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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