Archetypal Tales

Welcome! This page is a page of stories!  By reading these stories and the commentary that accompanies them, you will begin to understand the power of story when viewed through the archetypes and applied to the journey into manhood.  Myth and story are an expression of the unconscious mind.  As we grow to understand the language of the unconscious, we begin to hear its message and our lives take on new dimensions of meaning.  When it comes to stories we like to say - "Don't read the story, let the story read you!"


A Note on Religion:

AMA has no religious affiliation.  We draw on traditional stories from various religions and cultures to explore the great therapeutic value and insight they provide.  Western Culture is historically influenced by the Christian tradition.  As a result we may appeal to Bible stories more frequently than other traditions.  We mean no disrespect to any religion through the use of these stories, nor do we have any intent to direct readers to any particular religious point of view.

 

David and Bathsheba
By Tim Drown & Paul Murphy

David and Bathsheba is a tale of betrayal, murder and intrigue. David is the celebrated king of Israel. Legend places him in the messianic lineage of Christ, immediately tipping us off that his story is about man’s reconciliation with the divine – or in more secular terms, his story maps the journey toward wholeness and maturity in manhood. This is a story of real life initiation. David experiences a transformational rite-of-passage that is not induced through externalised ritual or age-related privilege. It is the initiation consummated through the circumstances of life. Every man must face such initiation on the journey to maturity. Many stand on the threshold of transformation and for reasons of their own; revert to a life of masculine immaturity. Life presents and represents opportunities for initiation in every man’s life. David and Bathsheba is such a story.

It is spring in Palestine – the season when kings go to war. David was known as a mighty warrior during his youth and his reign as king. Perhaps for the first time in his life, David does not accompany the warriors in conquest and instead, finds himself fidgety and restless in the royal palace while his army defends the borders. The rich symbolism of this story begins here. In myth and legend, a king is always accompanied by his most loyal warriors. Any deviation from this norm is purposeful and symbolic. David’s warriors have withdrawn from his side and are distracted by matters in the furthest reaches of the kingdom.

On an archetypal level, this marks the beginning of the transition from the warrior-king to the wise king. For a man to enter fully into the king archetype, the warrior must decline. A man’s early life is driven by the warrior, lover and child. The transition into the mature archetypes such as king and sage depend on the degree of mastery acquired over the lower archetypes, by bringing their shadows into consciousness. For a man to enter into the maturity of king, the warrior must lay down his sword.

The warrior energy is that of assertion, discipline, self-control and purpose. A warrior is rarely without a quest and when he lacks focus, the shadow aspects of the archetype rise to the fore. In David’s case, the warrior has completely withdrawn, and David finds himself in unfamiliar territory.

Letting go of this attachment to personal power and control is an act of true surrender for any warrior. Men often arrive at a point in life where their confidence lapses, whether through crisis or circumstance they feel themselves losing their grip on the life they thought they had mastered. This is the warrior withdrawing, and the opportunity for a deeper initiation presents itself.

But powerlessness and surrender are undesirable experiences for the male ego. We fail to see surrender as a pathway to maturity. As long as the warrior floods the masculine psyche, the maturity of the wise king cannot emerge. A warrior without a king is a law unto himself, wreaking havoc on the very cause he seeks to defend.

As the warrior is consciously withdrawn, men feel restless and vulnerable, allowing shadow aspects of other archetypes to emerge. As David came to grips with the diminishing warrior, he found himself drawn by the irresistible allure of a woman in the form of Bathsheba. The shadow lover emerges and David is driven by lust and dependence. The lover, unlike the warrior, lacks self-control and boundaries. In the warrior’s absence the lover presses David to his limits.

Most men relate to being driven by the lover at some point in their lives. Dependence can come in various forms – a relationship, a drug, a career or a drive to achieve. Dismissing all sense of limitation and balance, we give ourselves wholly to the object of our affection. In return we are momentarily filled with an exhilaration that cannot last, thus the object of affection becomes an object of dependence and our life rapidly slides out of balance. Inevitably a crisis ensues.

Bathsheba’s husband Uriah is an upstanding citizen and formidable warrior in his own right. As a Hittite, he is a foreigner in the land, yet has been warmly embraced into a culture that was known for closing its ranks. With Uriah at war, David finds no immediate obstacle or consequence to his seduction of Bathsheba, and falls deeply into the realm of the shadow lover, and as the story progresses, the shadow king.

The tale of the Fisher-King speaks of the wound from which the king is unable to recover – a wound inflicted by the symbolic spear of masculinity to the genitals of the king. All men carry the wound that casts the king and the kingdom into shadow. A mature king wins the loyalty of his subjects and they fall into submission before him. The shadow king is powerless over the warrior and lover. This is the wound of manhood that must heal in every man.

We see the expression of this wound through David in his lust for Bathsheba. In myth, women symbolise the feminine aspects of character. During mid-life, the male and female journeys cross over. The man who successfully navigates this time of unrest deeply embraces his feminine qualities through a spiritual awakening, growing comfortable with his emotions and allowing the nurturing qualities of the mature lover to arise.

We see David seeking to pacify this internal disquiet by shortcutting the process and embracing the mature feminine. There are no shortcuts to maturity and David’s world plunges into crisis.

How many men desperately yearn for a new partner on their journey to maturity as the thirst for the feminine qualities grow and are yet resisted by the male ego. Rather than surrender to our emerging sensitivities, men thrash about, compensating for the stalled inner journey by craving fresh female attention in the outer world.

As a result of their affair, Bathsheba conceived a child. Stricken with guilt, David sent for Uriah, bringing him home from the battlefield under the guise of reward, hoping he may sleep with Bathsheba and cover David’s transgression. But Uriah, a faithful warrior, disciplined and focussed, would not enter his house while his fellow soldiers were at war and slept alone on the threshold. Furious, David returned him to the frontline, with instructions for the commanding officer to dispatch Uriah to the thick of battle and order troops to abandon him. Despite the General’s protests, the plan succeeds. Uriah was killed in battle and David took Bathsheba as his wife.

This story of deception, betrayal and murder reflects the pitfalls of the maturation process. Another symbolic aspect of the Fisher-King’s wound is the infliction upon male sexuality. As in the case with David, the shadow lover overwhelmed him and he was unable to master his desire. Falling into shadow, he abused his power to fulfil his desire and cover its consequences.

Here we see another aspect of the King archetype. The King is closely associated with divinity and revered as a god yet remaining subject to the will of the gods nevertheless. While David’s deed was well buried, a seer and magician, by the name of Nathan entered David’s court and accused him of misconduct through a parabolic riddle. David could bear it no longer and confessed to his transgression. Nathan declared that as a result of David’s actions, the infant would die. The child immediately grew ill and David, distraught over the consequence of his action, collapses into grief until the child passes.

The shadow king can be the source of great suffering along the male journey. Many men bear the scars of those who would be king, inflicted on their psyches. An affair with the shadow can cause a man to grow bitter, disrupting the maturation process. This, however, was a turning point for David. David allowed himself to journey through the darkness he had invited into his life. He took responsibility for his actions and grieved the resulting shame and loss.

As warriors, lovers and kings, we must not resist the shadow but embrace it fully if we wish to fulfil our potential as men. The warrior now turns his skill inward. The archetype that empowered us to navigate the external world must become a source of courage as we face the inner world. Men who would not shy away from the greatest of physical challenges often quiver in fear when confronted with their own pain and emotion. The journey through the shadow is transformative. To deny emotional pain only causes a man to fall deeper into shadow masculine traits, stalling the quest of kingship.

The transformative nature of David’s grief brought him into union with the mature feminine. He married Bathsheba and she conceived a son and named him Solomon. Solomon became the heir to the throne and went on to lead the kingdom into an era of peace and prosperity second to none. Such is the transformative nature of the shadow when it is humbly, courageously and authentically embraced in the male journey.

The Story of Cain and Abel
By Tim Drown

The story of Adam and Eve’s two sons, Cain and Abel, is a tale of rivalry, jealousy and murder. It captures the friction between the divine child and the male ego, powerfully expressing the loneliness of the man trapped in ego dominance. In this story, Abel is the first-born son – the divine child. In the culture of the ancient Hebrew, to be the first-born made Abel the heir-apparent to the family business and fortune. He was second only to his father. The first-born son was an honoured, treasured, and coveted position in the family system

As the first-born, Abel worked with livestock. Cain, his younger brother, worked in the fields. At the time of the seasonal sacrifice, Abel brought the fatty portions of a lamb – a sacred offering that throughout Hebrew history represented the sacrifice of one’s life in submission to God (divine power), bringing about alignment with the will and ideals of the divine. The shedding of blood served to remind the worshipper of the fragility of life. It is the reality of our physical limitation that leads us back to our spirituality. Such fragility gives rise to the need for a power greater than oneself. Being confronted by the mortal nature of our existence is a powerful rite-of-passage in male initiation.

As primitive as it may sound, it is essential to face our mortality if we are to shift from the immature, fear-driven child to the confident, empowered adult. Abel represented the latter, Cain the former. Cain’s offering was that of fruits and grains. This was an easy sacrifice that did not require the shedding of blood. It was a temporary offering, as the fruit of the vine quickly grows back and is replenished. There is no real price paid in the sacrifice made by Cain, thus his sacrifice is deemed worthless.

It is the confrontation with our mortality that ultimately brings about transformation. The child brashly believes that he will live forever. The immature adult lives in fear and denial of his human limitation. The wise King and Warrior has come to grips with the reality of death and even made peace with its inevitability.

Returning to our story of Cain and Abel, Abel’s offering is accepted and Cain’s rejected. Cain’s insecurity (the shadow child) rises up within him and in jealously, he murders his brother. Here we see the suppression of the mature masculine by the immature ego. The ego wants to believe it is divine. Before we awaken to our true identify, we live in the clutches of the shadow ego that has risen to power in our lives. We need to be right, strong, worthy, accepted and good at what we do for we long for the praise of our families and our community. This creates active denial in our lives and explains why it is so difficult for us to admit our failings. The ego needs to believe it is the divine child – the first born, the holy one, as much as Cain needed to take the honoured position of his brother.

While the ego is striving to assert its dominance, the divine-child – our true identity – is suppressed. The sad irony of this reality is that the divine child is everything the ego wants to be. The ego is a reactionary identity – formed in response to the pain and suffering of our lives. It craftily determines how to find acceptance in a world that is too often void of unconditional love, and then plans its strategies accordingly. Thus the boy who is rewarded for achievement accepts praise and acknowledgment as a substitute for unconditional love. He strives to achieve again and again, desperate for acclaim, berating himself for his failure as if his life depends upon his success. As he grows into a physical adult, he becomes a compulsive and driven high-achiever.

The boy who finds he has the ability to ease tension and attract positive attention through laughter with humorous quips soon accepts this as a substitution for unconditional love and becomes the family and class clown. As he grows into a physical adult, he pushes the boundaries of his humour and may struggle to take anything seriously. His lover is malnourished and he eventually finds he has little ability to give or receive love.

Finally, the boy who cannot find any positive attention at all, starved of love will be abandoned to anger. The shadow-warrior will rise up within him and he will seek retribution for that which he has been denied, challenging the authority of the adults in his life and his community. Through this he wins the admiration of like-minded peers (there is a revolutionary in all of us!) as he finds satisfaction in disrupting the peace and challenging the status-quo. Such a boy has given up on unconditional love and set his heart and mind to wreaking havoc in his world. As he reaches adulthood, he loses all sense of boundaries and value. Even when he wants to draw on the good within, his efforts are sabotaged and his loved ones are let down and pushed away.

God seeks out Cain and asks rhetorically of the whereabouts of his brother, Abel. Cain provides a reply in the form of haunting question, a question that must be wrestled with by every man. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Pause for a moment and reflect on this dilemma. This beautiful absolution of all responsibility, this denial of sacred union. This call to arms and social justice. This conflict of desire and denial of need. Contemplate Cain’s question - this double-edged sword - contemplate it deeply, if you dare.

As the story unfolds, God punishes Cain by sending him out into the wilderness, exiling him from community. Here we find one of the most ancient of archetypes that plagues the maturity process, stunting our growth and momentum. This dark archetype is the tyrant, frequently expressed through the concept of a punitive God. It appears human-kind still struggles to comprehend a divinity that does not weigh up our rights and wrongs and demand atonement for our sin.

This is the stigma of duality that forces the union All-That-Is into a state of separation. You and I, black and white, right and wrong, love and fear. This identification of the divine with a justice-bent authority has caused the masses to reject their own divinity. We have been taught very clearly of our faults and unworthiness, and continue to measure one another accordingly today.

The archetype of the tyrant dwells strongly within us. For parents, the rod often rules. Bending a child’s will to fit our own, forcing the child into submission is the primary approach to preparing a child for life. There is an unconscious righteousness that leads us to demand our pound of flesh when we have been wronged. We see it so pronounced in the way the media crucifies our fallen heroes and denounces our criminals, turning them from men and women into dark and evil villains.

As in our parenting, the tyrant dominates our philosophies of authority. Teachers, police and prison guards, employers and employees alike frequently believe it is their place to dominate and control those who rank beneath them. When the tyrant’s power is removed we ring our hands in despair, wondering how we will ever keep control of those we are responsible for.

In less-ancient history, spiritual teachers have emerged, as far back as Buddha, up until our current time, who have shared with us the illusion of separation, exposing our misconception of a punitive God. Justice is a human attribute, not a divine one. It is an attempt to alleviate the pain we feel when that to which we are strongly attached is taken. The Buddha taught non-attachment, Jesus of Nazareth taught unconditional love and unlimited forgiveness, to the point of becoming a symbol of such with arms out-stretched on a cross. A Course in Miracles teaches of the illusion of separation and of finding our divinity in the union of all things. Yet the God of justice still demands retribution, such is the strength of this shadow divinity lurking within our psyches.

This emphasis on separation and need for retribution creates deep suffering in our souls. Cain’s exile into the wilderness powerfully represents the isolation, pain and fear of the uninitiated, ego-driven male. This exile is not a punishment for his wrong-doing, but a result of the belief in his unworthiness – the same belief that drove him to murder his own brother. The isolation of ego-domination is masterfully captured by Cain’s desperate appeal of his sentence. “This punishment is more than I can bear,” he cries, “Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer in the wilderness, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

The fear and loneliness of the shadow child echo through the centuries still. As uninitiated men today, we find ourselves as restless wanderers. We put on a false bravado, casting the illusion of confidence as we battle with the disillusionment of our disempowered souls. We duck and weave to avoid shame, embarrassment and rejection. We live as restless wanderers, afraid and avoidant of the inevitable wounding of life and our ultimate demise.

There is a bigger picture in this story that depicts the masculine journey to maturity. The divine child is usually overcome and subdued by the ego at a very early age. This usually occurs at the point a child is emotionally wounded and realises he must fend for himself if he is to survive. In this moment, the shadow ego is born. As he loses faith in the existence of unconditional love, the ego takes greater and greater control. I do not want to discount the natural function of the ego here and its development. That is another story. For now, we are dealing with the shadow ego, for it is this false identity that causes pain and separation in our lives.

As Cain subdues Abel, he realises he is now alone. What appears to be the path of deliverance severs him from the divine and launches him into a long and arduous journey. The cry “I will be hidden from your presence” is the mark of separation we feel; the sense of emptiness and at times despair that drives us to ask the question “what is the point of it all?”

We seek to fill this emptiness with experiences, comforts, relationships and anything else that will momentairly ease our sufferring. At times we feel ourselves align with the divine, perhaps to the point of epiphany, only to have shadows cast across our lives again. Thus we wander restlessly in the wilderness, in search of that which eludes us.

The wilderness has a very specific purpose. It is symbolic of the dangerous and mysterious unknown. The wilderness is a place of transformation as we are forced to come face to face with our mortality. In tribal rites of passage, young men are often beaten and forced from the village to take their chances in the jungles, mountains or deserts of their land. They go without food and water. Their ability to navigate the terrain and survive the conditions confirms their status as an initiated man.

Today, this journey is often emotional as in the absence of mentors and guides, life seeks to initiate us into maturity. The wilderness may consist of bankruptcy, divorce or dismissal from employment. A man may fall into addiction, sexual affairs or crime. Whatever false idol we cling to most in our ego state is sure to be challenged and torn away. To face our limitation and mortality is necessary if we are grow into full maturity. In these wilderness experiences, we may face our rock bottom and finally throw off the ego’s hold. It is here, in these moments, that we re-discover the divine-child. As the spell of the ego is broken the divine child rises to greet us. Forsaking all that we have strived for, its loss is transformed into freedom and new doors begin to open before our eyes.

Cain and Abel are but a story within a story that reflects the process of restoration and maturity. Cain, the off-spring of Adam and Eve (in whose story we see the original rise of the ego through separation from the divine self) sets out on a journey to win back the favour of God. He unwittingly becomes the ancient forefather of Jesus Christ, who as the legend goes, died to restore us to our divinity – to reunite every man and woman with the divine child.

Jesus of Nazareth taught and graphically demonstrated the necessity of the death of the ego. Here we see in what some have called “The Greatest Story Ever Told” the journey to male maturity. The separation from divine identity and the long journey back, culminating in the death of the shadow ego and the resurrection of the divine child in the story of Jesus Christ. Thousands of years reduced to a lifetime in the blink of an eye.

In order to reassure Cain, God placed a mark upon him – the mark of the divine. This mark is born by every man. It is the reminder of his divinity and true identity. It is a point of connection with the authentic self through which we re-discover who we truly are. From time to time we become aware of its gentle whisper. When our career momentarily stalls, in the aftermath of an argument with loved ones, or in between the pints of beer, we sense there is more to who we are than that which we have become.

Our guilt, shame and regret plead with us to shake free of all that is not a reflection of our true self. The ego, instantly threatened, persuades us otherwise. In those moments, we lie awake and wonder why this lingering feeling persists, bemoaning our position in life and fantasising about the new job, new partner or new car that will make it all right. But it is the whisper of our divinity, beckoning us to maturity that stirs this unrest. It calls us to discover the depth of truth and beauty of our authentic self.

Some men respond and timidly venture along the lightly-trodden path, some only ever ponder the inner disquiet. A few charge insensitively down the delicate trail, determined to arrive at their destination post-haste. They can be overheard brashly instructing fellow travellers along the way. Others meet their demise in the wilderness as they take their chances with the wild beasts, while many men plant their feet immovably in the illusionary but satisfying world of the ego. Life’s call to grow into our masculine potential can never be silenced. Will you join us on the quest?

Iron John 
(Original Title: Iron Hans)
By Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm

Iron John is a traditional fairy-tale originally told by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.  It is rich with Archetypal expression and symbols of masculine development.  We will publish an interpretation and conclusion to the tale at a later date.  For now, why not join our competition and create your own ending!

 

Once upon a time there was a king who had a great forest near his castle, full of all kinds of wild animals. One day he sent out a huntsman to shoot a deer, but the huntsman did not come back again.

"Perhaps he has had an accident," said the king, and the following day Then on the third day, he summoned

all his huntsmen, and said, "Search through the whole forest, and do not give up until you have found all three." But none of these came home again either, nor were any of the hounds from the pack that they had taken with them ever seen again.

From that time on, no one dared to go into these woods, and they lay there in deep quiet and solitude, and all that one saw from there was an occasional eagle or hawk flying overhead. This lasted for many years, when an unknown huntsman presented himself to the king seeking a position, and he volunteered to go into the dangerous woods.

The king, however, did not want to give his permission, and said, "It is haunted in there. I am afraid that you will do no better than did the others, and that you will never come out again."

The huntsman answered, "Sir, I will proceed at my own risk. I know nothing of fear."

The huntsman therefore set forth with his dog into the woods. It was not long before the dog picked up a scent and wanted to follow it, but the dog had run only a few steps when it came to a deep pool, and could go no further. Then a naked arm reached out of the water, seized the dog, and pulled it under.

When the huntsman saw that, he went back and got three men. They returned with buckets and bailed out the water. When they could see to the bottom, there was a wild man lying there. His body was brown like rusty iron, and his hair hung over his face down to his knees. They bound him with cords and led him away to the castle.

Everyone was greatly astonished at the wild man. The king had him put into an iron cage in his courtyard, forbidding, on pain of death, that the cage door be opened. The queen herself was to safeguard the key. From this time forth everyone could once again go safely into the woods.

The king had a son of eight years. One day he was playing in the courtyard, and during his game his golden ball fell into the cage.

The boy ran to the cage and said, "Give me my ball."

"Not until you have opened the door for me," answered the man.

"No," said the boy, "I will not do that. The king has forbidden it," and he ran away. The next day he came again and demanded his ball.

The wild man said, "Open my door," but the boy would not do so.

On the third day the king had ridden out hunting, and the boy went once more and said, "Even if I wanted to, I could not open the door. I do not have the key."

Then the wild man said, "It is under your mother's pillow. You can get it there."

The boy, who wanted to have his ball back, threw all caution to the wind, and got the key. The door opened with difficulty, and the boy pinched his finger. When it was open, the wild man stepped out, gave him the golden ball, and hurried away.

The boy became afraid. He cried out and called after him, "Oh, wild man, do not go away, or I shall get a beating."

The wild man turned around, picked him up, set him on his shoulders, and ran into the woods.

 

The Parable of the Talents
Tim Drown

This is a biblical story taken from the book of Matthew 25:14-30. Every time I heard the story as a teenager and young adult, I was troubled at the fate of the third servant. I immediately felt defensive and couldn't understand his crime. Caught in a wrestle with my unconcious mind, I was unable to discern the message of the story and continued to feel hard done by.

Years later the penny dropped. This is a story about the unintiated warrior. There was no crime committed, but the servant's passivity and fear led him to inaction. The master is simply life itself, and the story aptly describes the experience of life when our passivity and inaction reign freely over the repressed or uninitiated warrior.

A modern retelling of this story with a happier ending is the movie "Yes Man" starring Jim Carrie. It's a great story of the initiation of the warrior archetype in a contemporary setting. Enough of an introduction and on with the tale!

"There was a wealthy land owner who was going away on a long trip. He summoned three of his most trusted servants and said to them “I’m going to travel to a distant land, and I’m leaving you in charge of my affairs.” The servants bowed humbly at the honour given them. To the first servant he gave ten thousand dollars. To the second servant he gave five thousand dollars, and to the third servant he gave one thousand dollars.

“Now manage my wealth wisely, until I return,” the Master decreed.

The first servant took the ten thousand dollars and invested it. His investment was good and he doubled his money. The second servant invested his five thousand dollars and also doubled his money. But the final servant was anxious and afraid of his master. He said to himself;

“My master is an intimidating man and I’m afraid he earned this money by taking advantage of others. Now he’s given it to me to take the fall for him. I think the safest thing to do is bury my money so when he returns I can give it back to him. Otherwise I might be caught empty-handed and have to face his anger.”

The time came when the Master returned from his journey and called his servants to account for the money he had entrusted them. The first servant said,

“Look Master, here is the money you gave me, and here is ten thousand more!” The master replied

“Well done good servant! You have been faithful in small things so I will put you in charge of bigger things! Come and join your master’s household.”

The second servant arrived and said;

“Look Master, here is the five thousand dollars you gave me, and I have made five thousand more.” Again the master replied;

“Well done good servant. You have been made me proud, so I will put you in charge of more. Come and join your master’s household.”

The third servant arrived and said;

“Master, I knew you are fiscal man and were putting us to the test. I didn’t want you to be out of pocket, so I buried the money you gave me. Here it is – returned in full!”

The master grew angry and replied “You lazy servant! You should have known I would not waste my money foolishly! You could have at least put the money in the bank so it could have earned a few dollars in interest! Get out of my house! I never want to see you again. I’ll give your money to the man who made ten thousand dollars because he’s not afraid to risk a little for greater gain. Let this be a lesson to you – if you’re not willing to take small risks you’ll never get anywhere, and you’ll lose the pleasure of the little you do have. Now leave me! I never want to see you again.”

 
 
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