Shadow and light – Archetypes and the Gospels

This piece is a transcription of a talk Lieschen gave online at L’abri South Africa in 2020. The featured artwork is a leaf from an Armenian gospel book dated 1290–1330 (Met Museum)

If we combine the 4 Jungian archetypes with the personifications of the tetramorph, can we make a case for Christ as the perfect fulfilment of all that Freud, Jung, Campbell, Moore, and Gilette are looking for? In a society of disordered archetypes, and psychoses of imbalance, can we psycho-analyse Christ in a Jungian framework and find the perfect man? I contend that we can. And that the answer to all our psychoses can be found by spending time in the gospels.

Carl Jung was one of the early and most influential modern psychologists. If you’ve ever done a Myers-Briggs personality test, you’ve encountered his work. If you’ve ever described yourself as an introvert or an extrovert, you’ve used his terminology.

Jung closely worked with and studied under the famous Sigmund Freud. Freud had a very negative view of the subconscious. For him it was a dark place where people hid their repressed negative emotions and deviant thoughts. But Jung had a much more positive view of the subconscious. He would agree that it contains a person’s shadow, but define it rather as the source of a person’s most primitive instincts. His model also mapped a person’s persona (the face they choose to show to the world), their ego (who they knew themselves to actually be), and the animus an anima (or the masculine or feminine ways they would subconsciously act). Together all of these, in perfect balance, is the true and healthy self. Without balance, there is psychosis.

Psychologist Robert Moore took the concept of Jung’s archetypes and used it to create a framework that explained the development of a mature and balanced person, specifically in men. Moore argued that the problems we see with men today–violence, shiftlessness, aloofness–are a result of modern men not adequately exploring or being in touch with the primal, masculine archetypes that reside within them. But like Jung, Moore believed that men and women possess both feminine and masculine archetypal patterns–this is the anima (feminine) and animus (masculine).

In their book, King Warrior Magician Lover, Moore and Gilette argue that archetypes consists of three parts: the full and highest expression of the archetype, and two bipolar dysfunctional shadows of the archetype. This is best portrayed as a triangle.  The bottom corners of the triangle represent the bi-polar shadow-split in the archetypal Self. These are the actively broken expression of the archetype or the passively broken expression of the archetype. The goal of each person is to reconcile and integrate these two bi-polar shadows in order to attain the fullest expression of the archetype as represented at the top of the triangle. And each archetype has a mature and immature form as a person transitions from the child to the adult expressions. As my time is limited, I’ll focus on expanding on only the mature expressions today, but I’d be happy to discuss the immature expressions during the discussion.

The archetype of the King describes the way in which a person manifests ordering and blessing. To order, the king defines his kingdom boundaries, and codifies the laws within it. He builds the cultural, and faithfully lives by it in his own life. To bless, the King affirms his subjects by seeing them and praising them. He holds on audience with his subjects to listen and to provide for their needs.

In our stories we might look to characters like Mufasa in the Lion King as he shows the cub Simba where the boundary of their kingdom of light lies. In the Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Ceasar write down what is ape and what is not. In the Lord of the Rings, Aragorn returns as king so that his subjects may prosper under the blessing of his wisdom.

In our own lives we manifest this archetype when we order our homes, or when we do something as simple as setting a goal and achieving it. When we exhort a friend, or praise a protégé under our mentoring.

When a king descends into his shadow form, he manifests either the tyrant or the weakling. Even when the active shadow is violent and the passive shadow is cowering, both are driven by the same fear. The tyrant uses his power to dominate, and is irrational, paranoid and abusive. The weakling locks himself in his castle and hides from his responsibilities. He is his own priority. In cinema we might remember the Denethor from Lord of the Rings as he hides in his tower while sending his son to his death in battle. Or the weakling king Theodin as he becomes poisoned by his advisor wormtongue.

The absent and shadow king archetype is rife within our South African context. My PhD dissertation on the crisis our our basic education system can be summarized in a single sentence: “South Africa’s biggest problem is the unemployability of the fatherless.” For example, in 2018, 60% of South African newborns were registered with the page for the father’s details left blank. We have a generation of fatherless, purposeless young men. No wonder the path of unlimited corruption seems like the only way for a South African man to get ahead, the only kings our children ever see are looting sychophants.

As Moore writes: “Young men today are starving for blessing from older men, starving for blessing from the King energy. This is why they cannot, as we say, “get it together.” They shouldn’t have to. They need to be blessed. They need to be seen by the King, because if they are, something inside will come together for them. That is the effect of blessing; it heals and makes whole. That’s what happens when we are seen and valued and concretely rewarded for our legitimate talents and abilities.”

The archetype of the Magician describes the way in which a person manifests creation and guidance into the sacred. The magician “teaches us about creation, and about our capacity to bring into being what never was there before”.  He is a master of technology, transforming the material world. He is the knower who guides others from the profane to sacred space.

In our stories we immediately think of the wizards like Gandalf or Dumbledor. But the characters providing technology for our heroes in spy movies are also expressions of this archetype. For example, Q providing gadgets to James Bond or Lucius Fox creating weapons for Batman. In Guy Ritchies King Arthur, we see the mage facilitate Arthur’s descent into the sacred underword where he must find his identity before he becomes the king, or in The Matrix, we see Morpheus take Neo into the Desert of the Real, the sacred place outside of the profane place from which he awakens.

In our own lives we manifest this archetype when we create new opportunities, start new businesses, or new projects. When we set the atmosphere in our homes, and guiding our families and guests from the profanity of the outside to the sacred inside of home and family.

When a Magician descends into his shadow form, he manifests either the warlock or the manipulator. The active shadow warlock uses his ability to create technology so as to create weapons and new ways to kill and torture. We can think of Saruman in Lord of the rings, destroying the forests to build his machines, and introducing the orcs to the power of ignited gunpowder. The passive shadow manipulator creates alternative realities with his words, like casting spells to influence others to do his will. Too weak for war, he relies on creating deception. We see this, for example, in the way that Jafar in Aladdin hypnotizes the Sultan with his staff.

The archetype of the Warrior describes the way in which a person fights for some goal or protects some precious item. The warrior fights for survival of his people, acts with absolute conviction, claims responsibility, focusses on his training, and overcomes personal limits.

The warrior is one of the easiest archetypes to spot in modern storytelling.  All of the Marvel Avengers, Wonder Woman, Rocky Balboa. All of our stories of gladiators, vikings, knights, cowboys, martial artists, soldiers, and superheroes illustrate this archetype.

In our own lives we manifest this archetype when we set our will to accomplish some goal, especially for the good of others. When we, with unwavering focus fight to complete the task at hand. We might see modern professional like journalists, activists, or vaccine searching scientists fulfill this role.

When a warrior descends into his shadow form he fights to confirm his own legends, and the the soul purpose is victory for his own ego. The active shadow sadist destroys anyone who stands in his way with unfeeling cruelty. Achilles in Troy is a good example of this shadow as he sacrifices any number of his loyal men in the persuit of remaining famous forever. The passive shadow masochist turns the battle within and goes to war with himself, directing his rage at his own identity. He finds purpose in spending his energy on berating himself, or setting impossible goals. The movie Warrior starring Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton as brothers manifesting warriors in the shadow and light is an excellent depiction of this archetype.

Sadly, this is one of the archetypes that most enjoy to hear about least. Modern culture has turned on this one in a bad way, often describing it as the toxic part of the masculine. From Moore and Gilette: “We can’t just take a vote and vote the warrior out. Like all archetypes, it lives on in spite of our conscious attitudes towards it. And like all repressed archetypes, it goes underground eventually to resurface in the form of emotional and physical violence.“

It is the most controversial archetype, as many, especially women have suffered under it’s shadow form. We want to lay all of South Africa’s gender based violence statistics at the hands of this archetype. But I want to introduce one more and make a case for why we might be placing blame on the wrong archetype.

The lover archetype is the manifestation of the primal energy pattern of aliveness and passion. The lover is deeply sensual, sensitive and aware. He sees and feels, touches and wants to be touched, and recognizes no boundaries.  He experiences all of the joy and pain of life, for himself and others.

We might think of Sam Gamgee and the hobbits’ relationship with nature as a manifestation, Anna from frozen who falls in love with the first guy she meets, Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter franchise with her flights of fantasy and walking around barefoot.

We manifest this archetype in our own lives when we aim to suck the marrow out of life. To experience all of the indulgences of that chocolate cake or that nap in the winter afternoon sun. When we deeply empathize with the pain of another or or cry out in lament for something that has happened.

When a lover descends into his shadow form, he manifests either the active addicted or passive impotent lover.  Someone possessed by the addicted lover is eternally restless. He’s forever searching for that one thing, person, or experience that will make him feel truly alive. But whether it’s because he has overinflated expectations, or because he doesn’t even know what he’s searching for in the first place, the vague hunger that endlessly hounds him is never satisfied. Jay from the Great Gatsby is a good example of this.  The Impotent Lover only sees gray.  They feel depressed, flat, and dead inside. Nothing brings them joy anymore. They’ve lost their passion for life and descends into unfeeling depression. A good example of this is the teenage Simba in the Lion King as he hides from his responsibilities as the true king of pride rock while pretending a life of no worries is what he truly wants.

So why do Moore and Gilette focus on these four archetypes? They use Jung‘s framework of a being in balance to show that a man has balance in his manifestation of his archetypes. Specifically, the King creates boundaries for the Magician as the Magician creates opportunities for the King. And we see in our stories the Merlin to the King Arthur, the Dumbledore to the Harry Potter, the Q to the James Bond. The warrior makes the lover brave and the lover reminds the warrior what he is fighting for. It’s the Jonathan to the David, it’s the Sam Gamgee to the Frodo.

And I wonder, when we look at the extreme violence we experience in South Africa. How many of our young warriors are unbalanced by the inability to develop as lovers? In South African culture, how much do we suppress the lover archetype, and make fun of effeminacy? Could there be some life giving intervention for the psychoses in our culture by returning to the ancient stories to discover the sources of our psychological imbalances?



A tetramorph is a symbolic arrangement of four differing elements, or the combination of four disparate elements in one unit. In Christian art, the tetramorph is the union of the symbols of the Four Evangelists, derived from the four living creatures in the Book of Ezekiel, into a single figure or, more commonly, a group of four figures. The elements of the Christian tetramorph first appear in the vision of Ezekiel, who describes the four creatures as they appear to him in a vision: As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle. (Ezekiel 1:10, ESV). They are described later in the Book of Revelation: “And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.

Each of the four Evangelists is associated with one of the living creatures, usually shown with wings. The more modern association, but not the original or only, is: Matthew the lion, Mark the ox, Luke the man, and John the eagle. This particular image is from the Book of Kells. So I want to do a quick tour of the gospels at the hand of these four faces, or archetypes as the second foundation to my argument.

In Matthew, we encounter Christ as the Rabbi and King intent on the re-education of his people and the fulfillment of their prophecies. The structuring of Jesus’ teaching into five discourses imitates the five books of Moses, the Torah.  Therefore some scholars have proposed that Matthew presents Jesus as a New Moses giving a New Law.  He ascends a new mountain in the Sermon on the Mount (Ch. 5-7) to deliver the new law, just as Moses had ascended Mt. Sinai in the book of Exodus.

Matthew wants to show that Jesus is fulfillment of the Old Testament – in doing so he presents Jesus the Lion of Judah, a King. Matthew presents Jesus’ genealogy, linking him specifically to Abraham and David. Jesus is shown to embody Israel as “son of Abraham” and to fulfill the Messianic longings of first century Judaism as “son of David”.  The Palestinian Jews of the first century expected a Messianic king, who would be a descendant of David born in Bethlehem to rescue them from Roman barbarism.  Matthew highlights Jesus’ Messianic and kingly nature by using the titles “Son of God” eight times and “Son of Man” thirty times. The phrase Kingdom of Heaven is echoed throughout the book.

In a dramatic and action-packed sequence of events, Mark paints a striking image of Jesus. The Gospel of Mark illustrates who Jesus is given his mission. The ministry of Jesus is revealed with vivid detail and the messages of his teaching are presented more through what he did than what he said.

His purpose and mission is revealed through the use of three-fold patterns for emphasis. There are three reactions to the baptism of Jesus: heaven opens, spirit descends, voice is heard. Three times Jesus calls his core disciples to follow him. Three times Jesus says he must suffer, die, and rise again after three days. Three times Jesus warns, “If your hand/foot/eye causes you to stumble…” Three times Jesus returns from his preparation for his mission and speaks to the sleeping disciples in Gethsemane. Three times Peter denies knowing Jesus or being his disciple. Three specific times are mentioned as Jesus is crucified: the third, sixth, and ninth hours. Three groups of people deride Jesus as he is hanging and dying on the cross. Three witnesses react to the death of Jesus: temple curtain, Roman centurion, Galilean women.

Christ is presented as the One who continues to speak and act meaningfully in the context of crisis. Mark is simple and straightforward: The language is less elaborate and more popular than Luke or Matthew. Mark uses “and” and “immediately” a lot intimating vividness and excitement to the action. Jesus is continuously presented as one can complete the mission with focus and determination in the context of crisis. This “present” aspect of the Gospel is for this purpose.

Luke’s Gospel emphasizes Jesus’ love and care for those whom the Jewish leaders never even noticed.  We see him as fully human, interacting with women (like Mary, Elizabeth, Anna, Mary and Martha), the poor, the socially, racially, and religiously ostracized. More than in any other gospel, we see his interactions with immoral women, Samaritans, lepers, tax collectors, criminals, rebellious family members, the poor, and Gentiles.

The predominant theme in the book of Luke is the perfect humanity of Jesus Christ. The Savior entered human history as the perfect man. He himself offered the perfect sacrifice for sin, therefore, providing the not only the perfectly focused saviour for humankind but also its lover. Luke is careful to give a detailed and accurate record of his investigation so that readers can trust with certainty that Jesus is God. Luke also portrays Jesus’ profound interest in people and relationships. He was compassionate to the poor, the sick, the hurting and the sinful. He loved and embraced everyone; He became flesh to identify with man and to show us his genuine love.

The Gospel of John has a clear evangelistic purpose, presenting Jesus and calling upon men to make a decision about him. The book opens with a Logos Hymn, an affirmation of his presence in creation and that eternal life is to be found in him.  While Matthew was written primarily for the Jewish audience, and Mark and Luke for the Roman and Greek, John appears to have been aimed at revealing the sacred to a universal audience. In the book we have two sections: the book of signs (Chapters 1 to 12) describing the miraculous, and the book of glory, (Chapters 13 to 20) revealing the divine, and sacred.

Where Mark used the pattern of three, John uses the pattern of seven, the divine number. Seven miracles are chosen, and seven ‘I am’ proclamations are highlighted. Rather than just recording the events of Jesus’ life, John is more concerned with the significance of Christ’s coming and the significance of His ministry.  John’s Gospel reveals to us the ministry of the divinity of Christ and the mystery of Christ united in the Most Holy Trinity, the unity and diversity of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Jesus is revealed as creator and the only way into the sacred. It is significant also in that John wrote his Gospel only after he received the revelation.

Now, if we bring these Jungian archetypes together with the personifications of the tetramorph, can we make a case for Christ as the perfect fulfilment of all that Freud, Jung, Campbell, Moore, and Gilette are looking for? In a society of disordered archetypes, and psychoses of imbalance, can we psycho-analyse Christ in a Jungian framework and find the perfect man? I contend that we can. And that the answer to all our psychoses can be found by spending time in the gospels. For our need to experience a King, we can turn to the face of the lion in Matthew. For our need to experience a Warrior, we can turn to the face of the ox in Mark. For our need to experience a Lover, we can turn to the face of a man in Luke. And for every need we have to experience a magician, we can turn to the face of an eagle in John. Christ is the fulfilment of all we hope to be. The perfect human, fully God, eternal for us to imitate.