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Archetype Shift


The loss of illusions can be a real strength.

On November 2, I attended another meeting of the C.G. Jung Institute to hear three panelists discuss the election in terms of Jungian psychology. It was as though the candidates and the nation all three were being analyzed on Carl Jung’s couch.

The three perspectives were brilliant and thought-provoking, but I came away with my own hybrid point of view. The world feels very quiet on the eve of the election, and I wonder if something unanticipated is afoot in the minds of other women besides me.

The first speaker, Guilford Dudley, Ph.D., discussed the country’s enchantment with the hero archetype, which is reflected in the expectation that the United States should dominate the world both economically and militarily. Its appeal is obvious; its dark side is the elevation of masculine ego and disdain for the feminine. The cowboy boot is evidence of the archetype afoot, so to speak, in a candidate’s psyche.

I get all that, but I think the disenchantment rampant at the moment has to do with another archetype, that of the magician, which dominated the election in 2008. The theme of change won the day, but expectations were unrealistic. I can frame the vote for President Obama in the mind of an individual: I want you to (1) forestall economic collapse, (2) turn the economy around and stimulate robust growth, (3) stamp out corruption and greed, (4) give us all access to quality healthcare, (5) get us out of these wars in the Middle East, (6) create a job for me, and (7) get me out of debt. And this all needs to be accomplished by, like, tomorrow.

An individual working the magician archetype supposedly has such an inflated sense of self that it seems possible to accomplish virtually anything. The fatigue in President Obama’s face must signify confrontation of that illusion. It happens to every president. They all seem to age about ten years in four as they get in touch with the enormity of their responsibility and the difficulty of delivering on everything they have promised on the campaign trail.

Of course we can go through this cycle again if Mitt Romney is elected, because no magic wand comes with the office of president. On the other hand, at a time when we are getting in touch with our limitations as a nation and as individuals, in a world where a type of change we haven’t asked for is happening at warp speed, both the hero and the magician archetype may be on the wane.

If the loss of illusions is a collective experience, it may be a blessing. In the psyche of the mature individual, it creates that quality known as “gravitas.” It is the look of a hero  with a wound that has never healed, the look of a magician whose power now resides in wisdom rather than spells of enchantment.

I think women may find this mien more attractive than men do, because opportunity for us lies with the masculine psyche that has learned humility. That tired face turns to us in search of comfort, and the response can be, “OK, now let’s get down to business. I have some ideas.”

The loss of illusions can be a real strength. You discover your shortcomings and mistakes, you figure out where you weren’t prepared, you figure out how you overestimated other people, and you face the naiveté of your belief in shared ideals. Belatedly, you know what makes certain other people tick, and you can work that.

If you get a second chance, you can come out stronger than before. Now you’re dealing with reality, including the fact that some people will hate you no matter what you do for reasons you will never understand. At that point, it will no longer matter. Enough faith has been invested in who you are for you to fulfill your true destiny.

I wonder what’s going on in the secret minds of women all over this country. President Barack Obama is the first president in our history who has experienced the prejudice we have always known. I wonder if we are ready for that to be over. And if we are, how do we name the new archetype on the ascendant?


One Response to “Archetype Shift”

  1. Marilyn Whiteman

    Interesting, Ellen.

    Isn’t there some archetype about the false hero or magician ( e.g. Romney)?