Jungian Therapy, the Self & the Christmas Tree
Who would think that the familiar Christmas tree is an ancient symbol of the Self, in the way that Jungian therapy uses that term? Yet the evidence shows that Jungian therapy is correct about this.
The symbol of the Christmas tree is quite unusual. For one thing, it’s quite unclear how it fits with traditional Christian narrative about Christmas.
Jung on the Christmas Tree
Jung whets our appetite with some striking commentary:
…Everyone decorates Christmas trees or hides Easter eggs without ever knowing what these customs mean. The fact is that archetypal images are so packed with meaning in themselves that people never think of asking what they really do mean…. What the Christmas-tree might be, our forefathers knew even less than ourselves, and it is only quite recently that we have bothered to find out at all. The archetype…causes man to utter words and perform actions whose meaning is unconscious…
Christmas Tree as World Trees,
The unusual tree in our living rooms at Christmas actually represents the “World Tree”, the tree containing the universe in many mythological traditions. In particular, this tree is really the Yggdrasil from Nordic mythology of the pre-Christian era. In Nordic myth, the universe is formed of nine independent worlds, each part of the great Yggdrasil — a vast “Forest Ash” or yew tree, growing in Ginnungagap (“the great emptiness”).
Roots: the 3 Legged Christmas Tree Stand
Traditional Christmas tree stands had 3 legs. This isn’t accidental: in Nordic myth, the Yggdrasil tree had 3 roots, associated with the three Norns, the Nordic goddesses of fate, and with past, present and future. The threefold Christmas tree stand symbolizes the rootedness of the World Tree.
Tree Symbolizes the Self in Jungian Therapy
Jung thoroughly studied the tree as a symbol of the Self, which is to say, the whole of the personality. With roots in matter, in the earth, and branches in the sky, gaily coloured ball decorations which symbolize stars and planets, shiny tinsel garlands that represent the rainbows that connect together all the nine worlds of Yggdrasil, it is a marvellous symbol of the wholeness of psyche. As the poet Walt Whitman says, for all of us, “I am large, I contain worlds” And so each of us does in Jungian therapy.
Very best wishes for the holidays,
PHOTO: © All rights reserved by Forest Eyes
VIDEO: “Worlds’ Largest Tree”, by cannibal17
© 2011 Brian Collinson 2238 Constance Drive, Oakville, ON (near Mississauga)