Aerial Tree

Aerial Tree

The tree, at first, seems to rank beside the other plant symbols. By flowering, fruiting, and shedding its leaves it invites reveries of dramatic growth. But cyclical optimism is reinforced in the archetype of the tree, for the tree’s verticality irreversibly orients the process of change and humanizes it by making it comparable with the vertical stance of humankind.


The image of the tree makes us pass imperceptibly from a cyclical to a progressive reverie. There is a whole Messianism underlying the symbolism of foliation, and any budding or flowering tree is tree of Jesse. So obvious is this verticalism that Bachelard classifies the tree among ascensional images and devotes a chapter to the aerial tree.


Nevertheless, at this point we will demonstrate that the archetypal intention of the tree is merely a complement of its cyclical symbolism, simplified because only the ascendant stage of the cyclical rhythm is preserved.


First of all the tree is isotopic with the agro-lunar symbol. It therefore carries the same symbolic associations as the ophidian symbols mentioned previously. The tree is associated with fertilizing waters, and it is the tree of life. The aquatic plant, the lotus rhizome covered with flowers, becomes arborescent on the columns of Luxor, and the giant lotiform representations in Gupta art. In Semitic legends the tree of life is in the sea or near a stream.

首先,樹木跟土壤及月亮的象徵相同,因此它跟前面所提到的蛇的象徵有相同的聯想。樹跟肥沃的水聯想在一起,而成生命之樹。水生植物的蓮花根莖花葉繁茂,因此被用來當Luxor 堂殿的緣飾,以及在Gupta藝術中,充當巨大激流的表徵。在閃族傳說中,生命之樹處於大海或靠近溪流。

Przyluski thinks that technology caused an evolution from tree to grain worship, with flower worship as an intermediary state. This evolution probably took place when hunting cultures were becoming sedentary and agricultural, with the result that tree worship was transformed into the worship of fermented drinks and wheat.


Accordingly, the dramatization of tree symbolism was more explicit for agricultural cults, and for wheat and corn civilizations. In our opinion however, there has been a divergence of two meanings for the plant symbol, rather than a real evolution.


The notion of progressive evolution, used by Pzyluski to explain the movement from the symbolism of the tree to that of the cycle, appears to be derived from, and subordinate to, the archetype of the tree. The cult of the lunar cycle and its plant corollary would seem to be as old as the cult of the tree.


Furthermore, as we have seen, xylic symbolism is not only derived from primitive technologies of construction which transform the tree into a beam or a column. It is also the technical means by which, when wood becomes a lighter and the tree a cross, xylic symbolism is transmuted into the creative ritual of fire.


Continuity in the evolution of the tree archetype does not happen in the rational sense that Przyluski believes, his reasoning being that many civilizations seem to have been nomadic before adopting a sedentary way of life. It happens in a completely contingent sense, motivated by the discovery of fire and the means of producing fire.


Possibly the tree, in so far as it is a plant, prepared the way for plant worship. But certainly, in its capacity as wood used for producing and maintaining fire, the tree was immediately annexed by the great schema of rhythmic friction.



Anthropological Structures of the Imaginary

By Gilbert Durand

Translated by Springhero 雄伯

Aerial Tree 330


Through its verticality, the cosmic tree is humanized. It becomes the symbol of man as vertical microcosm, and Bachelard shows this in an analysis of one of Rilke’s poems.



The Baghavad-Gita also assimilates the tree to man’s destiny, the cosmic tree in this case being integrated with a technique for detachment from cosmic life, symbolized by the counsel to cut off the tree at its root In another passage the tree is really the psycho-physiological totality of human individuality: its trunk is intelligence, its inner cavities sensitive nerves, its branches sense-impressions, its fruits and flowers good and bad actions.



The humanization of the tree could also be studied in iconography: for if the tree becomes a column, the column in its turn becomes a statue, and any human figure sculpted in stone or wood is a reverse metamorphosis. We noted that the transforming role of the plant kingdom is in many cases to extend or suggest the extension of human life.



The “ circuit” between the plant and the human is facilitated by verticalism because its vector further reinforces images of resurrection and triumph. Descartes compares the totality of human knowledge to a tree, and Bachelard asserts that “ the imagination is a tree.”



Thus nothing enhances the spiritual or temporal destiny of man more than to be compared to an ancient tree, over which time has no hold and for which aging only heightens the majesty of its foliage and the beauty of its flowering.



It is therefore not surprising to observe that the image of the tree always induces a kind of Messianism, what could be called the “ Jesse complex”. All imaginary progression is arborescent.



The myth of the three trees, as it appears in certain apocryphal gospels and apocalypses, is merely a doublet of the myth of the three ages. On his way to Paradise to implore the redemption of his father, Seth is visited by a triple vision: first he sees a withered tree above a river, the second time a serpent is coiled around a trunk the third time the tree reaches to the sky bearing a new-born child in its branches.



The angel gives Seth three seeds from the fruit and the fatal tree of which his parents are, and from these three seeds germinate the three trees which, later, will be used to make the cross of torture. This myth has distant repercussions in all the Landscapes with Three Trees, from the beautiful etching by Rembrandt to the fine washdrawing of Victor Hugo.



What is important is that the tree is mythically associated with three progressively linked stages which symbolize the Messianic history of the Jewish nation, rather than the cycle. For these imaginary reasons, progressive evolution is always represented by the branching tree, whether it be the genealogical trees of historians or the evolutionary biologists’ majestic tree depicting the evolution of the species.




Anthropological Structures of the Imaginary

By Gilbert Durand

Translated by Springhero 雄伯


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