Do you remember your favourite childhood teddy? You know, that one you used to take everywhere with you, tell all your secrets to and, of course, have all sorts of epic adventures with. Children form a special friendship with their teddies; they talk with them and believe in them wholeheartedly. In return those toys help kids to discover the many remarkable aspects of themselves. Naturally we grow up and lose time for all that and, anyway, a pretend friend would just be silly, right?! It’s okay … I’m not about to suggest you carry around a stuffed toy and make conversation with it at the office … but how might it benefit our lives if we were to reconnect with the aspects of ourselves that our cuddly toys represented?
Carl Jung, Rudolf Steiner and Henry Corbin encouraged the exploration of imagination as a passage to the archetypal realm within our subconscious, opening us to the possibilities of greater emotional understanding, personal development and ultimately to an ever ascending spiritual experience. Religious and spiritual practices across the world call on visualisation and imagination to access higher knowledge or divine guidance. Just maybe the common thread connecting those philosophies and world cultures is the same thread that wove life and personalities into our old cuddly friends.
Archetypes are a portrayal of, and a guide to, our innermost thoughts and feelings, our innate wisdom and our potential. Archetypes represent our unique life stories.
You will often see, in literature, philosophy and culture, *four kinds of archetypes – or four different elements of our psyche – representing the male and female aspects present within each of us. Getting well acquainted with these archetypes helps us to bring these aspects into balance. In her book, Grail Alchemy, Mara Freeman describes these four groups as:
– the young god, the Son of Light, who is born out of the Old Feminine as the sun is born out of night. He appears universally as the young prince, warrior or hero, and his exploits often involve slaying fearsome enemies, thus overcoming the power of death, which rules the North. In Arthurian myth, the Young Masculine is represented by Perceval and other Grail knights as well as King Arthur in his youth. His symbol is the Sword.
– the developed masculine principle: mature, experienced, and wise. He is Merlin, Arthur’s advisor, and the various Grail hermits who give spiritual counsel to the young hero when he has lost his sense of moral direction; and also the Fisher King, who is ready to relinquish his throne. His symbol is the Rod of authority or Staff of power, which later became the Spear or Lance.
– is the beautiful and loving Bright Goddess: Morgan of Avalon, the healer of Arthur, and Queen Guinevere. In the Grail stories, she is Perceval’s beloved, Blancheflor, and the Grail Maiden. Her symbol is the Cup of healing—the chalice offered in love, and ultimately, the Holy Grail.
– is the Loathly Lady, who, as we saw in the last chapter, is a medieval reworking of the Dark Goddess. In Celtic mythology and the Grail cycle, the Old Feminine is represented by Ceridwen, the Cailleach, Sheela-na-gig, or Cundrie. Her symbol is the Cauldron, representing both the womb and tomb of life. As we saw in the story of Taliesin, from out of her cauldron-womb the Son of Light is born and the cycle of life begins again.
Okay, so we know there are different types of archetypes … what do we do with that? Let’s start by choosing a character – someone you can identify with in this moment. They can be from anywhere – mythology, religion, movies, literature (Arthurian characters from the Quest for the Holy Grail are great to work with). If now isn’t an awkward time, close your eyes and visualise your character.
‘Using your imagination, see him or her as vividly as you can with your inner eye, along with their particular symbol of power. Greet this being and ask any questions you may have about the aspect of your life he or she represents. You may ask for help and guidance in your search for understanding, resolution, and fulfilment in this matter’ – Martha Freeman, Grail Alchemy.
If you’re not able to do that right now, it really is worth trying to find time later. If you make it a regular thing, you’ll probably find that, overtime, you’ve built up a group of archetypes from the four groups we looked at. You can swap and change where you choose your characters from as much as you like – there’s nothing wrong with putting Athena, Harry Potter, King Arthur, Mary Magdalen, The Oracle and Yoda all together. We should also include some characters we don’t feel so comfortable with – those that represent a side of ourselves we know is there but we try not to show. Jung called these the ‘elements of the shadow’ and said that in order for us to reach self-realisation we need to accept them and work with them … so in goes the ‘Ood’ and Scarlett O’Hara, or whoever it might be for you.
Helping us to reconnect with our inner friends and the most honest counsel we could hope for, Cygnus Books are offering the Grail Alchemy and Gawain & The Grail Quest together for the special combined price of £17.98 for this week only – that’s an extra saving of £5 off their already low prices if you place your order before midnight this Sunday 5th October. Just quote ‘bestfriend’ in the notes field when you’re ordering and the Cygnus Team will adjust the cost their end.
Happy imagining, my friend. I leave you with a musical ode to WB Yeats’ poem ‘Stolen Child’ by the Waterboys – I can’t think of a more alluring invitation to the Otherworld of our imagination.
*Jungian writer Gareth Hill calls the fourfold archetypal pattern the Static Feminine,
the Dynamic Masculine, the Static Masculine, and Dynamic Feminine,
and although he discusses these principles in the context of human psychology,
he points out that they are ciphers for “the most fundamental patterns in all of life.”