Archetypes and Elixirs: A Jungian Perspective on Life as We Know It.

Image of flaming red liquid in a cocktail glass

Returning with the Elixir of Knowledge and Wisdom

One of the key themes in Jungian psychology is that of individuation, which is an expansive process involving realisation and manifestation of the archetypes within. Archetypal aspects refer to many different facets of the self’s potential, such as the Shadow, the Animus or Anima, the Wise Elder or the Trickster / Magician. Many of these inner selves are unconscious or undeveloped and only emerge when we are able to unearth their existence through various channels such as encounters, dreams and active imagination.

All cultures have notions of human personality and self, made up of multiple aspects, many of which are oppositional or paradoxical and often these various traits are personified into panthea of gods and goddesses or other equally varied groups of characters. Take, for instance, the ways in which each of the Graeco-Roman deities encapsulates a set of particular human strengths and weaknesses. For instance Athena is wise and just but also warlike and ruthless in certain circumstances. Apollo likewise brings illness but also healing in the form of the arts and muses.

 

Individuation – Incorporating the Archetypes

At the start of every human life there is a diffusion of experience, expression and personality. That complex cloud of embodied sensations in the world gradually becomes organised into patterns of thought, feeling and memory and infused into a sense of the individual self. While all these phenomena are shaped and informed by the physical and social environments around us, variously named and operationalised through culture, certain broad categories of experience and expression can be identified across humanity and according to Jungian thought, these constitute the archetypes. Archetypes are universal potentials for broad human drives, yet as potentials for patterning, they are manifest in ways unique to individuals and cultures, rather like the ways in which each snowflake is structured through certain rules of construction, yet no two snowflakes are the same.

Jung stressed that this individuation was not a materialistic ‘individualism’ but a spiritual quest, a journey, and one which required a certain amount of courage and determination to overcome fear and resistance within the self. It also involves the withdrawal of projections, in other words the taking of responsibility for our own lives and recognising the fact that our own growth is in our own hands. To incorporate the archetypes successively through the sequence of Shadow first, then Anima/Animus and beyond, entails as well a kind of accumulated knowledge or insight – the elixir of life, the wisdom of the ages. And that wisdom and insight is most beneficially directed at ourselves, as The Oracle reminded Neo in the very archetypal movie ‘The Matrix’.

We have helpers along the way, though, such as family, friends, inspirational leaders and authors, as well as examples to follow in the guise of totems, god-like and saintly figures and characters from myth and legend. We also have negative influences, sometimes within the established society and canons of accepted ideas and practices around us, sometimes within our circle of relationships, and sometimes within ourselves as internalised negative attitudes and inner critical voices.

The Hero’s Journey

Archetypes and Elixirs form the raw material of the hero’s journey, our journey. Our internal responses to events, characters and relationships in the world around us shape the person we become. Whether that is contracted, frozen and bitter or expanded, empathic and wise, is largely up to us.  The Archetypes are always there, waiting for us to awaken them, the Elixirs are ever-present and calling to be consumed. Taking the plunge can be the most difficult first move but also the most exhilarating. Starting with some dream delving is one way in, creative journaling another. Both of these techniques helped to jump-start my own journey, informed and motivated by reading the works of Dr Carl Jung and inspirational blogs such as Jean Raffa’s here on wordpress. Individuation is an act of self-creation and the creative potential is inherent in all humans. Any creative activity can get your individuating juices flowing, indeed creativity has been identified as a significant booster of mental health promotion and recovery.

 

Thanks for dropping by,

Enjoy the Journey 🙂

 

Flaming Elixir Image source Guest of a Guest website, New York  http://guestofaguest.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/red-snapper-210×300.jpg

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Fairy Tales 4: Archetypes, Meanings and Metaphors

A ripe turnip ready sits in its bed, ripe for harvesting.

The turnip in the Grimm Brothers’ Fairy Tale may represent the earthy Self or may be a symbol for the Mother archetype or the Feminine Principle.

My recent reading has been so uplifting it must be shared. The first book is called Healing the Sacred Divide  by Jean Raffa  and has some wonderful insights on the significance of archetypes in our psychic life. Next is Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment, an out and out classic that reminds us how captivated we were by the stories of our childhood and the truly immense importance of fantasy and archetypal figures in a child’s developing psyche. Another text brought me to the realisation that every single fairy tale is crammed with archetypal figures and meanings. Marie-Louise von Franz provides a stunning description of many possible layers of meaning in a couple of intriguing tales of old European origin. After reading it I found myself desperate to read more Fairy Tales! So I turned to my faithful Kindle version of original tales from the Brothers Grimm.  One in particular made an impression as I couldn’t figure it out at first but after going back to Bettelheim and von Franz it started to make sense. Regarding interpretation, both authors stress that it is the meaning for the reader or listener that works the magic and that meaning flows from where we are at in our own lives and what it is exactly that we need to relate to in the tale. Now for my take on The Turnip.

Two brothers, one poor and the other rich, are de-mobbed from the army and need to decide what to do. The poor brother, we are told, decides to make a living. He pulls off his red army coat and goes off to sow some turnip seeds, which grow successfully, one in particular reaching gigantic proportions. Thinking this would make the King happy, he gifts it to him. Delighted, the King bestows rich rewards of land, flocks and gold upon the poor man. Brother Rich was envious and thought to impress the King even more with a lavish gift of gold and horses. His reasoning went that if his poor brother got such a reward for a mere turnip, he himself was bound to get far more, given his generous offering. Not so! When the King surveyed the rich brother’s gift, accepting it graciously but puzzled as to how to reward him….the Turnip! Yes, that was exactly what he needed so that was what he got!

Further episodes ensue, which I will not go into now. Let me speculate on the possible meanings that spring to mind. Firstly, the brothers are two archetyapal figures, each one is incomplete in some way but who will each take very different paths. One sheds the ego (the red coat), delves deep into the unconscious (the earth), sows seeds and patiently harvests its fruits (the turnip – a root vegetable, a mother symbol, nourishing, bringing its earthy gifts). When the poor brother (the immature but awakening self) gives the gift to the King (a wise old man figure, the young man’s future integrated self) he appreciates it because of the work (soulwork) that went into producing it and because it is wholesome and life-sustaining (soulfood). So the poor brother is rewarded with riches (an abundant selfhood). The rich brother is all surface and ego. He, we assume, kept his coat (ego) and lolled around in his materially (superficially abundant) world. With skewed reasoning, he tries to get what the brother got (individuation) by superficial means and what does he get? A dose of the fruits of the earth – the giant turnip! In other words, the unconscious erupts and overwhelms him.

Let me know if any other meanings are bursting to be heard! In the meantime, here’s a link to The Rolling Stones – You can’t always get what you want, (but you find sometimes, you get what you need!)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9dySmseOPo

Image reference – wiki commons: commons.wikimedia.org : http://www.google.co.uk/search?as_st=y&tbm=isch&hl=en&as_q=The+turnip+fairy+tale&as_epq=&as_oq=&as_eq=&cr=&as_sitesearch=&safe=images&tbs=sur:f&biw=1366&bih=653&sei=q-d6UZCsIOKy0QXqyIGYDQ#as_st=y&hl=en&tbs=sur:f&tbm=isch&sa=1&q=The+turnip&oq=The+turnip&gs_l=img.12..0l4j0i10l2j0j0i24l3.3967.7151.10.15083.23.15.0.0.0.4.113.1101.13j2.15.0…0.0…1c.1.11.img.l3ZRwwtT33w&bav=on.2,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.45645796,d.d2k&fp=8f1d6dd638b63d84&biw=1366&bih=653&imgrc=q8wXOBqzcnDVNM%3A%3BUaat_oTnc0QK-M%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fupload.wikimedia.org%252Fwikipedia%252Fcommons%252Fe%252Feb%252FTurnip_J3.jpg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fcommons.wikimedia.org%252Fwiki%252FFile%253ATurnip_J3.jpg%3B3940%3B2750

Fairy Tale Wisdom 3: The Shadow of the Wolf

Red Riding Hood and her Wolf Shadow

The Shadow of the Wolf

Little Red Riding Hood is a classic tale from the Brothers Grimm which calls forth a very specific Jungian interpretation, centered upon the character of the Wolf. If we read the story as a parable about individuation and transcendence, then Little Red Riding Hood represents the first age: the immature, somewhat innocent, undeveloped Ego, with the remainder of the Self as yet unconscious. Grandmother is the wise woman, the third age of maturity towards whom Red Riding Hood is travelling until she is waylaid. And the Wolf? Well, he is the Shadow with whom the Ego must grapple through the dark night of the soul, as Jung had it. Shadow is deceptive, cunning, ravenous to meet his own needs and in the story he deceives both Red Riding Hood and Grandmother with various ploys and disguises, just as the un-integrated Shadow in Jungian psychology.

Jung theorised from his own observations that all humans have a shadow archetype latent within, unconscious but active and full of discarded feelings, impulses and drives that society and our Egos suppress, repress and otherwise disown. For wholeness and maturation, we must encounter the shadow, own it and channel its impulses in healthy, constructive ways and thus disarm its destructive power at the same time as energising our own being – for the shadow is not ‘bad’ as such, just powerful and potentially destructive if not reined in. (See the inspirational blog by Jean Raffa  called Matrignosis here on wordpress for more detailed and deep analysis of the Shadow).

So Red Riding Hood ends up in the wolf’s stomach, alongside her previously eaten Grandmother and as the wiki entry Little Red Riding Hood suggests, this theme resonates with other ‘restoration’ myths such as Jonah and the Whale and Peter and the Wolf. To stay with our Jungian interpretation, let’s move on to consider the crescendo of the tale. A woodcutter comes along (perhaps the animus archetype who is next in line for archetypal encounters in the individuating Self), who rescues Red Riding Hood and Grandmother from the Wolf’s belly and they all ‘live happily ever after’, as Red Riding Hood and Grandmother (her future Self) have been delivered from the Wolf. Except the Wolf of course, who is either destroyed or runs off, depending on the version you choose.

But can this be right? Is it not a little sanitised and puritanical? In more modern versions, Red Riding Hood befriends the Wolf and absorbs his power and sensuality (for example the films An American Werewolf in London and The Company of Wolves), themes which ring more true and meaningful in light of human complexity. My favourite contemporary version is by ABC Once Upon A Time series, where Red is actually a complex combination of herself and the Wolf, the daughter of another wolf-human who teaches her to embrace her wolf-side as natural, not evil. Just like the Shadow, as part of the Self.

Here’s a clip and interviews with the production team and actors:

Fairy Tale Wisdom 2. Your Inner Fairy Godmother

File:Cinderella - Project Gutenberg etext 19993.jpg

Another favourite story in our home has been Cinderella. My childhood recollection of the older story book version doesn’t differ too much from the Disney one my kids are more familiar with (though they did have lots of bedtime stories from ‘proper’  fairy tale books as well but hey, Disney’s okay too as is the occasional video!). As a child, I never understood why Cinderella’s father left her to the mercy of the wicked stepmother and sisters. Not sure I’m any the wiser now, though I’m sure tomes have been written on the symbolism of Cinderella. Of course the most significant character has to be the fairy godmother who rescues Cinderella from her plight by magically transporting her into a realm where her real beauty can shine and where she can attract the attentions of Prince Charming (in other words pursue her dreams). My research has not been extensive here but I would like to offer a few thoughts.

  • Part of maturation involves the breaking free from outer dependencies, for instance the father-daughter (and mother/son etc.,) relationship must alter over time so that we eventually learn to stand on our own two feet. Perhaps this is the symbolism of the father ‘leaving’ Cinderella to the mercies of the world – the women who despise and abuse her (and in the case of men, other men perhaps?). 
  • The fairy godmother personifies the inner potential for freedom of expression, creativity, self-nurturance and dream fulfillment that is in all of us but may (often) be suppressed by for example internalised notions of who and what we should be, or indeed by actively oppressive relations, friends, acquaintances and colleagues.

The fairy godmother contains archetypal qualities – protectiveness, inspiration, magic, all of which symbolise the creative potential in all humans. Finding the key to unlock her door is a secret every person should have access to and the upsurge in written material from humanistic therapists, healers and gurus might mean a burgeoning availability of these kinds of insights for humanity. (Check out Jean Raffa’s blog here at wordpress and the writings of Debbie Ford). Here’s hoping! In the meantime, here’s an interesting article from psychotherapist Adam Phillips, with particular relevance for women struggling with opposition and perhaps even jealousy from other women in their lives.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/nov/29/cinderella-adam-phillips?INTCMP=SRCH

Reference for Cinderella and fairy godmother image at the start of this post:

From Childhood’s Favorites and Fairy Stories, by Various

Project Gutenberg etext 19993

http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/19993

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