In this third blog inspired by the murdered children of Sandy Hook I want to look at the archetypal image of the King.
The Archetypes: In their great book King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine, Jungian psychologists Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette envision a four-part masculine psyche divided into the Lover (the image of relatedness and deep passion for life), the Magician or Magus (awareness and insight), the Warrior (focused aggression and devotion to a cause) and the King (the universal image of order, blessing and fertility).
These images of the soul and of the soul of the world were created over the millennia as individual humans evolved and societies grew from small, tribal groups to large kingdoms. They are interior images, but we often express versions of them in the real world. Each of these archetypes divides into an immature, “boy psychology,” the shadow of the archetype, and a mature, initiated “man psychology.” Although Moore and Gillette lament that in the modern world, “…most men are fixated at an immature level of development,” we all know of historical figures who have occasionally or briefly manifested their essences.
In this view of the psyche there is a certain symmetry and balance. At the same time, when the Warrior, Lover and Magus are in appropriate relationship to the King, he is then able to serve the cosmos or realm (psychologically the Self, and in social terms, the kingdom, nation or community). When the King is functioning appropriately in the psyche or in the culture, it is said that divine, healing energies flow from the other world to this world. In this sense, the King is a true “master of ceremonies.”
We can imagine that the archetype of the King evolved in extreme antiquity and all across the Earth in times and places when certain rare men were able to stand at the center of the realm and actually embody the characteristics of order, blessing and fertility. They could cause the crops to grow and the women to bear healthy children. They could mediate the transition from chaotic change to confidant stability. In blessing their subjects, they were serving the realm. Our human legacy is replete with stories of such men, some fictional and some real. This is the basis of the still very strong respect and longing for royalty in places like England, Hawaii, Thailand and Japan. It is also the foundation for the archetypal theme in all cultures of the return of the King (think Odysseus, and the Christ).
The King: To become whole, we need to take back our projections and know these archetypes as aspects of ourselves. But in our demythologized modern world, we are so wounded, and society has been so dysfunctional for so long, that we very rarely see such men – Gandhi and Martin Luther King come to mind – in the public sphere. And, too often the culture reacts to their presence by re-enacting the passion of the Christ and killing them.
Still, in this culture of celebrity, our need is so strong that we constantly attempt to project the archetype onto political leaders. That is: what we cannot embody in ourselves, we need to see outside of ourselves, in other people. Just as we project our darkness upon “the Other,” so do we project our innate nobility upon celebrities and politicians.
Archetypes, however, are images of perfection, and only the very innocent can expect human beings to channel perfection for very long. When our leaders, entertainers and athletes prove to be only too human, we often react with tremendous disappointment, even rage, that our projections have been unfulfilled. We fall into the old trap of confusing the personal with the impersonal.
We all remember George W. Bush playing at being a macho cowboy president. And we all know how he would have reacted to Sandy Hook. He would have spoken of meeting violence with more violence, of exacting vengeance in some way, even if against individuals or groups that had nothing to do with the murders. This is “boy psychology,” and few intelligent people took him seriously as a leader. You could see it in his face, in the smirk this emotional adolescent could barely contain.
Barack Obama, on the other hand, is capable of carrying a certain kingly gravitas. Now we have an image of him tearing up, if not openly weeping, in his press conference after Sandy Hook. In one of the very few instances in our history (Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D, Roosevelt come to mind), a president stood at the symbolic center of the realm, the White House Press Room, and actually embodied this rarely seen aspect of the mature masculine.
In doing so, he literally displayed emotion for the entire nation. In channeling the King, even if only for a few moments, he was enabling the movement of healing energy from the Other World to everyone in this time of sadness. In a culture that has grown up on reactionary vengeance and still prefers heroic violence to acknowledgement of loss, he was, in a sense, giving the nation permission to grieve.
This was a very rare and remarkable thing. Perhaps we won’t see something like it for a long time. It is no easy thing for anyone to do this, especially in a time when so many wish him such ill will.
The man: Many people clearly feel that this is the Obama they worked to elect. The tears were certainly real, as opposed to the patently insincere weeping of TV con men such as Glenn Beck.
But we must remember that Obama the man is above all a seasoned politician. In this dysfunctional, broken system, every American president is essentially a spokesperson for very powerful interests, a “master of ceremonies” in the lesser sense. Perhaps the news conference was one of those rare times when one of his public statements had not been previously vetted before focus groups. But even though the tears were authentic, we do ourselves no favor by letting the issue drop without pursuing the deeper issues.
Just exactly why was Obama the man crying? The simple answer is that he was feeling the grief we all feel for the lives destroyed so early for no reason. Clearly he was thinking of his own children. But this must lead us to further questions, because the same man has presided for seven years over a dreadfully violent foreign policy that has killed many thousands of innocents. Indeed, three days after the shooting, the media neglected to mention that it was the three-year anniversary of the cruise missile and cluster-bomb attack on al-Majala in Southern Yemen that killed 14 women and 21 children.
If this Obama wept for the children, then it is conceivable that he is as innocent of the violence that he directs as the rest of us are, that he believes like most of us that violence against the Others of the world is not really violence, because our enemies are not really human. However, as Glenn Greenwald writes, “The Obama administration has re-defined the term ‘militant’ to mean: ‘all military-age males in a strike zone’ – the ultimate expression of the rancid dehumanizing view that Muslims are inherently guilty of being Terrorists unless proven otherwise.”
A more generous explanation for his tears might be that he knows full well how little he can accomplish with the Republicans controlling Congress. I’d like to imagine this one. But reality eventually intervenes in our fantasies and projections: Two months after the January 2011 Tucson shooting, Obama put into writing the same pledge he made after the Sandy Hook murders: “We have a responsibility to do everything we can to put a stop to” tragedies from gun violence.
But in the very next sentence, he characteristically qualified his stance: “Like the majority of Americans, I believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms…And, in fact, my administration has not curtailed the rights of gun owners — it has expanded them.”
His actions earned Obama an “F” from the Brady Center for Gun Violence in 2010 for “extraordinary silence and passivity” on gun control. Devin Dwyer concludes, “In spite of six major shootings on his watch, Obama has not publicly pushed for a renewal of an assault weapons ban or new restrictions on high-capacity magazines.”
This brings us back to two possibilities: either the politician who weeps out of futility and inability to affect real change, or the man who holds to his false sense of innocence as desperately as the rest of us, a sense of innocence that enables him – and us – to overlook the massive suffering America causes in the world.
There is a third and darker possibility. As I wrote above, world mythology offers us many examples of the King (think the Buddha). History, however, presents us with something else: men who, rather than channeling the psychic energy of the King, identified with the archetype. Such men (think Hitler) believed with utter certainty in the purity, goodness and necessity of their cause and in the ultimate reality of their own semi-divine nature. Think Louis the 14th of France, the “Sun King,” who claimed, “L’etat, c’est mois” – “I am the state.” Some (think Stalin or Mao Tse-Tung) began their careers as progressive activists with the noblest of intentions and, so to speak, went over to the dark side. When they did, all who opposed or even questioned them became “other,” to be eliminated with Biblical ferocity.
In archetypal terms, to identify with the King is to become a tyrant, the “shadow King.” Such men were and are capable of anything – especially the arts of deception. May Obama not be that kind of King.