The Prophet of Scripture and the Wizard of Fantasy—Part I: Archetypes and Myths

By. Andrew Garofalo

In her book, Awakening the Heroes Within, Carol S. Pearson discusses twelve archetypes. According to psychologist Carl Jung, an archetype is a symbol or motif that is repeatedly represented in mythology, art and literature. In all forms of storytelling we see universal characters and situations that are unrelated, yet they share many of the same traits. Similarities between creation and flood stories and hero stories from different cultures around the world come to mind. There’s also the monomyth (or hero’s journey) story template that we see in classical mythology and more recently in books and movies like Harry PotterThe Lord of the Rings, and the original Star Wars trilogy.

Archetypes

According to Jung, archetypes are not only represented in fictional stories though. He believed archetypes are a kind of inherited knowledge that lives in the unconscious mind of all people and that we unknowingly use archetypes to interpret the world and our place in it. Pearson says archetypes are “inner guides” that exemplify “a way of being on the journey” we call life. Note that Pearson isn’t saying archetypes are beings themselves. They are not angels, demons or spirits, but collective knowledge passed on through the generations. Pearson associates archetypes closely with the monomyth which she envisions in three stages: the preparation, journey and return of the hero (Joseph Campbell saw it as departure, initiation and return and I see the saint’s journey as the call, the cross and communion).

one hero fighting 3 knights

A Catholic Perspective on Archetypes and Myths

Though Jung and his followers like Pearson are psychologists, archetypes do not appear to be purely scientific or artistic in nature. Rather, there is a transcendent quality to them.

In book one of his four-book series, Finding True Happiness, Father Robert Spitzer, SJ recognizes Jungian archetypes as one of the four major dimensions of religious intuition and experience. “The archetypal story calls each of us to be a hero [in the cosmic struggle between good and evil,] … to resist the forces of evil and to assist the divine mystery in bringing humanity to its proper and full end.”

In his second book in the series, The Soul’s Upward Yearning, Father Spitzer connects archetypes to myths when he asks, “What is it about these three stories [Harry PotterThe Lord of the Rings and Star Wars] that catapults them ahead of other great … [stories]? In a word, they all fit the technical description of myths.” Father Spitzer says myths are not concerned with worldly narratives, but with transcendent and spiritual narratives. “The objective of myths is to express ultimate truth and meaning … ultimate reality. … [M]yths fascinate and captivate not only our imaginations but our very souls.” Mythical stories appeal to our emotions; we feel them.

Great Catholics on Myths

Father Spitzer is in good company in his understanding of myths. While some might fear myths as un-Christian or consider them childish fairy tales, St John Paul II said myths communicate something “more than real” and he called classical myths “more than true” (from The Human Person, by J. Brian Bransfield). Furthermore, JRR Tolkien, a devout Catholic and the author of The Lord of the Rings, said, “[Myths are] the best way–sometimes the only way–of conveying truths that would otherwise remain inexpressible. We have come from God and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God.”

Father Spitzer distinguishes himself from Jung and his followers in their understanding of archetypes in one important way. Whereas Jung believed archetypes derive from a common inherited human memory, Father Spitzer believes archetypes derive from a transcendent reality (the numinous experience, religious intuition, and conscience), i.e., from God. I am in agreement with Father Spitzer.

How Archetypes Affect Our Expectations About Stories

Archetypes might explain why great stories closely follow the monomyth (and the three-act structure we see in stories portrayed in all kinds of media). When people experience a story, they expect it to unfold in a certain way based on the archetypes they know. When stories follow the archetypes, the audience is happy. But when heroes and villains don’t behave the way they’re supposed to and stories don’t follow the patterns we expect, they violate our archetypes. And so these rebellious books and movies collect dust at the bookstore (or in the Amazon warehouse) and bomb at the box office.

The Magician and the Sage

Two archetypes discussed in Pearson’s book are the Magician and the Sage. As I read about these archetypes, I thought of two people. One real, the prophet Elijah, and one fictional, the wizard Gandalf. First, let’s look at the motivations of the Magician and the Sage and then we will review the stories of Elijah and Gandalf through the archetypal lens.

As you read on, please keep in mind that much of what we discuss below is metaphorical. We do not believe people are literally Magicians who cast magic spells, but that the Magician figure in stories represents an archetype or truth which derives from God and which plays out metaphorically at different times in each of our life’s journey.Dragon and magician

The Magician Archetype

Pearson says the Magician archetype’s goal is to transform lesser things into greater things. He fears transformation in a negative direction (greater things into lesser things). He responds to problems by transforming or healing them. His task is to align himself with the cosmos and his gift or grace is personal power. The wounded king must be healed by the Magician in order to transform the kingdom.

Magicians typically work as advisers to kings, but when the kingdom is in disarray, they work alone. Magicians seek to connect with others and with the world (they believe everything is interdependent). They know and tell the stories of their culture. They seek to turn negative situations into opportunities for growth and, through compassion and forgiveness, they try to transform negative people and situations into positive ones.

stand in front of passage to city

Finding Balance

Magicians seek a healthy and balanced body, mind and soul. They invoke the divine help of others, e.g., through the intercession of the saints, and they maintain a close relationship with their deity through prayer and meditation. Magicians seek transformation through ritual, e.g., liturgy. They follow their intuition even when others might think they are crazy. A Magician’s ego, which is necessary for him to achieve his goal, can work for him (in the virtue of fortitude) or against him (in the vice of arrogance).

The Sage Archetype

The Sage archetype’s goal is truth and understanding. He fears deception and illusion. He responds to problems by studying, understanding and transcending them. His task is to attain knowledge, wisdom and enlightenment and his gift or grace is skepticism, wisdom and detachment. The Sage seeks the truth about himself, the world and the universe. His ultimate goal is not just knowledge, but wisdom. He understands that the truth shall set him free.

Sages seek to solve the riddle of existence. They speak in parables and symbols. They know the answers they obtain depend on the questions they ask. The Sage seeks universal truth over subjective truths. They know they must understand themselves and their own biases in order to discover the truth. Sages believe knowing oneself is a journey.

Pearson says Sages understand they can never know everything; this helps them develop humility. The Sage seeks freedom through detachment. Jesuits call it indifference; mystics also call it detachment. Sages believe real freedom and joy lies in turning one’s life over to a transcendent and wiser power than oneself, e.g., God. Suffering opens one up to trust and let go, to stop fighting life and trusting in the process of life, e.g., Divine Providence.

In Part II of this series we will examine the lives of Elijah and Gandalf through the lens of archetypes.

Sources:

1 Kings 17-21

2 Kings 2

Brown, Raymond E., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1990.

Pearson, Carol S. Awakening the Heroes Within. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.

Spitzer, Robert. Finding True Happiness. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2015.

Spitzer, Robert. The Soul’s Upward Yearning. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2015.

Vawter, Bruce. “Introduction to Prophetic Literature.” In The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 186-200.

https://www.quora.com/What-kinds-of-spells-did-Gandalf-cast

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ainur_(Middle-earth)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archetype

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collective_unconscious#Archetypes

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gandalf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hobbit

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jungian_archetypes

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maia_(Middle-earth)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vala_(Middle-earth)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wizard_(Middle-earth)


Andrew Garofalo lives in Parkland, Florida with his wife Julie and their three children. He has practiced law for 18 years and is currently discerning a vocation to the permanent diaconate. He is a contributor to Those Catholic Men and Voyage Comics & Publishing and the creator of Saint’s Journey Blog. You can find more of his work at www.saintsjourney.com.

Advertisements
Thank you for sharing!

How My Flight toward Fiction Helped Me Escape the Strangeness of Reality

Mark Twain once wrote, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” While I do not fully understand the meaning of the great American author’s words I find myself drawn to the concept that reality is odd, weird, peculiar, and problematic. Seeming senseless suffering occurs daily throughout the globe: wars, famine, and violation of human rights. I do not want this post to turn into a philosophical treatise on the problem of evil. [please refer to the writings of St. Augustine or The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis for a clearer and more authoritative outline of the issue than myself !] To be clear, although I experienced a push from reality toward despair when things get overwhelmed, it is interesting that fiction pulls me away from this strangeness and helps center myself.

truth stranger than fiction.jpg

Over the past year, I have delved into the DC Comics Universe- the realm of Superman, Batman, The Flash, and Green Lantern. I am most recently reading a voluminous story arc from the New 52 series on Superman! I think I finally realized why I am drawn to and experience calming graces in the medium of comics.

1. Larger than Life, Yet Relatable Characters: Stories portray transformation and inner conflicts within characters. Superhero comics contain traditional character developments. They also add layers to the story through its main actors possessing enhanced powers. Instead of alienating the reader, I find I am drawn into a comic book through the device of the dual identity of a superhero—their superhero appellation and their secret identity.

life is locomotion the flash

I will use Barry Allen/The Flash as an example because I loving running and the main power of this character revolve around speed and endurance. Most versions have Barry’s desire to help others stemming from the death of his mother at a young age. Later endowed with super-speed and Speed-Force powers from a lightning in a laboratory, Barry soon dons the mantle of The Flash! Despite his ability to nearly travel at the speed of light, Barry oftentimes has to slow down to solve both personal and professional problems. By reading these comics this superhero appeals to me because I sometimes tend to be impatient and act rashly at times.

2. Alleviation through Art: I am a visual learner. Illustrations bring me closer to the events of the comic book story. When I am reviewing books to check out from the library, one of the things I look for in a good comic is appealing artwork. The Blackest Night Green Lantern story-line contained popping colors and heroes decked in hues highlighting their unique power rings. I felt like I dove into a verbal kaleidoscope in that crossover event. I cannot quite put my finger on it but something about the artwork of the New 52 DC Series soothes my anxiety. Without alleviation through art, I would return  an unread story back to the library as opposed to diving further into the comic book universe.

keep-calm-cause-there-s-no-place-like-home-1

3. In a galaxy far, far away…there is no place like home: Along with the character development of DC’s superheroes [and even non-powered support characters] and the beautiful art, I have come to greatly enjoy the move to solar system based settings. Although strangeness abounds in the various planetary systems and alternative timelines, I get a sense of excitement and wonder instead of fear from my mind travels to exotic scenes!

The freshness is anchored by the stability of the characters in the DC universe. Despite reading a revisionist version of Superman, Batman, or other heroes, a certain familiarity and tradition still remains front and center. Traveling on these journeys provide small interludes of rest from the weariness of reality. For instance, the phones were going of the hook at my job today. I encountered strange and perplexing questions I never dealt with before. During my break time, I become an observer of Superman’s battle against his archenemy– Brainiac. I returned to the real world energized to complete my day’s remaining work.

outer space wizard of oz.jpg

Pontius Pilate asked Jesus Christ a question that in an old as time but still fresh and relevant today, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Truth, reality, actuality is a perplexing thing to grasp. Humanity is not called to fully understand the mysteries of the universe yet creation is laden with hints at what the purpose of the real world is all about. What I have learned it that created truth—i.e. fiction– helps orient myself toward realizing my purpose of this life. Through the gift of fiction, I acquire a renewed and broader perspective when I return to the “real world”. I will leave you to ponder the wisdom of J.R.R. Tolkien legendary creator of Middle Earth and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Referring to fantasy as a natural human activity he states,

I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?

Thank you for sharing!