In my grandmother’s tiny front parlour, next to her Victrola, sat a huge heavy hard-bound book containing all of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. In the summers of my childhood, after a magical overnight train journey, we stayed with my grandmother. I remember my eagerness to open that book on each visit, turning always to the same story: “The Travelling Companion”. It had all the delights a child could want: terror and sadness, mystery and secret journeys to a hidden cave in a mountain, an ogre and a bloodthirsty princess who beheaded her suitors when they could not answer her questions… but most of all I loved the main character, John.
Andersen begins, “Poor John was very sad, for his father was ill and would not recover.” After a loving farewell, promising that John would be cared for by providence, the father dies, leaving the young man all alone in the world. After the funeral, John sets out into the wide world, carrying his inheritance of fifty gold marks. That night he seeks shelter in a Church where an open coffin sits awaiting a funeral the next day. Wicked men, to whom the dead man owed money, come to seek revenge. They plan to seize the man’s body and hurl it into the woods. But John approaches them, offering his fifty gold marks if they will promise not to dishonour the dead man. They agree….
Next morning, as John continues on his way, a stranger with a wise and kind countenance asks if he might travel with John as a companion. Well, you can guess the rest…. This was no ordinary mortal, but a magical being who helps John to win the love of the fierce princess with whom he has fallen deeply in love. When John and his new bride, now a loving woman, freed from the ogre’s power, begin their new life together, the companion bids John farewell, revealing himself as the spirit of the dead man whose body John saved from dishonor….
This story has been rising in my memory over these recent weeks as we have been exploring together the concept of Archetypes. For, after all, is not an archetype in our life truly a “travelling companion”, offering not only company but powerful assistance in achieving the tasks of our lives, the desires of our heart?
I’ve been reflecting on my life, calling to mind and heart Archetypes that came to me for a time, others that remain: Arwen Undomiel, daughter of the Elf Lord Elrond in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings.” For years, Arwen was my Archetype, for her name means “Evening Star of her People”, something I longed to be.
Later, I recognized in Julian of Norwich, an Archetypal Presence, drawn to a life of solitude, where she reflected, prayed and wrote her book, ”Revelations of Divine Love.” One day I realized that as Julian spent time each morning at her window which opened out to a busy street in 14th century Norwich, listening to and responding to those who came to her, I too had such a “Window” where I might listen and respond on my computer.
On a ZOOM call in March, 2019, Jean Houston offered insights from her own decades-long study of archetypes. Here are some highlights from that experience:
At the base/root of our relationship with an Archetypal presence is LOVE, the Beloved Friend, the Companion of our lives.
Archetypes are our connection to the wider reality, the “hooks and eyes” that assist us in accessing the “Implicate order” as David Bohm calls it. We are the explicate order, limited in our reality. Archetypes bring to us the inspirations, ideas, supports, strengths to engage in our lives/our tasks with greater capabilities.
Einstein believed imagination was the key to understanding. As we learn to extend our imagination, it takes us into the imaginal field where so much potential lies, where we encounter the Archetypes. Rumi wrote that for each garden that he sees around him, there are a thousand magnificent gardens within his soul…
Who is the Archetype you chose or were chosen by in your life? He or she may be a real person living now, or someone who once lived (Julian of Norwich, Hildegard, Brigid of Kildare, Mary of Nazareth, Mary Magdalene) or someone in the imaginal realm, such as the Greek Goddesses, or Brigid, the ancient goddess of the Irish, or Isis of Egypt. We are called to grow the Archetypes if they are of the past, to engage with them as co-creative partners, to assist in their rebirth for our times.
Jean suggests we think of a time when we called upon an Archetypal presence to assist us with some task or challenge. Now imagine how our lives might change if we were to live more consciously, continuously aware of being partnered by the Archetypal presence in our daily tasks, our relationships, decisions, challenges… Jean suggests we begin with our strongest senses to engage the Archetype, whether that be through dance, music, art, or perhaps writing a dialogue where we ask the Archetype a question, then write the answer that rises in us…
During the Zoom Call Jean invited us into the following process:
Breathe deeply, and sense you are drawing in with each breath the presence of your Archetype; draw in her/his seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, knowing, loving… In the practice what do you see, hear, touch, feel, experience in the presence of the Archetype? (When I offered this process to a group of friends, some experienced the scent of sandalwood, of roses; felt a sense of wholeness; heard the song, “Love Changes Everything”, had an inspiration related to a workshop being planned…)
Raise your hands, palms outward, towards where you imagine your Archetype standing, facing you. Feel the energy that may tingle on your palms. Know yourself deeply loved, known, encouraged and understood by this presence, the part of yourself that links you to the sacred, the LOVE in the Universe.
As Jean assures us, a relationship with an Archetypal presence is not unlike other relationships in our lives: it will grow, deepen, expand over time as we journey with our travelling companion.