The Archetypal Lebowski by Gary B

“There was a lot about the Dude that didn't make a whole lot of sense. And a lot about where he lived, likewise. But then again, maybe that's why I found the place so darned interestin’.” – The Stranger

The Big Lebowski is cinematic perfection carved from archetypal oppositions. It is The Dude versus The Man throughout; the prototypical anti-authority figure versus a series of archetypal Fathers and Kings. Nearly a century ago, Antonia “Toni” Wolff observed a pair of binary axis in the psyche; two essential oppositions that constitute a significant part of human personality. One of these primary tensions is between our draw to community and away from it, toward freedom. We know toward which of these poles The Dude swung.

Our most beloved movies are the most archetypal ones.

The greatest movies are always archetypally true and The Big Lebowski gets its true-to-life color from fanning out a bright rainbow of authority figures. From the chief of police of Malibu (“a real reactionary”), to the fellas down at the league office, to Mr. Lebowski and Walter, the film is driven by the Dude’s interaction with power figures. These characters–many of whom are based on real life friends of the Coen brothersare all archetypal King or Father types: men who are deeply invested in their own authority (“this aggression will not stand”); men who are strongly opinionated about right and wrong (“the bums will always lose!”); and men whose identity comes through attachment to community (“three thousand years of beautiful tradition”). As the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers would no doubt attest, these men are also about doing for; whether it’s for their “quiet little beach community” or their country, they want to be of service. At the same time, these are men who are unconsciously driven by shadow power drives (“shut the fuck up Donnie!”). The Father-King is often compelled to make things right and even to use force to do so (“mark it zero!”). Are they wrong? “You’re not wrong you’re just an asshole.”

El Duderino epitomizes of the opposite archetype: he hates authority (and is completely disconnected from society and worldly values (“’Dude . . . uh, tomorrow’s already the tenth.’”); he's the eternal boy, more brother-type than Father figure for sure. And even if he’s unconscious of it, there is something of the trickster in him, a measure of the clown. We give the title ‘Seeker’ to this way of being, but no one word title could ever properly sum up an archetype (certainly not this one). The Seeker is a little more in touch with his Feminine side – he’s comfortable with the “feminine form” and the “natural zesty enterprise.” This archetype is the Lover too and The Dude is most certainly that.

What’s an archetype Walter? An archetype is a primordial pattern that (usually unconsciously) guides how we create our lives. As with birds and their nests, your archetype suggests your modus operandi, the way you want to roll through life, the parts of life to which you are drawn and the ones which automatically repel you (“the fucking Eagles man!,” “do you have to use so many cuss words?”).

I guess what I'm trying to tell you is that this is one of the ways that the “whole darned human comedy keeps perpetuatin’ itself."

The Big Lebowski is constructed out of these mirrors of opposition in the human DNA; it’s a study in deep archetypal contrasts. We see this explicitly when the Dude encounters Mr. Lebowski’s wall of awards and plaques–“Are you a Lebowski achiever?” The movie is about authority (“get your own fucking cab!”) and the exchange of it (“her life is in your hands Dude”), who deserves it and who does not (“he doesn’t approve of my lifestyle and I don’t approve of his”). The authority figures initiate all of the action–the Dude only abides. He is an anti-hero; the movie is not about what he does (“fuck it”). The movie happens to him.

“Sometimes, there's a man, well, he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that's the Dude.”

As happens in many naturalistic (and psychologically healthy) folktales of the anti-hero form, our protagonist (“and I’m talking about the Dude here”) succeeds by going with the flow, by being guileless and in harmony with events, by being in accord with the Tao (“is that some kind of Eastern thing?”).

Have no doubt this is a story about “what makes a man, Mr. Lebowski?” There’s The Dude’s way and everyone else’s modes of assertion and control–they can be very un-Dude. However we do get shown some good sides of his opposite archetype; Walter, for one, shows its cellular-level loyalty and devotion to a brother. And in the end The Stranger shows us the mature form of the King: he knows The Dude is different from him and he doesn’t understand him, but he isn’t envious or rejecting. The Stranger sees The Dude's good qualities–you could maybe even go as far as to say he blesses him (or that could be just, like, my opinion, man).

 “The Dude abides. I don't know about you but I take comfort in that. It's good knowin' he's out there. The Dude. Takin' 'er easy for all us sinners."


Fascinated? Compelled? Think Archetype . . . by Gary B

In the premiere episode of the new Netflix series Love (starring Gillian Jacobs), a radio psychologist uses the word ‘archetype’ and the caller then asks him what an archetype is. He stammers and replies “well, I don’t really have the exact definition, but I do know what it means obviously because I just used it. Um . . .” One definition of archetype is as an intrinsic pattern of behavior and motivation in the unconscious of human personality.

Archetypes operate like an internal gravity that determines what we are attracted to or repelled by; what fascinates and compels us; why one person is drawn to something and another person repulsed by it. Pioneering Swiss psychologist C. G. Jung brought that word into common usage as a part of his discovery of the collective unconscious – our shared inner biosphere of inherited dynamic patterns.

“Myths and fairytales of world literature contain definite motifs which crop up everywhere. We meet these same motifs in the fantasies, dream, and delusions of individuals living today.”– C. G. Jung*

Jung noticed in the dreams and fantasies of his patients that the images seemed to be pulled not only from personal experiences but from foreign and even ancient cultures. He first spoke of these as primordial images, considering them to represent the foundational patterns of intelligence within the psyche. Eventually, he named the specific dynamic complexes ‘archetypes,’ from the Greek term whose root terms are archein meaning original and tupos meaning impression or model.

For the Greeks, archetypes constituted the basis of their worldview. For common citizens, as well as for Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle, such ‘original impressions’ were:

“. . . an ordered expression of certain primordial essences or transcendent first principles, variously conceived as Forms, Ideas, universals, changeless absolutes, immortal deities, divine archai. . . . Archetypal principles included mathematical forms of geometry and arithmetic; cosmic principles such as light and dark, male and female, love and hate; and the Ideas of the Good, the Beautiful and the Just, and other absolute moral and aesthetic values. . . . As well as the more personified figures such as Zeus, Prometheus, and Aphrodite. In this perspective, every aspect of existence was patterned and permeated by such fundamentals.” – Richard Tarnas

Archetypes are a part of our nature, a part of who we are.  Archetypes link both body and mind, conscious and unconscious. They are many sided–we can know their type without knowing how that type will manifest in a particular case. In practice, it is often only through an archetype’s activity in our lives and the particularly strong feeling tones that it evokes in us that we begin to notice them.

Archetypes entrance us.

Both individually and culturally, an archetype can emerge into the forefront of our imagination and captivate us. When a particular archetype resonates for us, we react strongly to it; it may strike us numb; we may become animated by it, identify with it, or over-react against it and reject it, but when we are in its grip, it will always “impress, influence and fascinate us.“*

For better or worse, we are pulled by our heartstrings and lifted towards a new (or old) direction when the wind of its voice blows upon us. Archetypes enfold us into a participation with them–we become bound, enthralled, overwhelmed or even exalted. An archetypal dynamic takes us on a rollercoaster of possibilities, inflating us, making us feel on top of the world, or deflating us–removing all hope from us.

In the background, looming like a powerful God, our archetypal complexes sit enthroned. When our relationship to that energy is unconscious it becomes compulsive and can turn into obsession. In that case, winning or losing such a person, object, or issue is felt to be a world constituting or destroying reality. We know that an object has enchanted us when we become deflated by its loss. Think of all of the teenage drama over love and the feeling of ‘the world will end if I can’t have this person.’ At such times, we are unconsciously substituting a concrete object for a deeper, more powerful force.

Archetypal fascinations redirect our energy; when unconscious it’s often experienced compulsively and negatively, in shadow form–damning us to the dead-end of trying to literalize regressive fantasies. One may feel out of control when exposed to it, or controlled by it. Yet psychologically, redemption is always possible. Where there is a negative pole there is always a positive pole too–a way out, if we have the strength to grasp it.

“[Archetypes] act like magnetic fields which, though unseen, arrange responses, emotions and actions into specific patterns expressed in the form of symbolic images. If the ego can relate to these archetypal centers of energy through their symbolic expressions, the use of instinctive energy can be consciously guided for [healthy] purposes.” – Ann Belford Ulanov

Overcoming passive captivity in an archetype begins with conscious engagement with it. Turning an archetypal dynamic into its positive form requires making our participation conscious, a process that is begun by an honest recognition of our own fascination.  We can look at an archetype, complex, or emotion rather than continue to lay caught in it.  Gaining that clarity nearly always means defeat for our ego, for our view of the world, and we may need help to achieve it.  Successfully discovered, however, our ego’s loss becomes our soul’s gain.

Shadows & Light: Understanding Our Archetypal Nature by Gary B

Shadows & Light: Our Archetypal Nature

“I thought of Jung as a noetic archeologist, [he] provided maps of the unconscious.” – Terence McKenna

Most of us imagine that we know ourselves pretty well.  But like a periscope that thinks it’s the whole submarine, our self-image makes no accommodation for the fact of the unconscious.  Yet there are maps that can help us.  If we are honest, we can come to discover how to orient ourselves in the tidal pathways of the unconscious; we may come to see that our shadows and strengths fall into archetypal patterns.  If we are lucky, these maps may help us to come into possession of the greatest possible treasure–our inner gold.

In the 1920’s, after they had finished developing their ideas on Psychological Type – the root of today Myers-Briggs Type Indicator™ – Antonia “Toni” Wolff and Carl Gustav Jung discovered that they felt like something was still missing.  Not fully satisfied, Toni soon identified larger psychological structures that were evident, yet hitherto unnamed.  Calling them Structural Forms of the Feminine Psyche, she initiated the process of identifying the primordial forms of the human psyche, forms which we know today by the singular term, archetype.

She observed two poles, two axes, in our internal world.  On the first, she saw displayed a natural split in how our energy flowed toward people: for some it moved toward people in a collective sense, toward the group, the family, the team, the tribe, society and the social group; for others it moved toward people in the one-on-one sense, with thought and concern primarily flowing toward individuals, friends and lovers. Toni saw this difference in what we were fascinated by and drawn to; what compelled us forward in life; in the differing pathways our libido took toward our fellow humankind.  In her observations, she brought consciousness to an inherent dialectic tension in human nature.

This characteristic tension is highlighted in bright psychedelic neon in the last fifty years of American history.  It is the divide between belonging and freedom from belonging; between a value system that is group-oriented and one that is individual-oriented; one emphasizes escape from society and other connection to it.  It has provided us with two opposing views of goodness in American life: the redemption in community of Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life versus the redemption in breaking away from community of Kerouac’s On The Road and Kesey’s Acid Test and Cuckoo’s Nest.  Of course, this split goes back to our earliest days: we can see it in our ancient mythologies and philosophies. It is evident in perhaps the greatest of Shakespeare’s plays, Hamlet, wherein ‘to be or not be’ also has a lot to do with ‘to belong or not to belong.’

Our culture has many names for the first kind, the group-oriented, society-aware folks: patriarch or matriarch, father and mother type.  This is the Queen or King archetype and the King can be a ‘my way or the highway’ kind of guy (and notice the pressurized conflict between belonging and freedom from belonging in his motto).  However we lack names for the second kind, the non-group-oriented, individual-focused folks. Defined by their freedom from belonging this type has no positive definition in our language, but many negative ones: he or she is the Slacker who has failed to adapt to society; a Rolling Stone, a Peter Pan, an Eternal Boy, in the 1920’s they called him a Gadabout.  Here a lack of language reveals the unconscious tension between these two forms and our hidden value judgments.

Yet Toni Wolff saw a universal home for the man and woman of this type in the combination of the Lover and the Eternal Child (puella/puer).  He or she is about becoming, about furthering the process of becoming in themselves and others. The archetypal Child brings forward the new into consciousness, and these folks both gravitate to, and create, the original, novel, new quality that’s needed by the culture.  The Lover is that part of us that is gifted at seeing and valuing the others around us for who they are and enjoying sexuality and love regardless of societal expectations. They find endless enjoyment in doing with others.  At their best, the Seeker’s question of ‘Who am I?’ can flower into beautiful mystic-religious poetry in a thousand forms.  It is this energy in us that seeks the ‘road less travelled’, invites us to ‘follow our bliss’ and knows reminds us to “all: to thine own self be true.” As one might expect, these folks tend to resist being categorized (they’re too original / special / pathologically anti-authoritarian for that!).  And that’s why it’s partially their fault that our culture has no words for their archetype – they refuse to be put in a box and their rebelliousness is part of their strength and part of their shadow. 

Each end of this spectrum becomes cartoony when we fall into identification with it. Being too much of a Seeker too long may mean never putting down roots and never settling into a community: ‘I took the road less travelled and now I don’t know where the hell I am.’ Jumping off the cliff and hoping for wings to form on the way down once too often, they can find themselves to have drifted too far from shore. The group-oriented person’s shadow can be equally unsatisfactory (none of these paths are inherently better than any other) and is equally well known to us.  Seen in cartoon-like form in TV shows (King of the Hill, That 70’s Show, Archie Bunker), he is the Father who carries forward the values of the past (often unconsciously) and who may be resentful of those who break out of the mold.  Finding genuine satisfaction in doing for others, a shadow quality in them may be desire for power over others. When unconsciously identified with the King, their right to power is taken for granted.  This is vividly illustrated in the Frost-Nixon interviews, when Frost asks Nixon if it is sometimes okay for the President to do something illegal, he responds “when the President does it that means it’s not illegal.”  However, at their best the archetypal King or Queen “can deal with your gold without hating you for it.  They can see you’re shining and not envy you” – Robert L. Moore.  The King or Queen can bless us, knight us, and make us feel seen, valued and a part of the whole in a way that no other archetype can. 

The other axis that Wolff observed shows the direction of our impersonal energy, our responses to the world: some people’s energy flows into the search for insight, answers, understanding and comprehension; for others their energy flows outward into action, prowess, achievement and autonomy.  Where the Warrior seizes the day, is always up for a challenge (is in fact energized by competition), the Sage finds satisfaction in comprehension and pleasure in problem solving.  Many Warriors knew their identity the first time they laced up their skates, paddled out on their boards, put on their ballet slippers or picked up a guitar.  A Sage’s self-understanding can also come early in a passion for the world of knowledge and ideas and a wonder for how things work.  Additionally, for those folks for whom knowledge comes through the unconscious, Toni saw the ancient tradition of the medial woman.  This path was given it’s place in nearly every culture in human history except ours (we’re hooked on ‘rational’ reduction and the illusion that in our measuring of the world, we’ve mastered it).  Toni gave the name Mediatrix to this archetype.  By including it in her structure she not only honored her own path, she made a place for all women (and men) who recognize that they sometimes possess knowledge non-causally (through the unconscious).  Despite our cultural prejudice against this way of knowing, the Mediatrix archetype reflects Nature’s deeper truth: right understanding can sometimes arrive in ways that can’t quite be explained rationally or directly.

Again, there is shadow in these archetypes too. The Warrior sometimes carries the burden of not understanding, of ‘knowing not what he does,' but at least he or she know the truth of action–right or wrong.  In contrast, the Sage sometimes fails to act, because conscience sometimes does make ‘cowards of us all.’  There is also an inherent tension between the two axes, between our need for other people and between the calling of action or insight; the personal axis pulls into relationship and the impersonal axis away from them.  As master Sage Nikola Tesla describes: “originality thrives in seclusion . . . Be alone, that is the secret of invention; that is when ideas are born.” The genius is quick to serve his muse, but sometimes slow to respond to the warm heart beating right beside him.  The Warrior might unconsciously avoid those spaces that make him or her feel vulnerable? Does our compulsive ingenuity or armored hardness keep us safely separated from the love reaching out for us?

Yet there is reassurance in understanding these qualities exist in human nature because they exist in Nature–throughout Nature: in army ants and nurse bees, even at biological and cellular levels.  They are at play in the world, but most conspicuously displayed in our mythologies, philosophies and cosmologies (including and especially astrology – which is not a causal system of explanation, but a reflection of the way that all things in Nature are meaningfully intertwined); these archetypal energies have a life of their own!

“Called or uncalled the Gods are present.” – C. G. Jung

Most of us fall all too easily into the simplifying projection of imagining that everyone wants the same things out of life that we do.  But seeing the reality of these other Gods in the psyche helps us to withdraw our projections from each other and accept that different folks are coming from different places and truly do want different things from the world and from us.  By understanding this we become better able to see those around us for who they are and it offers us a route to better see ourselves. 

Seeing ourselves in our archetypal nature and recognizing our timeless parts, allows us to both gain sight of some of our shadow and to better own our inner gold.  In the compulsive ways that we overdo things, we see the shadow of our archetypal selves; we see a rabbit hole that we’re in danger of falling into.  Many of us plunge headlong into tragedy throughout our lives because we fail to recognize the story that is playing out through our actions.  Having a mythic sensibility about ourselves offers a clue to how we might be unconsciously acting out archetypal patterns and shadows and possession of that awareness is at least half the battle.

But just as importantly, an archetypal self-understanding allows us to own our gifts. Your archetype is the thing that you find ‘flow’ in doing, that thing through which you live an experience of the timeless.  How powerful it is to recognize “Hey! This is me giving my gold to the world right now!” Just remember that there are profoundly different paths of expression for that gold.

The moral challenge in the existence of the unconscious lies in the fact that it is unconscious.  We don’t know that we don’t know.  And so can wonder: where does my creativity come to life? Which archetypes sing through me? To which Gods do I never make a sacrifice? Which temples do I pray at and which do I avoid? Where is my archetypal home?

“There's nothing you can do that's more important than being fulfilled. You become a sign, you become a signal, transparent to transcendence; in this way, you will find, live, and become a realization of your own personal myth.” – Joseph Campbell


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Gary S. Bobroff is the developer and facilitator of Archetypal Nature In writing and teaching in-person and online, he presents the depth of Jungian approaches in an accessible, engaging, and visual-oriented form.  He has an M.A. in Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute and a B.A. from the University of British Columbia, Canada.  

His first book, Crop Circles, Jung & the Reemergence of the Archetypal Feminine, was published in August 2014 by North Atlantic Books.