Astrology, as both art and science, has always drawn deeply upon Archetypes, and these mysterious Forms are immortalized in the earliest of the world’s literature and theatrical performances, made most famous, perhaps, in the work of Shakespeare. For although it is true that they convey deep psychological truths in modern terms, it is also true that Archetypes are entrancing openings to higher realms of energy which enfold, shape, and somehow nurture us.
Carl G. Jung, the great psychiatrist, comparative mythology specialist and, ultimately, western shaman, used astrology because he understood that its focus on archetypes provided insight to the Psyche, commenting:
“Astrology is assured of recognition from psychology, without further
restrictions, because astrology represents the summation of all the
psychological knowledge of antiquity.”
Gods and Goddesses * Living Templates
The ancient Greeks, and Plato especially, knew long before Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell that the Archetypes were much more than symbolic components of moralizing stories. Whether as the Forms or Gods and Goddesses (he used both terms), Plato understood the Archetypes to be cosmic building blocks which literally organized all of the world we see, including human lives.
Precise definitions as to how Gods and Goddesses operated as Archetypes were not really spelled out, but on a general cultural level Greeks and Romans – and many civilizations before them – believed that Archetypes, called Gods and Goddesses because they ruled or at least altered and shaped the destiny of human beings, could be seen at work in the lives of individuals and nations in epics large or small. These came complete with a recognizable story line and with the possibilities of plot and character development all along the way.
The lives of the Gods and Goddesses were notable for many dramas and their personalities for many foibles. Archetypes related very much to Fate and Fortune – they referred to situations – the given measure of life, fortune, influence – of an individual. Archetypal situations very often involve the dynamics of power, the seeking of it, maximizing of it, and above all, its loss.
It was felt that it behooved men and women to know these grand mythological dramas as well as a doctor might know anatomy and physiology for these were the molds into which the stuff of human life was cast.
Myths were often very complex and so revealed the multiple aspects of any given situation in the human condition. In a sense, “reading” a situation in archetypal terms is a meditative, intuitive and rational process. It is akin to reading a situation in terms of the I Ching – sensing the key elements and their evolving relationships through study of one of the 64 hexagrams which spontaneously appears in one’s throw of the sticks in a moment of synchronicity.
Knowing the names, qualities and stories attached to the various Gods and Goddesses was part of learning about the way life worked. One gained insight as to the levers of power and pattern, but these levers were not amenable to control by human will.
The Greeks understood, because the Archetypes taught, that there were limits which were set for a human being. Going beyond these limits exceeded one’s moirae. This would force an outcome which was not a genuine destiny – and leave one in a grave existential state. It was thus incumbent upon human beings to sense when their reach – goaded by Ego – exceeded their grasp.
Mythological patterns appeared to be assigned frameworks into which one stepped at birth. Costumes, and to some extent scripts, were made available as your Play began, though you might never fully realize what this Play was about till part way into it. Still, culture, in literature and theater as well as common sayings and folk wisdom, initiated you early into stereotypical lessons to be drawn from others’ lives, and by inference, from the Archetypes at work in their lives.
If you recognized these same Archetypes in your own life, well and good; but they operated in their “cause and effect” drama whether you foresaw or recognized their influence. What you made of your experiences in terms of personal meaning, and how you shaped your character in response to the experiences generated by the archetype – these were the crucial issues.
And, while Archetypes revealed the general outline of the plot, chief themes, tensions, choices and morals, personalized subplots could develop; the way a plot played out could be quite unique to each person. Hence Carl Jung’s insistence that an Archetype had structure but no fixed content. So there was some room for improvising as to how you acted out the Play, it was how you gave unique, authentic, unpremediated expression to your role that was the real goal.
So you could recognize and choose certain aspects of the archetypal energies over others – and such choice endowed the Archetype with its moral test challenge – but to try to change the archetype itself or to sidestep it altogether, was to let Ego take the reins and risk crashing the chariot in a cosmic race it was not built to complete in.
And the reverse was also true: You should not try to make an Archetype unfold; it would be cheating, as it were, to try to anticipate the script, to try to plan out the play beforehand. It would also be cheating to try to make someone else take on a role in your archetypal drama instead of pursuing their own given destiny.
These tamperings were forbidden, it would seem, to prevent the havoc they could play within the depths of the human psyche where emotions like guilt, ambition, fear, and shame would compete. Shakespeare’s genius was to reveal how this destructive process played itself out.
This was never more clearly seen than in the drama MacBeth, where the fevered imagination of Lady MacBeth meshes with bold intellect and deep, dark motives of which she herself is at first hardly aware.
Her husband intuitively grasps that there is a limit here, that room should be left for Fate (the natural outplaying of the Archetype), but his caution is soon buried under the will of his wife, who pays the inevitable price – madness – of wrestling with Fate.
The Archetypes have always been understood to be Gods and Goddesses precisely because they possess great power beyond full human understanding, much less manipulation. It seems striking, and indeed marvelous, that in philosophy, literature, alchemy, and all the divining arts, that every effort has been made (by whom?) since early times to teach humanity about the Archetypes.
Their existence and processes within individual and collective human psyche, as well as their outplay in material, historical events, must still be regarded – even in modern times – as a genuine Mystery.
Where Do Archetypes Come From?
Archetypes, and I suspect Jung came to realize this, are not deposited within the Collective Unconscious through repeated experience of individuals over the span of human existence. Rather, they have their origins in the dimension where Mind and Matter meet as One, in accordance with the teachings of the Upanishads and the insights of world mystics, not to mention the New Physics of the 20th and 21st centuries.
In his work with the physicist Wolfgang Pauli, Carl Jung continued to develop hypotheses as to the magical-symbolic energy informing both the universe and the human mind as Psyche. It was the hope of both pioneers that a convergence of physics and psychology would occur in some much larger vision than either man could spell yet out at the time of their correspondence. (See the excellent overview by David Cochrane on YouTube).
Archetypes are best understood as magical-symbolic psychoid templates, living cookie-cutters which give consciousness, on a continuum of matter/mind, its distinctive shapes, and even more important, its developmental, dramatic sequences and existential meanings.
It is also extremely likely that archetypes are great codes embedded within human DNA. Even in the animal world (with which we share so much DNA), we see some recognizable archetypes in the alpha male, the matriarch, the runt of the litter who is also lowest of the hierarchy, etc.)
DNA-based archetypal patterns would be the stepped-down physcial versions of the Forms. This would fit with the idea that karma, patterns of cause and effect passing down through individual lives and whole families arises out of DNA. The prevalence of an archetype in the life of an individual would then match and fit a karmic pattern – something astrologers often recognize in the person’s birthchart.
In any case, archetypes are organizers – designers – of time, space and matter. They pull energy into living patterns suffused with existential meaning realized first within the personality and character and ultimately transmuted (as Jung understood through his studies in Alchemy) into spiritual qualities. In this sense, we understand that an Archetype carries within it a form of self-writing, self-directing Intelligence (part of the self-aware software network we suspect the universe to be?) which is refracted through the innate individuality of each person’s psyche.
The life experience generated in this process appears to be then integrated in an evolving matrix of Being which takes the form of a Mandala, and is gathered in by the Higher Self as a personal aspect of the Soul present in each Self, in each lifetime.
Written in “archetypal code”, one’s experience would then contain the genesis of “karma” in the form of the next series of appropriate, balancing, completing Archetypes in connected life-times.
Communicating with Archetypes * Astrology, The Tarot, The I Ching
Humanity has not only sensed this Intelligence lurking just beyond everyday vision, but sought to contact it through portals discovered early in human history. Through these portals, we peer into the creative plane of Reality where Mind and Matter meet; from here we receive flashes of insight and knowing, guidance and reassurance. The language used is almost exclusively symbolic, and of all the symbols, the Archetype is supreme, the key element in all esoteric and divining systems.
The characteristics and movements of planets and other heavenly bodies have been used for millennia as clues to events on earth in the lives of individuals and collectivities. They were correlated with the Gods and Goddesses, as was almost every aspect of human life, and meaning was discerned in the visible correspondences. Astrology has made longstanding use of mythology – the legends and lore of the Gods and Goddesses – in the interpretation of the birth chart.
The Tarot Cards are another set of symbols based on Archetypes which appear to connect with specific archetypal energies. In response to the question or dilemma of the consultant, the cards appear guided by an outside intelligence with larger vision than that of the inquiring person or that of the Tarot reader. The card initially drawn appears to shows the essential nature of the energy running through the inquirer’s life in the area about which the inquiry is being made. This can often initially surprise the inquirer, but in recognition of its relevance, the answer is already partially established. Adjacent or following cards will show the movement within the situation and/or within the inquirer’s psyche.
Similarly, casting the coins or sticks of the I Ching is said to invite a living conversation to take place between the person and the I Ching. Out of this connection, a particular hexagram representing one of archetypal 64 human situations which is uniquely relevant to your life at the time of consulting the I Ching.
The requirement to choose one’s question wisely is in all cases a stimulus to deep introspection, and this in turn seems to turn on the higher intelligence which produces the appropriate cards or hexagrams along with often unexpected, sometimes challenging, and occasionally unwelcome advice!
In all these methods of communication with Archetypes, there are subtle rules which the reader and the inquirer come to know. These are principles which guide the reader in what is essentially the shamanic role of interpreting for the inquirer the purpose and natural course of one or more life events. In that sense, a reading given from any of these symbol-based archetypal sources is very similar to a medical diagnosis and the discussion which follows.
Carl Jung spent a great deal of his life thinking about all these – see especially his marvellous forward to the first edition of the I Ching published in the West by Princeton University.
His forward consists largely of describing the remarkable aptness of the hexagram which he drew in answer to his “question” to the I Ching about its coming to the West. (More about his interest in the Tarot cards and I Ching can be read in Mary Greer’s excellent discussion here).
What is striking about Jung’s direct encounter with the I Ching in his Forward is his own bemused sense that he was interacting with a Self, certainly an “Intelligence”, and a humorous one, at that.
Described above with Astrology, Tarot cards, and the I Ching are moments of consciously sought synchronicity – an encounter with a coincidence of two events occurring close in time or space which seem to reveal a meaning or message with striking relevance to the person witnessing the coincidence. It may (and often does) come quite unbidden, though it is common and expected whenever we consult a divining system, as I noted above.
Everyone recognizes a synchronicity when it occurs, and it almost always stirs up feelings of wonder, a sense of having a brush with the Transcendent.
Synchronicity can occur as simply as discussing a problem, and shortly thereafter seeing a book in a shop window whose title seems to convey the answer in a dramatic way. We can struggle with an issue, decide to “forget it”, and then an hour later find the same issue is the major plot theme of the movie we absent-mindedly tune in to on TV.
The trigger for such occurrences seems to be an intense need or desire, and the response is often thrillingly immediate and dramatic in its unmistakable, uniquely appropriate form. In other words, a question has been asked, and swiftly has come a “reply”. There is a kindness, a caring, and often a profound wisdom embedded in this “reply”, so that the encounter often leaves one deeply touched. We feel as if there has been not only a “cosmic wink” but a cosmic hug.
The Organizing Mysteries of the Mandala
Carl Jung concluded that synchronicities are signs of, and instances of, the communication and
guidance we are receiving at all times as evolving spiritual beings. The pieces of our outer and inner reality so uncannily “matched” in synchronicities confirm Meaning. We are being encouraged along various paths of development and the organizing energies or intelligences behind these occurrences are the Archetypes.
Jung realized that what he was observing in his own psyche, and in the psyches of others in psychotherapy, was a process of personal integration with an upward spiraling motion – consciousness unfolding and expanding within a great Circle whose sacred Center draws all toward it.
Jung recognized this psychoid structure and process as the Mandala, a kind of super Archetype endowed with organizing, intelligent qualities. The Mandala appears to be the underlying structure of evolving consciousness, a living Web of Intelligence in which the Circle’s outer boundary attracts raw experience, and moves it ever close to the Center, which exerts a kind of magnetic pull.
The Lacy Web of the Mandala is mysterious and majestic, almost beyond our understanding, much less ability to capture in mere words. It is a form of Consciousness; its every fiber pulses with intelligence but also love; and we are moving through Time and Space enfolded in its embedded Plan.
The Mysterious, Organizing Archetype of The Higher Self
Within the framework of the sacred Mandala there exists another, more personalized force. Jung encountered a mysterious Presence within the Psyche which seemed to act as a coordinating, orchestrating “manager” of healing and personality growth.
This Presence has been noted by many others and is often called the Higher Self. Jung believed it corresponded to the Archetype of Christ. Like Jung, Joseph Campbell and Tom Harpur (author of The Pagan Christ) found the Christ Archetype to be universally present in various forms as a major myth found in many cultures of the world. I have sensed the Higher Self in my own daily meditations for over 40 years now, and can say I certainly “met” such a Presence in others when working with their dreams in my Dream Workshops.
Anyone who makes a sustained effort in thinking about their life and its patterns will encounter the feeling that they are in a kind of program. They will solve one puzzle, heal one wound, and then move to another in ways which only make sense over a period of time. Hence my belief that wherever possible, an individual should pursue their own internal journey on their own, trusting to this inner guiding Self who is aware of every breath the person takes.
Within the microcosm of the Psyche, the Higher Self tirelessly searches for each of our smaller fragments, as mini- or sub-personalities, negotiates their acceptance within the larger personality, and endows them with larger purpose as they come together within the whole personality of this lifetime…
Just so, the personalities from all of our lifetimes seem to be only parts of the Whole – the larger entity containing them all being the Soul. Each part is sacred, each self matters, and each contributes something wonderful and irreplaceable to the larger Self.These lifetime personalities also come gradually to know it is safe to integrate, to become part of this Whole, which in turn knows itself to be part of the Creator.
We may spend many lives exploring consciousness through myriad aspects of one archetypal pattern, or combine several within one lifetime…They are vast, with multiple variations on themes which provide broad frameworks which keep us from drifting in a sea of undifferentiated psyche.
Of this much we can be sure: We do not walk alone into a bare and empty hall without props or prompting, but enter upon a stage, with a script, within a lively ongoing play peopled with other, vibrant characters. Dark, Light, – the good, the bad and the ugly – all these are here, for without dramatic tensions, how could there be a play?
And what would turn the keys in the locks of one’s potential, if not the invitation – and challenge – to evolve?
Copyright © Carol Leigh Rice 2011, Revised 2015, 2021