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.

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Jerusalem: rebirth from the mother city

Mapa Jeruzaléma, 12th Century. US Public Domain.
Mapa Jeruzaléma, 12th Century. US Public Domain.
Carl Jung tells us that “this longing for the mother is amply expressed in the literature of the Bible” (ibid). One such instance of the divine mother in the Bible is Jerusalem as sacred mother city. Heavenly Jerusalem “is the mother of us all” (Galatians 4:27).

The city, in general, is often as “a maternal symbol,… a woman who harbours the inhabitants in herself like children” (para 303). In the Biblical language of the Old Testament the “cities of Jerusalem, Babylon, etc are treated “just as if they were women” (ibid). The heavenly city Jerusalem is not only mother image, but divine mother, mother in whom we may be reborn of spirit. Jung sites Galatians 4:27:

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The mystics find in their heart the image of the sun

Saint Augustin by Philippe de Champaigne--1645-1650. US public domain via wikicommons.
Saint Augustin by Philippe de Champaigne–1645-1650. US public domain via wikicommons.
In the second section of Symbols of Transformation, Carl Jung is taking us into the life of the mystic: a path of soul and of divine heart. Jung speaks of “the teachings of the mystics,” he says:

“when they [the mystics] descend into the depths of their own being they find ‘in their heart’ the image of the sun, they find their own life-force which they call the ‘sun’ for a legitimate and, I would say, a physical reason because our source of energy and life actually is the sun. Our physiological life, regarded as an energy process, is entirely solar” (para. 176).

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The Gift of Love

Gentile Da Fabriano- The Annunciation- circa 1425, currently at held at the Pinacoteca Vaticana, via wikimedia US public domain.
Gentile Da Fabriano- The Annunciation- circa 1425, currently at held at the Pinacoteca Vaticana, via wikimedia US public domain.

Life energy moves through all living things. A seed sprouts, growing and becoming a tree, blossoming and bearing fruit. As long as the tree is healthy and without disease its life energy will follow a path. This is not a scientific declaration, but a poetic one: energy creates transformations in form.

In human terms, we call this energy ‘libido.’ The potential transformations of our energy are shaped by ‘libidinal’ desire: our instincts animate us, drive us. Our desire moves us to seek an object; in pure form libido moves us to seek out an other, not as object but subject.

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Divine Child: symbol of the soul’s fulfillment

German nativity scene with depiction of Trinity (God the Father and dove of Holy Spirit accompanying the Christ child and Madonna- C. 15th Century. guenther-rarebooks.com. US public domain via wikimedia.
German nativity scene with depiction of Trinity (God the Father and dove of Holy Spirit accompanying the Christ child and Madonna- C. 15th Century. guenther-rarebooks.com. US public domain via wikimedia.

We are in deep winter: days short, nights long. Father sun seems so far away, mother earth lonely. All the creatures mourn in winter. They burrow in their little holes and mourn the lost days of sun. Mother nature proffers so little in winter. The animals seem to know that. They go within and await her spring, her bosom, her blossom. All the world will rejoice when light and earth rejoin in their holy union. It is then, that life will burst forth in divine celebration. The animals frolic, make love, build their little nests, hatch their eggs– life is born of union.

But we, us human souls, are on another cycle. While our bodies may follow such creaturely cycles, seeking union in bodily form, our souls follow a different cycle entirely. In the depths of winter the divine child is born. On the darkest of days we celebrate the birth of the divine child.

What is the divine? How might we know it? Carl Jung provides a unique perspective. The divine is a divine couple: mother and father of souls.  In Symbols of Transformation, Jung speaks to the soul, leading us on a path of soul. This is not your normal everyday path. God is not some distant icon, some idealized figure in the sky. This is a phenomenological path: the soul comes into form insofar as it lives and knows. This is Gnosis. And what are we to know? Many things, but first we shall start with our divine parents.

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