human transmutation"? I only recall it being stated numerous times that it was forbidden; the cost of the transmutation appears to not have been made apparent until later in the manga. – Maroon Sep 27 '16 at 4:16
  • Note also that it is only Alphonse who loses his body; Ed and Izumi do not. Also, is there a precedent for this interpretation of Genesis? I would associate "surrendering your life to your deadliest desires and choosing to never obtain fulfillment" with dying spiritually, not "to the flesh". It is true that Eve and Adam do not die right after they consume the fruit, but I always assumed that (God perhaps being merciful to them) it meant that they would die later. (I also don't know if these concepts "translate" to Japanese or from classical Hebrew, but perhaps that's a lesser problem.) – Maroon Sep 27 '16 at 4:26

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