The Orphan’s Call

I’ve been writing about real mothers, mothers who authentically fulfill not only the letter of the archetypal laws of motherhood, but the spirit of it as well. I used the child adoption realm to discuss the wounding that people carry with them, wounds that sometimes obscure truth and may keep a person stalled during his or her quest for individuation or wholeness. I write about these issues because I encounter more people stuck in their individuation process who have histories of abandonment than any other sort of stuck person. While most are not adopted (ironically enough), many were. The adopted stuck seem to remain stuck longer, and I think one possibility is that they remain stuck because they receive so much support for being, and remaining, stuck. They are told that they are wounded, and thus stuck, forever due to some primal wound caused by separation from their birth mothers, a wound that cannot be healed, really, making them perpetual victims and always children who cannot be in control of their own destinies.

Well, of course I think this view of being adopted is hogwash. But it does illustrate one view of over-identification with an archetype, and so next I’ll be writing about what this means, what it looks like. As I’ve explained before, I believe that healing is spiritual and much of what needs to be undertaken to heal the broken-hearted is spiritual work, work with the unconscious. What we need is a shaman to shake the rattle, a dance danced around the fire, an ecstatic experience, rosaries prayed, prayer wheels spun, someone to slap us on the forehead and shout, “BE HEALED!”

After introducing my subject, I next  turned to commenting briefly about the insatiable desire for a child that is created by the barren womb, using a Biblical basis to do so. Perhaps later I’ll write in depth about this, for those who cannot have children often identify with the Mother or Child archetype, and it may be useful to some to understand this theoretically so that they can try to avoid the pitfalls associated with identification with an archetype. They can become more whole and authentic if they’ll do this. But since my first aim was to differentiate between “real” love and the appearance of love, I merely touched on the high cost of infertility in emotional and financial terms, and commented about the adoption industry.

Next in this series, I pointed out that adopted people have often been raised by adoptive parents, mothers in particular, who are not whole people themselves, and whose wound of infertility expanded to swallow the adoptee alive, when the adoptee became the solution to the problem. As many of us who are adoption involved have pointed out, when the adopted child is the second choice for a couple, the child knows it. What sort of a pain is created when we know we’re second choice, second best? This is the wound out of which adoptees struggle to grow. It is their wound that needs healing, but because so many adoptees are raised by emotionally and spiritually stunted adoptive parents, once they have reunions they are in poor positions to judge the inadequacies of their birth parents. They will accept statements such as “if I had it to do over again, I’d choose an abortion rather than adoption” without confronting the fact that their mother has just admitted she would kill her own child rather than suffer through relinquishment again. It is still all about Mother. But, because the adoptive mother has already trained the adopted child in caretaking, the adoptee is still stuck, suspended between two mothers and two families, everyone with their demands on him or her, unable to break loose and individuate and so suffering like a prisoner for years, even a lifetime.

Finally, I arrived at my point about what real love is, and about how it behaves. I know that I sometimes need to remind myself about what real love is, or else I may become awash in a sea of sentimentality that sounds right, but acts wrong. Recalling to mind the characteristics of real agape love is one way of taking care of the inner waif. In the end, we ourselves are the only ones who can restore to the waif the lost parents, hearth, and home, and give the orphan a place from which to leave on her grand Quest to individuation.

The Quest for the Non-Orphan

For those not familiar with quest mythology, think about The Lord of the Rings. Someone is living happily in his home village, doing whatever it is that most people do in that village. He receives a call to adventure that will require him to leave his hearth and home, go into the wilds, the woods, the deep water, the jungle. There, he will meet monsters and witches (lions and tigers and bears, oh my!), and someone will give him an elixir or a talisman, or lessons on surviving the dragon battle still ahead. He will journey across or through water-a river, a lake, a swamp, an ocean-and there he will be overcome by the waters or by something that will re-create for him the gushing out from the womb. Like Jonah or Pinocchio, he may spend three days and three nights in the belly of the whale.

He will arrive at the place where the dragon or where his nemesis is, and a fight to the death will occur. He may live, and bring away the dragon’s heart or treasure, or the magic elixir that will save someone else; or he may die in a Christ-like move, offering his life as a ransom, or returning from the dead.

In the end, he returns home with his wound or scar, and with the treasure or elixir. He will never be the same again, for he will have individuated, become a man, grown up, become more whole and more wise.

The Orphan’s Quest

The quest does not work so for orphans, which accounts for why we have had a fascination with orphan tales from time imemorial.  Jung wrote that the child must evolve toward independence due to its potentiality, but that “this it cannot do without detaching itself from its origins: abandonment is therefore a necessary condition, not just a concomitant symptom” (Archetypes of the Unconscious). In a 1985 Chiron article, Patricia Berry-Hillman explains the universality of the archetypally abandoned child, writing that

We are indeed all, in part, orphans, and it is through the suffering of this archetypal fact of abandonment (and abandoning) that we can join together in community. This communal feeling, based on a recognition of our mutual aloneness and suffering, is a religious emotion, an existential reality, and a return to the world with a recognition that the world is all we have, and that maybe it is ‘good enough.’

The word abandonment means literally “not to be called.” As Woodman explains, “‘Abandonment’ comes from an Old English verb bannan meaning ‘to summon’ (O.E.D.). To be among those summoned was to relinquish oneself to service. Abandonment means literally “to be uncalled,” symbolically, “to be without a destiny.” This meaning is a compelling one in light of the mythical quest symbolism of archetypally interpreted literature.

As Joseph Campbell writes in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (a book I think every educated person should have read), the archetypal hero’s quest begins with a call to adventure, an initiation into the quest. However, the abandoned child is left without a calling or invitation to adventure because the orphan has no origins from which he can detach; he was abruptly detached from the umbilical cord and his destiny was chosen for him. Without this call that urges him to leave his original home and hearth, there can be no quest, no treasure, no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow; no destiny, no meaning to his life, no definition, no identity, no wholeness. Thus, although she does not suggest the possibility of the abandoned child as an archetypal figure, Woodman coincidentally identifies an aspect of the abandoned child’s function: to illustrate the possibility of being, and remaining, uncalled, uninvited, and thus uninitiated.

The stuck person, then, cannot move forward in individuation, nor can he go back, for soon enough his home village will be unpopulated because his peers, all of whom were raised by their own mothers and fathers, will have left on their own adventures. There he sits, stirring the soup, his adoptive mother puttering around him, always so nice, always so loving, wondering why he feels so trapped.

Even if his birth mother somehow reappears or is magically transported into his village (this never happens in fairy tales and myths, by the way, but let’s suppose anyway), he is still stuck and even doubly stuck, because now he has two mothers weighing him down, anchoring him to the soup through their puttering and fussing and loving, and his confusion is so great that in the part of himself that needs to be able to hear the faint call to adventure coming from the outskirts of town, he is stone, cold deaf.

He may stir that soup forever, and never feel that he is grown up. He may have to wait for his call until both parents are dead, and only then might he hear the call. I have known a few abandoned folks like that.

Identification with an Archetype

There is an archetype of abandonment that some have contrasted to an archetype of an abandoned child. The archetype of abandonment is associated with the terrible mother, the witch, the hag, the one who eats her young. An outward symptom of being identified by an archetype of abandonment may appear as stagnation, symbiosis (two people being stuck, together, and feeding off one another), and the fear of being truly related. This explains why so many adoptees or former foster children, or in fact anyone who was not truly loved by his or her own mother, fear true intimacy and thus cannot sustain long-lived relationships or commitments. They don’t want to let themselves go into authentic, deep, emotional intimacy because they fear the loss of all they have left, which is the remnants of their original selves, the selves who survived that violent tearing away from the first mother, survived days or weeks or months alone in a crib, fed by people who were paid to do it (fed without love), and then who had to live with one or more replacement parents before finally, if they were lucky enough, being adopted by a couple who became the adoptive parents.

But even that didn’t turn out very well, for as we shall see when I write about it later, many, many adoptive parents are so wounded by their inability to fulfill their dream of reproducing a biologically-related baby that they don’t have what it takes to give the adopted baby (or child) what she needs to heal from the awful wound of abandonment. And so the wound persists and becomes what some people, like Nancy Verrier (an adoptive mother), call “the primal wound.” But this wound is a wound that might have been healed, had the adoptive parents done their jobs as human beings and as parents. This is a wound that has a cure, a cure that few lay people know about because they have identified with The Mother archetype and are even caught in the throes of identification with their own abandonments. They help themselves to long bouts of depression and alienation because everyone around them, particularly the adoption-involved, keeps telling them that the wound is permanent (eternal!) and there is no balm in Gilead.

There is a Balm in Gilead

Well, of course I think the nay-sayers are wrong. There is a cure for everything, for “love never fails.” Good enough love, good enough therapy, good enough friends or spouses, and a lot of hard work can heal that wound. Orphans can rebuild the hearth and home for themselves, and this they must do if they hope to become whole human beings. They must become spelunkers into the depths of their own abandonments until they have plumbed them to the core; when they come out again, they are able to establish their own hearths and homes, and they can hear the call to adventure, leave both mothers and go on the Quest that will help them become whole human beings. If they do this, they come to internalize and carry authentic parents inside themselves, thus establishing their own temenos and are, finally, adults. After this, they can make what they will and what they are able to make out of the real, flesh-and-blood people who are their birth and adoptive parents and relatives.

They will no longer be stuck, trapped, depressed, unhappy, divided, and periodically overcome with vast loneliness or anger or overcome by anything but love. They can become, perhaps, more luminous than their unwounded counterparts, like Jacob after wrestling with the angel: walking with a limp for a human lifetime and yet the founder of nations, recipient of the blessed birthright.

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