The Power of the Archetype

Archetypes are ideas or symbols that are present in everyone’s mind. They symbolise patterns of behaviour and thought, and have been around ever since we became conscious beings on this earth. According to Plato, archetypal patterns are imprinted on the soul at the time of birth, but the psychoanalyst Carl Jung believed that they are separate energy forms that exist in the collective unconscious and which we tap into without realising. For Jung, archetypes form a bridge between science and religion, and between matter and spirit. They influence the way we think, feel, react to events and our value systems. Some mystics believe archetypes even influence the people we attract into our lives and the events we experience. They appear in mythology, literature and works of art. Archetypes are universal, and have both negative and positive faces.
Archetype 2The archetype of the Elder is no exception.
In the male form, it can take the form of either the tyrant or the warrior. The tyrant is aggressive and not open to change. Blinded by his ego, his emotions are repressed. He is not interested in spirituality. The warrior however is both a father figure and a symbol of wisdom. He is successful, brave and capable of deep introspection. He is not afraid to confront his own demons. Which one are we headed for?
Archetype 5In the female form the Elder archetype can take the form of the witch or the priestess. The witch is aware of the forces in this world, but uses them to justify her own ego. She is trapped in her own negative emotions, and prone to feelings of both victimhood and rage at the world for her fate. The priestess on the other hand is deeply intuitive, towards herself and other people’s motives. She tries to understand others and gives advice only when solicited. Her humility leads her to question first herself before blaming others. She radiates wisdom, authority and unconditional love. Which one are we turning into?

Both the warrior and the priestess are aware of their connection to the collective unconscious. This awareness allows them to step outside received ideas and see societal trends for what they are. If we wish to stay ageless it is imperative that we question the assumptions our peers hold towards ageing. Most of us have been programmed from childhood to accept the archetype of the Elder as a weakling, with a declining mind and body, condemned to an ever worsening quality of life, and death around 80. This is, however, an inherited idea; if there are examples of people who do not correspond to this archetype, we tend to dismiss them as exceptional. So-and-so is ‘amazing for her age’ – another might be ‘still able to walk quite far unassisted’ or ‘capable of doing the Times crossword despite being over 90’. These subtle statements bear witness to programming that states being in good health after age ‘X’ (fill in whatever age you expect to go downhill) is generally not the rule, and that therefore we should not be disappointed if we do not “do all our own shopping”, “manage the stairs” or “touch our toes without groaning” once past age X.
Archetype 3Archetypes are powerful tools that can tap into our subconscious for good or for bad. As vectors of the enormous influence of generations of our ancestors, they can linger at the back of our minds for decades and make an appearance in our lives after retirement, or manifest suddenly in our dreams at times of transition. They can aid us in moving onward and upward to more wisdom and achievement, or scupper any attempt we might have made to change for the better, sending us into a downward spiral of helplessness.
Irrespective of our cultural background, we must remain aware of the power of the archetype, and ensure we master its influence, rather than allowing it to control us.

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