The Call of the Wanderer
In 1990 I left England and did not return for 16 years. It wasn’t just a holiday; it was for work. I got a job in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and we had to hand over our passports to the employers. I’m sure it was not legal, but it was standard practice on contracts for oil companies as they confused work contracts with ownership. It was like landing somewhere in the 11th century, in spite of shiny new BMWs, Mercedes and that Nissan pick up trucks had replaced the camel. Not only was it startling different, almost a parallel universe, throwing me into cultural dissonance, it was also a massive upheaveal – my brother had just died suddenly so I was emotionally raw. It was an experience of alienation I am not likely to forget- those were the days you wrote letters to people as emails did not yet exist – so communication was sporadic .Within six months of being there, Iraq invaded Kuwait thus setting off that ticking time bomb that culminated in the first Gulf War when the spitfire hawks zeroed down from the skies and attempted to obliterate a heavily demonised enemy in the name of democracy. So when I think how troubling 2016 was, I think: yes, it was, but somehow 1990 primed me in readiness to be more resilient.
Why did I go headlong into a war? No one, however clairvoyant, sees the future in that much detail. But even if I had have sensed danger, it probably that would not have stopped me. Anthony Lloyd’s book My War Gone By: I Miss it So resonated strongly. With death around we are more alive. So there is no regret. I was trapped into a mortgage I could barely afford, and competition for full-time jobs in London was fierce. An older friend of mine had worked in Iran, Libya and Arabia during the eighties, and told me hilarious anecdotes about the ‘Muddle’ east. I was curious about how weird and wonderful life might be there. I had read T.E. Lawrence, Sir Richard Burton, and Wilfrid Thesiger. I had taught students from the Gulf region and studied a bit of Arabic. I knew who Sheherazade was and how the Wahabis held sway. I had already been to Luxor, Aswan, Alexandria and Cairo but the Gulf was different. It was the deep inexplicable pull of adventure.
This is a call you either feel or do not feel. The need to go is either strong or weak; you feel the urge to break out of your prison, or you do not. Even if you do hear it, you would be wise to be cautious. I listened, got a job, got on the plane, and took off. I landed in Jeddah, and within a week was in Riyadh, a place most people had barely heard of. Deep down I just knew that if I had stayed in the UK, I would have become ill, and even die.
This spirit of leaving the tribe, taking off into the unknown is the driver for explorers, travellers, psychonauts, and even armchair travellers. The motivting pattern – or ‘archetype’ that compelled me was the Wanderer, sometimes also described as the Seeker. Along with the Lover, this is the urge to leave the tribe and strike out on a path to greater freedom and indviduality. I could not name it as an archetype then, but now I can see what was driving me. Hands up all of us who ever played martyr in a relationship to make your side of things more dramatic and to gain leverage? Whether you knew it or not, you were being driven by an archetype.
The Twelve Main Archetypes
There are hundreds of archetypes, but Jungian psychologists identify twelve key patterns that represent the growth of the psyche. The questionnaire produced by Carole Pearson, the PMAI, gives a hint as to the make up of these twelve archetypes. It is really an inventory designed to take stock of currently ‘active’ or ‘inactive’ archetypes and not a way of labelling your ‘type’. I still have a very healthy looking Wanderer, but my Creator, Magician, Ruler and Fool are also strong; my Innocent and Caregiver archetypes, are less prominent, but not alarmingly so. The way to understand this is to review your PMAI results as though they are in a mixer that has not blended every chunk yet, and those forces jostling at the top can change over time. A common misunderstanding of many psychological type questionnaires is their reduction to a formula which oversimplifies the complexity of each individual. The most misused is the Briggs Myers Type Indicator which is popular in business and human resouces, but lacks any kind of nuance. It is misleading to suggest that the typology means something finite about you for your whole life – you are A or B -but being AB is also possible, as is being A one day and B on another.
In Cain’s book Quiet (2013) she says we tend to have a preference towards introversion or extraversion, but preference for inner orientation and outward orientation could be situational and the majority could be ambiverts i.e. a bit of both. But, hardly anyone wants to claim ‘hey, I’m an ambivert.’ So the tendency is to talk in terms of binaries. This is a hard habit to squash.
In 1999 my wanderer archetype kicked in again and I abandoned Saudi Arabia for good to begin another phase of my life as a student and writer I went to New York to do a MFA in Creative Writing, a high phase in my life. I did teach the odd composition class to get by, but I had a lot of freedom which was the antidote to the one-dimensionality of life in the desert kingdom. This began a high water mark period of meeting lots of new people all the while experimenting with writing. This was the Creator and Magician coming to prominence. I published some of my first stories and became an intern in the books section at the Village Voice. During my teen years the Innocent, Child and the Rebel were mostly jostling for centre stage. I was both naive and rebellious- which probably didn’t help anyone to understand me, but at least I was not the only one. But, never far off the radar, the Wanderer archetype showed up when I was 19 and I took off with a Euro Rail card, and hitch hiked across East Germany with very little money in my pocket. I lived on bread and cheese and, if I could not afford a hostel, I would sleep in train stations or on park benches. I didn’t do package holidays until 1989. In the past few years, I have a Warrior spirit emerging in yoga, and in life, setting specific goals and achieving them one by one with patience and dedication and discipline. Once you spot these characters and how they motivate you, it allows you to see the deeper drives of your life, like suddenly glimpsing the backstage view of the show, how it was all constructed. Jung said until we make this process conscious, it appears in our lives as fate.
The point about all this is not to label a phase in life or claim, it was not ‘me,’ it was my ‘archetype’, as if to distance actions from impulses. The way Jung explains it is exemplary and considers the phenomena of the psyche in a holistic way. He says that archetypes, are the ‘invisible roots of consciousness’ and that like Yin/Yang symbol of the Tao, they are constantly in flux, and cannot be reduced to a formula, or fully described in words. In fact, he preferred them to manifest through imagery and symbols, which would be idiosyncratic. You notice them after the fact. The other point is to see them always in interrelationship to their shadow side, the Jeckyll and Hyde syndrome – for every benign ruler, there is a tyrant; for every caring mother there is a smothering, devouring one; for every spiritual warrior, there is a cowardly lion and so on. When one emerges too strongly, the other recedes, only to bounce back with renewed energy if suppressed.
How archetypes can help you navigate your life
Knowing your archetypes can help give you insight into your hidden motives – allowing the benefit of hindsight. When we make decisions, but can’t explain how or why we reached that decision, it’s a given that an archetype is activating behind the scenes. You just may not have noticed which one yet. This is the paradox of what is unconscious- it is difficult to see it, as by its nature it is invisible; otherwise it would be conscious. We have hidden depths. The trick is to be able to see as far as your vision will take you into those depths. The wounded child can often keep us trapped in codependent relationships which are only good for us if we take the lesson and heal the wound and move on. Otherwise we are a record stuck in a groove. It takes self awareness to keep tabs on the players within your own psyche and to figure out what pain it was that drove you into that difficult relationship in the first place, and what kept you suffering for so long? I do not say this is easy, if we had a mirror placed where we could see the back of our heads, it might help. Observing, noticing, writing a journal, reflecting, all of these are effective tools for cultivating and growing this knowledge.
Knowing these roles and patterns is like finally having the navigation tool that casts light across the uncharted seas of experience. Experiences can be tumultuous, especially in these times of massive overstimulation from the ‘fake’ media. Archetypes provide a structure for understanding that helps you to see through how media uses archetypes to trigger your responses. They also help you grow, develop and make peace with your life and align with its developmental stages. This offers the freedom to make better choices, and involves achieving balance and have deeper insight.
Medical intuitive, Caroline Myss (2001) explains “Knowledge of archeytpes in turn help you to understand why certain relationships have been necessary in your life and why you have had to take in specific duties that either surprised and delighted you or seemed burdensome and destructive.. everything has its role, regardless of how painful or joyful it may be.” She produced a set of cards to explore them and gain self knowledge.
This often gives meaning to those rocky periods, where others appeared puzzling, or were abusive or manipulative, or where we ourselves without realising behaved that way, like a victim. Understanding the painful and most difficult phases in life can fog our minds for years, and finding the appropriate meaning makes the difference in being able to move forward. She also says that everyone is ruled by the key four Victim, Orphan, Saboteur and Prostitute. We may recognise the first three, but in what sense we could ask are we prostitutes? To the degee we all sacrifice our integrity for our jobs, for our mortgages, when we reach uneasy compromises in the workplace. So don’t be surprised when you discover your inner prostitute is more prominent than you thought.
One of the most compelling benefits is that archeytpes also help to see the grand arc of your life story – almost as a play with a cast of characters, and that adds weight and depth, the vertical and horizontal axes on the graph of your life become clear and that alone is a reason to start studying them. To take this further, you can also dialogue with them, as Ohotto advises. In order to do this, people need to slow right down to a meditative pace and call in the archetypes that are ruling their lives. Then, you ask questions such as ‘what force in me is currently dominating?’ and ‘what force in me is going to help get me through?’
Pearson says that archeytpes, once brought into the light, give deeper insight into your world, and that of others, and even helps us understand the way authors structure stories, so we can detect any bias in novels and films. Even more important is to detect the way advertising, like media news, insidiously utilises archetypes to its own ends, clearly manipulating our desires and fears, while pretending not to. Archetypes are linked to Campbell’s idea of the Hero’s journey, but in some ways the idea of life as a journey has become sorely overused. This is why I like the shift in perspective Alan Watts provides with his words: “Seeing Life as a journey is the worst way to see it. It is more like music which has no endpoint. It its the play that matters.”
Life is more of a symphony in which each instrument plays a role and those roles, if you are ready to listen, form the celestial hum of your psyche and the playful signature of your life.
© Kieron Devlin, February, 2017
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the blog’s author and/or owner is prohibited.
Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kieron Devlin arthealswounds. wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content in accordance with a Creative Commons License.
Should any duplication of images have occurred in this site, from sources not mentioned, please message the author so that the image can be credited accordingly.
Thank you for reading, liking and sharing.