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The Archetypes and their Relationship to the Personal
Marilyn Marshall, M.A., LPC
One of my fondest memories of my paternal grandmother is her storytelling. I always looked forward to my visits as a young child, for she would read fairy tales from books beautifully illustrated with images that my imagination delighted in and played with. Although she read tales like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella, I always wanted to hear Hansel and Gretel. My attraction to this fairy tale could have been because I was only five or six during these visits and Gretel was a child rather than the adolescent of the princesses. Or maybe it was because Gretel turned out to be capable in defeating the witch and I needed to feel capable, build a strong ego.
In adolescence, those years of hormonal surges and romantic love songs, the image of the prince of Snow White or Sleeping Beauty captured my attention forget the fact that there was the question of dealing with the jealousy of the evil stepmother or the angry curse of the thirteenth fairy godmother. What mattered was the prince and living happily ever after!
You might be wondering, “What do fairy tales have to do with the psyche? With my feeling stuck? With my anger or depression or fear? What do they have to do with marriage or divorce or death or loss of a job?”
Fairy tales and myths are the expressions of psychic processes occurring in what Jung has called the collective unconscious, the realm of instinctual and spiritual patterns of life. Unlike the personal unconscious, which contains the personal material that has been repressed, the collective unconscious contains the archetypes those impersonal, universal, inherited types of situations and types of figures innate to humanity. They are powerful systems of readiness for action, and at the same time images and emotions. As a carrier of both positive and negative qualities, the archetype moves psychic energy into a regressive or progressive flow and affects us in our personal lives.
Different fairy tales depict different psychic processes for instance, some deal with establishing the heroic ego; others emphasize the experience of the shadow, those negative aspects of ourselves we reject as undesirable; many deal with the experience of the animus or anima and the father and mother images behind them and others tell the story of the archetype of the Self, the central ordering principle of the psyche, or the God-image.
The kings and queens, the gods and goddesses, the wild men and innocent maidens, and the dummlings, dwarves, and talking animals these figures live within us and carry an emotional charge. They can tell us what is dominant, what is missing, what is the task and what can be helpful.
And then there are the typical situations leaving the parents, slaying the dragon, confronting and assimilating the shadow, completing the tasks, entering the underworld, relating to the masculine and the feminine, finding the treasure. Although we project these figures and situations onto outer life, the work and the suffering involves relating to these archetypal images within ourselves.
If you are not a reader of fairy tales or myths, you can find these same archetypal images and motifs in films. The widespread success of movies such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and the Vampire Sagas indicate the universal appeal. There projected on the cinematic screen, larger than life, modern figures and situations depict the same tensions and psychic processes found in fairy tales and myths.
I want to finish this brief description of the archetype with a collective experience of its image, its emotional value, and its power to move psychic energy and transform life.
If you were here in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, you were part of this collective experience of a powerful archetypal force that the news described as “biblical” because of the Old Testament myth of Noah and the flood. The flood is also recorded by Ovid in his book on Roman and Greek myths. Despite the fact that manmade defenses broke down, the flood that destroyed 80% of the city is an archetypal image.
“Missile from the Sea”
Missile flying through the air
This was my journal entry on July 22, 2005, five weeks before Hurricane Katrina. Part of the way I worked with my dreams after putting them on a computer disc was to paint them or engage with them in poetic form or dialogue. In this dream, the night before, I watched a missile, launched from the depths of the sea, break the moonlit surface, arc through the night sky and destroy a city alongside the water. At first, I was just a distant observer as the missile traveled and the chaos in the city began. Then, I was in the city witnessing all manner of response to such a catastrophic event and needing to respond, as well, for it was the city in which I lived.
My strongest association to this dream related to war. Foremost was the reality that, at that time, one of my sons, a member of the National Guard, was in the war in Iraq. In the external world missiles had been launched, bombs had exploded and his life was threatened daily with destruction. His death would have had the impact on me of the Missile from the Sea. This association once again flooded me with the emotions of fear and anxiety I first experienced when my son told me his unit was going to Iraq. Tender memories had surfaced and assailed me with a longing for the past. In my mind he had become a little boy again, wrapped in my arms, protected from harm, and years younger than the man of twenty-eight. Regression had pulled me down into a whirling vortex of emotion and back to a time when the sweetness of life as mother and child existed in its infancy of development. For all mothers the physical umbilical cord is cut at the birth of the child; the initial separation is mandated, and for the first time the child is forced to breathe separately. For many mothers the psychic cord remains and is only periodically cut away as we are forced to breathe separately and, yet, relate in a new way.
My identity had been formed around the role of mother. Until college, I was of necessity a second mother to ten brothers and sisters born within a twelve-year span. Then after college and marriage, I wanted children and, in time, had three sons. Through the years, other parts of me had interfered with the mother and demanded their places in my life. These new expressions of myself had helped me breathe separately. Yet, this dream with its turbulent association was another invitation to consciously respond to the archetypal mother within and to recognize the power and complexity of the psychic relationship between mother and child. It had invited me to acknowledge at a deeper level the separate destinies of individuals. I had my own life with its path, its necessity and my son, along with his brothers, had his. This seems a simple realization and one that began long before he and his brothers were adults. But I think anyone who has identified with or depended upon a particular role or attitude in life, with its defenses in place, knows the difficulty in experiencing the internal chaos that occurs with the necessary destruction or loss of that one-dimensional way of being.
There was no denying or avoiding this destruction. I had been clumsily, gradually changing through my relationship with the unconscious, but there are those pivotal experiences or defining moments that usher in, even force, change, and my dream seemed to indicate one of those. It presented me with a sudden and immediate image: from the depths of the collective unconscious an aggressive, masculine archetypal force was destroying an established interior city, the psychic home of an identity.
In the dream, in the end, I left this city. Subsequent dreams offered additional images to help me process this experience. Then one month later, on August 21, 2005, I made this journal entry in response to a dream:
“The Wall, Cracked Open”
There against the wall she cries
The young woman of this dream was symbolic of a psychic process of deepening my experience of myself. She evoked a quality of the feminine that had been born at a time when I began to express my own voice rather than the echo of another’s. Then she was lost. In the dream, even though I could not “hear” her voice, the at-oneness of the image and emotion, the tension, and the dissolving wall communicated her message. Grounded in the experiences of beauty and ugliness, of mistakes and imperfections, and of the descents and ascents of my life, this figure represented a new feminine consciousness.
The synchronicity of these dreams and internal processes and what occurred in outer life the following week with Hurricane Katrina was a powerful personal experience of what many in depth psychology describe as the anima mundi or world soul. Like the missile of my dream, Katrina had been launched from the sea, and, like the walls of my own defenses cracked open with the woman’s tears, the levees to protect New Orleans gave way and the flood came forth. That intimate relationship of inner and outer, of the individual and the collective, of above and below, and of the human and divine held me in awe!
We had a collective experience of an archetypal energy that destroyed 80% of our city. For me, a confrontation with the archetypal mother, a necessary relationship to an aggressive masculine, and an assimilation of a particular feminine were processes set in motion by the hurricane and flood. You too had a personal experience of the flood and chances are its archetypal power set in motion psychic processes that were individual to you in their image, emotion, and purpose.
People often enter analysis because they are facing a dilemma. Nothing the conscious ego has tried to “right” or change has worked. Something other than the ego is necessary. A respect for and understanding of the value and purpose of the archetypes and their ability to move psychic energy provides a new possibility from the psyche to deepen and broaden one’s life.
Sections of this article were excerpted from "Hurricane Katrina: The Tequila, the Kleenex and the Ivy," by Marilyn Marshall, which appeared in Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture, Environmental Disasters and Collective Trauma, vol. 88, Winter 2012.
Marilyn Marshall, MA, LPC, is a Jungian psychoanalyst and licensed professional counselor in private practice in New Orleans. She is a senior training analyst in the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts and the coordinator for the New Orleans Jungian Seminar. Her article, “Hurricane Katrina: The Tequila, the Kleenex and the Ivy” appeared in Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture, Environmental Disasters and Collective Trauma, vol. 88, Winter 2012, and her article “A Close-Up of the Kiss,” was published in Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture, Cinema and Psyche, vol. 77, 2005.
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