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 www.ArchetypalNature.com. 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.