Once Upon a Time: The Quest | 2

The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote that “The artist is not a person endowed with free will who seeks his own ends, but one who allows art to realize its purposes through him. As a human being he may have moods and a will and personal aims, but as an artist he is ‘man’ in a higher sense-he is ‘collective man,’ a vehicle and molder of the unconscious psychic life of mankind” (Jung, The Spirit in Man, 237).

Jungian psychology regards human development as a journey or quest in which the soul goes in search of itself. Self-realization, also referred to as self-actualization or individuation, refers to the idea of wholeness in which the personality is integrated and in which the various aspects of personality work together toward a common goal, rather than working at cross-purposes. This concept of wholeness has been artistically represented across cultures and ages by the mandala, a circle with a center, often containing four points that might represent the cardinal points or elements. The Christian conception of the imago Dei embodied in Christ communicates this “all-embracing totality that even includes the animal side of man,” and such concepts of wholeness can be found in each of the world’s great religions (Jung, Christ, A Symbol of the Self, 325). Embracing the various aspects of the self into a totality involves an inner journey that many people never begin, much less complete. But every person, and every fictional character, is presented with many opportunities to embark on that journey.

Of what does this Quest consist? In literature, the romantic narrative pattern involves a Quest that begins with a perilous journey, usually initiated by a trial or conflict, and which initiation involves both a departure and entry occasioning the advent of the Hero (Frye). A series of preliminary adventures occur as the Hero matures and progresses in his Quest. These adventures lead to a crucial struggle between the Hero and his Foe, in which one or both must die or in which the Hero descends into the underworld. His death or descent is followed by his exaltation-possibly even resurrection-and return.

The archetypal journey of analytical psychology parallels the Quest of romance literature. The first step in the journey of wholeness begins with a confrontation of the real self, as opposed to the persona, the mask we show the world. This confrontation initially involves a meeting with the primary archetype, the Shadow. After confronting one’s own image in whatever mirror reflects it, and seeing what one has built so many resistances to seeing, a person discovers that the mirror is a door (much as in Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass), behind which lurk nixies, house elves, brownies, sprites, mermaids, wood-nymphs, and even sirens-the anima for the male, and the animus for the female. These must be incorporated before the journey can progress. This quest of the person culminates with a meeting of the Self, sometimes represented by the archetype of the Divine Couple. Individuals who never complete the Quest may over-identify with an earlier archetype, leading to an over-development of that archetype’s qualities to the detriment of the others-what Jung called neuroses or “complexes.”


The Shadow archetype is the elemental, foundational archetype representing all that is instinctual-the latent dispositions common to all men. Images portraying the Shadow often involve the wilderness, the woods (full of dragons, ogres, and thieves), or the sea as a watery wilderness. Moses, John the Baptist, and Jesus all met God in the wilderness, which meetings served as their initiations into the mystery of self-realization.The Shadow is most easily observed in others because we project our Shadow selves. I’ll write a separate post about the Shadow as part of my Archetype series.


The archetypal journey to wholeness begins with a revelation of aspects of the real self that have been concealed by the persona, the mask we show the world. This revelation, often confrontational in nature, requires a meeting with the primary archetype, the Shadow.

What follows next in the typical romance narrative amounts to the advent of the hero, a phase of the Quest in which we see the hero approaching from afar, and in which we hear “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him’” (New American Standard Bible, Mark 1:3). A person on a psychological journey has lifted the mask and peered into a mirror, only to find that behind the mirror is a deeper, more fantastic world than imagined, peopled by extraordinary inhabitants. At this portal we meet our own souls. If the pilgrim is a man, he meets his anima, which includes the feminine aspects of his soul; if a woman, her animus, expressing masculine features. Like fetuses who have not yet developed sex organs, we are psychologically bisexual; without meeting and integrating our inner opposites, we cannot become whole. This soul-image, the anima or animus, will lead a person’s conscious ego safely into the unconscious and safely out again.

The Anima may appear as an exotic dancing girl or a weathered old hag; the Animus may be an exotic, sensual young man or an old grouch. Other symbols for the animus include the eagle, bull, lion, or phallus. Symbols for the anima may be the damsel in distress, the seductive nymph, a cow, a cat, a tiger, a cave or a ship; their forms generally reflect either the condition or the needs of a person’s soul. Whatever the form of the anima or animus, the person in search of wholeness cannot meet later stage archetypes and integrate them until he or she first meets the inner opposite. Similarly, in the archetypal interpretation of literature, the Hero’s coming is heralded by a forerunner, without whom he cannot realize himself.

Jung theorized four stages of the soul image’s evolution that are shared, more or less, by both anima and animus: the wholly physical, even wild, figure such as Tarzan or Eve; the personality who possesses initiative and the capacity for planned action (a poet or philosopher, or an action-oriented figure like a warrior, hunter, etc. like Faust’s Helen); the soul-image who becomes “word,” sometimes represented by a clergyman, teacher, or a great statesman or, if the anima, one like the Virgin Mary, who raises eros to the heights of spiritual devotion; and, finally, “a mediator of the religious experience whereby life acquires new meaning,” exemplified by someone like Gandhi (if animus) or the Shulamite in the Song of Solomon (if anima) (Jung, Symbols, 207).

Besides women, the anima may also be represented by objects, one of the favorite being a ship or another womb-like container.


The next phase of the romantic quest consists of a supreme ordeal in which the hero gains his reward; this may be a sexual union with the goddess-mother of the world (sacred marriage), his recognition by the father-creator (father atonement), his own divinization (apotheosis), or his theft of the boon he came to gain (bride-theft, fire-theft). During the early testing phase, the hero matures and progresses and is either aided or thwarted by older men (often magicians). Such archetypal images are symbols of power and wisdom. Men meet the Wise Old Man archetype, while women meet the Great Mother. The opposite-sex archetypes of anima and animus have given way to same-sex archetypes, with whom the individual must make an alliance. Jung sometimes referred to these same-sex archetypes as mana personalities, because in primitive communities a person with extraordinary power or wisdom was said to be filled with ‘mana,’ a Melanesian word meaning ‘holiness’ or ‘the divine.’

These powerful archetypes are symbols of the power and wisdom that lie deep within our own psyches. If the archetype’s qualities are embraced, they become part of a person’s consciousness and increase wisdom. If rejected, it may be projected onto others, who are then revered for their wisdom, or repressed, leading to shallowness and sterility of character. A person may also over-identify with the soul-image, leading to personality problems.

The Wise Old Man accepts the “fate” of a nature that includes a propensity for both evil and good. He recognizes the fallen nature for what it is-something with a power of its own. After a heroic struggle, one turns to the Wise Old Man archetype within his psyche to be helped with his suffering.


The ultimate pattern of wholeness for the person is the Self, which includes spirit, soul, and body. In archetypal interpretation, symbols of the wholly individuated Self include father and son, mother and daughter, king and queen, god and goddess; powerful animals; flowers such as the lotus or the rose; and shapes such as the circle, square, or quaternity. If one comes to terms with the Shadow and the Soul (anima and animus) and accepts the counsel of the Wise Old Man or the Great Mother, he will encounter a symbolic enchanted castle ruled by what Jung called the Divine Couple, or the Syzygy. This couple depicts a pattern of wholeness and integration wherein the opposites of the outer and the inner life are now joined in marriage. Great power arises from this integration. YHWH and Israel, Christ and the Church, and the believer who aspires to be the “bride of Christ,” can all be seen as responses to (or expressions of) the Divine Couple archetype.

My favorite Jung quote says it all, so I’ll conclude with this:

Whenever the archetype of the self predominates, the inevitable psychological consequence is a state of conflict vividly exemplified by the Christian symbol of crucifixion–that acute state of unredeemedness which comes to an end only with the words “consummatum est.” Recognition of the archetype, therefore, does not in any way circumvent the Christian mystery; rather, it forcibly creates the psychological preconditions without which “redemption” would appear meaningless. “Redemption” does not mean that a burden is taken from one’s shoulders which one was never meant to bear. Only the “complete” person knows how unbearable man is to himself. So far as I can see, no relevant objection could be raised from the Christian point of view against anyone accepting the task of individuation imposed on us by nature, and the recognition of our wholeness or completeness, as a binding personal commitment. If he does this consciously and intentionally, he avoids all the unhappy consequences of repressed individuation. In other words, if he voluntarily takes the burden of completeness on himself, he need not find it “happening” to him against his will in a negative form.

This is as much as to say that anyone who is destined to descend into a deep pit had better set about it with all the necessary precautions rather than risk falling into the hole backwards (Selected Writings 354).


Bulfinch, Thomas, Ed. Bulfinch’s Mythology. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1989.

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Bollingen Series 17. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976.
—. The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers. Ed. Betty Sue Flowers. New York: Anchor Books, 1991.

Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.

Hillman, James. A Blue Fire. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 1989.

Hughes, Richard E. The Lively Image: Four Myths in Literature. New York: Little, Brown, and Co., 1975.

Jung, Carl G. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.
—. “Christ, A Symbol of the Self.” Selected Writings. New York, NY: Book of the Month Club, 1997. 320-355.
—. Dreams. Bollingen Series 20. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974.
—. Man and His Symbols. New York: Dell Books, 1964.
—. The Spirit in Man, Art, and Literature. Trans. R. F. C. Hull. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967.

9 responses to “Once Upon a Time: The Quest | 2”

  1. the supreme ordeal « leifsturmanisnordholm Avatar

    […] (click me) Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  2. Once Upon a Time: More Gods | 6 « The Third Eve Avatar

    […] Part 2: The Quest–The archetypal journey, or, what Campbell called the monomyth. […]

  3. Henitsirk Avatar

    Eve: what is that second image? It’s like a vesica piscis, but so much more…um…anatomical

    A small thought about recognition of the archetype and union with Christ: “Not I, but Christ in me.”

    Christ as the most fully individuated man, who indeed took on the burden of completeness here on Earth, yet who was without self in the sense of the small ego. (I’m not entirely sure of my terms here. I only know small bits of Freud and Jung, and lots of anthroposophy, which uses the term “ego” a bit differently.)

  4. Eve Avatar

    A, I’ll give you a Jung a day to keep the doctor… lurking right over your shoulder. ;o)

  5. Eve Avatar

    Hymes, ah, yes. Exactly so. What’s the fun of being with people who give you a one dimensional image of themselves and call it you? Haha. Ugh.

    I love how you wrote, “…as I am becoming.” Isn’t the self an ongoing unfolding? I think so; at least, it is for me. Yes, I get stalled and have dormant periods, but in generall it is a ‘becoming.’ I appreciate that you noted that, which makes it even more impossible to keep on being what someone else says we are. That’s static and not real.

  6. Eve Avatar

    Wow, Cerebralmum… what a powerful and amazing dream. The phallus in your purse is incredible too–talk about the male creative energy symbol hidden in a modern day symbol of the feminine: a purse. Wow, wow, wow.

    I’m always amazed at these hidden treasures.

    But those ants… chilling. And the grape juice…

  7. hymes Avatar

    I’m not sure this belongs here or not, but reading your post gave rise to this thought for me: as I work on becoming more whole, I am more and more drawn to people who accept me as I am and as I am becoming and more and more reluctant to spend time with people who tell me who I am.

  8. A Avatar

    Awesome! I think I could get to like this Jung fellow. Gimme more!

  9. cerebralmum Avatar

    I remember very clearly a dream I had with, I think, The Great Mother. There was a hill, the lower half covered with dense trees, thinning as I went further up. There was chaos and war, which became more local as I went higher up. At the top, I found myself in a wall-less kitchen, making pancakes (for The Groom?), horrified to find I had poured grape juice in instead of milk at that the benchtop and mixing bowl was covered in ants. On the hill I overlooked there was a young girl standing alone on the right. As I watched, she slowly turned into a doll, and I saw ants crawling from her mouth to cover her. It was a horrifying dream, but then…

    There was this presence. Standing behind me was a woman, neither young nor old, from whom emanated such stillness and peace and power that the horror diminished.

    I’ve never seen her in my dreams since. I think I shall unpack some of my books, like The Hero with A Thousand Faces and “voluntarily take on the burden of completeness”.

    Sorry to write a whole dream here – your post just made me think of it. And also another one where I was hiding a phallus in my handbag and taking it to work. 🙂

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