The Transformative Power of Compassion: Decoding Berthold Furtmeyer’s Tree of Death and Life (1481)

In the vast tapestry of spiritual exploration, the symbol of the tree resounds across traditions, serving as a potent metaphor for our journey towards awakening. Its branches reaching towards the heavens and roots delving deep into the earth reflect a profound interconnectedness. Within this symbolic landscape, we discover the transformative power of compassion—a force that awakens consciousness, reveals the sacred nature of being, and invites us into a deeper understanding of our existence. Let us embark on a profound exploration of the relationship between compassion and awakening, as we delve into the realms of spirituality, mythology, and art.

The Maternal Significance of the Tree

Within the teachings of Carl Jung, the tree assumes a maternal significance, symbolizing the nurturing aspects of the divine feminine. Jung recognized that the tree held a central place in various mythologies and artistic expressions, pointing towards a deeper understanding of its profound essence. As we contemplate the tree’s branches reaching upwards and its roots grounding into the earth, we are reminded of the expansive and nurturing qualities associated with the maternal archetype. This connection to the sacred feminine invites us to explore the role of compassion as a transformative force within this framework.

The Dance of Eve and Mary

In the painting by Berthold Furtmeyer, titled the Tree of Life and Death, the interplay between Eve and Mary becomes a focal point, illuminating the contrasting facets of the feminine archetype. Eve, as the archetypal representation of the fallen state of consciousness, stands as a symbol of our descent into dualistic realms and the human struggles that arise from it. On the other side of the tree, we encounter Mary, the spiritual mother and bearer of divine grace. Mary’s presence embodies the potential for redemption and spiritual awakening through compassion, representing the compassionate aspect of the divine feminine. Their positioning on opposite sides of the tree signifies the choices we encounter on our path—a choice between falling deeper into the enticements of dualism or embracing the transformative power of compassion to awaken to a higher state of being.

The Fruits of Life and Death

The symbolism of the tree deepens as we examine the fruits it bears. On Eve’s side of the tree, we find the fruit of death, symbolized by a skull, representing the consequences of succumbing to the allure of dualistic thinking and egoic tendencies. This fruit signifies the suffering and limitations that result from our disconnection from the sacred essence of being. In contrast, on Mary’s side, we encounter the fruit of life, embodied by the image of the Crucified Christ. Here, we witness the transformative power of compassion as the ultimate source of life and liberation. The Crucified Christ represents the embodiment of divine love and selfless sacrifice, inviting us to embrace compassion as a means of transcending our limited perspectives and awakening to the interconnectedness of all beings.

The Dual Birth

Jung’s exploration of the mother image reveals a profound duality—a dual birth that occurs within our human experience. The first birth is physical, brought about by our earthly mothers, marking our entry into the material realm of temporality and finitude. It is through this worldly mother that we are given life, shaped by familial and societal influences. However, as we traverse our spiritual journey, we encounter the concept of a second birth—an awakening to the spiritual realm guided by the symbolical mother. This symbolical mother represents the divine, the sacred feminine, and the transformative power of compassion. Through our connection to this spiritual mother, we undergo a profound rebirth—a shift from identification with the transient aspects of our existence towards the recognition of our eternal and infinite nature. This awakening calls us to embrace the nurturing presence of the sacred feminine and the transformative potential of compassion.

Compassion Awakens Consciousness

Within the tapestry of compassion, we discover a remarkable relationship between compassion and consciousness. Compassion, as a profound expression of empathy, kindness, and care, holds the power to awaken our dormant consciousness and expand our awareness. When we embody compassion, our hearts open wide to the suffering of others, and we recognize the interconnectedness of all beings. This awakened state of consciousness allows us to perceive beyond the limited boundaries of the ego, inviting us to transcend the illusion of separateness and embrace the oneness of existence. The tree of life and death is an image of Oneness and Interconnectedness.

As compassion deepens within us, our consciousness expands to encompass the full spectrum of human experience. We become more attuned to the struggles, joys, and aspirations of others, fostering a sense of interconnectedness and empathy. The awakened consciousness born from compassion is characterized by a profound shift in perspective—a realization that we are all interconnected threads in the fabric of existence. This heightened awareness leads to a sense of responsibility, inspiring us to engage in acts of service, kindness, and social justice.

Moreover, compassion awakens us to the true nature of being. As we extend compassion towards others, we simultaneously cultivate self-compassion, recognizing our own inherent worth and embracing our imperfections with kindness and acceptance. This journey towards self-compassion allows us to access deeper layers of authenticity, vulnerability, and self-awareness. Through the awakened lens of compassion, we tap into our inherent wisdom, nurturing a profound connection with our inner selves and the greater consciousness that permeates all of existence.

Embracing Compassionate Awakening

To embark on the path of compassionate awakening, we must cultivate a genuine willingness to explore the depths of our own hearts and minds. This journey necessitates self-reflection, self-inquiry, and the willingness to confront our fears, biases, and conditioned patterns of thinking. By engaging in contemplative practices such as meditation, mindfulness, and self-compassion exercises, we create a fertile ground for the seeds of compassion to sprout and flourish within us.

As compassion blooms within our being, it becomes a guiding force in all aspects of our lives. We engage in compassionate listening, holding space for others to share their stories and experiences without judgment or agenda. We extend acts of kindness and generosity, recognizing the inherent dignity and worth of every individual we encounter. Compassionate action becomes our way of being, infusing our relationships, communities, and the world with love, understanding, and healing.


In the symbiotic dance between compassion and consciousness, we unearth the profound nature of being and the interconnectedness that binds us all. Compassion acts as a catalyst, awakening our consciousness from the slumber of ego-driven existence and propelling us towards a deeper understanding of ourselves, others, and the sacred fabric of life. As we embrace the transformative power of compassion, we become agents of change, weaving compassion into the very essence of our existence and radiating its transformative influence far and wide. May compassion awaken within us, guiding us towards a world filled with empathy, love, and profound awakening of consciousness.


Carl Jung says, “the tree has a maternal significance” (CW 5, para 321).

Carl Jung says, “Christ’s redemptive death on the cross was understood as a “baptism,” that is to say, as rebirth through the second mother, symbolized by the tree of death… The dual-mother motif suggests the idea of a dual birth. One of the mothers is the real, human mother, the other is the symbolical mother. (Carl Jung, CW 5, para 494-495.)


  • The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image By Anne Baring, Jules Cashford
  • Symbols of Transformation (CW5) by Carl G. Jung (in US Pubic Domain, first published 1912)
  • Image: Berthold Furtmeyer: Baum des Todes und des Lebens, Tree of Death and Life– c. 1481. US public domain via wikimedia


I invite you to share your comments and insights on the possibility of compassionate awakening. Your feedback is valuable and helps me gain a deeper understanding of your perspective. Together, we are embarking on a journey towards compassion. Please keep in mind that although I read and appreciate all comments, I am unable to respond individually. Nevertheless, your input plays a vital role in shaping the conversation and fostering a meaningful dialogue. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. Let’s awaken into compassion together!

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