Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Working with archetypes

At one point in my journey I got to a place where I wanted to step back and analyze what I was doing and understand it a bit more. I also wanted there to be a place for people who may be interested in incorporating these techniques into their own inner work, whether they're visitors to the site or people I know personally, and I wanted to outline the process in a clear way. My own personal journey, however, has evolved away from work primarily with mythic archetypes towards a more generally Jungian focus (I've worked through Shadow issues and am now doing the Animus dance.) Persephone is still there but she's now one of the inner archetypes I'm working with rather than the primary one.

There five basic components that I've incorporated into my work thus far. I have personally found these to be the most powerful in enabling me to do the discovery and release that is necessary to clear out the garbage that's blocking the channel leading from our true selves: 1) work with the Self (archetypes, whether mythic or classic Jungian) 2) dream work, 3) divination, 4) active imagination and 5) emotional release.

Archetypal Work

First, figure out who, archetypally speaking, is working in your life. Each of us has one or more primary archetypes that shape who we are and whose issues are the core issues we have to pass through and transcend. And each archetype has a "divine gift" waiting for us when we clear the channel their energy runs through to manifest in our lives. By understanding who this archetype is, we gain insights into why we do what we do. And we can also see who we have the capability of being, once the energy is flowing cleanly. Once we figure out who is trying to manifest themselves in our lives, Greek mythology in particular but all myths can become a rich source of insight into our lives, and the incidents and people we tend to attract to us. Use the same methods for interpreting myths that you would use interpreting your dreams - I describe how I go about dream interpretation in the next section.

How do the archetypes heal us?

Below is a list of short descriptions of each archetype. See which one (or ones) resonate the most with you. More comprehensive descriptions can be found running along the right side of the page.

Abbreviated descriptions of the archetypes

Dream Work

The language of the subconscious is imagery - everything we see and everyone we know means something to the deep Psyche - and when the subconscious speak to us, it uses those same images to express it's hidden contents. But imagery means different things to different people - unlike archetypes, which have more universal meaning, being symbols of the shared human experience, most dream imagery is deeply personal. In order to uncover their meaning I rely on a kind of stream of consciousness based word association for each image or action that feels meaningful to me. After that, the dream basically interprets itself. Myths can also be interpreted in the same way... and their meaning can shift as we change and grow.

I've moved my dreams to my other blog Persephone Journal - go there to get an idea of how I interpret dreams, do tarot readings, meditations, etc. I've also included a detailed description of the process I use to interpret dreams there.


Divination is a useful way of immediately accessing the psyche without having to wait for a convenient meaningful dream. Whether you believe we subconsciously interpret the reading or that the gods are really speaking to us, divination can be an extremely useful technique when working with the subconscious. One reason I think it's so useful is that it puts the message outside of us, so our ego is less likely to interfere. But I've also found, to my surprise, that, after you've used a particular technique for a while, the very act itself becomes a calming ritual that lets you release any turbulent emotions that may be getting in the way of your inner wisdom. I personally use the tarot, in particular, James Rioux's brilliant interpretations of the cards on the American Tarot Association's website - his descriptions of the cards and their meaning almost without fail provide insight and understanding into the particular issue I'm working on at the moment. But any form of divination is fine, so long as it you feel a connection to it.

Active Imagination

Once you have discovered who is/are working in your life, or had a powerful dream, or a reading that pinpointed some issues you need to work on, it's often useful to do work with the various beings who inhabit your subconscious, whether archetypes or other beings. The key is to let the drama unfold as it will - what you do not want to do is to turn this into an ego-boosting fantasy (The difference between fantasies and visions). The way to tell which is which is, if it's active imagination, the characters will seem to be speaking on their own, of their volition. Writers and other artists often speak of this phenomenon - when the spirit is truly moving them, the story "writes itself." There should be something autonomous about them, as if they were in the room speaking to you.

Imaginary conversations or even whole stories done this way will often allow you to hear and understand various hidden parts of yourself and even release suppressed content. It can be an extremely powerful tool when done correctly.

Emotional Release

The final tool for working through and releasing the layers of issues is emotional release; letting yourself be flooded by the very emotions you've been running away from.

When the Ego is confronted with a painful emotion it will often, out of self preservation, repress that feeling, or even knowledge of the incident that engenders the "dangerous" feeling. When you do this your ego may temporarily protect itself but, in the long run, you're holding onto that painful feeling, not actually getting rid of it - it just sits down in your subconscious, festering like an unopened wound, becoming more and more terrifying the longer it stays down there.

The way to release your "dangerous" emotions is deceptively simple... but, in practice, it may be the hardest thing you will ever do. What you have to do is to reverse a lifetime of protective behavior and let those feelings out. At first you might feel as if you are dying. You won't. You might even feel like you can't breathe. You're going to be ok. Just let the emotions wash over you, like the waves of the sea. At first it'll be more like the waves of a hurricane, but you will be all right. After a while, the waves will get smaller and smaller... and then they will fade completely. And when the storm is over, the sun will come out, and you will be cleansed.

As you are going through the process of passing through and releasing these suppressed emotions, be sure to pay attention to how your body is feeling - your body is where your mind holds and expresses it's feelings. After you've done this for a while, you will be able to release painful emotions as they occur, rather than repressing them to deal with later. Often you will find that the feelings are a mask for a deeper feeling, or that they point to deep seated issues you've been carrying around - releasing those feelings can help you heal those deep injuries in a way that nothing else can.

Another thing you will find as you go through the process of releasing, releasing, releasing these emotions is that you identify less and less with your ego and more and more with your true self. Our ego is our personality's way of maintaining an "acceptable" image, both to ourselves and others. But our "inner god" is calling for it's true expression, and in order for the gods to manifest themselves, the ego must be gently encouraged to take it's proper place in the constellation of our beings: subservient to the true Self. The more you can release the hard shell of defensiveness that surrounds you, the more light from that inner sun can shine.

A further note

If you are working with extremely traumatic incidents, please don't do this alone. If it's really bad, you should have a compassionate, well trained mental health practitioner you trust there to help you. Even if you feel that your issues aren't "that bad," if you feel the need for support, go and get it. What you're trying to do is hard. Be sure you are completely comfortable while doing it.

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