archetypes in stories

Last week we considered the great Archetype of the Beloved of the Soul. Yet the imaginal world is teeming with lesser archetypes: some of these are real persons who live now or have once lived on our planet; others are imaginary, encountered in stories. Their gift to us is that they embody for us qualities we long for and need to develop in our own lives. In last week’s Reflection, Jean Houston referred to the thousands of other spiritual numinous persons who just come to you in a unique manner and presence.

Have you heard or read a story that has become Archetypal for you in its theme, its unfolding? What about “The Wizard of Oz”or “The Ugly Duckling” or “The Lord of the Rings”?

One I have long loved is “The Great Stone Face” by American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864).

Does it hold Archetypal  power for you also?

The Great Stone Face

There was once a boy named Ernest who lived with his mother in a verdant valley surrounded by a black forest. High above the valley hovered rocky cliffs, the sides of ancient mountains. On one of these, centuries of wind and rain had carved the likeness of a human face. On fine evenings, after their day’s work was done, Ernest and his mother would sit outdoors, gazing towards this face. Its nobility, a blend of wisdom and kindness, lifted their hearts.

The Great Stone Face

Often they would speak together of the legend, told to Ernest’s mother by her mother, a legend older even than the earliest inhabitants of the valley, the Indigenous peoples. Their mothers and fathers had heard it murmured by the mountains and streams, whispered by the wind in the tree tops. The legend said that one day a child would be born in this area who would grow up to become the greatest and noblest person of his time. His countenance in manhood would exactly resemble the Great Stone Face. 

Ernest grew into a fine youth, always bearing in his heart, when it was not before his eyes, the image of the Great Stone Face, always waiting in hope that the promised arrival of the great man might happen in his lifetime.

One day, when Ernest was in his early 20’s, word came that a man, born in their village, who’d been for many years away making his fortune with a fleet of mighty ships, was about to return. The name by which he’d become known was Gathergold. He’d sent ahead of his arrival an architect to build him a great palace for he planned to live now in the village of his birth.

Ernest and his mother went eagerly into the village to await the arrival of the great man. Crowds were gathering, whispering, “Might he be the one?”

When Ernest saw the man seated in his great carriage, glimpsed the small-eyed, thin-lipped wrinkled face, saw his contempt as he threw a few coppers to children who ran beside the carriage begging, he knew this was not the one he’d awaited. Ernest lifted his gaze beyond the village to where in the distance he could make out the noble features of the Great Stone Face. And it seemed that the Stone spoke to him and said, “He will come! Fear not Ernest, the man will come!” 

Many years passed. Ernest grew into full manhood, though he was little noticed among the inhabitants of the valley. Some thought him rather strange, for he was often seen sitting, gazing at the mountain, as though it were his wisdom teacher…

Another man born in the valley who’d gone to become a soldier was rumored to be returning home. He was now a great commander in the army.

Ernest and his mother joined the eager crowds gathered to welcome him. There were so many soldiers with bayonets, ready to keep the crowd at a distance. There was so much noise, bluster, long speeches, that Ernest and his mother scarcely glimpsed General Blood and Thunder, What Ernest could see was a war-worn, weather–beaten face, full of energy, possessing an iron will. Yet the gentle wisdom, the deep broad tender sympathies that Ernest sought, were completely lacking. Ernest lifted his gaze to the Great Stone Face far off in the distance. As always, the aspect of his marvelous friend made Ernest as hopeful as if he’d never hoped in vain.

“Fear not, Ernest,” said his heart, as if the Great Stone Face were whispering to him—“ fear not, Ernest, he will come.”

More years sped swiftly, peacefully away. Ernest, now a man in his middle years, still dwelt in the valley of his birth, though now without his mother’s companionship. He laboured as before, was still the same simple-hearted man; yet his long hours spent communing with the Great Stone Face had imperceptibly brought about a wisdom in him. He became a preacher in the village. Always in his heart he held great hopes for the betterment of people’s lives, always he trusted in the promise of the legend, the promise of the coming it foretold.

And now for the third time, the people who’d acknowledged their disappointment in Gathergold and General “Blood and Thunder”, were looking to a new arrival, another village son returning, an eminent statesman who was rumored to be a Presidential Hopeful. Though he lacked both gold and sword, his tongue was mightier than both. He was so eloquent that whatever he might choose to say, his hearers had no choice but to believe him. His magical tongue could make wrong sound right, right sound wrong. His tongue could warble like the sweetest bird or rumble like thunder… In fact it was so clear to so many villagers that he was the long-awaited one that they gave him the name, “Old Stony Phiz.”

Watching his arrival, Ernest at first saw a resemblance between this man and the old familiar face on the mountainside. Yet even as the villagers shouted and cheered that here at last was the one, Ernest knew something was lacking: the sublimity, the stateliness, the grand expression of a divine sympathy that illuminated the village from the Great Stone Face, were here absent. This marvelously gifted statesman had a weary gloom in the caverns of his eyes, as though his life with all its high performances was vague and empty. No high purpose had endowed it with reality.

Ernest felt a deep disappointment, the sharpest yet, for he saw that this man could have fulfilled the prophecy but had not willed to do so. The cavalcade passed on. Once again the view was clear for Ernest to gaze at the Beloved Face. “Lo, here I am, Ernest. I have waited longer than thou and am not yet weary. Fear not, the man will come.”

Decades passed, bringing the wrinkles of age to Ernest’s forehead. They brought a deepened wisdom that gave Ernest a fame he’d never sought nor desired. Word had gone forth that this simple farmer had a wisdom unlike that of others, gained not from books. No, it was something higher, more refined, a tranquil familiar majesty. Professors and sages, politicians and philanthropists sought him out, sat near to listen to him, to ask him questions.

Once more a native son of the valley was gaining prominence: this man was a poet. When Ernest read his verses, his heart soared.  He looked up at the Great Stone Face. “O majestic friend,“ Ernest asked, “is this man worthy to resemble thee?’

The Face seemed to smile, but answered not a word.

The poet had also heard of Ernest, had meditated on pieces of his wisdom that were told to him, on aspects of what he learned of Ernest’s character.

One afternoon, the poet arrived at Ernest’s door to find him reading a book of his poems. They held a deep conversation. Ernest praised his poetry. Sadly, the poet acknowledged that his life had not echoed the sublimity of his poems. He had noticed Ernest looking intently at him, then looking up to the stone face, then back to the poet’s face. The poet understood. “You had hoped to find in me a resemblance to that great face you love.”  

Evening approached and, as was his custom, Ernest set out to meet the villagers who gathered at sunset to listen to his words. He and the poet walked together to the small nook among the hills where a natural pulpit was carved into the stone backdrop. Ernest took his place there, gazing kindly at the assembled villagers.

Ernest began to speak from his heart. His words had power, the delicious purity of a draught of spring water. The poet listened to Ernest’s words, knew that a lifetime of love and good deeds had dissolved in this draught, knew that Ernest’s words were a nobler stream of poetry than his own…

The poet glanced up and saw the Great Stone Face, mists surrounding it even as Ernest’s white hair surrounded his face.

At that moment, the face of Ernest assumed a grandeur of expression so imbued with benevolence, that the poet, unable to stop himself, threw up his arms, and shouted, ”Behold! Ernest is himself the likeness of the Great Stone Face.”

And all the people looked, saw what the deep-sighted poet saw. The prophecy was fulfilled.

Yet Ernest, when he’d finished speaking, taking the poet’s arm, walked slowly homeward, still hoping that some wiser and better man than himself would by and by appear, bearing a resemblance to the Great Stone Face.      .

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