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Are Archetypes Real?

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This article is the second of the series about Jung and “shadow work” with Özgür Önal.

I have been following Özgür for a long time and got inspired by his interest in Jung’s work and his synthesis of Jung and Sufi mystic thinking. So, we came together one night, with many questions in my head. The intention was one article which resulted in 6 articles around the topic of Jung and shadow work as you can see in the titles below.

What Jung really said?

Are archetypes real?

Who came up with the archetype and why?

What is a Jungian shadow?

How do you do shadow work on yourself?

Can shadow work help with depression?

Before starting, I would like to introduce Özgür to you;

So let’s continue with our journey in the incredible world of Jung.

Are archetypes real?

A Jungian scholar, Robert Johnson, once was asked if dreams are real, and his answer was almost something like this: “Dreams are much more real than you think. Compared to the reality of the physical world right now, it has a reality beyond it.”

When we pause for a moment to ask the world of symbols, the archetypes, what they are trying to reveal to me for my day? what kind of light they are trying to shed, that bridge begins to be built.

Archetypes are also real, of course.

Its reality might not be a reality that we perceive with our five senses.

When you read a beautiful letter from a beloved one or listen to your favorite music, something moves in your heart, a movement brought about by a realization in the spiritual realm.

Maybe another answer would be this. Don’t believe anyone. Try the presented rituals and decide for yourself how real they are for you. It is so real that there is no room for doubt for people who take the time, effort, and heal from these kinds of works. As we practice it, we see reality, we know it from inside, a step more than believing.

When do we say that something is real? Can’t something which transforms us be real, even if it’s invisible and abstract? What transforms me is also a very powerful reality.

If connecting with the archetype, feeling it, working on my own blind spots transforms me, then I think it’s very real and true.

Maybe this is the only truth and reality in one way. A material thing never has an ability to transform me from inside, it just supports my worldly living in terms of material needs like food, shelter, clothing which are also very necessary for life. I am not underestimating them. I just highlight another need that our psyche is carving for, the need for maturing and transforming into a shining personality to serve life. If archetypes and symbols have the ability to serve this need, then we can say they are so much real from the angle we’re looking at.

Which Jungian archetype are you or am I?

This question is not a well-formed question actually. I am gonna approach this question from a wider context since it reminds me of a bit of a “fast-food”-like approach to life. And then I’ll come back to question again. 

We also come across many ego-centric attempts to sell the idea of archetypes in the commercial world. Some examples are the marketing industry that uses archetypes to sell more products to customers without caring about the real wellness of customers and also the wellness of nature and earth.

Performance-driven human resources is another example that enforces the full capacity of human labor in industry. Fast self-improvement industries come with promises like “feel_good_tomorrow”, “become the person who you want to be”, “know-the-secret”. These types of attempts also try to include archetypes framework into their curriculum.

Actually, the archetypal transformation has nothing to do with fast self-improvement or feeling_good_tomorrow. It has its own pace and timing. It’s a permanent transformation and it’s not self-centric. “get what you want when you want”, “achieve_all_your_dream” or “be_successful ” are not the promises of archetypes or Jungian thought.  

That’s the reason why a quick recipe of archetypes would be very superficial and even might take us away from the transformative aspect of archetypes. Let’s say I told you which archetype you are. But what’s the point, if you don’t challenge your own intention behind how you are gonna use this information? So instead of asking which archetype you are, Let’s go deeper with the archetypes to feel the impact of it in our lives. 

The archetype is an expansion of the human spirit. So are the symbols. They all live within us.

At the point where we understand what Jung is trying to explain, we stop seeing human beings as only a Bashar (humankind)*. Also, remember the basic concepts I mentioned in the first article regarding two centers in the human psyche.

Beyond being a Bashar (humankind)* which represents the worldly aspect of humans, humans also have a divine aspect which is expressed in Quran Surah Isra, ayat 70. roughly means that

“We have made humans superior to most of what we have created”

There is nothing in the universe that is not inside us. All those archetypes live inside the human being. This is exactly why man is the most honorable of creation. That’s the reason why man is the only being who has the potential to be an Al-Insān al-Kāmil (perfect human being) that other living things cannot reach.

As in the example I gave in the previous article, humans are a fruit of the whole existence. Symbolically speaking, It cannot be separated from the tree, but it is not the tree either. It is not the tree itself, but with the seed inside, he can recreate that tree. It is connected to the roots of the tree with all its veins and organic connection. Fruit always gets nurtured by the tree even if fruit accepts the fact that it’s connected to the tree or not. 

That’s exactly why all the archetypes in the universe are already living inside the human being, sometimes as a hidden potential, sometimes as a living force. Sometimes they operate consciously, sometimes unconsciously, and autonomously. While the wise old man/woman archetype lives within the human being, the joker, the trickster, the warrior, the magician, the king, or the lover… All the colors of life are potentially there.

In a sense, it is being able to bring all of those potentials to a mature state. Jung called this concept “individuation”. By strengthening communication between those two centers I mentioned in the previous article. He has a concept that advises completing the maturation process by bridging between the conscious and unconscious, which fits very well with the idea of ​​the Al-Insān al-Kāmil (most mature human being) in Sufism.

Therefore, we have the potential to perfect all those colors and archetypes, but how much do we do this, how long do we continue on that path? that’s the crucial question.

What does it mean that those archetypes are not in their perfection or mature?

This is the best metaphor I can give to this. Man’s relation to the archetype is like the Earth’s relation to the Sun. In this sense, the archetype (symbolically sun) does not belong to us, it is beyond time, beyond space. something of the source. It belongs to existence. It belongs to the divine realm. We are just in a relationship with it. Just like the relationship of the Earth to the Sun. Earth is not the sun. It just utilizes the sun’s energy and light. Without the sun, the earth would be lifeless. Earth rotates in a certain orbit in relation to the Sun. It neither gets too close nor too far away. If it gets close, it burns, if it gets farther, it cools down, gets out of orbit, disappears into space. 

Exactly in this sense, our relationship with the archetype develops and deepens. Archetype, divine energy. This is exactly why in mythologies and religions; divine powers are symbolized by a character like God of fire, God of the sky, etc. Forces are caricatured and personified so that we can understand them more easily, integrate them more into our lives, and have the opportunity to remember them more through stories.

If we look at it, there is a divine power and as a human, I have a relationship with this power. If I get too close to my archetype, I’ll be in danger of destroying others and, eventually slowly, being destroyed by those energies. Because power is a very dangerous thing actually. For example, money is a kind of power, authority is a kind of power. So is temperature, so is light… This applies to every asset.

If I get very close to the sun as Earth, I will be destroyed by its energy. Because I can’t contain this much energy if my consciousness is not mature enough to contain it. In Jungian literature, it’s called “inflation”. it means that I became so much inflated by those energies that I lost my integrity and balance for life.

Bashar (humankind)* has this kind of weakness to handle divine energies unless he or she consciously lives with meaning and purpose. I’m talking about Bashar (humankind)* actually when I say “weakness”. We also have the potential to overcome this weakness. Al-Insān al-Kāmil (a perfect human being) can handle and contain this much power. Because simply Al-Insān al-Kāmil doesn’t claim personal ownership to this power. He always remembers and knows the real owner of this power. That’s why Al-Insān al-Kāmil has the highest values of humanity like justice, compassion, balance, harmony, authenticity, truthfulness, integrity, and many more qualities not only as knowledge but also as a state of being in his or her every single behavior towards others.

Let’s look at the opposite scenario of “inflation” where the earth moves away from the sun. This time we fall into the “alienation” state where we totally give up our real potential. 

Let me try to explain through an example.

For example, warrior, fighting spirit. It’s an energy, a life force. Mythology also corresponds to Athena for example. If I get trapped by this energy, this time I experience the illusion of one-sidedness without its complementary part which is about compassion and caring. 

Let’s take the king archetype. A king as a person is not important, the kingdom is important. It’s a temporary throne. 

All the archetypal energies are kind of a temporary throne just to stay in a relationship with, to stay in a certain tension, without falling into the trap of one-sidedness which is either inflation or alienation or, most of the time, both at the same time with the inner jumps from one side to another. 

This is something totally about inner integrity, balance, harmony, and measure.

How I can find this balance in a relationship with an archetype? Is it a fixed place for all of us or do we all need to find our own balances? 

Bishr the Barefoot (BİŞR el-HÂFÎ) has a saying, he says,

“If speaking outweighs, become silent, if silence outweighs, speak”. 

Avicenna also writes in one of his works that

“If you are in a state of burning too much by the force of anger, think about the other pole, try to throw yourself into the other pole. If you’re on the side of too much lust, try to throw yourself into the other pole.”

This is exactly like the other example I gave, where are you in that orbit right now? Trying to be stable, Cooldown if you’re on fire, get warm if you’re cold. By the way, this is not an easy thing. It’s a very tricky thing.

So, what’s the reference here? Feeling good? 

No. 

“Feeling good” is a very slippery ground because I might also feel good with my “nafs.

Because at that point, understanding the nafs. I need to realize understanding the difference between real human potential and Bashar (humankind)*.

It is always the one that pleases the nafs and makes us feel very good. If I’m too angry it might feel good to shout, it might feel good to hurt.

It might feel good to eat someone else’s bite if I’m too hungry. Actually, it feels good to nafs. It doesn’t make the soul feel good. It is precisely through our relationship with the soul that we can arrive at the right prescription.

Bearing in mind the human potential to fall into these traps and how difficult it is to be human. Only then we can escape these traps and stay in that stable place.

That’s why, as in the verse,(in Ahzâb Sura, ayat 72), as a rough translation,

“We offered the trust to the heavens, the earth, and the mountains, but they did not want to bear it, they were afraid of it and the man took it. Undoubtedly, man is very cruel, very ignorant.”

The same difficulty is always pointed out symbolically in the expressions in sacred books, ancient texts, or some other religious texts. Those expressions are actually very intense psychological truths in this sense. And now these symbols are starting to unfold when we are ready to take a step into our own unconscious to see our own blindspots. 

For example, where the two seas meet

In the story, I won’t go into too much detail, but Moses goes on a journey to meet Khidr. He is told that he will find him in the place where the two seas meet. Let’s stop searching like an archaeologist for a moment and let’s ask the question of where exactly the two seas meet inside me. This is exactly what symbolic thought requires asking.

Conclusion

Each time I am coming again and again to the same place: learning to find my balance and my ability to stay there. Balance is kind of the courtyard of the paradise in this world which can be reached by being here and now.

Jungian archetypes are providing incredible tools to understand this balance, which each of us can find through our own journey.

As I have already mentioned, this article is part of an interview series about Jung and shadow work with Özgür Önal. 

You can also be interested in these articles below,

What Jung really said? 

Who came up with the archetype and why?

What is a Jungian shadow?

How do you do shadow work on yourself?

Can shadow work help with depression?

Below is a Pinterest friendly photo…. so, you can pin it to your Jung and Shadow Work Board!

Bashar, which comes from the Arabic root bşr, is a quote from the word “man, the human species in general, those made of flesh and bone”. The Arabic word has the same roots as the Arabic word “başara(t)” “meat, skin”. This word is synonymous with the Aramaic/Syriac word bəsar, bisərā בְּסַר, בִּסְרׇא.

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