the tragedy of suspension

November 21, 2020

The symbolism of the suspended god on the tree, the gallows, and the cross is very profound. Such a fate normally overtakes that part of the Divinity most interested in man; the philanthropic part of the Godhead falls into the tragedy of suspension and has to do with the bringing of civilization — as in the Wotan myth, where after suspension on the tree Wotan discovers the runes, an implication of a progress in human consciousness. We have first to go into the symbolism of the tree. In “The Philosophical Tree” in Alchemical Studies, Jung shows that the tree symbolizes human life and development and the inner process of becoming conscious. One could say that it symbolizes in the psyche that something which grows and develops undisturbed within us, irrespective of what the ego does; it is the urge toward individuation which unfolds and continues, independent of our consciousness. In European countries when a child is born a tree is planted at the same time and will die when the human dies. This expresses the idea that the tree provides an analogy to human life, that the tree carries life, like the lights on the Christmas tree, and that the sun rising at the top of the tree implies growth toward higher consciousness. There are many mythological stories which liken the tree to the human being, or in which the tree appears as a man-tree. The Self is the tree — that which is greater than the ego in man.

There are several, especially German, fairy tales which represent the evil spirit nailed to a tree or wall. Or the two people might in the same way allude to Christ suspended on the cross and Wotan on the tree, the good god suspended on the cross and the other god on the tree. This is not too far-fetched, because the motif of the two divine beings nailed to the tree or the cross occurs in many Christian legends and in the legends of the Arthurian circles and the circle of the Holy Grail, where Perceval has to find not only the Grail containing Christ’s blood but also the stag, or stag’s head, nailed to an oak tree, from which he has to take it down. In the main legend he does not forget and he finds the Grail before finding the stag’s head and brings it to a divine female figure; or the stag is represented as an evildoer, a destroyer of the woods and Christ’s shadow. The stag with its beautiful antlers, an unnecessary decoration which hampers its movements and whose object is to impress the female deer, suggests the idea of an arrogant creature and therefore represents the shadow of the Christian principle, an incredible arrogance and superciliousness which we have acquired and which seems one of the worst shadow attitudes spread with the Christian teaching.

Marie-Louise von Franz
Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales

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