I’m going to make myself go get some serious exercise tomorrow morning and cut back on caffeine to try and make things easier. I’m just having issues focusing on anything, which is not a good recipe for being productive.
With that said, let’s begin.
In summary, modernity replaced process with result and the relational with the transactional.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes
Newton sparked a shift in our understanding of the world toward a modern empirical “rational” model.
Jung’s work with archetypes has become so significant in our day and age, because the change is so fundamental that we left a lot of things behind in our haste.
Now, it’s worth noting that the modern view probably presents a better objective picture of the world. It’s blind to everything outside our senses, and as a result it tends to result in less bias.
However, the shift from the classical and ancient to the modern also deprived us of things.
Alchemy, for instance, when understood psychologically, provides a series of changes and alterations that can impact the mind. The four steps of classical alchemy (darkening, whitening, yellowing, reddening) each reflect a life process; losing innocence, finding virtue, and so on and so forth.
Now, there were alchemists who believed in literally making things into gold, but even they were enlightened to the psychological nature (or willfully blind to it) of the field because of the notion of “as above, so below” that pervades alchemical thought.
This “as above, so below” is what we lost in the transition to the modern age.
The alchemists associated everything with great mythical and religious mysteries. Nothing existed without a will guiding it, a divine spark of being that led it to act in the way it did.
The work of Newton and Einstein serves us a whole lot better when we wish to accomplish things, but it lacks the integration with a cohesive worldview that the alchemists enjoyed.
When Taleb says we have replaced the process with the result, he refers to how we have stripped the psychological valence from everyday things.
The word “profane” actually serves as an antonym to the word “holy” in its function. We have stripped the mysteries of life of their sacred meaning, and we do so at our own peril. Think of the mystery of conception and child-birth (now considered little more than a biological process) or the mystery of the sun and moon cycles. These dominated myth, and are often given value by even relatively secularized and ecumenical religions.
The concept of the sacred and profane still exists, though it is hidden in different language and the responses have changed. We have some common elements between them (namely, social elites are always associated with being sacred figures, outsiders or ignorant people are considered profane), but the actual functioning of this is different.
Some of this stems from the fact that individuals have a greater latitude for independent moral judgment in the modern age, creating a greater variance in what is classified as sacred or profane. Part of it is also simply down to the fact that reason-based worldviews, though often flawed, should not require as much dogmatic conviction as, say, a faith-based worldview would. In thepry, dogmatic conviction is supposed to be diametrically opposed to rational thought, though it is never too far off in practice.
One of the things that has also changed here is the relationship. Some of this has to do with increased size of social circles, but it also comes down to what is sacred.
Most “sacred” (here referring to both religious and secular cultural expressions) traditions place a strong value on the family, and this is what archetypal thought goes back into. The family serves as a model for future interactions outside the family, because it is the most familiar unit of relationships (see the etymological relation?) but also the earliest that most people have conscious experience of.
A strictly rational worldview, however, doesn’t necessarily view relationship as being terribly important. So long as one fulfills obligations, and obligations are fulfilled in return, the transaction is completed to mutual benefit.
Falling more in the ancient than the modern camp in this issue, I think that this was a defining reason for my stressed relationships with many of my more modern-minded family members. Coming from a position that I have always held where certain things are expected in a relationship (with some degree of flexibility to respect the individual; i.e. you wouldn’t ask the same things of every mother or every brother), the fact that many of my family members felt and experienced love in a more transactional way was lost on me as a youth.
Now, I don’t want to condemn this; the people that I find to be like this are often great role models, but the difference in communication creates perceived deficiencies.
I think it’s also fair to say that we’re not wholly modern. Or, perhaps, that the modern worldview has not wholly dominated the collective conscious expression of humanity.
Be patient with those different from myself.
Don’t forget to speak the same language as other people.
I’m going to do something a little out of the ordinary today and focus on a quote from something that I read that isn’t really an aphorism for one of my reflections. It’s a quote from Clyde W. Ford’s The Hero with an African Face (Amazon affiliate link), and I found it very interesting for its clarity.
Typically I’ve tried to gravitate toward short aphorisms, but I’m beginning to exhaust the ones that I have at my disposal that speak to me, so I’m probably going to wind up going over a greater range.
This is both exactly what I hoped would happen when I started doing this, and something that I feel a certain amount of hesitation over. Ironically, I don’t even keep close track of who reads these, so this may just be me writing for myself anyway. Lest I sound vain, I do this as part of a self-improvement exercise, and I’m not able to work diligently without some accountability, so the publication of my thoughts is a necessity toward a different end than fame or success. Still, I won’t object to any money thrown my way.
Across time and throughout the world, the hero strides out of myths and legends as the one who has ventured beyond the security of the present into an uncertain future, there to claim some victory or boon for humanity left behind.
Clyde W. Ford
The Hero, in an archetypal sense, turns chaos into order. That is what they do.
I do not believe that I have ever heard the notion of the hero expressed as a traveler in time before. That is something that is an important concept, because time and space have both unique and parallel expressions in consciousness.
I like the notion of the hero moving into an uncertain future, which speaks to me in a way that I don’t often hear.
We have a tendency to think of stories as something static, something that gets set in stone and never changes.
Of course, there’s also Reader Response Theory, which argues that stories are always what people make of them, but I don’t like holistic approaches to understanding because they’re never as good as what you come to piecemeal.
The truth is somewhere in-between. Stories have the intended meaning of the author (RRT doesn’t deny this, but basically ignores it) and their more immediate purpose and meaning in our lives.
There’s a link here in the form of the archetypal, Jung would say the collective unconscious, elements that are common across all times and places. People can see the archetypes and connect to them, even if they are not aware and conscious of what the archetypes are.
A lot of these archetypes are most clearly expressed in myth–which does not mean that myths are simple and primitive–because ancient myths carry meaning for us only in the sense that we are aware of it. There are things that an American will see that would never occur to an ancient Arabian, or African, or Asian, or Greek mind. There are things that were very important in the original context that have fallen away from our knowledge (and knowing these can allow us to make even more connections which sometimes are obvious in their universal quality only once we awaken to them).
But the real thing here is that the Hero moves from the current unbearable world into the world of chaos and potential. It’s a cosmic force, in the literal sense; it is the sun rising in the east and falling in the west, being brought across the sky on a fiery chariot.
And this is why we have anything good at all. Everyone is a hero when they move the world in a better direction. It is the act of sacrifice for a noble purpose, even if the sacrifice seems insignificance (sacrifice is, loosely defined, merely giving up something in the tangible present for intangible benefit), and this is what builds society.
The Hero is the basic unit of life. We can choose to rise to the call or fall into squalor.
Time for another set of reflections on aphorisms. Today was more productive than yesterday, though there were a few setbacks. My new goal is to make tomorrow more productive than today.
At this point, who knows how much I’ll have improved by Friday?
Force is not a remedy.
Well, this is certainly a goldmine.
There’s three things that I think we should look at here:
The “force” of fitting things into the human mode.
The “force” of political systems.
The “force” of our own wills.
The first is probably the most dangerous. We have a way of contemplating the world that is human-centric. This is only natural, because it’s where our values lie, and I’m a proud human supporter, so I don’t think it’s immoral either.
The problem is that our world is not cultivated and improved like a bonsai garden. There’s a line in C.S. Lewis’ work about Aslan, who’s sort of a God/Christ figure that takes the form of a sapient lion.
“He’s not a tame lion.”
Barring the commentary about God, it’s also true about the universe. We’ve got our views and perspectives on the universe, but in the end we’re grasping at straws. To grasp is better than to abstain (and we may even by fluke get close to truth), but it is still mere grasping.
The force of political systems is something that’s become a big concern for me recently. I hate talking politics, but I feel like something has to be said.
The first step in making the world a better place is to remember that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and it’s not just a literal hell. We’re coming off of a century where the action of government created the closest thing one can imagine to the metaphysical state of Hell, and we’re pretty close to doing it again.
Everyone should take a step back and ask if their actions really work, abandoning all pretense of coercion or forcing others into compromises. It’s going to (perhaps literally, at least spiritually) kill us all if we don’t.
Last but not least is the force of our wills.
One of the concepts that haunted me in my youth and later came to be known by me in more practical, identifiable terms is the archetypal notion of the Dragonslayer.
The Dragonslayer is an archetype that is defined by tragic confrontation; it’s embodied by Beowulf, Captain Ahab, Coriolanus, and even Christ (in a sense, since the sacrifice of the cross came with spiritual torment as well and would have shattered Christ’s lessers).
It’s what a person looks like when they bring their full force of will to bear on a problem, and one of the things that I’ve noticed is that where we see the Dragonslayer we rarely see slain dragons, or at least not ones that were slain without great sacrifice.
The will itself doesn’t do anything. It’s the sacrifice that does. Trying to use force when surrender is called for can doom the Dragonslayer to destruction.
Don’t point at others’ things and say “Mine!”
Remember that it is sacrifice, not willful opposition, that makes the world go ’round.
Before knocking down the door, check if it’s locked.
There is nothing useless in nature; not even uselessness itself.
I’m not quite sure what the best way to approach this is, but I feel an affinity for Montaigne so I think I understand what he’s saying here.
Side-note: Apparently everyone who reads Montaigne thinks they have an affinity for Montaigne, so take this with a grain of salt.
The idea here is that there’s a purpose to everything, at least in terms of utility (though not necessarily cosmic destiny; that’s going too far).
One of the important things here is understanding that it’s a matter of perspective. You can look at things a bunch of different ways, and there are ways to view things that definitely have a negative impact (e.g. catastrophizing) or a positive ways.
It’s a call to see the silver lining in the clouds, basically.
Another point is to engage in some lateral thinking. We’re in an incredibly complex system and things work together in ways that are more complicated than the individual parts (and even the individual parts may have more to them than they at first seem to carry).
One of the things that seems counter-intuitive is that working less may wind up being more productive, because overworking oneself leads to burnout and fatigue.
Case in point: uselessness (at least in the right context) is useful. It’s good to delegate tasks to others as is fit and also to embrace a little time for rest and relaxation, so long as it does not become destructive to other opportunities and endeavors.
The secret is this: there is no secret. (Welcome to cliche-town!)
Really, though. It’s not about becoming obsessed over some grand secret, some alchemist-esque magnum opus that will lead you away from the rigors of everyday existence. It’s not about some grand third-eye awakening (though there’s also a mystery to everything that the strictly rational miss out on).
You just have to realize that you don’t know as much as you think you do, and broaden your search.
Never assume that you know what something is for.
There is a utility to be found in everything.
Adapt to what is around you, and remember that a change in context can be a change in everything.
I recently got to thinking about the story of the Good Samaritan. An outcast who is rejected by his society, the Good Samaritan represents someone who is good for goodness’ sake.
It is not for nothing that people often consider the Good Samaritan to be a Christ figure. After all, both were rejected by their society despite having a benevolent heart.
The Samaritan threatens us because he subverts our expectations. While other people, including those whom society would favor, ignore the problems around them, the Samaritan goes out of his way and takes great personal risk to help a stranger. Even more, the stranger is one who would consider him an enemy. He helped someone, possibly saving their life, at his own expense and without hope of a reward.
I’m familiar with the work of Carol Pearson, an academic who applied Carl Jung’s and Joseph Campbell’s theories to the field of personal development. One of her books, Awakening the Heroes Within (Amazon affiliate link), became a major part of how I taught students about the Hero’s Journey.
I believe that the Good Samaritan represents an example of the hero brought to fruition, in a sense that agrees with both Campbell’s theme of the transformative Hero’s Journey but also Pearson’s idea of archetypal wholeness.
The Good Samaritan is someone who has mastered their self. By bringing their own needs into subordination, an act which requires a certain amount of self-sacrifice, they were capable of gathering together the virtue required to live a good life.
The stoics write about virtue as a product of self-examination end of mastery over circumstance. Later, Christians would adopt many of the most notable stoics as virtuous pagans; people who were inferior for lack of knowing Christ, but who nonetheless could be granted some sort of credence as guides to a moral life despite their ignorance because their virtues aligned with the Christian virtues.
This Samaritan walks a similar path. Without the benefit of being included in what we would consider the religious elite, he nonetheless achieves virtue greater than any of the people in Christ’s parable who would have been seen as members of the in-group.
We often hear the story of the Samaritan presented as an injunction to do good, or an injunction to treat others as our neighbors who we would not considered be our neighbors. I would interpret it differently. There is certainly a valid element to both of those interpretations, but I think it is a story of perfected morality. The Samaritan has achieved virtue, and from an unexpected place.
Both Christ and the Samaritan are reflections of the same archetypal hero. The Samaritan represents a need to seek the same heroic Destiny in our own lives; it is a call to become what we need to become to make the world a better place. The examples of the travelers who passed the wounded man represent people who have not come to a full self. Many of them seem to be virtuous. However, this surface virtue merely hides deeper problems.
They live in fear, condemnation, or busyness. They fail to prioritize others as the highest good. They have not fully developed themselves, and are slaves to their needs instead of individuals who can contribute to society.
It’s only by learning to overcome these things, a process which Pearson equates with progressing through certain archetypes of the personality, that we can begin to contribute all that we can to make him the world bathroom. Before this, not only do we run the risk causing harm, but we lack the understanding that what appears to us to be detrimental or sacrificial in the short-term will be a benefit for everyone in the end.
Going to do a series of shorter reflections on aphorisms for a while so that I can focus on other writing, once I get back into a schedule I’ll be doing more. Until mid-week next week I’m going to be doing just one a day, and then perhaps even a tad longer than that.
At any stage, humans can thirst for money, knowledge, or love; sometimes for two, never for three.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes
The notion that one has to choose priorities is not new. I believe there’s a saying in the Bible that one cannot love both God and money. At very least, it is attributed to the Bible.
I don’t know if it’s necessarily Fair to make so absolute statements about human motivation. One thing that I is that there tends to be almost archetypal layers of being that drive station. This is to say that people have stages of their life in which the desire certain things, and these are not necessarily easily categorized by simply describing them as, say, wealth or family.
However one thing that I have observed, and which seems brilliantly clear, is that people are poor judges of themselves. Shakespeare’s Brutus, in the play “Julius Caesar”, says about himself that the eye sees not its own reflection. This is a metaphor that Brutus uses to explain that he does not pass judgment on himself, or rather, does not allow himself to make judgments as to his own virtue, because it is not something which is easily knowable. It would seem natural the person that we know best is our self, but in reality we tend only to see the first order effects of our actions. It is those around us see who we truly are because they have to deal with the consequences we create.
To get back to the original point, there’s something to be said for the pursuit of the Balanced Life, but it is also something which is unnatural. It is a common tragic trope that a character cannot deal with all the parts of their life that they need to deal with. Because we go through immense changes over the course of Our Lives, the inability to truly assess our own motives and to accurately prioritize many factors of our being poses a great threat to us. This is one of the reasons why the suffering of a tragic hero is so cathartic.
I often used Carol Pearson’s psychological archetypes (Amazon affiliate link) to teach the Hero’s Journey to my students. The reason for this is that represents transition through a hierarchy of needs.
In my life right now, I am focusing on pursuing knowledge, figuring out more the truths of reality while also mastering my trade of writing and teaching.
One thing that’s interesting about Pearson’s archetypes is that she presents the notion that a highly successful person achieves balance, but each archetype has a sort of order in which they come.
The ideal is to transcend the limitations that come with uncertainty. In the works of Jung and other analytical psychologists, there’s often this concept of a balance between order and chaos.
In my own life, I seek to find the balance between these things. Having too much order breeds limitation. One never learns how to truly live if one only follows rules. Too much chaos, one and can never really pursue purpose. It is lost inside the void.
Pearson presents the Sage and the Fool as the final archetypes in development. We would associate these with wisdom. The Sage pursues the right order of the universe, and the Fool its potential.
When I was a child I was referred to as old for my age. Some people even called me wise, though I believe this was perhaps more because I parroted what they wanted to hear than because of any particular merit of my own upon later reflection. In any case, I value wisdom highly, something that has been impressed upon me since I was a child reading the Bible story of King Solomon.
To get back to the point, I think that there is a distinction between setting a goal, which can be clearly focused on something like wealth or family, and finding meaning, which is more holistic in nature.
Work towards clear goals.
Reorient frequently enough that I do not lose sight of what is important.
Jung’s collective unconscious is heavily misunderstood. It’s not
quackery; it’s based on the assertion that there are biological or
memetic imperatives that have been passed down from generation to
generation, and also parts of the unconscious mind that function in a
way that are common between people.
One can argue about Jung’s
implementation, especially about whether or not the archetypes he
identified are accurate and meaningful, but there seems to be a very
concrete provable fact here: the psychology of people seems to bear
commonalities, even in what would be considered extreme outliers.
whether you want to argue about the more specific cases, like those of
mythological figures appearing in unconnected contexts, Jung’s notion of
synchronicity (mutual meanings, but diverse causes) is important as
well: if dragons appear in mythology around the world, there does not
need to be a real dragon or a social connection for those things to
form. Instead, those can be independent functions of the way that people
perceive the world and form a conception of the unknown.
of the collective unconscious as this: if you put three people in a
white featureless room with a red circle painted on one wall, they will
all see the red circle and Jung would argue that they all perceive the
The value they derive from that circle comes
from the conscious mind. One person might consider it an eyesore, one
might think that it has deep symbolic meaning, and one might fear the
However, they might have associations
with the red that are common. If it were a crimson shade, it might evoke
the effect of blood.
Thus, the collective unconscious may have deep and complex elements as Jung proposed, but it almost certainly exists at least in a form as a consequence of the brain’s physiology and common formative experiences with universal human concepts (like the risk of injury).
Disclaimer: I’ve read Jung, but I’m not a master of his work. This is sort of a rambling trying to make sense of his work rather than a masterful explication of it.
Recently I finished reading Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols (affiliate link), and it’s been one of the most enjoyable books I’ve ever read, albeit a difficult one.
I’m going to start off with a review of it, then move into my more personal thoughts to better organize them.
I read Man and His Symbols on Kindle, and it was well-formatted and organized. All the illustrations appeared clear and there were no perceptible typographical issues.
Looking at a book like Man and His Symbols it is hard to give a definitive review because of its nature. It is an overview of a lifetime of work, compiled not only by Jung himself but also by Joseph L. Henderson, M.-L. von Franz, Aniela Jaffé, and Jolande Jacobi.
The foreword by John Freeman is also of interest, and helps quite a deal in preparing the reader for what they should know about Jung.
Man and His Symbols is the first book by or about Jung that I have ever read, so I approach it as a novice who had some knowledge of Jung’s analytical psychology, but not strictly speaking all but the briefest of understandings. My knowledge was influenced more heavily by people like Joseph Campbell and Carol Pearson who have built on Jung’s ideas but approached them in a much different direction.
So with that said, many of the concepts were at least familiar to me, though my understanding of them was far different from what Jung’s intent was, colored as I was by casual discussions and partial understandings.
Actually reading Jung’s work first-hand in a manner intended for novices like myself changed my understanding of his philosophy and understanding of the psyche dramatically.
Each of the writers featured in the book has their own approach and intent, but the core concepts remain the same. In this way, I think that Man and His Symbols may actually be an ideal introduction to the work of Jung; Aniela Jaffé’s interpretations of symbolism in art particularly helped me break down some of the concepts.
Through drawing on the various authors, Man and His Symbols becomes a conversation as much as it is a statement, and it is much better for it.
I have launched into Jung’s Modern Man in Search of a Soul in audiobook format, and the comparison of the two perhaps best presents an opportunity to describe Man and His Symbols in a way that makes sense.
Man and His Symbols is a survey of Jung’s ideas. It’s deep nonetheless, but the traversal into this depth is assisted by the various inflections that the different contributors to the volume add. It benefits from having a vast array of inputs, including connections to mythology and legend as well as anecdotes and examples of psychoanalysis in practice. This give an opportunity to fully express the notions it contains, but not necessarily to explore them fully. It is a starting point for further reading, either of Jung or those who were inspired by him.
There were things in Man and His Symbols which I understood the concept of, but not all the nuance of. Jung’s explanation of the collective unconsciousness, for instance, didn’t really click for me: I understood what its role was, but not what its essence was.
Modern Man in Search of a Soul is a different sort; it is a very detailed study of one particular topic, and while it too draws from mythology, anecdotes, and psychoanalysis in practice it is much more deep: if it were the first work of Jungian analytical psychology that I had read I would be greatly distressed by trying to understand it, but as a follow-up to Man and His Symbols it is quite interesting.
So, in short, my review of Man and His Symbols is best summed up in the following: If you want to know more about Jung and you are willing to spring further into reading, Man and His Symbols is invaluable. If you want a survey of Jung followed by interpretations by his followers, Man and His Symbols is incredible. If you are already familiar with Jung and understand his work, but you want to dive into the deepest depths of Jung’s works, Man and His Symbols contains interesting overviews. It is not that it is shallow, but it is merely scratching the surface of the depth and complexity of Jung’s total work.
Man and His Symbols is an interesting book, to say the least. As far as reading books for the purpose of self improvement, it’s definitely in the top five or so books that I’ve read, and I know for a fact that Jung influenced Jordan Peterson, whose 12 Rules for Life I not only enjoyed but also benefited personally from; Jung’s work is also referenced in Peterson’s Maps of Meaning, which I have been reading on-and-off for a longer amount of time than I care to admit to (admittedly, it is a rather voluminous tome).
While finishing up reading Man and His Symbols I also listened to Johnathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, though I did not write reflections on it and I don’t currently plan to. However, there is an interesting intersection here.
One of Jung’s teachings is the collective subconscious, and while Haidt’s work seems at first to dissuade from such an assertion (after all, he finds that moral judgments are generally culturally instilled), he has also found moral foundations that seem to underlie these moral decisions.
In essence, what people value, and how they perceive the outcomes of actions, influence their tastes. The moral foundations seem to be themselves tied to some sort of universal human mode (assuming, of course, that they are not hogwash) of thought. This seems to line up well with the notion of Jung’s collective subconscious, and help to explain theories of the mind and how it interacts with archetypes.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have put off writing this reflection for almost a week, and in that time I have also listened to a good portion of Modern Man in Search of a Soul, which means that my reflections are therefore colored by both Haidt’s work and further readings of Jung.
Since reading Man and His Symbols, I have become very conscious of my dreams. I do not mean that I am hyperaware of them, though I think I may remember them better than I used to because I have placed an increased importance on them, but rather that I spend more time reflecting upon them.
The results of such a self-assessment can be both encouraging and discouraging. On one hand, I have been able to reduce my stress and give myself a more positive outlook on life (though the portion of my life that I have entered into is the happiest of my life, and God willing it will remain so), but on the other I ask more questions, more deeply.
In this sense, reading Man and His Symbols has created for me a small conundrum, namely that of self-analysis, which carries dangers in and of itself (Shakespeare is not errant when he writes that the eye sees not its own reflection), but it has also practically helped me to sort out some of my anxieties. As someone familiar with Pearson’s work, the concepts of the shadow and the archetype are not novel to me, but Jung’s explanation is derived from his fascination with the mind, rather than the more practical slant that Pearson takes.
A year ago, I would have disdained Jung as being quasi-mystical. I don’t deny that there is an element of the mystic in him, but my perspective on that aspect of his life has changed. Jung is clearly in awe of that great unknowable, ineffable, uniquely human element of the mind-psyche-soul that blends conscious and unconscious.
Reading Jung, one is struck by how much less we have learned than we think we have. Haidt writes about people who have suffered injuries to the parts of the brain that are associated with emotion, and how they are paralyzed by analysis and make worse decisions than their uninjured counterparts.
Jung presents the unconscious in a way that one cannot help but draw parallels to the role that emotion plays. The subconscious is powerful and we cannot understand it (at least at present, but probably we will never understand it). As someone who is religious, this doesn’t particularly bother me, since my own personal belief is that the subconscious is potentially a connection to God and things beyond ourselves, and this seems to mesh with Jung’s notion of a collective unconscious
The anima and animus concept were known to me at a very basic level before I read Man and His Symbols, but I didn’t really understand them until after reading (or, at least, understand them as well as I now do). I think that it’s an interesting thing to consider, especially when looking at characters and how they’re portrayed/developed in fiction.
Part of what I really enjoyed about the book and is probably more personal than broadly applicable is the way that it really helps draw connections between symbols. I spent a lot of time studying literature before I ever really learned to identify symbolism, and that’s something I’ve been trying to compensate for now that I’m aware of what I was missing out on.
It’s not a great secret that I’m a fan of the game Warframe, published by Digital Extremes. I haven’t played it very much, but I’ve been stuck listening to “We All Lift Together”, a song created to promote a large addition to the game, and as a result I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’ve been playing Warframe on-and-off since it was in beta, and while I don’t consider it my favorite game, I think it has some of the best (if not the outright best) storytelling in a game with a single linear storyline, despite being very minimalist in how it develops that story.
The way that it pulls this off is by managing to tell a story that combines deep psychology and mythical elements on a very fundamental level to make a narrative so compelling that player choices, generally absent except in the most superficial forms, are irrelevant.
There are practical considerations of this as well–much of the story takes place as flashbacks or responses to critical incidents–but this would be frustrating to the audience were it not tied to strong principles of storytelling.
Understanding Psycho-Mythic Storytelling
Psycho-mythic storytelling ties into Jungian notions of the subconscious and other elements of the human psyche, which is derived from while simultaneously informing stories that have emerged across the entire range of human society and experiences.
It is important to realize that many of these elements are archetypal; that is, that they do not have any single manifestation that can be pointed to as a source. Nonetheless, many of these factors are still universal.
As I work through examples of these events across Warframe’s storyline, I will introduce these as needed, however, an understanding of Jungian dichotomies is important.
Jungian dichotomies draw from the fundamental notion of paired elements (e.g. order and chaos, masculine and feminine, known and unknown) being represented both within and as an extension of all things.
Balance between the two extremes in a dichotomy reflects a more reasonable approach to the universe, one which is likely to meet with objective reality in such a manner that produces positive outcomes.
For instance, considering the very most basic of the possible responses, you have the conflict between known and unknown.
The known, generally, is not exciting. While there may be some contentment in the present, at some point the known gets boring; change is a natural state, and to remain in the known is to embrace stagnation.
However, the intrusion of the unknown is a terrible thing, because it represents the risk of loss, or more accurately the possibility that the subjective self will be harmed in some way.
The unknown is also the source of anything better than what is currently had, however. This makes it desirable; one who is able to frame an encounter with the unknown in such a way that they are able to approach it to their advantage is going to wind up having success in their endeavors, and their prize will be either what they desire or something that transcends that which they originally wanted.
Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, from which the Hero’s Journey is derived, draws upon this relationship with the unknown: the Hero must find it within themselves to find a subjectively greater future by entering the unknown and confronting it. You can find more in his seminal work The Hero With a Thousand Faces (Amazon affiliate link).
Much of what I am applying to Warframe is also based on the mythological analyses modeled by Jordan Peterson in his book Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief (Amazon affiliate link). I’ve been listening to it on-and-off for the past few weeks, and I’ve been finding it incredibly interesting.
Tiers of Cosmogony
Before I get too far ahead of myself, I also want to talk about cosmogonic tiers.
There is a distinction in cosmogony based on the “depth” of experiences, and we can see this in classical myth as well. The concept of cosmogony centers around the idea that everything started as chaos, and then became more structured and ordered as things go along. Each generation overthrows its predecessors in a heroic revolution, although this eventually stops when we reach the current generation–the one in which humanity resides.
This can be distilled into tiers and generations. There’s not always a clear descent between generations (i.e. two generations may fit one cosmogonic tier in some places), but these figures can be generalized by category.
A good example from this comes from Greek myth, where we see Chaos, which is the first entity in existence.
At this point existence is beyond comprehension, and beyond anything that is relevant to our audience, and it is only through filtering down to further levels of experience that we reach anything that has relevance in human life.
Chaos’ cohorts and children (some of the distinctions here are blurred based on the telling) represent universal entities: Gaia, land; Tartarus, the underworld; Eros, the sexual drive; and so forth. These are primordial deities–they exist before the world that is known does.
These are personified entities (and, in some cases, Chaos is as well), but they are not directly interfaced with the human world. To humanity they are alien, and even when personified their motivations and drives are not necessarily comprehensible.
From this initial generation come the Titans, a second generation of the divine. These figures now have their own clear families, and by extension a clear role in the universe. More heavily personified, they are portrayed as the creators of humankind, but are themselves still more defined by their differences than their similarities.
The third generation, the traditional Greek gods as we would know them, represent archetypal figures. They have a particular divine domain, but otherwise they are human in motivation and depiction. They obey the rules which apply to humanity (albeit frequently with special privileges; these rules often apply only to their interactions with each other) and face consequences when they fail to do so.
The gods serve as representations of tradition and upright action.
It is in the fourth or later generations that we see mortals and demigods appear. These figures are defined by their vulnerability; where the earlier cosmogonic forces develop from existing outside the world to eventually become a mere part of it.
Onward to Warframe
The psycho-mythic nature of Warframe’s narrative contributes to its emotional power. It takes place in a universe where the players take on the role of the heroic individual–one born into the fourth generation of the cosmogony in the same place that humans would fall in the Greek mythosphere–but one which relies on symbolism and psychological establishment of the cosmogony that unfolds.
The reason why I define this as psycho-mythic, instead of simply psychological or symbolic storytelling, is that it relies both on the more modern storytelling methods and approaches while also building heavily (and not unintentionally) on the mythology of ancient times.
The layering of the cosmogonic process is a key part of this: the players’ characters (collectively known as the Tenno) are children of the old age, but living after its fall.
Children of the Unknown
The Tenno fit the role as the heroic individuals of the mythical saga very well; they are a sort of Horus figure (Peterson elaborates on this mythical type in his book Maps of Meaning) who must bear a sacrifice of themselves to make the world whole.
This sacrifice is not literal death, but it does entail suffering and pain. The Tenno are children who have known nothing but war, and while they have deific powers, they are also exiles.
Hunted by the Orokin, their own society playing the role of mythic progenitors, due to the threat that they posed, the Tenno are awakened by their protector, the Lotus, in the current time of the game.
They are hunted and hounded by forces that are generally their inferiors: as representations of the fourth-generation heroic individual (i.e. a cosmically significant figure that has been personified enough to lack a deific cosmological significance and instead adopt personal motives) they face the Grineer, Corpus, and Infested factions within the game, each of which represent monstrous figures that are themselves the product of the Orokin but also the inferiors of the Tenno.
The hallmark of the Tenno, however, is also their outward identity, the Warframe.
The Warframe as Protective Father
One step up the generational chain from the Tenno is the warframe. In-universe, the warframes were created for the Tenno, but when the Tenno awaken the warframes are out of their control–at least, most of them are.
Each warframe is based on a theme, and these themes often tie into great symbols. While they are not innately sentient (with the exception of the Excalibur Umbra, which was created by fusing an Orokin with the infestation that spawns every warframe), they are the first experience that the player has with the Tenno, and are defined by their impersonal relationship with the universe.
This is not to imply that the warframe has no personality unto itself, but rather that it has a role in the third generation of the cosmogonic structure. Each of the individual warframes is an example of something that has a deific role in the universe: the Excalibur represents mastery of the blade, the Volt represents power over lightning, and the Loki represents trickery and deception.
Each warframe plays a deific role, rather than a personal one, and while they are merely tools to an end they are simultaneously idols to concepts that play an important role in the life of the Tenno and in the universe of Warframe, assuming the role of protector gods among primitive civilizations that have begun to spring up in the ashes of the Orokin world.
In this sense, the warframe serves as a sort of archetypal father, who in a psychological sense is often thought of as a bringer of order.
The Titanic Lotus
It is the Lotus who searches for and awakens the warframe and the Tenno, however.
To draw a parallel to the Egyptian myth of Osiris, it is Osiris’ wife who finds the parts of Osiris after he is murdered by Set and reassembles them, giving birth to the mythical figure Horus, who is a fourth-generation cosmogonic figure representing humankind.
The Lotus fills this void in the psycho-mythic framework of Warframe; she is the one who awakens the Tenno, and also plays a key role in mentoring them and directing them toward solving the problems with their universe.
However, the Lotus’ origins are shrouded in mystery, and as the world is revealed through the storyline of the game it is clear that she is not necessarily who she seems.
At first, the Lotus is associated with Margulis, an Orokin woman who raised the Tenno after they encountered the void (both of these are first generational figures in the cosmogony), but it is later revealed that she is actually a Sentient, one of the creations of the Orokin.
The Sentients have a clear parallel to the Titans of Greek mythology; the first gods to have been purified and complicated to the extent that they can represent natural forces, rather than abstract spheres of existence, the Titans are often portrayed as rebelling against or usurping their precursors, only to be usurped in turn by the third-generation deities.
When the Sentients turn against their creators, the Orokin, the warframes are created to destroy them; the warframes skip to the third cosmogonic generation but it is the Lotus, a second-generation figure, who preserves them from both her fellow Sentients and the Orokin themselves, mimicking the myth of Zeus being given to Amalthea for safekeeping. The fact that both the Lotus and Amalthea are feminine figures is important in a Jungian psychoanalysis; the archetypal father can bring order but also tyranny, while the archetypal mother brings promise but also risk.
The Orokin and the Void
The Tenno gain their power from the Void, a sort of ur-chaos. The Void is an extradimensional space, one that requires special means to access.
The Void is the palace of the Orokin, the grand civilization that spawned the Tenno (again, we see the generational nature of mythology resurfacing), though they were unable to reach it without significant sacrifices and even for their technologically advanced civilization it was something of an outlier; when they fell, so did their dwellings in the Void, which exist in the current day of the game as either derelicts or uninhabited, but still active, stations.
The Void serves as a primordial first-generation figure in the cosmogony of Warframe; many ancient myths involve a later generation’s members returning to the originator of the world and slaying it, making its corpse into their home.
The Orokin serve as additional manifestations of this first level. Along with the Void, they are the ultimate progenitors of the Tenno, originally children who were lost in the Void following a failed expedition to that extra-dimensional space.
The fact that the Tenno, who ultimately are responsible in part for the eventual Orokin conquest of the Void, are able to draw power and shelter from the Void has mythic significance; it is common for a great heroic figure to slay a great threat and make use of its remains for sustenance, shelter, or both.
The Universe in Balance
The conflict that unfolds in Warframe is one of bringing the universe into balance. The Tenno, reawakened and representing humanity, face both other fourth-generation forces, like the Grineer, Corpus, and Infested and the Sentients.
The struggle against other “mortal” forces is not uncommon in mythology, and is a defining trait of some of the early mythic heroes like Odysseus, Beowulf, and Gilgamesh: their foes are not necessarily divine in nature, and they vanquish them using mortal might and cunning.
In this way, the Tenno are able to fight the Grineer, Corpus, and Infested with their own might. As joint members of the natural world, they are on the same playing field, though the Tenno as part-divine by nature of their connection to the primordial first-generation entity of the Void are at a distinct advantage, and as epic protagonists are therefore going to succeed in almost every challenge (even if doing so requires them to come to apotheosis first, something seen in the Second Dream and other storyline missions in Warframe).
It is worth noting that the Tenno is not automatically awoken fully to their abilities at the start of the game, but must instead acquire them during the storyline as they grow in knowledge of their true nature. Up until they achieve this divine apotheosis, it seems that the primary conflict is strictly between them and their worldly antagonists.
As the story progresses, the risks and dangers increase with it. The Tenno are not able to face the Sentients alone. While their warframes provide them with some divine power, the warframes are themselves very much natural; they have power drawn from the Void, but it has been distantly removed and is revealed to have always come from the energy flowing from the Tenno to a warframe, rather than being an intrinsic property of the warframe itself.
In the most recent story update, the Tenno encounters Ballas, an Orokin traitor who sided with the Sentients, but has been corrupted by them. He gives the Tenno a boon, a weapon with which to slay the Sentients, before the scene ends.
Warframe’s compelling story draws its weight from being designed with psychological and mythical archetypes that make every character and element more significant than it seems at first glance.
This powerful storytelling method means that although it has relatively little dialogue compared to many other games and almost no player choices, it manages to tell a story that is part of an epic cycle and put the player at the helm of a character who they can sympathize with.
The ensuing connection to the Hero’s Journey means that the player wants to do the same thing that their avatar does, without requiring coercion or massively branching narratives from the writing team.
I’m not always a huge fan of Disney’s policies. They’re a massive corporation, and their pursuit of increasingly restrictive copyright laws is something that is a major concern of mine.
However, I’m also an advocate for storytelling, and occasionally I have to go to the theater with my family and see something solid, and Disney usually delivers that.
Anyway, despite the fact that it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, Disney has already released its version of The Nutcracker, an interesting take on the classic ballet.
For those who are totally oblivious to its existence, here’s a quick trailer:
I’ve sort of settled into a review/analysis format when I talk about movies (see my previous Christopher Robin and Incredibles overviews on the Loreshaper Games blog), so let’s start with my review, which I will keep free of spoilers.
Disney taking fairy tales and turning them into franchises is not new, nor is their big-budget live-action formula.
“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” takes that approach to the classic Nutcracker story, with a fairly large departure from the standard format in which the story is told. These do not get in the way of the general conceit, but do make it substantially more complicated.
As a result, it is impossible to say that the film is a faithful adaptation of the ballet or the short stories that inspired it, even though it includes both musical interludes and plot devices (such as many of the characters) who are drawn directly from the original.
The film centers itself around a young protagonist, Clara Stahlbaum, who is experiencing her first Christmas after the loss of her mother and coming to terms with the whole ordeal and moving on with her life. Along the way she enters a fantastical realm and does the standard Hero’s Journey stuff, but that’s pretty much all stories so don’t count it out just because it’s orthodox.
I’d classify it as being fairly character driven, and this is one of the strongest strengths, due to the incredibly solid acting delivered throughout the whole film.
Clara is striving to come to terms with her mother’s death and reunite their family. Loss and coping seems to be something of a common theme for children’s movies, with the Incredibles 2 taking a much milder approach to this in the form of coping with Helen Parr’s new job as opposed to the literal death of Clara’s mother, and in the analysis section I’ll give some theories as to why. However, I will say that there is a good connection between her internal struggles and the struggles unfolding around her, which makes the plot flow really quickly without being too confusing (of course, I am not the film’s target audience).
This film is part of a recent trend of Disney movies aimed at younger audiences that treat their viewers as intelligent, like Christopher Robin was earlier this year.
In general, I thought it was solidly executed in all counts. The acting was solid, the music was quite on point (I’m not even a fan of most of the parts Tchaikovsky’s ballet, despite generally liking his other work, but they don’t over-use the Sugar Plum Fairies motif until you’re sick and tired of it, so I count that as a win), and the CGI was flawless.
The characters are sometimes a little flawed. The character of Clara was fantastic and is a great example of showing heroic growth in a film protagonist, but the main villain (who is revealed in a twist that isn’t incredibly surprising, but this is a movie made for children) comes across as a little shallow (albeit reasonably shallow, as I’ll get into more detail about in the analysis).
One of the things that I do have to say here is that Disney does a good job of paying homage to many of the elements of the original tale, including ballet sequences and set-dressing that is iconic and recognizable. The storyline itself is quite different than the original fairy tale, so don’t expect anything similar in terms of that.
The Four Realms as a setting element is something of a weakness. While Clara’s travels into a Narnia-esque realm set a good window-dressing, there’s an odd feeling that we didn’t really get a good look at the setting, but we also know more than we need to know about it.
Mid-movie setting exposition is tricky, and they did about as good a job as they could, but there were places mentioned and briefly explored that didn’t matter to the plot, and that’s one of the sins of the newer Star Wars movies that Disney should have learned from.
Also, there is literally a character named Sugar Plum in this movie. Sure, I get it, Sugar Plum Fairies, but do you have to name one Sugar Plum? Too saccharine for my tastes.
All-in-all, I’d say that this is a good movie. A star-studded cast delivers a PG-rated performance that’s not going to go down in history as great, but is also not the worst use of your time.
I’ll be honest; I think that this could be a good teaching movie because of the fact that it has fairly little objectionable content and is really rich in symbolism and depth, not to mention the fact that it ties in naturally to a short story that you could read and therefore allows you to use the film as an educational enrichment.
It’s not a Christopher Robin or Lion King tier movie, where it’ll be something worth returning to, but I wouldn’t dismiss it as a cynical cash-grab. If you’re going to the movies anyway, consider it.
Also, it’s not a musical. Misty Copeland is in the film, and she’s fantastic, but you see as much of her in the credits sequence as in the movie itself.
Basically, I watched this movie because I was tagging along, but I thought it was quite good. If I had to quantify it, I’d give it a well-earned four out of five stars.
A Star Wars Rant
This film’s storyline should have been used in The Last Jedi or The Force Awakens to establish Rey’s character.
It’s really strong and ties into all the places that you could want it to go. Change all the set dressing and actors, and you’ve got a perfect setup here.
This movie proves that a lot of the complaints about Disney’s perceived practices are invalid; the film has an incredible diverse cast, all of whom are talented. It has enough development in each of the central characters to make them stand out, without detracting from Clara’s growth. It has comedic relief. It has moments that hit on deep sadness and fear.
The Last Jedi could have had these things too, but it didn’t follow the Disney formula.
There’s a lot to analyze here, and I really thought that this movie was really good at working the Disney magic, even if they didn’t always get the payoff they desired.
Most people are probably aware of the Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell, but I think that we can take a step back to just plain Jungian interpretation of many of the archetypal symbols that show up in this film.
I’m not sure what Disney’s in-house writing guide says about storytelling; I know that they have something like the Hero’s Journey as an in-house document that they use to crank-out award winning screenplays, but I’d be willing to bet that it’s really in-depth, and that The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is going all-in on that symbolism.
And, really, it should. The Nutcracker as a fairy tale has clear and evident symbolic importance to most of its elements, and Disney’s version plays with that a little while being conservative in many ways.
The Known and the Unknown
A large part of any good story is knitting together the known and the unknown. Without having the known world represented, you lack any connection to humanity, but failing to enter the unknown leaves the storytelling exercise pointless.
Stories about people going to work, coming back home, and going to bed, then repeating the process, tend to be boring unless there’s some struggle that makes that process difficult.
This is because, as Jordan Peterson describes in his Maps of Meaning, the storytelling process is about mediating decisions that come about when the unbearable present meets the unknown future.
To put it in simpler Jungian dichotomies, there is the known and the unknown, and a liminal bridge between them. To bring balance between these two things is to bring the mind into wholeness.
The story starts off with Clara’s life in chaos. Her family is beginning to celebrate her first Christmas after her mother’s death, and Clara is clearly not emotionally prepared for this.
She is told that she must keep up appearances, or that certain behavior is expected, or that it is important to maintain traditions. This is the immature animus–the avatar of order–failing to speak to her.
She is lost and drowning in the unknown; she doesn’t know what to do now that her mother is lost.
The feminine often symbolizes opportunity, especially in Jungian interpretations. While the full reasons for this are beyond the scope of this analysis, it is relatively simple to claim that the death of Clara’s mother represents the loss of this optimism about the unknown. It is an end to the positive perceived valance of the unknown that fosters turning the unknowable spaces around us into knowable spaces.
The conflict, therefore, stems from having an imbalance; the world is chaotic and this chaos confronts Clara on account of her mother’s demise. The loss of her mother has stripped Clara of any optimistic worldview about the future; the unknown now represents, quite reasonably, only death to her, because she has lost sight of the potential for a positive unknown.
Entering the Four Realms is an opportunity for Clara to undergo a Hero’s Journey, initiating a growth of character that could also be classified as a bildungsroman.
This controlled and willing encounter with the unknown represents the formation of an animus within Clara’s psyche; she goes after the prize of knowledge, of being able to open a gift left behind by her mother in an egg (symbolic of fertile potential) which can only be opened by a key which has been lost in the Four Realms.
This animus is a means of structuring the world into order once again; by encountering the Four Realms, which were brought to life by her mother and exist in a sort of magical space, she is able to put her thoughts into perspective.
It can also be said that the magical Four Realms have a parallel in similar stories such as C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, which is that they carry deep symbolism related to introspection and reflection; they are not only literal places that the characters are able to visit, but a place where the objective reality that filters into consciousness is no longer the governing force and instead the mythic symbolism of the subconscious can filter in.
Rodents and Owls
One of the interesting symbols in the film is that of the rodent. The Mouse King is a key figure in the film, but he winds up being a help rather than a hindrance. The counterpart to them is an owl, an assistant of Drosselmeyer, who is to look over Clara, and who provides her with guidance in a couple points throughout the film.
Rodents are vermin, and typically symbolize chaos and the unknown. However, the owl represents a counterpoint in both representing order and wisdom but also preying upon vermin. Despite this, Drosselmeyer’s owl ignores the rodents throughout the film (for a reason that becomes symbolically important near the film’s conclusion).
Near the opening of a film Clara and her brother try futilely to capture a mouse in their attic, which is significant because it reflects Clara’s inability to adapt her psyche to the uncertainty of her new life devoid of maternal care.
Later in the film, but still in an early scene, Clara passes down a hallway lined with owl mosaics (I believe on both sides of the hallway, though I only noticed the mosaics half-way through the scene and the far side was obscured in such a manner that I cannot be 100% positive). However, in a brief shot the owl mosaics on one side have been replaced with mouse mosaics. At the end of this passageway, she is brought into the Four Realms.
Over the course of the film, the owl plays a relatively minor role but appears in key scenes in which Clara is experiencing doubt. It reflects the return of the known world’s relevance to Clara’s psyche, allowing her to return to a mental state of order that has been difficult to find since her mother’s death.
It is the rodent, however, as an avatar of the unknown, that is perhaps more important to consider.
The Mouse King is a frequent adversary throughout the earlier parts of the film, but in the latter parts of the film he turns into an ally for Clara and the Nutcracker (whose role is much less relevant to this analysis; he exists primarily to support Clara, but he still provides some deeply symbolic elements to the story).
This transition from enemy to ally–paralleled by the character of Mama Ginger, who is in league with the Rat King–provides the psychological counterweight to the undesirable elements of chaos.
By discovering that the unknown does not necessarily need to be feared, Clara develops as a character into a heroic figure, fulfilling the type that has been set out before her.
The Triumph Over Doubt
In the film, it is clear that the main enemy is not necessarily the unknown, but rather fear and doubt. This is a core Jungian psychological concept. This uncertainty is created by an inability to balance the psyche, something that Clara overcomes.
But it also provides the basis for the main villain’s motivations; Sugar Plum (ugh, that name), who was “abandoned” like Clara upon Marie’s death, is incapable of overcoming that doubt and fear.
This imbalance leads to her seeking to become a tyrant; an out-of-balance representation of Jung’s “dreadful father”, whose role in the universe is to pursue order above all else, even at the expense of change.
The usurpation of Clara’s rightful place as Queen of the Four Realms and the oppression of the populace that comes alongside Sugar Plum’s ascension, as she creates an army of tin soldiers who lack individual agency and awareness, is a classic example of this archetype playing out.
At one point, Sugar Plum explains clearly that with her army, she will never be hurt again.
This symbolizes the key message of the story: It is necessary to accept reality to move on with one’s life, but that process requires self-discovery and acceptance of agency.
There’s other things that can be said here, but I’m not necessarily the person to say them and I have constraints on my time, so they’ll have to go unsaid for now.
Basically, I felt like the cinematography was well-done, the characters were generally vivid, and the storytelling had that Disney magic that comes from a deep understanding of the psychology of stories.
Were there missteps? Yes. But I don’t think they grew to the point of detracting from the journey, and Nutcracker is an interesting example of how the Hero’s Journey can manifest, albeit one wrapped in silly window dressing.