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The Archetypes Of Humanity Essay, Research Paper
Every culture of the world has its stories. Whether large or small, technologically developed or ancient, nomadic or settled, every population on Earth has a unique mythological tradition and special history. Despite the great variety that can be found among these tales, there are certain characteristics that repeat from story to story. Psychologist Carl Jung called these characteristics archetypes. Archetypes, he said, are universal, and that ?there are as many archetypes as there are typical situations in life? (Hall 42). All over the world, these archetypes appear in different forms (Campbell 51). ?Endless repetition has engraved these? into our psychic constitution? said Jung (Hall 42). Jung?s archetypes are biologically rooted; they are an expression of the human body within the psyche. The human body, being identical all over the world, reflects inwards in the same fashion throughout. (Campbell 51) Specifically, three archetypes appear quite conspicuously in literature, mythology, and religion: the conflict between ambition and the sublime, the green man, and the quest of the hero. The conflict between the ambition and the sublime may involve two men, who, while superficially very similar, differ in their fundamental approach to life (Spivack iii). The green man is a nature expert who involves himself with the outdoors, with growth, regeneration and life. He is, in some situations, the ?fertility shaman? (Absher 21) who is a combination of the magic and birth archetypes found in many cultures (Hall 42), though this is not always the case. A quest is the staple of the hero, and psychologically represents a renewal and rebirth, in which the hero leaves a culturally satisfactory, yet incomplete state, in search of something more meaningful (Richards 100). These three archetypes can be found in such diverse sources as the Bible, Aztec mythology, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the Faust and Merlin legends, Babylonian epics, and uncounted other texts.
The nature of the conflict between the ambitious and the sublime is fundamental; they are intrinsically opposing, two sides of the same coin. The ambitious character seeks knowledge and power for his own personal gain and attains it by controlling and altering nature to suit his needs. He is the farmer, the city builder, and the man who negotiates his duty. (Quinones 23) Perhaps the earliest example is Cain of the Old Testament, brother of Abel and son of Adam. Cain was a farmer and city builder, and the first murderer (Genesis 4). The act of farming is one that involves subduing the land, and taming it to the will of the farmer (Quinones 23). In this way Cain sought to control nature, to possess the power of nature. Even the name ?Cain? is Hebrew for ?to possess? (Achtemeier 149). Cain?s competition with his brother Abel is of the simplest nature: Who does God like better (Campbell 105)? Once it become clear that God prefers Abel, Cain uses the Machiavellian approach; that is, he eliminates the competition (Machiavelli 62). This is consistent with the ambitious nature of his existence as an ambitious man.
His sublime counterpart is Abel (Quinones 22), his brother. The sublime character trusts in God or nature, he exists within nature and takes advantage of the natural food supply by foraging, hunting, and herding animals. His usage of the natural food supply is characteristic of his trust in nature; food will be provided for him. (Absher 6) He is content with his position in the great scheme of the universe (Absher 21). Abel satisfies all of these requirements. Instead of farming as his brother does, Abel is a herder (Genesis 4). He exists in nature (Quinones 23), for when Cain murders him, the Earth cries out to God for revenge (Genesis 4). Since the nature of God is sublime (He is a power too vast for normal forms of life to comprehend [Campbell 222]), it is reasonable that God would prefer someone who follows his example and trusts in Him. The name Abel is Hebrew for ?One who trusts of God? or ?One who refers everything to God.? (Quinones 23) This is why God prefers the sacrifice of Abel to the sacrifice of Cain?s in Genesis. God, as the creator of nature, is the personification of it (Campbell 22), and since Abel exists as a part of nature, he exists as part of the sublime.
Another character who exists as part of the sublime is Merlin. Merlin is a key figure in the Arthurian myth tradition, and appears, at various times, as a councilor, druid, wizard, shaman, guardian of the land, god, or prophet (Matthews 13). In any role, Merlin is a combination of the wise old man archetype and the spirit archetype (Spivack i), creating a character who is experienced and whose knowledge lies mainly in the world of the ethereal. It is from this ?otherworld? from which Merlin?s father originates; according to one legend, he is of ?the Matter of Britain? (Matthews 14). Naturally, Christian missionaries distorted the legend. The twelfth-century writer Robert de Borron wrote that Merlin was the son of a succubus, or minor demon (Matthews 17). And just as the shepherd Abel lived in the wild (Quinones 23), so did Merlin (Matthews 18). Of course, the sublime is also by nature incomprehensible; Merlin is incomprehensible to those who surround him (Quinones 22) and even attributes such a quality to himself when he says, ?Because I am dark, and always shall be, let my book be dark and mysterious in those places where I will not show myself,? (Matthews 14).
The ambitious ?mirror image? of Merlin is Faust. Faust is a man who seeks all knowledge, and attempts to attain it by any means necessary. (Spivack i) He is not born with power, unlike Merlin, who was born with the ability to speak and reason (Matthews 19). In short, Faust?s prestidigitational skill is not a normal part of his nature. Instead, Faust acquires his magic through the sale of his soul, in the same way that the livelihood of Cain is contrary to the will of God (Genesis 4). Once he has this power, one of the first things Faust does is attempt to ?conjure up? a wife; he is attempting to advance himself in the world. This exemplifies another characteristic of the ambitious man: he uses his skills for personal gain. (Spivack 23) Contrasted with the approach of Merlin to attaining love (he attempts to teach Nimue, his beloved, about himself in hope that she will come to love him [Matthews 22]), one can see how Faust?s approach is far less subtle (subtlety being a characteristic of the sublime) than that of Merlin. (Spivack iii) Of course, this is consistent with Faust?s ambitious nature; he attempts to make what he needs, instead of taking advantage of what is already there, in the same way the farmer does. The farmer works the land to make food (Faust works to create what he wants), while the herder simply lets his flock grow fat of their own accord (Merlin relies upon his own character to attain his goals) (Campbell 105).
Merlin and Faust are both of Anglo-Saxon origin (though some suspect Merlin may be of a more Eastern origin [Matthews 20]), and Cain and Abel come from the Hebrew mythological tradition. Merlin and Abel share many similar qualities; they are favored by the divine, both rely more on the spiritual than their own powers, and both are a part of nature. Even their fates are similar, for they are betrayed by people that they trust; Abel is murdered by his brother, and Merlin is sealed up in rock by Nimue, his love (Matthews 22). The description of these fates also shares similar qualities. Merlin is sealed up in earth, and in Genesis God says that the spirit of Abel ?cries out from the ground.? Cain and Faust share similar roles, as traitors. Cain betrays his family; Faust also betrays his ?family,? insomuch as the Church is his family. One can see the great similarities between these two separate myth sets, which both come from vastly different regions.
The green man archetype is also an extremely common one. It is found in almost every culture, from Shakespearean England to ancient Uruk (Campbell 85). The green man archetype is in American literature; he is in Anglo-Saxon legend. Each example shares similar qualities. The green man is a symbol of regeneration, growth, life, and the earth spirit. He also possesses a secret ?nature wisdom,? but can be wild and unpredictable at times (just as nature itself can be.) The green man, a shamanic figure, is the essence of nature?s power. (Absher 5) One very ancient example is Enkidu of the Gilgamesh epic. Aruru, the mother goddess, creates Enkidu (Pretince Hall 16). Being the direct creation of a god or goddess is another of the green man?s characteristics (Absher 22). After Enkidu and Gilgamesh slay the Bull of Heaven, Enkidu has a dream that he will be killed (Pretince Hall 13). When this comes to pass, the shamanic powers of Enkidu become apparent; he has a dream that foretells the future (Absher 21). Enkidu possesses, in a way, regenerative powers as well. The people of Uruk complain of Gilgamesh?s behavior towards them, and appeal to Heaven for a companion for Gilgamesh, to end his loneliness (Pretince Hall 12). Aruru sends Enkidu, in who Gilgamesh finds a non-destructive outlet for his energy, because Enkidu is ?his equal,? (Absher 10).
Numerous other characters connected with nature exist in literature. Puck, in Shakespeare?s A Midsummer Night?s Dream, is an example. He is a fairy and has the ability to shapeshift. The ability to shapeshift is a distinctive mark of the green man; it implies formlessness and the ability to be anything in nature. (Absher 92) Puck calls himself a ?merry wanderer of the night? (Cross 132) which is important because the green man exists in nature, therefore it is natural that he should be at ease when in a circumstance that would be disconcerting to others (wandering the night) (Absher 93).
Another character of this kind is Huckleberry Finn. He possesses uncanny nature wisdom and spends much time thinking in the forest. Huck even flees there for safety, to avoid his father (Twain 15). He recognizes the ?injuns? as superior experts on nature, and attempts to emulate them (Absher 56). The connection between Huck and the outdoors is so great that he even expresses discomfort at sleeping indoors (Twain 20), as does Enkidu in the Gilgamesh epic (Absher 11). T.S. Eliot best summarized the nature of Huckleberry Finn when he said, ?He is in a state of nature.?
The quest of the hero is rooted in the quest for the self. This quest represents the dissolution of the persona archetype (Richards 98). A person, to deal with cultural expectations and the outside world in general, creates the persona. It is psychologically necessary because it is impossible for a person to allow their true self to always come through; to do so would be dangerous to the person and those around them. (Hall 44) The hero, at the beginning of the story is in a superficially satisfactory state. He may be wealthy and have a great abundance of personal goods. However, there is a lack of spiritual fulfillment; his existence is incomplete. (Richards 98) This is because his persona archetype has become over-inflated to the point where the hero has lost touch with the other aspects of his personality. His life feels empty and meaningless, and, if in a position of power, will abuse it out of sheer psychic boredom. (Hall 44) This is certainly the case with Gilgamesh. As king, he demands the right of prima nocturne with all the women of Uruk (Pretince Hall 12). Gilgamesh overcomes his conflicts within by facing Enkidu and becoming allies with him, for Enkidu was created as to be ?as like him as his own reflection,? (Absher 10). The Aztec god Quetzalcoatl had a quest as well. Quetzalcoatl was one of the wealthiest gods, and the most respected, because all art originated in him (Spence 123). However, three spirits came to him one day and told of a way to become immortal. Realizing that he is incomplete without this, he leaves on a quest to find the secret of immortality (which in itself is an archetypal quest; Gilgamesh goes on a similar journey [Pretince Hall 13], as do the knights of King Arthur when they search for the Grail and the warriors of Llewydn with their search for the Black Cauldron in Celtic myth [Matthews 64]). Along this journey, Quetzalcoatl must leave behind more and more of his wealth and artistry with each successive leg (Spence 133). Along the way the hero confronts the contents of the unconscious. Eventually, the character reaches (or nearly reaches) the other extreme: an intolerable, extreme state, which their existence is not designed to deal with. (Richards 100) This happens to Gilgamesh on his quest for immortality. To become immortal, he must only stay awake for seven days and nights. Gilgamesh is simply not capable of this, and it creates an intolerable situation. (Absher 33) He fails in reaching is goal (immortality) just as every hero is incapable of reaching perfection and staying there (Richards 100). Like Dante and Buddha, if the hero stayed where he arrived (Heaven and Nirvana), there would be no greater meaning for the rest of humanity in the journey, because they would not be able to come back to share their experiences. When the hero returns, however, he achieves a harmony of being. The hero accepts his fate, and realizes the greater meaning of existence; he achieves closure. (Richards 100) Gilgamesh, after discovering that there is no permanence in this world, accepts his fate and lives on (Pretince Hall 13). Quetzalcoatl makes a similar discovery (Spence 136). Knowing the truth of his existence now, the hero ceases to seek external meaning, and finds it within himself (Richards 101).
Archetypes fill our subconscious ?not in the forms of images filled with content, but at first only as forms without content, representing merely the possibility of a certain type of perception and action,? (Hall 42). Common threads can be found in all cultures, for people have the same fears, wishes, and ambitions the world over. Sumerian kings, Aztec gods, Christian knights, and Celtic warriors seek immortality, aided by shaman, spirits, and wizards, whose credo comes to them straight from nature itself. As today, the sublime battles the ambitious and the greedy slaughter the innocent in their quest for power. Languages and customs change, but the basic archetypes of human existence remain unchanged. They are not identical the world over; they are not photographic copies of each other. Rather, they are ?more like a negative that has to be developed by experience,? (Hall 42). So, the human being strives to complete his ?photo album? by filling in these pictures, and when the human life draws to a close there is a mosaic of life ? a huge thing, that, when gazed upon in entirety, displays the face of the universe (Campbell 229).
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