Archetypal Figures

LifeWorksAre you a clever girl or a wise woman? A hero or a trickster? There’s more to you than meets the eye, but you have a certain personality. And this persona tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your self-image affects how you feel. Your feelings influence the way you act. And your actions ensure that you get the experiences you expect. In other words, your character affects what happens in your life story.

All the world’s a stage and you act a central character. You choose your part and find people to play with you. At the same time, your image determines what role you play in their story. You relate to people whose life scripts fit with yours. All our stories draw on a common set of characters. The same figures recur in tales from different times and places: the princess, the good mother, the wise man and so on. We recognize such roles easily when we encounter them. The psychologist Carl Jung called these universally recurring figures ‘archetypes’.

Archetypes are outline forms which appear in the human psyche. They consist of clusters of stereotypical attributes. We fill in their features on the basis of personal experience. Your image of a ‘good mother’ draws on your own encounters with mothering. You fear the witch because of folktales you once heard. These figures are familiar and reassuringly predictable. They help us to make sense of the world.

Dancing FiguresWhen you interact with other people, you are usually playing one of these archetypal roles. You pick a part and act it out with your own personal interpretation. This character is your public image. It determines how other people see you, and how you see yourself. You have relationships with people who will act complementary roles. The hero needs a princess to rescue; the good mother wants a hungry urchin to feed.

The character you choose is influenced by the people around you. Social and economic factors limit the parts you can play: Beauty may be financially dependent on her Beast. But ultimately the only limiting factor is your imagination. When you change, so do your relationships with other people. Beauty can get a job and take control of her own life.

Writing on the WallThe writing’s on the wall but who composed it? You did: but usually you’ve used automatic writing. Most of us drift through life without realizing what’s going on. We accept the hand that fate has dealt us, without ever trying to change our cards. We fall into friendships out of convenience rather than choice. We stay in jobs that don’t really inspire us because we can’t see any alternative. Our lovers may take us for granted, or even abuse us: we act as if there’s nothing we can do about it.

Actually you have more control over your story than you think. You can broadly choose what happens in your life. Will you go to college or get a job? Do you want to stay single or get married? You may have to modify the details but you decide what you want to do. If you don’t make conscious choices, you’re actually deciding by default. What matters is to become aware of this process.

Antique BookThe greatest story ever told is happening right now, all around you. Your personal role is unique, but we’re all on the same great journey. Your life script interlocks with the stories of everyone you know. You choose the part you want to play, and you decide what to do. Once you are aware of this, you can start to take control of your life. Now there’s an empowering thought. Your story so far tells who you were: what happens next is up to you!

This post is based on an article in Watkins Magazine Issue 33 Spring 2013.

LifeWorks‘ shows how you use archetypal figures in your life story. Visit my Author Page and follow me on Twitter @janebaileybain. If you like this post, leave a comment and use the buttons below to Share on Twitter, Facebook and Stumbleupon.

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Labyrinth MinotaurLabyrinths are often seen as a metaphor for confusion. Theseus chases the Minotaur through a labyrinth; Jung talks of the labyrinth of the unconscious mind. Actually these are examples of mazes, not labyrinths. A maze is a web of tracks designed to confuse and disorient:  false turns and dead ends conspire to get you hopelessly lost. In a labyrinth, your path may twist and turn, but there is only one route.  If you follow the way, you will inevitably come to the centre. Labyrinths are a symbol of the soul’s journey: keep going, and you will find your true destination.

Labyrinth Chartres CathedralLabyrinths have been marked and walked since ancient times. They feature in spiritual traditions from around the world as a method of obtaining enlightenment. Usually they are in the form of two-dimensional patterns marked on the ground. They may be spiral, symmetrical or random meanderings. Early Christian churches feature labyrinthine patterns as a representation of human life, with the centre symbolizing salvation. In medieval Christianity, walking the labyrinth was a form of symbolic pilgrimage: religious rituals were conducted on the patterned floors of great cathedrals such as Chartres and Amiens. Nowadays ‘labyrinth workshops’ in both Christian and New Age traditions hark back to this ancient source of spiritual insight.

Labyrinth London UndergroundLondon Underground are installing a labyrinth in every station to commemorate their 150th year. The series of 270 black-and-white enamel plaques has been designed by Turner-winning artist Mark Wallinger. Each one is unique but they are all circular, and have a single starting point. The first ones were put up today and by summer 2013 they will all be in place. The designs will be numbered for the station to which they are assigned: this is their position in the ‘Tube Challenge’ – the route by which you can visit every station in the shortest possible time. Well, we each have our own spiritual journey….

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The Road Less Travelled

Two Roads Diverge





Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And since I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth

Then took the other as just as fair
Because it was grassy and wanted wear
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet, knowing how way leads onto way
I doubted if I should ever come back

I shall be telling this one day
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in a wood
I took the one less travelled by
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost (1915)

Life is the sum of the choices you make.

(Full original poem entitled ‘The Road Not Taken’)

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Plough Monday

Ploughing in SnowPlough Monday traditionally marked the end of the midwinter festivities. The Twelve Days of Christmas were over: on the Monday after Epiphany, it was time to return to work. But in medieval England, it was an excuse for agricultural labourers to make money at a hard time of year. Ploughmen were meant to report early for duty at the start of the new planting season. Instead they would drag a decorated plough around the village, shouting “Penny for the Plough!” They were often accompanied by a boy acting the Fool, who wore animal skins and carried a pig’s bladder on a stick; and a man dressed as an old woman, known as the Bessy. This echoes the characters typically found in modern pantomimes. Plough MondayParticipants dressed in motley costumes and blackened their faces with soot. This disguise protected them from repercussions when they ploughed up the front garden of any householder who declined to contribute. In Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, the ploughboys performed ‘molly dances’; in the East Midlands they put on mummer’s plays. Their first takings went towards a ‘plough light’, a candle in the local church; the rest were spent on ale. Revellers feasted on ‘Plough Pudding’, a boiled suet pudding containing meat and onions. The Plough Monday customs declined in the 19th century but have been revived in the 20th, though they are now usually held on a Saturday – ensuring that participants can report for work on time!

Plough Monday is a good time to ‘put your hand to the plough’ and start a new project. Good luck with those New Year Resolutions!

LifeWorks‘ is about using myth and archetype to develop your life story. Visit my Author Page and follow me on Twitter @janebaileybain. If you like this post, leave a comment and use the buttons below to Share on Twitter, Facebook and Stumbleupon.

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Happy New Year

London New Year Fireworks‘Tis the season to be better… and this year I’m going to stick to my New Year Resolutions. The best way of being sure is to make them easy – so I’m making them mnemonic by using a threefold division of mind, body and spirit.

Girl on SaxophoneMind: I need to brush up my French; but it gets much better after a bottle of wine, so there’s not much incentive there. How about learning the saxophone? No, I tried that last year and I need someone else to yell ‘Practise’! Sudoku? Crosswords? But those are meant to be fun…. What I really need to do is start writing regularly again. The ‘LifeWorks’ launch was great fun, and I’ve had a string of articles, but I need to get back to the story stuff. I’ve promised my publisher there’s another book in the pipeline. I’m going to mark ‘white space’ in my diary two mornings a week and just sit in front of the computer until something comes.

Zumba Body: Botox? Boob job? Laser eye surgery? Not indulged – or at least acknowledged – in my wholistic social circles. I’ll have to hone the effortful way. Since I ran the London Marathon in 2011, my knee has been a weak point (it was totally worth it though!). But I do need some regular exercise. I’m going to set aside two sessions a week, one for a short run or bike ride, the other for something more structured. I’m thinking Zumba at the local health club, where you can sign up for a term’s worth of classes (paying up front is a great way of guilt-tripping myself into going). Maybe I’ll persuade a friend to sign up too and treat her to coffee afterwards.

Spirit: This is the simplest in theory, the hardest in practise. Live in the moment. Banish negative thoughts and emotions. Do a kind deed every day. Easy to say, but difficult to actually do. Someone gave me a metaphor today which might be helpful. My phone has an icon which tells me how much battery it has left. Low Phone BatteryBy the time it gets down to 10% it’s about to switch off: I have to monitor it and recharge when it gets anywhere below around 30% full. Apparently my emotional welfare is similar: I need to recognize when I’m dipping towards subsistence level and do something about it whilst I still have the energy to pull up. This could be going for a swim, or meeting up with a friend, or whatever jump-starts my body / mind and reminds me that life is worth living. Just being alive is a ticket to the greatest show on earth. I’m going to watch myself and learn to work out when I’m getting low. Meanwhile, the equivalent of a regular re-charge is doing something I love every week. Music NoteI can’t manage meditation – living in London it’s hard to switch off – but I find that hyperventilating harmoniously with like-minded individuals has much the same effect. I’m going to join a choir.

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Christmas Customs

XmasWreathHave you written your Christmas cards? Made some mince pies? Put up the tree? On these cold winter days, we need a festival to feel good about life. Our midwinter customs go back a long way….

Christmas really began in the fourth century, when Christianity became the official religion of Rome. Celebrations for Jesus’ birthday were moved to the midwinter solstice, conveniently coinciding with the ancient festival of Saturnalia. People were already decorating their houses with evergreens, feasting and exchanging small gifts. Now they could carry on carousing in a suitably Christian spirit.

It wasn’t just the Romans who celebrated the turning of the year. Many of our traditions have Norse or Teutonic origins. Viking children got midwinter presents from Father Odin, riding on his eight-legged horse. The English word Yule comes from the Scandinavian wheel’ (hjul). Cart wheels and spinning-wheels were ceremonially bound to prevent use. XmasTreeThe Yule log was hauled in from the woods on the solstice – around Christmas Eve – and kept burning for the next twelve days. This is the sacred time set aside for celebrations, and marks the period between Christ’s birth and the arrival of the Three Kings (Epiphany).

Advent literally means ‘coming’ (ad-venire). Christians decorate their houses to welcome the holy infant. Evergreen branches symbolize his promise of eternal life. The fir tree with gifts was introduced to Britain by Prince Albert after he married Queen Victoria in 1840. Pine wreaths on the door are another Germanic custom, circles symbolizing eternity.

XmasHollyHolly was used by the Saxons in their sun-return festivals. It is named the ‘holy-tree’ because berries like blood-drops appear about this time. Ivy is another evergreen, originally dedicated to the Roman god Bacchus (Greek Dionysius): the French word ivre means ‘drunk’! Its twining tendrils are a symbol of lasting love.

XmasMistletoeMistletoe was known to the Celts as ‘all-healer’: a sprig brings good luck, not to mention an excuse for  kissing. It was venerated by the druids, who believed it was seeded by lightning: these pagan associations exclude it from church decorations.

Candles on Christmas Eve guide the Holy Family towards shelter. They recall Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, which is celebrated around this time of year. Midnight chimes were once a protective noise to drive away bad spirits. XmasChristingleCarols (Latin choraula, a flute-player) were originally circle dances accompanied by singing: St Francis of Assisi introduced joyous hymns and set up the first Nativity crib in 1224AD. Nowadays children attend a Christingle service, carrying an orange (representing the world), tied with a red ribbon (blood of Christ), decorated with a candle and sweets.

XmasPuddingWe prepare seasonal food: sugared and spiced to mask the taste of stored ingredients. Each country has its own specialities. Eat a mince pie in a friend’s house on each of the twelve days of Christmas for a happy month in the coming year. Round biscuits, puddings and pies recall the shape of the sun; the blue brandy-flames around a plum pudding recall the ancient solstice festival.

StNickSleighThat leaves just one important question.
Is Santa Claus Real?
Click on the link to find out!
Season’s Greetings: Read about why we send Christmas Cards!

If you like this post, leave a comment and use the buttons below to Share on Twitter, Facebook and Stumbleupon. Visit my Author Page and follow me on Twitter @janebaileybain. ‘LifeWorks‘ is about using myth and archetype to develop your life story.

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What’s your lucky number? According to numerology, it might really have a secret significance. The first numbers were just mnemonic symbols to record trade transactions (The Story of Writing). We use a decimal system, but how many digits do we really need? Some Australian Aboriginal tribes only have words for one, two and many. The super-computers that control our space program just use the numerals 0 and 1 (off and on). But numbers are more than a mere tool for calculation: they are the product of sign and sound, and have esoteric meanings.

0 was invented by Babylonian priests in the Middle East around 500BC. The mathematician Fibonacci brought it to Europe around 1200AD, along with the rest of the Arabic numerals.* Zero is implicit in multiple dichotomies: absence and presence; dark and light; yin and yang. The circle is a symbol of eternal perfection, but zero originally carried connotations of dark magic: transcribing ‘nought’ was potentially an act of annihilation.

1 is a symbol of unity and wholeness, linked with God in the monotheistic religions.

2 is a symbol of division, the conflict which characterizes worldly existence. It represents duality and hence potentially complementarity. In stories, twins or brothers represent different aspects of the same character. In China, the number 2 is considered lucky. At New Year, bright-coloured oranges are given in pairs.

3 is the number of divine order. It combines the numerals of 1 (divinity) with 2 (humanity). Three represents the trinity of Heaven, Earth and the Underworld. Time itself is divided into the past, present and future. The Hindu triumvirate of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva embody creation, preservation and destruction. For the Greeks and Celts, the Triple Goddess manifests as the figures of Maiden, Mother and Matriarch (Crone). Most human societies have a tripartite division (warrior-lords, priest-scholars and producers). Three is an auspicious number: third time lucky, as the storytellers remind us.

4 represents the cardinal directions, or points of the compass. The number 4 therefore represents the world and earthly existence. In Western tradition there are four winds, four seasons and four elements. Jung regarded quaternity as ‘the archetypal basis of the human psyche’. Four is especially significant in Native American myth and symbolism.

5 is the central point of the four directions. It is the sum of the first even and odd numbers, symbolizing the unity of male plus female, and the median of the first nine digits. For Muslims, there are five hours of prayer and five ritual elements of the hajj (pilgrimage). The pentagram is a symbol of esoteric knowledge, as evinced in the cross-section of Eve’s apple.

6 points characterize the star formed by a pair of inverted triangles. In Hindi tradition this represents the lingam penetrating the yoni, or the union of masculine and feminine. In the West it became the Seal of Solomon (Star of David), showing the human combination of flesh with spirit. Six embodies the balance of good and evil in manifest creation.

7 is the sacred union of four and three: it is the number of wholeness and perfection. There are seven days of the week; seven planets; seven branches on the shamanic tree. Our lives go in seven-year cycles, and there are seven ages of man.

8 is the number of cosmic balance. Sideways, it is the mathematical symbol for infinity.

9 is thrice three, a sacred ritual number in many traditions. Greek Demeter wandered the earth for nine days searching for Persephone. Norse Odin hung on the World Tree for nine days in search of wisdom. There were nine steps leading up to the Chinese Imperial Throne. According to Dante, there are nine celestial spheres and correspondingly nine circles of hell. Inverted and subverted, a triple nine becomes ‘the number of the devil’.

12 is the product of three and four: it links the worlds of gods, men and spirits. These are often shown conjoined by the World Tree, with Heaven in the branches and the Underworld amongst the roots. The number twelve is significant in many traditions. There are twelve seats on Mount Olympus; Jesus has twelve disciples; there are twelve signs of the zodiac, and twelve months in the solar calendar year.**

Numerology perceives meaning in quantitative symbols. Plato considered it the basis of cosmic and inward harmony; Pythagoras viewed it as fundamental to understanding cosmic rhythms. The Chinese saw it as the key to harmonizing their Empire with the Laws of Heaven. Nowadays we see digits as having pragmatic rather than predictive powers. But if you don’t believe in the magic of numbers, just consider the miraculous properties of pi….

*Zero isn’t needed for simple record-keeping systems: the Romans had a symbol for ‘10’, a separate symbol for ‘100’ (10×10), another for ‘1000’ (10×100) and so on. But zero is useful if you have a positional system of counting. Take a number like 1001: you need to indicate that there is nothing in the tens and hundreds columns. A simple dash is easily confused, especially with a double gap. Originally, ‘0’ was just a token to fill an empty space. It began to be seen as a number in India during C5AD. Nothing (the state of emptiness) is something, a profound philosophical concept: zero is the average of +1 and -1: and bingo, the science of mathematics is born.

**There are thirteen lunar months in the year. The number is thought by some to be unlucky, because of its pagan connotations: witches are said to meet in covens of thirteen, by the light of the moon. The Wicca movement has reclaimed thirteen as the number of the Divine Feminine.

Visit my Author Page for more posts and pictures. ‘LifeWorks‘ is about how you use myths and archetypal figures to develop your life story. Visit my Author Page and follow me on Twitter @janebaileybain. If you like this post,  use the buttons to Share on Stumbleupon, Facebook & Twitter.

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