Blog by Colm Holland - author of The Secret of The Alchemist
I want to wish you a Happy Archetypal Christmas!
The nativity story of Jesus is one of the most loved annual events of the year for billions of people across the globe. The baby in the manger, the giving of gifts and even Santa appeals to adults and children alike and in cultures who don’t identify as Christians, which reveals the ubiquitous power of this myth.
Whether the meaning it holds encourages faith or simply reminds people of the notion of peace and goodwill, the fact is it resonates with the basic primal instinct that most people want to live kind and generous lives, so much so, this festive event extends well beyond its religious roots. Of course this is partly because historically, especially in Western and Middle Eastern cultures, it borrowed heavily from existing fertility and mid-winter festivals going back several millennia.
Personally I love Christmas, even the tinsel bits, and some years ago I asked myself the question, ‘Why do I find it so edifying at an unconscious level within my psyche?’ I am self-aware enough to realise that my enthusiasm for the season goes beyond the excuse for a good family party. Somewhere in my unexamined senses I guessed it must be linked to my inner journey of personal transformation - but how exactly?
The answer came to me when I was reading Carl Jung’s writings and he said this:‘Christ (Jesus of the Bible) exemplifies the archetype of the Self’*, a statement that may not mean much to a non-student of Jung on first view, but one which is hugely significant to the person who is on the journey to find their true destiny and true Self.
Let me explain my understanding of why this is a momentous concept.
The Self in Jung’s cosmology of the psyche represents the fully unified and whole human state - the goal of his concept of Individuation - where a person engages in an active self nurturing and maturing possess toward true empowerment. At this point they are in full control of their life and destiny - enabling them to live a fulfilled and purposeful existence. (For more on this read Chapter 1 ‘True Empowerment’ in my book, ‘The Secret of The Alchemist’.)
To reach this level of maturity a person must, according to Jung, work to bring into unity the internal and opposing forces of the Unconscious and the Conscious. In practice this is all about embracing not only the acceptable side of ourselves, the bits we are proud of, but also the unacceptable parts that we’d rather push down and ignore.
Jung taught that by bringing about the union or marriage of these opposing parts, the Self is born and this is the part of our psyche that will grow and save us from ourselves. He goes even further to say that this desire to discover the personal wholeness of the Self is an inbuilt impulse or archetype; in that it is a common desire of all human beings and is often expressed in the statement, ‘I want to be a better version of myself’.
The moment the penny dropped for me was my realisation that the Self is not just an idealised version of a better me, it actually has certain characteristics that manifest in our daily life. The archetypal characteristic of a truly empowered person is their ability to love unconditionally; the ability to love their enemies being the pinnacle of their mature personality and behavior.
I guess by now you’re beginning to join the dots with me of the connection between Christ in the form of the baby Jesus, born in an earthly environment and Jung’s thinking about the inner birth of the true Self, born within our human psyche and the redemptive role that they both represent in our personal development.
This is, in the Jungian interpretation of the processes within our psyche, the outworking of the positive and life-enhancing archetype of the Hero. The Hero does not know his path except that he must embrace life’s journey and risk all to find it’s true purpose, which is the realisation that we are the miracle of life, and knowing we are alive means to fully embrace all that is both human and divine within, as well as facing all the trials, good and bad we will encounter.
Volumes have been written on the occurrence of ancient gods born to ‘maidens’ across multiple myths that predate Christianity, and likewise there’s no shortage of theological works on the Hero archetype that Christ and other deities embody. This is all helpful in a theoretical way but my question was specific: what does the Christmas story mean to me as I write the story or legend of my life?
These words of Carl Jung help answer that for me:
‘We all must do what Christ did. We must make our experiment. We must make mistakes. We must live out our own version of life. And there will be error. If you avoid error you do not live.’
In other words, the Hero must fulfill one primary challenge to succeed: to throw every fibre of their being into the adventure that is their life, with the aim of realising, in thought, word and deed their full potential. That is the Hero’s journey!
To which I want to add in my own words, this wish for us all at this season:
‘This season may we allow the divinity of our human spirit, conceived by Unconditional Love, to be born within our weak and frail flesh, to form a new Self, so that the nativity is celebrated within each of us and love, joy, hope and peace will be manifested again and again.’
Love and blessings to you this Christmas! - Colm Holland
*( Carl Jung, Collected Works 9.2: par. 70 )
Author and Speaker Colm Holland
A member of the team which published Paul Coelho's The Alchemist.
Colm teaches the art of alchemy in everyday life, and he has devoted his life to true empowerment through inner transformation.