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Archetype: It's even a beer



Archetype: it’s a big word that’s about as catchy as dirigible or apostolic. Yet lately it keeps popping up. There’s even a brewery in Asheville called Archetype.


Many many years ago, I was chatting with a kindred vagabond in a youth hostel in snowy Salzburg. Where was I headed? South and cheap and picturesque, I said. I know exactly the place. He took back the book he had just given me, and drew a map on the flyleaf. At the bottom of the page was a cave, located on the remote western edge of Crete. Well, you got the south, right, I said. And the picturesque, he added. Your cave is socketed into a cliff a hundred feet directly above the Mediterranean, facing sunsets. As for the book, promise me you’ll read it. I did. It was called Memories, Dreams and Reflections, by the pioneer Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, and that’s where I likely first saw the word archetype.


It daunted me, that word. So did my Robinson Crusoe cave. Gorgeous and primordial as it was, what if I sleepwalked over the edge right into the Mediterranean?


The unconscious is hardly news to anyone. Jung supposed that there were two levels in this sub-conscious domain of the mind, the personal unconscious, which was more or less connected to our specific existence, and the universal or collective unconscious, which was far more ancient, far less intelligible and far bigger than us. There abide the archetypes––patterns that now and forever have governed our humanity. They are wholly mysterious, emerging from the unconscious as drives, blunders, images and predilections. They are most accessibly embodied in myths, dreams, fairy tales, religious fables and in the nutty circus of human nature itself. Think of Pan or Athena or Hermes. Or Peter Pan, the puer aeternus, the innocent and eternal child. Or the hero. Hollywood never forgets the allure of the hero. Those figures, ideas and images that rise to the top of world fascination are those most highly charged with the potentialities of the archetype. Christ is not an archetype; Christ embodies, as Susan Rowlands has pointed out, the potentialities of an archetype.


In Memories, Dreams and Reflections, Jung describes building a house for himself as an old man, a house haunted with the emblems, the mystery, the archetypal proportions of the deep mind we all share. In the same way, Notre Dame, it always seemed to me, was haunted with a nearly reverberant, older-than-time psychic perfection.


Leaving Notre Dame, I always glanced up at the gargoyles. Hunched, grotesque, amusing, demonic. Such are our guides into the underworld––yeah, thanks.



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