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Zarathustra Seminars

[Carl Jung on the Spirituality of the Tree]

Mrs. Baumann: I thought it was very interesting that in the prehistoric mythology of the island of Crete, of which practically nothing is known, there is another example of a world-tree. In a picture on a gold seal ring called the “Ring of Nestor,” the tree is depicted in connection with scenes in the underworld.

The trunk of the tree and two large branches divide the picture into four scenes.

In the first, there are two butterflies and two chrysalises over the head of the Mother Goddess, and they seem to represent the souls of a man and a woman who are shown greeting each other with surprise.

In the lower part of the picture is a judgment scene, and the Mother Goddess is standing behind a table on which a griffin is seated, as the souls are brought before her by strange bird-headed beings.

Another point is, that in some of the graves, miniature scales made of gold have been found.

They are so small that they must be symbolic, and a butterfly is engraved on each of the golden discs which form the balance, so it looks as if the souls were weighed as butterflies, not as hearts as in Egypt.

The highest development of the Minoan civilization in Crete was contemporary with that of Egypt, its earliest beginnings dating as far back as 3000 B.C.

Prof Jung: That is a remarkable contribution to the tree and the butterfly symbolism.

You remember Nietzsche applies that symbol of the butterfly to himself-quite aptly, because nobody gets beyond the world, outside the field of gravity, where he might see the world as an apple, unless he has become a soul. One must be a sort of ghost to get to such distances.

To step out of the body and become the spirit or the soul itself, denotes a kind of ekstasis.

Now, we have a number of associations about that tree, and we should try to understand what it means practically when Nietzsche reaches the promontory, the end of his
world, the end of his consciousness, and meets there the tree.

You have heard that the tree is always the symbol of the end as well as of the beginning, of the state before man and the state after man.

Mr. Bash: Would the tree not be the symbol of the collectivum out of which man is differentiated and into which his elements dissolve?

Prof Jung: That is certainly so, and why is that collectivum symbolized by the tree?

Mrs. Sachs: The tree means vegetative life.

Prof Jung: Yes. It might be the snake or any other animal or the earth, but no, it is the tree, and the tree means something specific; that is a peculiar symbol.

It is the tree that nourishes all the stars and planets; and it is the tree out of which come the first parents, the primordial parents of humanity, and in which the last couple, also representing the whole of humanity, are buried.

That of course means that consciousness comes from the tree and dissolves into the tree again-the consciousness of human life.

And that surely points to the collective unconscious and to a collectivum.

So the tree stands for a particular kind of life of the collective unconscious, namely, vegetative life, as Mrs. Sachs rightly said.

Now what is the difference between the life of the plant and the life of the animal?

Miss Wolff: Two things. The plant is rooted to the spot and able to move in growth only, and then the respiratory system of the plant is different from that of the warm-blooded animals.

Prof Jung: Yes, a tree is unable to move in space except for the moment of growth, whereas the animal can move about. And all animals are parasites on plants, while the tree lives on the elements.

Or one can say that the plant is the kind of life which is nearest to the elements, a transition as it were, or the bridge, between the animal and inorganic nature. Carl Jung, Zarathustra Seminar, Pages 1432-1434.


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