Photo by Bill Davenport

Yesterday I was reading “Destruction as the cause of coming into being,” by Sabina Spielrein, an early Jungian analyst and former patient of Jung’s. I hadn’t intended it as an Easter meditation, but of course, it was very appropriate to that purpose. This is exactly the theme of Easter: sacrifice and rebirth.

Spielrein’s article touched on a piece of old Christian mythology I was not familiar with, a story that involves Adam’s son Seth seeking to re-enter the Garden of Eden when Adam is very old and dying. According to this story, the angel guarding the garden gave Seth three seeds to place under the tongue of the dead Adam. These seeds grew into the tree that was used to make the cross on which Christ died. In some versions of the story, this is called the Tree of Mercy.

I grew up in a Christian tradition that stressed the historicity of Biblical material, and this story comes from a tradition that stresses legend and poetry, so it is no wonder this is not a story I had heard before. It is a story to connect stories, one that depicts a maturing of human consciousness and spirituality over time; in a “fallen” and dying Adam are planted the seeds of salvation. It is a beautiful, hopeful image. It speaks to me of deep recognition of a basic principle, that one thing must die for something larger to be born.

Sabina Spielrein, a Russian Jew, was executed by the Nazis, along with others from her village, in a field, in 1942. In an eerily prescient letter that was found years later, she writes of her death. She imagines herself in a field, her body burned, the ashes buried. She imagines a tree planted on that spot, and she says that written on the tree should be the message, “I was a human being once. My name was Sabina Spielrein.”

That was a time of tremendous, brutal and horrible sacrifice. And since then, in many other places, other, similar sacrifices for no better reasons. In the Seth story, someone had to visit the garden and obtain the seeds so the Tree of Mercy could be planted and the idea of salvation could begin to grow. How, then, in this day and age, in the wake of atrocity and sacrifice, do we become the retrievers of seeds and the planters of trees?