Theotokos: Paradox of the Tree of Death & Life

 Berthold Furtmeyr, Mediaval miniature by Berthold Furtmeyer: Baum des Todes und des Lebens, Tree of death and life- 1481
Berthold Furtmeyer: Baum des Todes und des Lebens, Tree of Death and Life– c. 1481. US public domain via wikimedia

There is a archetypal relation between the God, Self, and trees.

Jung calls the tree of life a “mother symbol” (CW 5, para 321). In the image above, we see Furtmeyer’s Tree of Death and Life. This image represents the paradox inherent in the tree as mother symbol. Anne Baring describes the scene of the image:

“The faces of the two women are identical, and their heads incline away from the central point of the tree in antithetical relationship: Eve, predictably naked, offering to humanity the apple of death, which she is passing on from the serpent; and Mary, predictably clothed, offering the redeeming apple of life. The position of the serpent arising from the not-to-be seen phallus of Adam is presumably less than coincidental. On Eve’s side of the tree lies the grinning skull, while Death waits for her on the right, and on Mary’s side of the tree – the Life side – the cross with the crucified Christ poised as on a branch, himself the fruit of her miraculously intact womb.”

This image is especially significant in that it is not only a “mother symbol”, but shows the profound paradox within the mother image. We here see a duality in the archetypal Mother. Here is Eve as the mother of our fallen state and here is Mary as the mother of redemption. Eve offers the fruit of death; Mary offers the fruit of redemption.

The fruit of redemption is Christ. Carl Jung understands that Christ is an image of the Self. Christ is an image of a re-birth into symbolic life, into life oriented toward Self. Jung says:

“Christ’s redemptive death on the cross was understood as a “baptism,” that is to say, as rebirth through the second mother, symbolized by the tree of death… The dual-mother motif suggests the idea of a dual birth. One of the mothers is the real, human mother, the other is the symbolical mother” (CW 5 para 494-495, emphasis added).


The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image By Anne Baring, Jules Cashford

Symbols of Transformation (CW5) by Carl G. Jung (in US Pubic Domain, first published 1912)


4 thoughts on “Theotokos: Paradox of the Tree of Death & Life

  1. What a sweet post for Uncle Tree to see today — of all days. 🙂
    Thank you, Mother (Jenna)! I’ve been a good
    stick in the mud lately.
    Truly, UT

  2. Remarkable post… I have posting about the apple (of discord) in greek myths and found that the symbols are similar and might be associated with a hidden unconscious collective pattern.
    Thanks for sharing, best regards, Aquileana 😀

    1. Thank you Aquileana for the comment and for letting me know about your blog.

      I found my way to the post on the ‘Golden Apple of Discord.’ In the myth, the ‘immortality-giving golden apples’ are a gift from Gaia (archetypal mother). In the myth, there is also a protective dragon in the garden (image of the terrible mother).

      It seems, immorality is discovered in the garden of the mother, of Gaia. And yet, the desire for this immorality can provoke discord (as the goddess of discord- Eris) and vanity (as the competition to be the the Fairest).

      It would be interesting to think this myth through in relation to the apple of Eden, and the fall of mankind… possibly from the perspective of vanity.

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