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.

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2019 Draft Picks From a Late August Dream Team

Starting 5

By: Megan Naumovski

Try to quickly name the five first people you consult for advice when you have an important life decision to make. Look around your desk or your home and notice if you have pictures of these people in a frame or a photo album, or perhaps on your phone?  My top five are usually at the top of my email, texts and phone call scrolls.

Now, imagine that those people who you so admire and consult often were perfected; they were unable to make mistakes.  How much more would you value their support and guidance? How must deeper of a trusting relationship could be forged with those whom you knew could never direct you toward a detriment or misguide you in any way? These people would have complete purity of intention in cultivating your success.  It sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? We could call them a “dream team” because there are more powerful in a group, and they are all on the same side: yours. “They” are our advocates, the saints. And the Captain of every team? Jesus Christ.

Consulting the Dream Team…

My mom had a friend who never decided anything without consulting her group of favorite saints, which she called her “dream team”.  Over the years she had read about various saints of the Catholic Faith and was especially inspired by many of them.  She kept a keychain handy with medals of her saintly friends.  When it was time to consider even the smaller decisions of her life, she would excuse herself with “I will be right back; I have to consult the team.”  Soon after, we started to notice people wearing bracelets with icons of saints around them, and we called them “team bracelets”.

Not only do we choose them, they can choose us…

Among our Catholic friends, we sometimes joke (respectfully) that when a certain saint repeatedly appears in our lives by means of social media posts, books, or discussions, we are being “saint stalked”.  Like the shepherd seeking the lost sheep with great fervor and devotion, these hard-working servants of God seem to have to use some creative methods to get the attention of their more thick-headed earthly counterparts.

Stalking by a saint seemed silly to me until one day a friend came by for a visit and said “I feel like St Padre Pio is stalking me. I see him everywhere!” About three minutes later I handed her a book she wanted to borrow, and a large picture of Padre Pio fell out of the pages.  I had never seen that picture before, and after staring at each other in shock for a few minutes, we attributed it to the zeal for souls for which St Padre Pio was well-known.

Communing verses worshiping…

In the Catholic Church we are often misunderstood to “worship” saints, but what our critics don’t understand is what we have in the “Communion of saints” can be likened to what Protestant believers may call “Fellowship”.  The difference is simply that the fellows we hold dear are now on the other side of the veil between Heaven and Earth but are even more active in our own personal lives because they are not bound by earthly limitations, and they are holy.

  1. The intercession of the saints.  “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness…. They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus…. So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped.” [LG 49; cf. 1 Tim 2:5.] From the Catechism of the Catholic Church

 Assumption of Mary

August is best known in the Church for the Solemnity of the Assumption, but…

The month of August in the Catholic Church is probably best known for a great Marian feast, the Solemnity of the Assumption of The Blessed Virgin Mary, especially because it falls mid-month, on August 15th and is a Holy Day of Obligation.

The Blessed Virgin is always a premier intercessor for anyone seeking a devoted advocate because she is first and foremost, our spiritual mother, whom Jesus gave to us all through John at the foot of the cross. Lesser known, but the focus of this article, are the star-studded set of members for any person’s line-up of saintly friends. Rounding out the end of August are some amazing draft picks for your own saintly “Dream Team”.

Keep Calm the Dream Team is Here

August 24: Feast of St Bartholomew, Apostle

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Here is a true Israelite.[a] There is no duplicity in him.” John 1:47

It is thought by scholars that Bartholomew, one of the twelve apostles, is the one referred to as Nathanael in scripture.  Honest and devoted, the few lines of scriptures Nathanael has in the gospels are always clear and sincere, and Christ compliments him for it. According to John 1:49, “Nathanael answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God;[a] you are the King of Israel.'”

The Patron Saint of Plasters, this saint was said to have converted many souls, which eventually cost him his life, being martyred in Armenia.

St. Augustine and Monica

August 27: Memorial of St. Monica

Many a struggling mother has enlisted the help of this patron saint who suffered her own share of heartbreak.  She persistently prayed and sought deliverance of her son St Augustine, (who we celebrate one day later) as she watched him fall far from God before his astounding conversion.  She won over the conversion of her fiery-tempered husband and his mother, who both made life difficult for her but finally were won over by her loving and pious example.  As patron saint of Alcoholics, conversions, married women and mothers, many of us find comfort in the steadfast ways of St Monica.

August 28: Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

If we struggle with a temperament that is reactive or impassioned, it may benefit us to call on St Augustine as a member of our own dream team.  As outlined particularly in his well-known work, The Confessions, he journeys from an embattled life of sin, to a powerful conversion to become one of the most revered doctors of the Catholic Faith. A powerful group of saints were surround the life of this great thinker and writer, who 1500 years later continues to stoke the fires of theologians and philosophers alike.

“Venerate the martyrs, praise, love, proclaim, honor them. But worship the God of the martyrs.”

–ST. AUGUSTINE, Sermons

August 29: Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist

We finalize the late August Dream Team with St John the Baptist; whose unique celebration is described here in the Breviary of “yesterday’s” St Augustine;

“For all these the final day of their lives, the day on which they completed their earthly service is honored. But for John the day of his birth, the day on which he began this mortal life is likewise sacred. The reason for this is, of course, that the Lord willed to announce to men His own coming through the Baptist, lest if He appeared suddenly, they would fail to recognize Him. John represented the Old Covenant and the Law. Therefore he preceded the Redeemer, even as the Law preceded and heralded the new dispensation of grace.”

  1. “The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, [Cf. Heb 12:1 .] especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives, the transmission of their writings, and their prayer today. They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care for those whom they have left on earth. When they entered into the joy of their Master, they were ‘put in charge of many things.’ [Cf. Mt 25:21.] Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan. We can and should ask them to intercede for us and for the whole world.”

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church

Resources:

Catholic News Agency, Vatican Archives, USCCB.org, Biblegateway (NABRE), Franciscan Media, Catholicculture.org.


Megan Naumovski is on a mission to remind the world of the love God has for each and every soul, and how that love deserves our response. Every day she is a wife and mom in her domestic church, but in the world she helps lead others to Christ though ministry leadership, teaching, speaking and blogging at The Domestic Church of Bosco, http://boscoworld.blog .

Thank you for sharing!