A wandering carpenter, called Stone, saw on his travels a gigantic old oak tree standing in a field near an earth-altar. The carpenter said to his apprentice, who was admiring the oak: "This is a useless tree. If you wanted to make a ship, it would soon rot; if you wanted to make tools, they would break. You can't do anything useful with this tree, and that's why it has become so old."
But in an inn, that same evening, when the carpenter went to sleep, the old oak tree appeared to him in his dream and said: "Why do you compare me to your cultivated trees such as white-thorn, pear, orange, and apple trees, and all the others that bear fruit? Even before they can ripen their fruit, people attack and violate them. Their branches are broken, their twigs are torn. Their own gifts bring harm to them, and they cannot live out their natural span. That is what happens everywhere, and that is why I have long since tried to become completely useless. You poor mortal! Imagine if I had been useful in any way, would I have reached this size? Furthermore, you and I are both creatures, and how can one creature set himself so high as to judge another creature? You useless mortal man, what do you know about useless trees?"
The carpenter woke up and meditated upon his dream, and later, when his apprentice asked him why just this one tree served to protect the earth-altar, he answered: "Keep your mouth shut! Let's hear no more about it! The tree grew here on purpose because anywhere else people would have ill-treated it. If it were not the tree of the earth-altar, it might have been chopped down."
The carpenter obviously understood his dream. He saw that simply to fulfill one's destiny is the greatest human achievement, and that our utilitarian notions have to give way in the face of the demands of our unconscious psyche. If we translate this metaphor into psychological language, the tree symbolizes the process of individuation, giving a lesson to our short-sighted ego...
The symbol of the earth altar points to the fact that in order to bring the individuation process into reality, one must surrender consciously to the power of the unconscious, instead of thinking in terms of what one should do, or of what is generally thought right, or of what usually happens. One must simply listen, in order to learn what the inner totality―the Self―wants one to do here and now in a particular situation.