The Age of The Orphan Part 7: The Metaphysics of Archetypes

In this series we’ve been jumping around all over the place in terms of the theme of each post. So, I figure we might as well keep the trend going by throwing in a post that makes explicit some of the theoretical and metaphysical propositions and assumptions that guide the approach we have been taking. Probably should have done this at the start of the series, but, better late than never. Without further ado, let’s jump in.

Psychology vs “Reality”

In some of his writings, particularly the earlier ones, Jung is at pains to note that he is talking about psychological phenomena and not making metaphysical claims. This was probably a necessary hedge on his part as the ideas he was promulgating go against the materialist dogma of modern society. A big part of the reason, I think, why Freud gained more attention than Jung was because he stuck to that dogma. For example, his focus on the animal drives accords with the “bottom up” philosophy of materialism according to which the “lower” explains the “higher”. Using biology to explain psychology is one manifestation of this. Of course, Freud was also primarily concerned with sex and, as the old saying goes, sex sells.

It was later in his career that Jung became more interested in the idea that archetypes are fundamental not just to the psyche but also to the world in general. This was the basis of his collaboration with the physicist, Wolfgang Pauli, which gave rise most famously to the notion of synchronicity: the strange habit of reality matching up with psychic occurrences in a way that cannot be explained by cause and effect. Jung posited a more general notion of “ascausal orderedness” to account for this phenomena. By that time he was becoming elderly and so he asked his collaborator, Marie-Louise von Franz, to follow up on the idea. She later published the work “Number and Time” which explores the notion that the archetypes of number unite psychic and physical reality.

In this series of posts, we follow Jung and von Franz in assuming that the archetypes are not just psychological but work to bring acausal order to the world.

Objectivity vs Subjectivity

In the field of linguistics, it is accepted that a native speaker’s intuitions about their native language are valid. The reason is because we assume there is a universal grammar that sits at the foundation of language learning and any speaker who has learned to speak must have activated that faculty. The judgements of a native speaker are not “subjective” because the language faculty is common to all.

The same goes for psychic judgements. By virtue of being human, we all have the psychic faculties that enable access to the collective unconscious. Unlike the language faculty, however, the faculties needed to access the subconscious are not equally activated in all people. One could argue that we are born with them “switched on”. But as we get older we are encouraged to ignore or disbelieve them by parents and society in general. This is especially true in the modern materialist West.

One must learn to use those faculties but also to harness them in an appropriate fashion and that is what the individuation process is for. It is that process which integrates the subconscious and conscious minds. It is not enough to have access to intuition, imagination or other relevant faculties, they must be brought into balance and integrated with the ego. If they aren’t, we see phenomena such as projecting the shadow. The final product of the integrated psyche is what Jung called The Self.

What separates the sage from the madman? It’s that the former knows how to integrate the content of the subconscious while the latter is overwhelmed by it. As we have been discussing in previous posts, this process is not easy or straightforward. It carries significant risks, especially in cultures such as ours which have lost the ability to guide people through the journey.

All that would be complicated enough, but there are also hierarchies of individuation so that the Orphan’s metamorphosis is not the final stage but more like the first hurdle on the path. At this point we get caught up in much larger discussions about the nature of truth and hierarchies of being etc. Psychic truths are not capable of measurement, quantification or calculation. From the point of view of materialist science this is a failing but the counter argument would be that such truths are only attainable on the material plane which has traditionally been seen as the lowest level of existence. As you move up the planes, you must bring more of yourself to the task and at the highest level you must bring the whole of your being. This calls into question the whole idea that “objectivity” is of more value than “subjectivity”. As G K Chesterton put it, objectivity may just be a fancy word for indifference.

If we think of individuation itself as a path, people who are at different points along the path will have different interpretations of the same phenomena. That starts to sound like relativism and yet the paradox is that true objectivity only comes “on the other side of” relativism. That’s what the sages say.

The good news is that we can still judge interpretations based on results. It’s because of the assumption that archetypes bring acausal order to the world that we can sense check archetypal accounts against the world to see if they fit.

The “data” of psychic analyses

Dreams, oracles, intuition, imagination, literature, myth, art, in short, anything that taps into the unconscious. There is also the concept of inspiration. People involved in creative endeavours such as music or writing will know the phenomenon of an idea just appearing in the mind. Where does this idea come from? Is it just the random firing of neurons which, like the random mutations of Darwinian theory, then get selected for by environmental pressures? What if these ideas are coming from somewhere and that somewhere is the collective unconscious. If so, then this data has an “objective” property. The ideas don’t belong to us. They were given to us. This has been the assumption of artists, prophets and everyday people for most of history.

It’s noteworthy that such a conception implies a lack of egotism. The ideas you have are not the product of your own special snowflake genius. On the other hand, it’s also true that your ability to interpret them and bring them to fruition is based on individual talent, ability and experience. Traditional societies recognised this by having specialised roles for people engaged in these practices such as oracles, medicine men and the like. But just as your appreciation for art is enhanced by having a working understanding of how art works, so too the appreciation of the talents of a medicine man are enhanced by knowing something about the unconscious.

Of course, our society assumes that such matters are invalid by default. This is part of the reason why the last two years were able to happen. Most of the people in modern society are completely blind to the psychic “data” and psychic explanations in general.

Microcosm vs Macrocosm

Gregory Bateson once said it takes a mind to know a mind. We assume that the structure of the psyche or mind in the individual is the same as the psyche or mind that exists at “higher” levels eg. society, civilisation, world (or “nature” as Bateson called it). Just as we each manifest archetypes, so the archetypes can manifest at the societal level. It’s this assumption that allows us to extrapolate from individual instances to broader socio-cultural trends.

We should also acknowledge with Walt Whitman that we are large and we contain multitudes. Archetypes are not mutually exclusive. Rather, we say that the Devouring Mother or the Orphan are dominant while the others are latent or subdominant. At the individual level, each of us has a dominant archetype that does not necessarily match with the dominant archetype of the society we live in. We might be a Warrior stuck in a society of Orphans or a Mother surrounded by Sages.

There’s also nothing stopping us from manifesting different archetypes. As previously mentioned, Socrates was both a Sage and a Warrior at different times and any functioning society must be constituted of enough of each type of archetype to stay viable eg. Warriors for defence.

Transcendence and Transformation

Of particular relevance to the concept we are exploring in this set of posts is the idea of transcendence and transformation. Individuation is a transformation during which we integrate different archetypes into our psyche. We are qualitatively different on the other side of that transformation in the same way that a butterfly is qualitatively different from a caterpillar.

The notion of individuation was rejected from within the Jungian paradigm by James Hillman who founded a branch of psychology called Archetypal Psychology. Hillman would not have recognised the Orphan and Elder as valid archetypes. Rather, he posited the more abstract concepts of puer and senex, or the new and the old which he believed can manifest at any time and at any age.

Other Jungians have criticised Hillman on this score. It is noteworthy that Hillman described his psychology as being that of the puer aeturnus or eternal child. This is exactly the archetype we have described as The Innocent in earlier posts. Within our framework, Hillman’s psychology is the fully fleshed out and realised psychology of The Innocent. His focus on imagination, therefore, makes sense as this is one of the main traits of The Innocent. Given that The Innocent has not yet matured into The Orphan, it’s also fitting that Hillman rejected the need for individuation.

As mentioned above, the transformation process is not limited to The Orphan’s journey. It can occur throughout one’s lifetime. One of the distinguishing features of post war western culture is that it shares Hillman’s desire for eternal childhood. The absence of initiation and coming of age ceremonies and the lack of elders are manifestations of this pattern.

The Shadow archetype

A further assumption of our analysis is that not only does individuation exist as a tangible metamorphosis of the psyche, but that if that process does not occur properly the subject will not just carry on as normal but will begin to manifest shadow traits. Star Wars still has probably the most memorable description of this. Thinking metaphorically, Luke Skywalker is being called to individuate. Vader and Palpatine encourage him to “join the dark side”. He has a choice to individuate or manifest the shadow. If he chooses the latter, he will end up like Vader as a permanent shadow personality (although not without a chance at redemption).

This assumption allows us to make specific predictions and diagnoses. An Orphan who fails to individuate and falls back to the shadow form of The Innocent will be in denial, dissociative, oblivious, seeking instant gratification and engaging in childish dependence on the mother figure. We can see this in the recent phenomenon of the 30 year old man who still lives with his parents and spends all day in the basement playing computer games. Similarly, the emergence of The Devouring Mother is the emergence of a shadow form. Both of these are indicative of a failed individuation process.

The Hero’s Journey

The notions of transcendence and transformation are fundamental to The Hero’s Journey which is built in to the structure of narrative fiction. Each archetype has its prototypical hero’s journey. For example, the story of Macbeth is one where a Warrior archetype succumbs to his shadow, leading to death and destruction for himself and his society. As we have outlined in detail in post 2 of this series, the story of The Orphan is the story of transitioning from childhood to adulthood.

Individuation is “heroic” in the sense that it requires courage, bravery and strength. As those are qualities are The Warrior, we find an excessive number of hero’s journey stories that focus on physical confrontation, violence and war. This is especially true in the age of film where the visual medium lends itself to great battle and fighting scenes. The Matrix is really a story about a man coming to embody The Sage archetype, yet it includes gratuitous amounts of violence and much was made of the cool special effects used. Metaphorically, the violence is there to symbolise the difficulty involved in individuation. Nevertheless, it has the effect of misrepresenting the individuation process. A Wizard of Earthsea is a far better representation of what is really involved and the solitary act of reading a book matches better to the solitary path of confronting the soul.

The Hero’s Journey is a journey away from comfort, security and safety and into the unknown. For that reason, it is always a journey away from the metaphorical “mother” who represents the safety and comfort of the status quo. The journey begins with desires that manifest at a lower level of being and ends with an incorporation into a higher level of being. That’s why the Hero’s Journey is the story of transcendence and transformation. Given that the Hero’s Journey appears to be a universal of human culture, this lends weight to the idea that transformation and individuation are universally recognised aspects of human nature.

Conclusion

So, these are the foundational assumptions of this series of posts. We assume that the Orphan is an archetype with positive and shadow attributes. We assume that this archetype can manifest at the individual and societal level. We assume this is the dominant archetype in the modern West (alongside The Devouring Mother) and that it co-exists with all other archetypes which are subdominant or latent. As outlined in post 5, we assume that the boomers failed the archetypal mission of The Orphan which is to transcend into an “adult” archetype and that this failure has led to the West manifesting the shadow properties of both The Child and Mother archetypes in the last several decades.

In the next post, we’ll have a look at that failure in more detail and also address an implied question about the future. Can the West try again to individuate into an “adult” archetype? If so, what archetype might that be? If not, what does that imply for the future when other societies are now rivaling the power of the West and have no incentive to coddle an archetypal child?

All posts in this series:

The Age of The Orphan Part 1: The Path of Learning

The Age of The Orphan Part 2: Defining the Archetype

The Age of The Orphan Part 3: A Short Theoretical Introduction

The Age of The Orphan Part 4: Initiation, culture and civilisation

The Age of The Orphan Part 5: Ok, boomer

The Age of The Orphan Part 6: The Spirit of the Depths

The Age of The Orphan Part 7: The Metaphysics of Archetypes

The Age of The Orphan Part 8: The Current State of Play

The Age of The Orphan Part 9: How to learn to stop worrying and love The Matrix

The Age of The Orphan Part 10: Work is our religion

The Age of The Orphan Part 11: The Missing Link

The Age of The Orphan Part 12: Conclusion

The Age of The Orphan Part 6: The Spirit of the Depths

“But the supreme meaning is the path, the way and the bridge to what is to come.”

Carl Jung – The Red Book

In the first post in this series, we talked about how the English word “learn” has its original meaning in path or way. It is no coincidence that the path or the way is a metaphor used in numerous religions to describe the spiritual experience. In fact, this use of the path metaphor might be a universal of human experience. The Chinese “Tao” also means way or path. In Australian Aboriginal society, as we’ll discuss later, there is the “walkabout”. This is not a random stroll through the bush but a fixed path retracing the steps of the ancestors.

Whatever path you are on, you are hopefully learning things. Sometimes you learn technical details and skills that allow you to get things done. Sometimes you learn things about yourself. Let’s take a common example. You decide to learn guitar. You take your first step onto the path of the guitarist. At the end of the path stand the mythic figures of the instrument, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Yngwie Malmsteen, to inspire your journey.

Normally what happens is you get a period at the start where everything seems to go incredibly well. Call it beginner’s luck. You’re a lot better at guitar than you were expecting. You can even play some famous songs competently well. You start to think that you’re a natural at the instrument. Others who overhear while you do a passable version of The House of the Rising Sun say things like “wow, you’ve got natural talent”. Life is good.

Then you hit the first bump in the road. You try to play something more advanced and your technique breaks down. It’s your first real failure and two things usually happen. Firstly, you get disappointed. Secondly, you start thinking about it. You try to use your conscious mind to fix the issue. You concentrate really hard on the notes and what kind of mistake you’re making. You become like the caterpillar who is trying to think which foot to put in front of the next. Like the caterpillar, you fall over. Not only can you not play the new, more difficult, song that you’d hoped to learn, you can no longer even play The House of the Rising Sun. Hell, you can’t even play a major scale any more without making several stupid errors and the more you concentrate on it the worse it gets. You feel completely useless. You start to think that you’ll never be able to play guitar. You start looking for excuses to quit. Clearly, you’re just not cut out for this guitar playing business. Maybe your fingers are not long enough. Yeah, that’s it. You’re physiologically incapable of playing guitar. Better stop wasting time and stick to what you’re good at.

What you are dealing with at this point is nothing to do with the external world. It’s not about your technique, even though that is the root cause of your problem. What you are facing is your desire or we might call it your will or we might even call it your soul. You are asked the question: do you really want to play guitar? Do you really want to keep walking the path of the guitar player? At this point you have learned just enough to see how long the road ahead of you is, how far is the distance between you and Jimi Hendrix, how improbable it is that you will ever get there.

If you happened to have an Elder present, somebody versed in the mythological lore of the guitar gods, that elder might tell you that however far you are from Hendrix, you are still closer than Hendrix himself was when he started out. Hendrix was born into a broken home. The family was so poor that he played a broomstick for years pretending it was a guitar. One day, he found a one string ukulele in the trash. He would sit on the couch with it and copy the music he heard on television using just a single string. Much later he would finally get the cash to buy an acoustic guitar with all six strings. After fruitless efforts to try and front a band playing an acoustic guitar, Hendrix finally secured an electric guitar but then got into trouble with the law and was forced to join the army. When he got out, he spent years playing in crappy bands in even crappier venues. The story goes on from there. The point is that there was nothing in Hendrix’s early life that could have possibly led anybody to know that he would become Jimi Hendrix. That’s how life is. To walk the path is to take a leap of faith and that leap of faith is absurd.

The confrontation with the absurd, what I have also been calling individuation in this series, can start anywhere and at any time in life. It can happen to a teenager who’s halfway through butchering a rendition of Wish You Were Here. It can happen in midlife. We’ve all heard of the midlife crisis where somebody, usually a man, jumps up from the dinner table, grabs the car keys off the bench and ends up three states away with a bellyful of whisky about to get into a fight for trying to chat up the local bikie gang leader’s girl in a dingy bar on the edge of a town in the middle of nowhere.

Existential crises can also manifest in other ways. Arguably, it was such a crisis that led the Buddha to go and sit under a tree and start a new religion. Great works of literature can come of it too among which count Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, Augustine’s Confessions and, most importantly for this series of posts, Jung’s Red Book.

“If you take a step toward your soul, you will at first miss the meaning. You will believe that you have sunk into meaninglessness, into eternal disorder. You will be right! Nothing will deliver you from disorder and meaninglessness, since this is the other half of the world.”

Carl Jung – The Red Book

Although not much more than half a century apart, the society that Jung came of age in was in many respects the polar opposite of the society that the boomers would come of age in as described in the last post in this series. Stifling and suffocating are two adjectives which come to mind to describe the Victorian era. From what we know of Jung’s family situation, it resembled the plays of Henrik Ibsen where there are dark secrets hiding behind the monotonous domestic façade. Jung’s father was a priest. His mother had health problems that were almost certainly psychological at root. In some sense, it’s not a surprise that Jung would become first a doctor and then move on to psychiatry. He had the perfect upbringing for that and it was the treatment of those psychological side effects that were so common in Victorian society that would catapult him to fame.

The experiences that formed the Red Book came later after Jung’s reputation was established and while he himself had a family. He had, by his own description, achieved as much as he could have hoped for in the world. But then a series of visions, dreams and other psychological events threw him off balance. He thought he was going mad until the outbreak of World War One reassured him that what he had been experiencing were premonitions of the war. Obviously such an idea is completely contrary to the materialist dogma of our time, what Jung called “the spirit of this time”. In The Red Book, Jung talks of another spirit which is the one he was encountering in his visions. He called it The Spirit of the Depths.

Rather than bottle up the subconscious parts of the psyche like so many others of the era (and this era too), Jung seems to have been in contact with them from a young age. At 12 years old, there is a story of him feeling a connection with the divine while having a vision of God taking a dump on a church (I think it was in Zurich). He understood this to mean that the living God was objecting to the “dead” religion of which Jung’s father was a representative. Jung already understood the difference between the exoteric, as embodied by the church, and the esoteric as he himself was experiencing. Later at university, he would get involved with the burgeoning occult scene that was popular at that time in Europe as well as his psychological studies. It seems he was fated to undertake the task of individuation.

“Therefore the spirit of the depths forced me to speak to my soul, to call upon her as a living and self-existing being. I had to become aware that I had lost my soul.”

Carl Jung – The Red Book

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that this “spirit of the depths” matches the elder role in the story of The Orphan. Many of the experiences Jung had during this time involved conversations in his mind during sessions of what he called active imagination. For example, there are extended conversations with his “soul” who he represented as a woman (technically, the anima. For a woman, the soul would be male, the animus). Was Jung living out the story of The Orphan? In a society which was barren of esoteric spiritual content, Jung was what you could call a spiritual orphan. If that’s true, then it’s also true that we can think of the experiences that Jung describes in The Red Book as his initiation. Jung self-initiated because there were no other options available to him at the time. In the absence of a real world elder, he made one up in his mind and called him the “spirit of the depths”. The depths are, of course, the subconscious mind; the thing that Victorian society completely ignored.

Jung is very clear, and in this he and Stephen Jenkinson are in complete agreement, that the path down into the depths is not pleasant, it’s not fun, it’s not something anybody would do of their own choice. You must be called down into the depths and that call can come while you’re eating breakfast or it can come on the outbreak of a world war. Most people reject the call and, in the absence of anybody to guide them through the process, this is probably for the best. Just like it’s safer to experiment with psychedelic drugs in the presence of somebody who is experienced (Hendrix’s first album is called “Are you experienced?” and he also almost certainly died of a drug overdose, by coincidence), the confrontation with the soul is a risky proposition for the inexperienced. Jung noted that he could have easily ended up going crazy. He believed that is what happened to Nietzsche after the writing of Zarathustra.

The elder’s role is to be the guide on the journey to the depths. In The Matrix, Neo had already been called. He had an intuition about The Matrix but didn’t know what to do with it. It was for Morpheus to let him know that he was on the correct path and to safely guide him through the start of the journey. Jung didn’t have an elder. He had to guide himself through it, although his psychological studies and practice must have helped him substantially.

It was in the late 1800s that Europeans were starting to hear about other cultures and Jung realised that some of the practices he had discovered for himself were part of those cultures including the hunter gatherer societies of Australia and America. Although I’m not aware if Jung or anybody else has dealt with this idea in any detail, it seems to me that the initiation ceremonies of the hunter gatherer tribes were exactly the kind of spiritual initiation that Jung put himself through.

As noted earlier, the Australian Aboriginal culture has an initiation poorly translated into English as “walkabout”. This was a six month journey undertaken by young men around the time of puberty. They were not walking about randomly, rather they were retracing the “songlines” of their culture. Surviving by yourself in the Australian landscape requires real skill. For this reason, the young men were trained by the elders prior to the journey. They had to learn how to hunt and cook, how to find water, what plants could be used medicinally and other kinds of bushcraft. The songlines were there to help navigate the land which was another important part of the training.

Apart from the practical aspects of the walkabout, there was an explicit spiritual aspect that was tied into mythology and ancestor worship. As a young man, Jung had noted that he had no myth of his life and he felt this detached him from his ancestors. A number of the stories in The Red Book are about imagined experiences meeting with the elders of Western civilisation. While on walkabout, the young aboriginal man is retracing the steps of his ancestors encapsulated in a living myth, a myth which is renewed with each new generation. He is walking the same path as his ancestors in much the same way that people walk on religious pilgrimages. Australians to this day do something similar when they travel to Gallipoli on Anzac Day or retrace family histories in Europe or other countries.

The walkabout is a combination of spiritual and physical challenge. It represents the man’s coming of age in what we might call an economic sense. By proving that you are able to hunt and navigate in the bush, you are now ready to take up a role in the tribal economy. But that education could be done in numerous other ways. The solitary nature of the walkabout speaks to the spiritual journey of The Orphan. We see similar practices in American Indian tribes and even in monasteries and nunneries where the spiritual work is often done alone and the communal work is the economic work of growing food and carrying out other chores.

Jung undertook his spiritual journey in the evenings after his work and family obligations had been met. The experience took place entirely in his mind. Unlike the walkabout, which is combination of spiritual journey and also a test of physical strength and skill, those of us living in civilisation have our economic lives detached from the spiritual and both are detached from the land in a way that was impossible in Aboriginal society. The process of this division maps onto Spengler’s distinction between pre-culture, culture and civilisation. It’s the increasing separation and specialisation of activities. One’s spiritual life can even be “outsourced” to the local priest. When even the priest disappears, there is nothing much left. That is where we are in modern society.

It took a savant such as Jung to rediscover these things. Jung himself realised how completely improbable it was that a man in the staid Swiss society of the Victorian era would accidentally recreate spiritual practices that had been taking place for millennia on the other side of the world in a completely different kind of society. It was partly this that led him to the universal nature of the collective unconscious. That’s also why I think the story of The Orphan is a universal archetype. It is as valid in hunter gatherer societies as it is in big, modern cities even if the latter has no use of it.

“…the spirit of the depths from time immemorial and for all the future possesses a greater power than the spirit of this time, who changes with the generations.”

Carl Jung – The Red Book

The encounter with the spirit of the depths is the encounter with nonsense, absurdity, the inexplicable, the paradoxical, the shadow, the inglorious, the unheroic, the small, the insignificant, the mysterious and the ridiculous. Many of these are perfect descriptors of our society in the last two years. Perhaps the spirit of the depths is knocking on our door. And the knocking is getting louder.

All posts in this series:

The Age of The Orphan Part 1: The Path of Learning

The Age of The Orphan Part 2: Defining the Archetype

The Age of The Orphan Part 3: A Short Theoretical Introduction

The Age of The Orphan Part 4: Initiation, culture and civilisation

The Age of The Orphan Part 5: Ok, boomer

The Age of The Orphan Part 6: The Spirit of the Depths

The Age of The Orphan Part 7: The Metaphysics of Archetypes

The Age of The Orphan Part 8: The Current State of Play

The Age of The Orphan Part 9: How to learn to stop worrying and love The Matrix

The Age of The Orphan Part 10: Work is our religion

The Age of The Orphan Part 11: The Missing Link

The Age of The Orphan Part 12: Conclusion

The Age of The Orphan Part 5: Ok, boomer

Whenever I think of the baby boomers I think of The Beatles, The Stones and Jimi Hendrix. Pop music was definitely one thing the boomers did well. But, according to the people who decide on such important matters, none of these musicians actually qualify as baby boomers. The boomer generation officially began in 1945. So, Jimi, Mick, Paul and the boys missed out. Nevertheless, I’m going to include them when I refer to “boomers”. In fact, I’m going to include all of us when referring to boomers. For the purposes of our analysis here, all the important elements of boomer culture are shared by the generations that have followed. The boomers still dominate because we are all still boomers at heart.

The Beatles, The Stones and Hendrix were a massive influence on boomer culture. So too was a man who was born a whopping 42 years too early to technically qualify as a boomer. His most influential book, however, arrived on the scene with perfect timing; 1946 to be precise. The name of the book was “The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care” and the author in question was Dr Benjamin Spock.

Spock was a quintessential boomer. He would later get involved in the presidential campaign for JFK and take part in the numerous protest movements of the 60s and 70s. At 84 years old he was still competing in rowing competitions. If ever there was a man who epitomised the idea of being forever young, it was Spock. In the language of this series of posts, Spock was not an elder. Like the boomers in general, he refused to even consider elderhood as an option all the way until his death. But Spock was happy to play the role that came to replace the elder in boomer culture: the expert. Specifically, he was a doctor of paediatrics with a side qualification in Freudian psychoanalysis. Of course, it had to be Freud, another matter of symbolic importance for this series of posts where we are invoking Jung.

The post war years were the golden age of Freudian psychology. Edward Bernays, Freud’s nephew, had become as successful in the US advertising industry as Spock was in the parental advice industry. It was the age when having your own “shrink” was the thing to do. What the Freudians were primarily concerned with was the repression of base desires by society. This was reflected in Spock’s book.

The prevailing wisdom of the pre-war years, the mindset which raised “the great generation” that stormed the beaches of Normandy, was that children needed to be given “tough love”. Their desires were unimportant. Their crying should be ignored. Feeding should be done on a military-like schedule and affection should be kept to a minimum. All very repressive from a Freudian point of view. Spock broke with this prevailing wisdom and told parents to give their children regular affection, feed them whenever they were hungry and tell them they were special. Spock’s book sold 50 million copies and was apparently second only to the bible in the US book market in the post war decades. His advice was what the parents of the boomers wanted to hear.

As so often happens, the microcosmic and the macrocosmic align in this case. Just like the parents of the boomers were going to pay attention to what their children wanted, the society of the post war years was going to be geared to giving consumers what they wanted. For every desire, the consumer society had a product and, if the desire happened to be lacking, Edward Bernays and his team were there to create it. All this was made possible by the fact that the boomers were born into the richest society the world has ever known. The USA was swimming in oil, had suffered relatively little in the wars and had been handed the keys to what was left of the British Empire after WW2. America was so rich in the post war years that it could afford to rebuild Europe while also becoming the policeman of the world. Freud served as a useful ideology for a society that had wealth to burn. There was no longer any need for the miserliness that parents of children in the great depression needed to learn.

But something more archetypal was going on. The appearance of The Child on the scene also matches with the broader historical developments at the time. The two world wars represented the end of the line for the archetype which had dominated Western culture for centuries. That archetype is The Warrior. Europeans had spent literally centuries slaughtering each other. They got pretty good at it. They got good at other things too. As Bucky Fuller noted, technological innovation occurs so rapidly during war because success actually matters (unless you give absolute power to megalomaniacs). In war, people’s lives are on the line and this creates an atmosphere of meritocracy. Whoever has the ideas that actually work will be rewarded. The same is not true for peace. Failure doesn’t matter so much during peacetime, especially when you live in the richest society the world has ever seen.

Discipline, determination and skill are the positive attributes of The Warrior and these were on ample display during what I have previously referred to as the era of Heroic Materialism, which includes the era of heroic science. The shadow side of The Warrior was also on display as seen in the pillaging and plundering of the colonial years. Another shadow attribute of The Warrior is that he brings wanton destruction. Is it a surprise that neither Hitler nor Mussolini were real military men? The latter was a journalist and political hack. The former was a failed artist, incredibly boring writer and equally unimpressive soldier. Neither displayed the positive traits of The Warrior but they sure as hell managed to embody the negative traits while they were play acting the roles that would lead to the destruction of their countries dressed as always in impeccable military outfits. In doing so, they brought the age of The Warrior to an end.

What this created was what we might call an archetypal vacuum. But before a new archetype can manifest, there is a process of development to go through and that is where The Child archetype enters the picture. In this series of posts we have differentiated between two subtypes of The Child: The Innocent and The Orphan. The qualities of The Innocent map exactly onto the consumer society that took place in the USA in the post war years. They map exactly onto the ideology of Dr Spock and Edward Bernays. We can rightfully call the post war years the years of The Innocent. It was this society that the boomers grew up in and would later come of age in. It was a society informed by Freud, driven by advertising and the needs of consumer capitalism. It was a society that promised to give the boomers whatever they wanted.

The fascinating thing about the boomer generation is that their archetypal development matches almost precisely with the demographic and historical facts. The end of world war two represented a hard break from the past. Everybody wanted to make sure something like that didn’t happen again and so everybody was happy to accept radical changes which, almost by definition, were a break with the past. The attitude of starting fresh was in the air and, combined with the enormous growth in the economy, it led to a feeling that anything was possible. The psychological traits on display were all exactly what we expect in The Innocent: optimism, faith and hope. But we also know that the child cannot stay innocent forever. Eventually, the child must become The Orphan and undertake the difficult transition to adulthood. The boomers had their own idea of what this meant. They dismissed the wisdom of elders and the expectations of society. They did not want to become soldiers or obedient workers in the economy. They wanted to be individuals. The ethos at play was one of self-creation. The boomers themselves took on the task of asking “what do I want to do with my life” and “what sort of society do we want to create”. They explicitly rejected any infringement on their right to answer these questions for themselves independently of societal expectations. The boomers wanted to create their own identity.

We are still living under this ethic today. The desire to choose your own gender or your own pronouns is the logical extension of the notion of self-creation. Of course, the other side of the coin is that you are expecting society to recognise whatever identity you choose. That was true of the boomers back in the 60s and 70s and it’s still true today. The boomers grew up in a world where their parents indulged them. Capitalist consumer society indulged them. Even the political class had to indulge them when they were old enough to vote. Demographics demanded it.

But we can already see the problem with this based on the analysis of The Orphan archetype in past posts. The boomer’s attitude was the rejection of The Orphan’s mission. The Orphan does not choose its own destiny. It is offered the chance to initiate into a metaphysics of meaning by an Elder. Everything about the boomers is a rejection of this archetypal scenario. The boomers were at war with the elders of western society. While partaking of their free college educations, they were introduced to Marxism, feminism, post modernism, post colonialism; a veritable smorgasbord of criticism. Another way to look at it was the “experts” (in this case, university professors) were stepping in to fill the role of the elder. Just like the boomer parents turned to Dr Spock for parenting advice rather than their own parents, so the boomers turned to their professors to fill the role of the elder.

Dr Spock and other experts made an awful lot of money out of the deal. That was one problem. Real elders work for free. Another big difference between an elder and an expert is that an elder is training you up with the notion that you will graduate into adulthood/selfhood and be self sufficient, at least in spiritual terms. The expert is doing no such thing. They will always be the expert and you will always be the consumer. There is no way to graduate from consumer to expert. The best you can hope for is to be an expert yourself in some other domain. By swapping out the elder for the expert, the boomers unwittingly ensured they could not fulfil the archetypal mission of The Orphan. They ensured they could not become independent even though it was independence, or at least individuality, that they sought.

Where the story gets even more interesting, however, is that the boomers were nevertheless confronted with a Call to Adventure to fulfil the role of The Orphan. The high point was the late 60s: the summer of love, Woodstock and the Moon Landing; the time when anything seemed possible. It was immediately followed by the oil shock of the early 70s at a time when, demographically, the boomers were coming of age. Archetypally, reality can no longer be ignored. The Orphan must face the real world. In this case, it was the reality that the consumer society, the years of endless growth and getting whatever you wanted appeared to had come to an end. The economy did not bounce back in the years after the initial oil shock. In fact, it did something the experts said could never happen: it went into stagflation. An endless period of expert-driven prosperity seemed to be over. The Orphan’s task presented to the boomers was clear. Deal with your pain. Learn to see reality for what it is rather than what you want it to be. Learn to grow up and find your way in the world. All that was missing was an Elder to provide counsel. And then Jimmy Carter got elected.

It’s a surreal experience to go back and watch or read some of Carter’s speeches in light of the fantasy world that modern politics has become. The Biden administration’s plan to solve the current oil problem is apparently to get everybody to just go and buy an electric car, as if the average American has a spare $50k lying around and as if there’s enough electric cars even if they did. By contrast, Jimmy Carter laid it all out in brutal detail. He told Americans there was not just an oil crisis, there was a crisis of confidence. He actually said it was a spiritual crisis (which fits perfectly with The Orphan’s story).

“We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose”.

Carter told Americans they had become dependent on foreign oil and the only way out was to live within their means. He advised sacrifice and thrift, conservation instead of consumption.

Carter’s diagnosis of the problem was spot on. Unfortunately for him, politicians do not make good elders for the simple reason that the elder’s job is to deliver what seems like bad news and that tends not to work in democratic politics where the public sells its vote to the highest bidder. Elderhood doesn’t scale. You need to have a personal relationship with an Elder. That’s why in Orphan stories the Elder and the group which The Orphan is invited to join are always a small number. Interestingly, this message was present in the culture of the US at the time of Carter; think Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful. The ideas were there. What was missing, according to our archetypal analysis, were the elders. The Orphan needs the stern voice of wisdom to guide them to the correct path. Jimmy Carter tried to provide it but he was voted out for a man who provided the exact opposite. The boomers had a choice to face reality and they voted for an actor instead.

So, the boomers didn’t accept the call to adventure. What happens when The Orphan refuses its archetypal mission to come of age? They lapse back into the negative traits of The Child: denial, obliviousness, instant gratification. The boom years of the 80s provided the illusion of a return to consumer society. But we just need to look to practically any indicator of (real) economic health to know it wasn’t true.

It is not a surprise that from the late 70s onward we have seen the increasing worsening of the economic situation in the US. The consumer society was kept going by an input of oil from the North Sea and Alaskan fields. It was kept going by shipping jobs to foreign countries with no labour, safety or environmental standards. It was kept going by loading up the next generation with massive student debts and bailing out bankers after the GFC. All through this time the boomers kept believing in the myth of progress, kept believing that the expert-driven consumer society of their childhood was the sine qua non of civilisation.

Just before he died, Dr Spock released an updated version of his book where he recommended that all children take a vegan diet from age two onwards, something practically no pediatrician would recommend. Spock had also gotten himself into trouble a few decades earlier by recommending parents not put their children to sleep on their backs. It later was shown by research that Sudden Infant Death Syndrome was far more likely in children sleeping on their stomachs. The problem for Spock and other experts is the idea that there is a one size fits all approach to matters that are intrinsically complex. That was always the problem with the boomer’s notion of putting their faith in the experts. There is no single diet that is right for everybody just like there is no single right way to raise a child. There are only rules of thumb and the requirement to work out what’s best for yourself. A true elder knows that and it’s part of the reason why there must be a personal relationship between the elder and The Orphan.

For boomers like Dr Spock, it seems that success went to their heads and they felt confident to make claims that they should never have made. The desire to give every single person on the planet a vaccine for a respiratory virus is just another expression of this excessive pride. It’s the shadow side of boomer culture. On the one side, hubris. On the other side, obliviousness and denial. These traits have only gotten worse after the boomers failed The Orphan’s task in the late 70s.

Still the ultimate combination of boomer culture’s twin addictions: consumerism and blind faith in experts

The obliviousness and denial of The Child can be seen right now in the fact that 30 years after Jimmy Carter’s warnings about energy, we can no longer even admit the problem that faces us. As another oil shock appears on the horizon, the debate is no longer about a choice between dependence on oil and living within our means but between two equally invalid ways of keeping consumer society going. There is the camp that thinks solar panels and wind turbines will save the day and there’s the camp that thinks burning more fossil fuels will save the day. Both are delusional. In Carter’s words: “Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.”

The boomers, including all the generations since, will go down as the greatest squanderers in world history. But the archetypal failure of the boomers is the failure of The Orphan to individuate. In this case, the cause of the failure is very specific. It’s the rejection of elders. This is why I consider Stephen Jenkinson’s work to be highly relevant because he is a boomer who has self-identified as an elder. For boomer culture, that’s about as close as you can get to heresy. Jenkinson shares my love of etymology and right at the end of his book, fittingly titled Come of Age: the case for elderhood in a time of trouble, he gives a poetic reading of the old meaning of the word “catastrophe” as follows:

“That rope or road that was fashioned for you in the Time Before, by those you will not meet, to give you a way of going down against your plans and good sense, to give you a way down and into the Mysteries of this life, the Mysteries granted you would not choose for yourself, that would yet make of you a human worthy of those coming after.”

This could serve as a description of the task of The Orphan. But it’s also true of the task of the elder. Both are required to come of age. In the former case, you metamorphise from childhood into adulthood. In the latter case, you metamorphise from adulthood into elderhood. That’s why Elders and Orphans are natural allies. They both must accept a difficult pathway that is “against your plans and good sense”. It is a humbling experience but the alternative is worse: dissociation, denial, obliviousness.

Catastrophe and apocalypse. That seems to be right where we are headed at the moment. But this need not necessarily manifest in the material world. It may be that the catastrophe and apocalypse that we need to go through is spiritual. We could be facing a new beginning in a far deeper sense than just a generational passing of the baton. We’ll be exploring what that means in the next post.

All posts in this series:

The Age of The Orphan Part 1: The Path of Learning

The Age of The Orphan Part 2: Defining the Archetype

The Age of The Orphan Part 3: A Short Theoretical Introduction

The Age of The Orphan Part 4: Initiation, culture and civilisation

The Age of The Orphan Part 5: Ok, boomer

The Age of The Orphan Part 6: The Spirit of the Depths

The Age of The Orphan Part 7: The Metaphysics of Archetypes

The Age of The Orphan Part 8: The Current State of Play

The Age of The Orphan Part 9: How to learn to stop worrying and love The Matrix

The Age of The Orphan Part 10: Work is our religion

The Age of The Orphan Part 11: The Missing Link

The Age of The Orphan Part 12: Conclusion

The Age of The Orphan Part 4: Initiation, culture and civilisation

In the second post of this series, I laid out the main attributes of The Orphan archetype with a focus on how it relates to the personal psychology of The Orphan. Given that the point of this series is to draw a parallel between the individual psychology and the social psychology of current Western society, this left an explanatory gap which I had been pondering how to resolve. Fortunately, a commenter in the last post (many thanks to Austin) put me on to Rene Guenon, a French intellectual who wrote on similar themes about a hundred years ago. While I was looking over Guenon’s Wikipedia page I saw he had written a book on initiation among numerous other writings on metaphysics and esoterism. I haven’t had a chance to read the book but the summary has given me the answer that I needed: initiation. Initiation is the bridge between individuation at the personal level and the larger social milieu.

In modern western society, the coming of age aspect to The Orphan story and the individuation or coming to selfhood aspect are separate. We all come to adulthood based on the arbitrary numerical value of being 18 years old which is nothing more than a bureaucratic convenience. Many religions at least mark the occasion with a coming of age ceremony. But in The Orphan story, the coming of age is neither an arbitrary bureaucratic rule nor a ceremony but a process and that process is initiation.

Consider the movie The Matrix. Morpheus offers Neo an initiation. He is going to show him “the real world”. This is an explicitly metaphysical proposition. As it happens, the metaphysics in question is the exact metaphysics of the Christian church which was inspired in large part by Plato. It says that the apparent world is not the real world. The real world is made up of perfect forms which sit behind the apparent world. In the movie, the apparent world is the Matrix and Morpheus is offering to show Neo the real one. It’s no coincidence that Neo is the saviour in the story. He is Jesus to Morpheus’ St Paul (the basic plot of The Matrix is just the story of Christianity repackaged in techno-gothic garb; although obviously the gratuitous violence is very un-Christ like).

Luke Skywalker receives similar training in the Star Wars movies, although the metaphysics of the Jedi is cheesy and underdeveloped. Ged’s magical training in A Wizard of Earthsea fulfils the same function. The key distinction here is the one that Guenon uses. It’s the difference between exoteric and esoteric. Exoteric relates to the outward symbols of meaning or metaphysics that are in use in the broader society. Esoteric relates to the active spiritual experience of meaning and metaphysics. Initiation is the process of learning the symbols of metaphysics; one might say of learning the true meaning behind them.

The Matrix provides a very useful example of this. When Neo is being trained (going through initiation), Morpheus is with him inside the computer simulation. He tells Neo the rules of the simulation and that these are just arbitrary rules; not reality. That’s the exoteric part. That’s the part anybody can nod along to without really understanding. It’s the part we can mimic an understanding of by parroting the right words. Throughout the ages, most critiques of religion have been that the followers were not practising what they preached. They knew the right words but they hadn’t grasped the meaning. They hadn’t been initiated properly.

In The Matrix, we see Neo go through the process of initiation which is learning the metaphysics.  He fails at the start (fails to beat Morpheus in fighting, fails the jump program) but gradually improves until he is master at the end of the movie. This is the esoteric component of metaphysical teaching and it is also what I have been calling individuation up until now. Individuation is the learning of the metaphysics of the culture in which you are initiated. It’s the personal inward experience of the initiation. Initiation differs from modern education precisely in the fact that the latter offers entirely exoteric teaching while the former offers esoteric. The entire problem of our modern education system is that it has no esoteric component. But that problem was already well established before the state took over and implemented universal education. The church had already lost its esoteric component centuries before modern education came along, especially among protestants.

With the exoteric-esoteric distinction, we combine The Orphan’s esoteric journey with the larger social context which is exoteric. Interestingly, the different Orphan stories we have already examined portray the exoteric component in ways that map exactly onto Spengler’s theory of history. A Wizard of Earthsea, for example, takes place in a world that is almost identical to the Mediterranean around the time Jesus was born. There are small communities everywhere interspersed by larger cities. There are also many different groups practising their own spirituality including Ged’s teacher who is a wandering mage. These groups could properly be called cults. The word cult is related to the word culture and had the meaning in the original Latin of “care”, “labour”, “cultivation”, “worship” and “reverence”. Part of the cult’s job is to cultivate new members which is to bring them onto the path of worship and reverence. This is the process of initiation. We see the same process in hunter gatherer tribes.  

In Spenglerian terms, the socio-cultural milieu of A Wizard of Earthsea is a pre-culture. There are diverse groups each pursuing their own metaphysic and culture. The esoteric is foregrounded while the exoteric is an incredibly diverse manifold lacking structure and order.

Structure and order belong to the concept of civilisation. The word civilisation arose, not by coincidence, during The Enlightenment. It’s related to the Latin for “city” and the city is its locus; the place where everything can be maximally ordered and structured. The Matrix provides possibly the ultimate metaphor of Spenglerian civilisation. The general public have no spiritual existence, no culture. They are just resources and pawns in the machine. There is no esoteric activity whatsoever. Everything is exoteric, robotic, machine-like.

Star Wars provides a middle ground. Like Ged in A Wizard of Earthsea, Luke Skywalker is a farm boy. The forces of The Empire are at work trying to weed out all that pesky culture and turn it into civilisation. The Matrix shows us the endpoint of that process. Neo, aka Mr Anderson, is an office drone working for the corporation. In his world, there are no more farms or even any agri-culture. All contact with the land is gone. The only culture that remains takes place in dark nightclubs with shadowy characters (shadowy also in the Jungian sense).

In this way, A Wizard of Earthsea, Star Wars and The Matrix provide us with Orphan stories against the Spenglerian backdrop of pre-culture, culture and civilisation respectively. From the point of view of The Orphan, the story is the same. They are invited to be initiated into a metaphysics. The difference is how the broader society views that metaphysics. In A Wizard of Earthsea, there is no civilisation and everybody is free to pursue their own spiritual journey (if that sounds a lot like the founding principle of the United States of America, it should). In Star Wars and The Matrix, civilisation is at war with culture and there is no tolerance for alternative metaphysics or culture. Some people have noted that Western governments now seem to be at war with their own citizens and this is the same dynamic at play.

Haven’t I seen this movie before?

As a brief aside, Freud got it all wrong in Civilisation and its Discontents. The problem with civilisation is not that it prevents us manifesting our lowest instincts as if humans were nothing more than zoo animals. Rather, it’s that civilisation prevents us manifesting our higher nature of genuine initiation into a metaphysics of meaning. That is what is implied by the Jungian reading. If I turn this series of posts into a book, I might call it Civilisation and its Jungian Discontents.

The exoteric-esoteric concept also allows us to make sense of another element in The Orphan story which is the extent to which it is a spiritual journey versus a journey into adulthood and becoming a full fledged member of society. Although it goes against all modern democratic, egalitarian sensibility, for most of history it was recognised that humans are born with differing capabilities, strengths and weaknesses. The archetype idea I have been using in these posts implies this. The primary archetypes are The Child (including The Innocent and The Orphan), The Mother (aka Caregiver), The Ruler, The Warrior, The Mage, The Lover and The Fool. Other archetypes have been identified but, in my opinion, they are sub-types of these main categories. Note also that there are shadow types for each archetype that we can identify by a different name (eg. The Devouring Mother). If we acknowledge that The Lover and The Fool are universals, what we are left with is the old distinction between the political class (The Ruler), the military class (The Warrior) and the spiritual class (Mage). The spiritual class also includes intellectuals (even though in the modern West intelligence has been severed from metaphysics).

There is no reason we cannot manifest multiple archetypes. For example, Socrates was a war hero and was widely known by his contemporaries for his astonishing physical endurance. Nevertheless, we would classify him in the Mage category. That was his primary strength. The same goes at the societal level. Sparta was clearly a culture of The Warrior but there were individuals in that society that manifested other archetypes. Our culture has people who manifest the Warrior and the Ruler etc. To say that we are an Orphan culture simply means that this is the predominant archetype in the same way that The Warrior was the predominant archetype for Sparta.

Because we each have different talents captured in the archetypal definitions, it follows that each of us is more or less suited for an esoteric, spiritual journey. This fact is also captured neatly in The Matrix. Neo joins the group who are all on the same path. Nevertheless, each has different esoteric capacities. The assumption is that Neo is the one with the greatest capability and he will be the saviour. The others in the group fulfill other functions eg.  Dozer is the Warrior, Mouse is The Fool. There is even the Judas character in Cypher who is going to betray the group (again reiterating that The Matrix story is just the story of Jesus retold).

In a healthy culture, the exoteric structures of the broader society are regenerated with each new generation by assigning people the roles to which they belong. Those who are on the spiritual path are the ones suitable for in-depth esoteric practice and they receive specific training for that purpose. They will dedicate their life to spiritual aims. Their primary role is to safeguard the metaphysical tradition of the culture. This is the role of elders in a well-functioning society. For most of the history of the Christian church, the esoteric dimension was almost non-existent. This is because the Church served an almost entirely exoteric function almost from the start. In Paul’s time and for centuries thereafter, the church was used to prop up the dying days of the Roman empire. Later on in the middle ages, the church regained some form of esoteric practice only to then become stale and hollow again until we arrive at today where the church is nothing more than an empty shell with neither exoteric nor esoteric influence (note: there may be individual churches and individual practitioners where genuine esoteric exercise still takes place but these are the exception to the rule).

It is no surprise that The Matrix has a millenarian vibe to it. It is the story of what happens at the end of the civilisation phase. The same millenarian vibe was there at the time of Jesus. The story of the Saviour had arisen spontaneously all over the place at that time. Jesus, apparently completely by accident (or should we say by synchronicity), lived out a version of that story in real life which was then used by Paul to set up a purely exoteric institution that took hold in the cities (civilisation) while the real esoteric practice of early Christianity was practiced by the smaller groups elsewhere. I think the popularity of The Matrix is evidence of a tacit understanding that we too are in the late stages of a civilisation and there needs to be a new start. Apocalypse means to reveal, to uncover. What is uncovered is that the Emperor has no clothes. The civilisation is devoid of esoteric life. The old epoch is ending and the new one beginning. The Saviour is the one who will crystallise the new metaphysics required to reinvigorate life.

What is particularly interesting about this is that Jesus was a prototypical Innocent. If that’s true and it’s true that we are reverting back to the Innocent archetype as a culture, this would all fit in with Spengler’s idea of a second religiosity (although, of course, we are now manifesting The Innocent not in its proper form of Jesus but in its shadow form). It may be that I have got the name of this series wrong and it should be The Age of The Innocent.

We’ll deal with that question towards the end. In the next post, we’ll apply these concepts to the post war years where I think a solid argument can be made that the baby boomers did follow The Orphan archetype.

All posts in this series:

The Age of The Orphan Part 1: The Path of Learning

The Age of The Orphan Part 2: Defining the Archetype

The Age of The Orphan Part 3: A Short Theoretical Introduction

The Age of The Orphan Part 4: Initiation, culture and civilisation

The Age of The Orphan Part 5: Ok, boomer

The Age of The Orphan Part 6: The Spirit of the Depths

The Age of The Orphan Part 7: The Metaphysics of Archetypes

The Age of The Orphan Part 8: The Current State of Play

The Age of The Orphan Part 9: How to learn to stop worrying and love The Matrix

The Age of The Orphan Part 10: Work is our religion

The Age of The Orphan Part 11: The Missing Link

The Age of The Orphan Part 12: Conclusion

The Age of The Orphan Part 3: A Short Theoretical Introduction

I wanted throw in a quick disclaimer. From this point onwards in this series of posts, we are moving firmly into speculation and guesswork. It may later turn out that I am in over my head having jumped in the deep end later to be found to have been swimming naked when the tide goes out. If so, I will take solace in having just won the gold medal for the most number of swimming metaphors in a single paragraph.

Here’s a lightning summary of how I got here. While trying to make sense of the corona hysteria, I found that Jungian archetypal analysis (The Devouring Mother – The Orphan) provided an elegant and effective explanation not just of the events of the last two years but going back at least to Trump – Brexit. Like most people, I had previously been looking for explanations using cause and effect analysis. However, my two main conclusions, The Plague Story and The Devouring Mother, are based on formal analysis. This is the kind of analysis used by Oswald Spengler and it goes back to Goethe. It’s no coincidence that this way of thinking is tied in with the German tradition. As Spengler noted back at the start of the twentieth century, it was a major difference between the English and German traditions at that time. After the Anglosphere won the wars and become the hegemon of the West, the error of analysing everything as cause and effect has come to predominate. I think this is partly what Gregory Bateson set out to rectify in some of his works. He was re-introducing Goetheian science to the Anglosphere and, by extension, the West.

Although I hadn’t thought about it before, this kind of analysis is exactly what I had been trained in during my linguistics degree. Linguistics looks for patterns. It is concerned primarily with morphological analysis i.e. form. So is Jungian psychology. So is Spenglerian history. I think this is why I was able to adapt to Jung’s thinking relatively easily.

The English language is not “causing” me to write these words. It is the form through which the thoughts express themselves. Given an energy source provided by a full pantry, a supply of leisure time and a “will-to-knowledge”, the form gets manifested. In the same way, the growth of a tree is formal. The branches and trunk grow in iterative units that form a pattern as long as there is enough input of resources and the constraints of the environment allow it. Jungian archetypes are forms manifested by the psychic energy of human beings. My analysis states that the forms of The Devouring Mother and The Orphan were already dominant in the West and became massively energised by the hysteria at the start of corona. That’s why all kinds of phenomena that were completely unrelated in terms of cause and effect fitted into the pattern. Most recently we saw the Australian and Canadian governments manifesting The Devouring Mother pattern at the same time that the pandemic is over in many countries. It had nothing to do with cause and effect or practical considerations (and sure as hell nothing to do with public health) and everything to do with the psychic energy, unleashed by Novak Djokovic and the Canadian truckers, channeled into the archetype.

Now that corona is wrapping up and governments around the world are dropping restrictions faster than the English cricket team drops catches, it’s tempting to say that this was another mass hysteria that followed the form of an archetype and that’s that. However, as part of my analysis, I realised that the pattern went back at least to Trump and Brexit. Since then I have been reading Stephen Jenkinson who has a program entitled Orphan Wisdom and who writes on the absence of elders in the modern West. This got me thinking more about the other half of The Devouring Mother dynamic: The Orphans. As I studied the archetype more closely I realised what Jenkinson had intuited which is that The Orphans and The Elders are key parts of the story. Within the archetype, the lack of elders prevents the form from manifesting. This is analogous to an electrical circuit where all the components are there but one is faulty or missing. In that case the circuit will not complete and energy cannot flow. That seems to me to be a good explanation of the current state of Western society and a quick survey of the post war years seems to bear this out.

In the next post, we’ll use the archetype of The Orphan to analyse the post war years with a particular focus on the generation that most explicitly rejected their elders: the baby boomers. We’ll see that the failure of the archetypal mission appears to be due to that rejection of elderhood. From there we can start to ponder what might happen if conditions arise to activate the archetype to achieve its mission and what might happen if they don’t. (As an interesting aside, this would imply that archetypes manifest their shadow forms when the components of the archetype are “faulty”).

Is any of this valid? I’m still not 100% sure. I consider this series of posts a bit like trying on a new suit. Maybe it’ll fit well. Maybe it’ll need some extra tailoring. Maybe it’ll need to be discarded. It may also be that Spengler had already anticipated this analysis. It looks as though the archetypal analysis will lead to the same conclusion as Spengler which that we are well into the “civilisational” phase of the lifecycle of our culture. It may be that the absence of elderhood and the subsequent failure of new generations to individuate is because of this. In that case, the archetypal analysis would be a way of framing the same notions but through a psychological lens. Even if that’s true, it will still make for an interesting journey.

All posts in this series:

The Age of The Orphan Part 1: The Path of Learning

The Age of The Orphan Part 2: Defining the Archetype

The Age of The Orphan Part 3: A Short Theoretical Introduction

The Age of The Orphan Part 4: Initiation, culture and civilisation

The Age of The Orphan Part 5: Ok, boomer

The Age of The Orphan Part 6: The Spirit of the Depths

The Age of The Orphan Part 7: The Metaphysics of Archetypes

The Age of The Orphan Part 8: The Current State of Play

The Age of The Orphan Part 9: How to learn to stop worrying and love The Matrix

The Age of The Orphan Part 10: Work is our religion

The Age of The Orphan Part 11: The Missing Link

The Age of The Orphan Part 12: Conclusion