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Wise Old Man Archetype

December 27, 2014

I’ll try to use myself as an illustration of something that can happen to people, including politicians.*

To the extent that I have managed to understand myself (fat chance, you say), two of my major neurotic traits, from about age 10 (maybe even before that) until sometime in my sixties, have been (1) a sense that I must be wise and mature beyond my years, and use my wisdom as a leader, and (2) over-intellectuality.  These, in conjunction with others, resulted in damage (to myself and others—although of course some pluses too) such as self-consciousness, social awkwardness, fear of showing my emotions, aversion to touching and being touched, and lack of spontaneity.  I was also rather normal, and in some ways socially effective, such as in my teaching (during which, I was able to be spontaneous, even funny).

At about age 40 I began to read a lot of Jung (et al., including James Hillman).  My hair had turned white and I was wearing it longishly.  I was invited to a summer backyard gathering of Ed Psych grad students, to meet a noted Jungian, and hear him speak.  I arrived a bit late, the guest was speaking, and as I opened the gate and stepped into the yard, he looked over at me and said, “You look just like The Wise Old Man.”  I was embarrassed, of course, and blurted out, “I am The Wise Old Man.”  And inside my head at that instant, I know I meant the archetype, not that I was wise.  It was awkward.

But I had become increasingly conscious of this whole neurotic complex, and was working on it (with the help of, for instance, loved ones, and talks and comments by Hillman and Robert Bly).  I’ll skip across the long tale of my fortunate progress, to a point in my life when, even with my hair still white and long, I felt a wonderful—indeed wondrous—lifting of those weights from my inner and outer life.

We must keep in mind, too, that an archetype such as TWOM is also a positive pattern in the unconscious. Or neutral, really, with its activities both positive and negative. In this example, for instance, it led to my being a teacher, a profession for which I was well suited and in which students testified to my effectiveness.

But here’s the thing:  I felt that change, imaged it, in my mind’s eye, as a receding of The Wise Old Man himself, his stepping back, not into total disempowerment, but into his rightful power and position among the great complex of archetypes that power and pattern what, unconsciously and consciously, we imagine life to be.  I had been compulsively enacting One, like a monomania of my imagination, instead of imagining with the appropriate aid of the Many that compose oneself, and manifest the Self. To deal with it, I had to become more highly conscious of it, bringing it to healthy function in my consciousness.

We don’t so much think, as we are thought (and we are a thought) by the archetypes that we share with all of humanity [and who knows, maybe dogs and cats, elephants, dolphins,…And do they have archetypes of their own?  And what about vegetative sentient beings, such as hops vines?]

*The point being, that an unconscious pattern of our imagining of life can step out of the balance of patterns, become way over-charged with emotive power, and govern our life, throwing it out of whack—but consciousness of it can appropriately disempower it, so that it steps back (with relief, I think, it being ourself) into its rightful place in the crowd (as of a gathering of the gods on Mt. Olympus).  But if we are too fearful of revealing our true self, even to ourself, we deny, and we continue to be possessed, obsessed, and driven by one unconscious part of our humanity.

Things like this can happen to major politicians and corporatistas, very powerful persons.  Ahabs.

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