Stories > Splendor Solis > Plate 6 - The Philosophical Tree
Aeneas and Silvius talk under a tree which has seven black and seven white crows flying from it. The largest crow pecks at the fruit of the tree, and his head turns white. A man is climbing a ladder propped against the tree, which grows through a golden crown (indicating a royal art). He is plucking a golden bough, which will enable Aeneas to pass through life unscathed. The figures are dressed in red and white. On the frame are four naked women bathing at a golden fountain attended by two attendants. There is a roundel in the centre showing the date 1582. (Stephen Skinner's Splendor Solis commentary)
The Philosophical Tree vs The Curator
The crown at the bottom of the tree suggest a Philosophical Tree, meaning the secret is hidden in the roots or the body, the body’s chemical elements.
The young man - possibly the ego- performs the physical work of bringing new growth down to earth in the service of the priestly figures, who may represent the observing and reflecting aspects of the personality, as well as the search for deeper meaning. The figure on the ladder (which has 7 rungs) is bringing new growth down to earth.
A raven with a white head peeks at the golden fruit. When the bough is taken, the thirteen black and white birds fly away from the tree, setting in motion the movement from the nigredo to the albedo. The bough may refer to Aeneas, who took a golden bough that secured his passage into the underworld and allowed him to return across the River Cocytus (one of the five rivers of Hades) unscathed. According to the myth the bough can only be obtained if it allows itself to be taken, meaning it requires a willing sacrifice on nature’s part.
The women in the bath, which is fed from an underground spring, represent receptivity to what flows from below, permitting the contents of the unconscious to be transferred to consciousness effectively. It is like the transcendent function - the cooperation of conscious reasoning with the data of the unconscious progressively uniting the opposites - that allows nature to change human life. The intellectual recognition of a union of opposites doesn’t reconcile them, but it can be a transition of an idea into consciousness. A symbol on the other hand can emerge as a meaningful image that does reconcile what was experienced previously as irreconcilable from either a rational or an emotional point of view.
In the Curator the squirrel at the bottom plays the role of the young man/ego who brings new growth down to earth at the service of the owls/priestly figures/aspects of personality. The tree has 7 golden branches, like the ladder which has 7 rungs corresponding to the 7 planets.
The myth of Aeneas, which explains that knowledge from the unconscious (symbolized by the golden bough) can only be obtained with the willingness of nature is equivalent, psychologically, to the compartmentalization represented by the owls in the Curator. Meaning that the unconscious will only reveal the content of a compartment if one can handle it (or that one should be careful to access it only if ready for it).

The Garden of the Hesperides by Edward Burne-Jones

The tree is reminiscent of the one with the golden apples in the Garden of the Hesperides, and here the owls would represent the Hesperides. Or it might be like the tree Campbell refers to as the Tree of Immortality, the one which takes you back into the Garden (as opposed to the apple of knowledge which takes you out of it.)
The retrieval of knowledge from the unconscious, symbolized by the owls, can be expressed in the Tarot via the Death card, where the squirrel plays the role of  Persephone, who goes down to the underworld to later emerge transformed and reunited with her mother Demeter.
Note: the quotes in italic are from the book by J.L. Henderson and D.N. Sherwood, Transformation of the Psyche: The Symbolic Alchemy of the Splendor Solis

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