Archetypal memes in our stories and our dreams

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For several years now I’ve been slowly adding to my personal encyclopedia of dream images. After a particularly numinous dream the other day I thumbed through my collection to the archetype section and found what I was looking for. It was a comment on the archetypal images that often show up in fictional and fantasy stories.

Stories thrive on archetypal characters. There are the heroes such as Odysseus of Homer’s work, or Hercules in Greek mythology. Characters like Puck and Lady Macbeth, Othello and King Lear along with a whole host of others in the works of Shakespeare are also archetypal memes.

The White Rabbit and the Cheshire cat lead us into our inner realm, as do all animals in our dreams and music such as Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker shows evidence of characters like the trickster and shadow. The psychic archetypes portrayed within this work show up in the form of the Trickster-magician Drosselmeyer, the Shadow creature portrayed by the Mouse King and his minions and the various goddess images envisioned as the Sugar Plum and Snow fairies.

The Nutcracker itself transforms from one state of being to another, becoming human in the process, a nice metaphor for Carl Jung’s Individuation Process and not unlike the transformative performance experienced by Pinocchio who morphed from being a puppet to a real boy. Both represent the magic-like development of the human psyche as it transmutes toward wholeness and realness.

As with anything in the imaginal world of the psychic archetypes, they are more metaphor than actual. We can’t touch them, only point toward their attributes. They represent the patterns of the psychic function.

The Depth Psychologist James Hillman said that they were the root of the soul. He went on to say that because of this imaginal description of archetype we are lead “to envision the basic nature and structure of the soul in an imaginative way and to approach the basic questions of psychology first of all by means of the imagination.” (Hillman, J., A Blue Fire, Harper Perennial, 1989, pg.23)

Imagination is the faculty of imagining, or of forming mental images or concepts of what is not actually present to the senses. A Psychologist might say that it is the power of reproducing images stored in the memory under the suggestion of associated images or of recombining former experiences in the creation of new images that aid in the solution of problems or that are directed at a specific goal.

The archetypal imagination of our soul has the ability to create unreal or whimsical imagery and the decorative detail that we experience in our poetry, dramas, stories and art.

On occasion an archetypal image will visit a dream and deliver a luminous or what has been dubbed a numinous (i.e. holy or sacred) quality to the dream that can stimulate an emotional state that brings transformational meaning and purpose to ones life.

The emotion can be of deep sweetness, ecstasy or of terror and dread but definitely a wholly other experience of astonishment and wonder.

Whether the experience is “real” or not in terms of whether one has been visited by some spirit isn’t all that important because it’s the effect that it has on ones psyche and resulting behavior that is of consequence.

 

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