Thus Spoke Zarathustra: The Tree on the Mountainside, Part 1

Thus Spoke Zarathustra: The Tree on the Mountainside, Part 1

A Sycamore Tree Plaaterkill Clove, by Asher Brown Durand

Zarathustra’s eyes had discerned that a young man avoided him. As he walked one evening alone through the mountains surrounding the town, which is called The Motley Cow, behold, there while walking he found this young man leaning against a tree, gazing wearily into the valley.1

This section of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, called On the Tree on the Mountain, speaks primarily to the ones Colin Wilson calls “outsiders.” It speaks to those lonely souls who are obsessed with striving, with gathering knowledge and experiences, and developing self-control and self-discipline that will enable them to live as free, meaningful human beings. These individuals are rare. Most of humanity abandon the search soon after they begin, if they start at all. The outsider is one who “sees too deep and too much,”2 and the world he sees is one of chaos. 

The outsider experience is for individuals. It is not a group-consciousness project. One can hope that others of like mind will join in and transform the world into a better place, but it is primarily individuals who make the journey alone who ultimately make the difference. It is a very lonely road.

Zarathustra comes upon a weary young man who is leaning against a tree. This is where most outsiders begin their journey. They climb a little, then rest a little. If they rest too long, they become weary and bored. Feelings of meaninglessness begin to creep up on them. The fact that Zarathustra is walking through the mountains speaks to his maturity of consciousness. He has been in the teeth of nihilism and has been transformed. Nihilism is but a prelude to transformation, according to Nietzsche. Now, this weary young man is in its teeth. He is experiencing its wailing and gnashing. He despairingly gazes down into the valley. He sees the townspeople milling about below. He may be thinking how his quest for transformation has brought him much suffering, and how these people below have avoided it. He envies them in a way. He wonders why he ever began, but then he recalls his insatiable thirst for knowledge, and his intense hunger for an intensification of consciousness. It seems that not all are born with this burning desire. It is the manifestation of an evolutionary process. As Colin Wilson tells us, “The paradoxical behaviour of ‘outsiders’ can be seen as a consequence of an evolutionary necessity.”3

After taking hold of the tree, Zarathustra speaks to the young man:

If I wanted to shake this tree here with my hands, I would not be able to. But the wind that we do not see torments and bends it wherever it wants. We are bent and tormented worst by invisible hands.4

The tree is strong and firmly rooted. Physical hands cannot move it. But the things we cannot see, hear, or touch with our physical senses certainly do have the ability to move it. We human beings are affected most by invisible things, our mental and spiritual tribulations. The outsider knows this only too well. Until we learn self-discipline and self-control, we will always, because of our passivity, be buffeted about by invisible things. This young man has endured torment during his quest for transformation. He grows weary of it, as we all do at times.

He may be a future prophet, for, indeed “the Outsider’s miseries are the prophet’s teething pains.”5 Wilson says, “The prophet is a man of greater spiritual integrity than his neighbours; their laxness revolts him, and he feels impelled to tell them so.”6 The young man gazes down into the valley where the townspeople are. He witnesses their concern with the mundane things of everyday life. They are not at all concerned with the things that would make mankind draw closer to freedom. No, they involve themselves in those things that are worthless to the soul.

Zarathustra senses these things in the young man and says:

“. . . it is with human beings as it is with this tree. The more they aspire to the heights and the light, the more strongly their roots strive earthward, downward, into darkness, depths – into evil.” “Yes, into evil!” cried the young man. 7

Zarathustra provides him with words that seem axiomatic of the journey to transformation: The higher one climbs, the more one is plunged into the depths. Out of the same tree, one’s spirit climbs into the heavens, but one’s soul descends into the deep darkness of the earth. This is the primary difference between spirit and soul. Soul pathologizes, as James Hillman proposes, but spirit experiences the ecstatic states of consciousness, symbolized by upper atmospheric strata. The outsider understands both. And within man’s consciousness abides both good and evil, symbolized by the heights and depths.

Trees have been viewed symbolically as long as mankind has had the ability to think of these things. According to Manly P. Hall,

Man’s veneration for trees as symbols of the abstract qualities of wisdom and integrity also led him to designate as trees those individuals who possessed these divine qualities to an apparently superhuman degree. Highly illumined philosophers and priests were therefore often referred to as trees or tree men – for example, the Druids, whose name, according to one interpretation, signifies the men of the oak trees , or the initiates of certain Syrian Mysteries who were called cedars; in fact it is far more credible and probable that the famous cedars of Lebanon, cut down for the building of King Solomon’s Temple, were really illumined, initiated sages. The mystic knows that the true supports of God’s Glorious House were not the logs subject to decay but the immortal and imperishable intellects of the tree hierophants.8

Zarathustra is such a tree. The young man is in process of becoming one. The latter exclaims:

“How is it possible that you discovered my soul?”

Zarathustra smiled and said: “Some souls will never be discovered, unless they are first invented.”9

It is up to the young man to utilize his power, his will to power, to choose to continue to grow and flourish as a tree man. In this way, he “invents” his soul, he builds his consciousness strong like the tree. He cannot continue to rest and enviously gaze down at the lackadaisical people below, who live continually in the valley of despair. Living as they do will hold him back. They have given their wills over to a slothful god, but the young man must continue to strive for greater consciousness and the freedom it brings.




Hall, Manly P. The Secret Teachings of All Ages. H.S. Crocker: San Francisco, 1928.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Trans. Adrain Del Caro. Cambridge: New York, 2006.

Wilson, Colin. The Outsider. Diversion Books. New York, 1956. Kindle Edition.

Wilson, Colin. Beyond the Outsider. Houghton-Mifflin: Boston, 1965.

  1. Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 29
  2. The Outsider, 15
  3. Beyond the Outsider, 183
  4. Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 29
  5. The Outsider, 84
  6. ibid.
  7. Zarathustra, ibid.
  8. Secret Teachings, 285
  9. Zarathustra, 29

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