Archetypes, Assassination, and Attention

By John Algeo

Originally printed in the JULY-AUGUST 2005 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Algeo, John. "Archetypes, Assassination, and Attention." Quest  93.4 (JULY-AUGUST 2005):146-147

Theosophical Society - John Algeo was a Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Georgia. He was a Theosophist and a Freemason He was the Vice President of the Theosophical Society Adyar.

Archetypes are powerful things.

The original Greek meaning of the term archetype (according to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary) was "the original pattern or model of which all things of the same type are representations or copies." But the most widespread meaning today is "an inherited idea or mode of thought in the psychology of C. G. Jung that is derived from the experience of the race and is present in the unconscious of the inpidual." Ultimately those two meanings amount to much the same thing, the difference in emphasis being on the origin of the archetypes.

All of us have archetypes present in our unconscious minds. And those archetypes influence our behavior: in a sense, we live up to, or act out, our archetypes. A Theosophical view of their origin might be that the archetypes were implanted in our deep minds by the Manasaputras "Sons of Mind" or Lords of the Flame, who quickened human intelligence in the early history of our species. But, whatever the origin of the archetypes, it is clear that, as we act them out in our lives, we strengthen them. And that is one source of their power.

Archetypes are powerful because they represent an "original pattern or model" in our minds but also because, as we perceive them (often unconsciously), they shape our behavior, and in turn our behavior gives them new energy, new power to influence yet further our successive behavior. The pattern of human action throughout history can thus be seen as a manifestation of the archetypes deep inside us. And our repeated action, motivated in part by such archetypes, gives them additional power to influence our future behavior.

The February 2005 assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is a case in point. At this writing, the identity of his assassin is unknown—and may never be known. But it is highly probable that Hariri was assassinated by a brother Moslem who disagreed with his progressive policies and his efforts to make Lebanon a free state unbound by the narrow politics of the past. That is, Hariri was Abel to another Moslem's Cain.

The Cain-Abel story is one version of the archetype of two brothers, often twins, who are opposites of each other. The archetype plays out in a number of different versions, in several of which the brothers are in conflict with each other, a conflict often ending in the killing of one brother by the other, as Cain, the farmer, killed Abel, the herdsman, out of jealousy for the attention of God.

Romulus and Remus are Roman examples. Romulus, setting out to found a city (Rome), traced the boundaries of his city on the ground and constructed the first tier of the city wall. When Remus saw what his brother was doing, he made fun of Romulus's low wall and said that it would not keep out enemies but could be easily scaled. And to demonstrate his point, he leaped over the wall. Romulus replied that, against those who thus scaled the wall, there was a defense, and struck Remus with his sword, slaying him.

Angra Mainyu and Spenta Mainyu are Persian examples. They are, respectively, the "Destructive Spirit" and the "Bounteous Spirit," two projections (or "sons") of Ahura Mazda. Angra Mainyu is responsible for all the ills of the world, a very nasty fellow, and Spenta Mainyu is responsible for all its good things, an inspiration to all people. Those two are in perpetual conflict, and will be until the end of time.

Baldr "the Beautiful" and Loki "the Trickster" are Norse examples, both sons of Odin. Baldr and his mother, Frigg, both had troubling dreams about his death. So Frigg toured the world, exacting a promise from all things that they would never harm her son. Rejoicing in Baldr's supposed immunity to danger, the gods arranged a sport in which each threw a weapon at Baldr, but all the weapons veered aside, having sworn not to harm the beautiful god. However, Loki, the perverse god, had discovered that Frigg neglected to get the promise of harmlessness from the mistletoe plant because she thought it was too young and insignificant to be a danger. Loki then fashioned a sharp dart from the mistletoe and gave it to the blind god, Hod, whose hand he guided in throwing it at Baldr and slaying him.

These archetypal stories of the conflict-torn brothers inspire and are in turn empowered by fraternal strife among humans. The assassination of one free-thinking Moslem by another narrow-minded one is just an instance of the Cain-Abel story being acted out in history. And every such action give more strength to the archetype. So how do we respond to such deep-seated influences that can have disastrous effects in our world?

There is an old saying, that we should fight fire with fire. In this case, we can oppose one archetype with another. There is a different version of the two-brothers archetype, specifically the Greek myth of the twins Castor and Pollux. They were the sons of a human mother, Leda, but they had different fathers. Castor's father was Leda's husband, Tyndareüs, the King of Sparta. But Pollux's father was the god Zeus. The brothers were inseparable; they sailed with the Argonauts in quest of the Golden Fleece and remained the firmest of friends throughout life.

When Castor, being human, died, his immortal brother Pollux went to his father Zeus and begged that he and his brother might never be separated, even by death. Zeus was so touched by the devotion of the two boys to each other, that he allowed them to share Pollux's immortality, so that together they might spend half their days in Hades, the after-death fate of humans, and half their days on Mount Olympus, the dwelling place of the deathless gods. Furthermore, Zeus set them in the heavens as the constellation Gemini, where they became guardians of all who sail upon the sea of life, and they still appear to mariners (and nowadays to aviators) as St. Elmo's fire, the phenomenon of light that plays upon ships of the sea and the air.

The archetype of Castor and Pollux is a counterpoint to that of Cain and Abel, highlighting the kind of brotherhood of which the Theosophical Society's first Object speaks. The archetype we focus upon will determine the force that manifests itself in our lives and in the history of humanity. It is a fact that newspapers, like all human attention, focus on the violent and conflictive, rather than on the peaceful and harmonious. There is an old jingle about the two principal characters in William Makepeace Thackeray's novel Vanity Fair. Those characters are the self-serving bad girl, Becky Sharp, and the altruistic good girl, Amelia Sedley (who were perhaps models for Scarlet and Melanie in Gone with the Wind). The jingle goes like this:

The moralists may preach and carp

In platitudes most deadly,

The world remembers Becky Sharp, 

And not Amelia Sedley.

When we don't pay attention, our material nature gravitates to the lowest and most violent in us: to Cain, Romulus, Angra Mainyu, Loki, and Becky Sharp. But if we attend to the example of Castor and Pollux, those "Divine Boys" (which is what their epithet, the Dioscuri, meant in Greek), we will strengthen that archetype in our own consciousness and in the consciousness of the whole world. As the book of Proverbs (23.7) says, "As we think in our hearts, so are we." We need only be attentive and keep in the forefront of our minds that which appeals to our spiritual nature and the highest in us.

Archetypes are powerful things—for evil or for good. But thought is even more powerful, for by thought we can invoke archetypes into our consciousness and into our actions. Thinking controls action. If enough human beings think in the Castor and Pollux way, they can bring peace and harmony into the world. They can balance mortality with immortality. They can create a spiritual climate in which violence and conflict, assassination and hate, recede before the advance of peace and harmony, assistance and love. There is no other way to do it. Shall we give it a thought?