This month's Missal examines the archetype of the puer aeternus
, or eternal boy
. Maurice Nicoll
referred to the puer as the intermediary, the child who links us to the eternal. Carl Jung
, and later his student Marie -Louise von Franz, wrote of the problems faced when one became wholly identified with the puer archetype. The puer is defined in mythology as the Divine Child, who represents potential for growth and hope for the future. In modern psychology it describes the man-boy, who will not grow up and face life and its responsibilities but remains emotionally a child, often unhealthily attached and dependent on the mother.
The puer is, as all archetypes, deeply polarized. His opposite is the rational intellect, the man of action who produces, rather than the idealistic dreamer. The problem for the person deeply influenced by the puer archetype is how to balance these two forces without becoming identified with them, the puer being the positive identification and the disciplined intellect manifesting negatively as the shadow. This change, the boy becoming the man, whole and active in the world, is salvation for the puer, for he then transcends the archetype and becomes capable of manifesting his own talents in life rather than only dreaming of living.
" Christ's 'Except ye become as little children' prefigures this change, for in them the opposites lie close together; but what is meant is the boy who is born from the maturity of the adult man, and not the unconscious child we would like to remain."
- Carl Jung
The puer could be said to be the generating principle behind creativity, manifesting in a positive manner when the rational intellect is active and the emotions grounded. While Jung and von Franz thought the 'cure' for identification with the puer archetype to be work and responsibility, it might be better defined as creative production brought to fruit in the world. The puer is not something to be cured or gotten rid of as much as something to be transcended and then harnessed. The young man captivated by the puer energy has no real understanding of how things work, of long term effort and its role in manifestation. His unconscious identification with his body traps him in a dream world from which usually only trauma and defeat can lead him out. When he understands that the puer is an archetype or ideal, and the body a tool for manifestation, and loses the ego that attaches him to the two, he can then move forward into life, emotion, and actual creativity. The ability to create is only possible in someone who sees others as important as himself. The puer is so self-absorbed he can find no reason to give of himself through effort, yet alone create.
" Creativity represents a miraculous coming together of the uninhibited energy of the child with its apparent opposite and enemy, the sense of order imposed on the disciplined adult intelligence. "
- Norman Podhoretz
For the young man caught in the bardo of the puer, the unnatural bond with the mother is his enabler. He has no pressing need to go out and work or produce, for his physical needs are met, whether by his mother, the government or university, girlfriend or spouse. The enabler needs the puer just as much as he needs her, for she feeds on his raw creative energy, and since he only uses it to increase his sense of self, it flows to the nearest taker. As the years roll by, the puer becomes more and more unable to deal with life, and may take refugee in drugs, alcohol or strange behavior, become a member of a cult, or run from one mother figure to the next, ever growing weary from his lack of purpose. If he is lucky, he will find enough trauma to shake him from his slumber and break the spell of his identification long enough to get a glimpse of himself.
While trouble and waste of energy can be attributed to those lost in the puer archetype, it has a great advantage for those who can balance it with a disciplined intellect and love for their fellows. The puer's creative energy is behind most accomplishments in art and philosophy, and brings light and song into the drab world of work and decay. As Nicoll pointed out, the divine child within is our intermediary with the eternal realm. He can see both worlds and will shows us the inner one if we wish. The intellect may play its part in manifestation and discipline, but it cannot travel out of the mind, into the realm of the unmanifest, the puer's home.
" One can partly foretell what a puer aeternus will look like and how he will feel. He is merely the archetype of the eternal-youth god, and therefore he has all the features of the god: he has a nostalgic longing for death; he thinks of himself as being something special; he is the one sensitive being among all the other tough sheep. He will have a problem with an aggressive, destructive shadow which he will not want to live and generally projects, and so on. There is nothing special about him whatsoever. The worse the identification with the youthful god, the less individual the person, although he himself feels so special."
- Marie-Louise von Franz
- Related Sites -
Wikipedia. Latin for eternal child, used in mythology to designate a child-god who is forever young; psychologically it refers to an older man whose emotional life has remained at an adolescent level, usually coupled with too great a dependence on the mother.
Puer Aeternus, The Eternal Boy, The Seer: "In a revolt against "the earthly, the conservative, the possessive", he may begin a long ascent into a flight upward and become the ascending son, the Peter Pan or "eternal boy," the moth "mad for the light.""
Tricks and Traps
Trap: Caught in an ideal. We may think because we believe in an ideal such as the betterment of our fellow man that we are somehow automatically above the fray, that our every action is justified, because the means justifies the end for the chosen few.
Trick: Walking the walk. The above thinking will quickly lead everything we do into building up the ego, and keep us from noticing the difference between our ideals and our actions. If we live the life we believe, we must have no glaring contradictions between what we say and tell others, and what we ourselves do. Self-honesty can go a long way in showing us how our fact status and our story may be two very different things. The shock of seeing this could go a long way in waking us up.
What Do You Love?
Progress on the spiritual path can be thought of in terms of value, or love. What is most important to us is what we value the most, what we really love. The path of self-discovery can be seen in these terms. We observe ourselves, and discover what our true motivations are, leading us to see what we value. Another way to see this is by checking our fact status. What we actually do everyday tells us much about what we value, and perhaps shows us the gap between our personal storyline and our actions. If this fact checking and self-observation are carried far enough, we may begin to get a look at something called our 'self' or personality, and begin to see its illusive nature. We may be forced to admit to its exalted status as our real true love, despite our ego's protestations to the contrary. Using this shock as further fuel for the search, we become a bit more honest in our future assessments. If self-inquiry is carried even further, through this process of elimination we may find something more real to love than this 'self'. Back beyond our mind's motion, something still and silent lies. If you find a love of truth, rather than fiction, it may take you there.
Finding this still-point depends largely on our state of satisfaction with our beloved 'self'. If this state becomes one of dissatisfaction, we have the incentive to look for something more stable. Hearing from others that have gone before that there is something somewhere 'within', and that it is worth any effort to find it, also adds to our incentive. By looking at what we love, we can come to love the truth, and find there is something worthwhile inside us other than mind-motion and change. Let's take a look at how this path might turn out, and some of the pitfalls and signposts along the way from love of 'self', to Love Itself.
We hear of this so-called still-point, called by such names as silence, stillness, the center, the Source, what we really are, etc., and wonder. If our intuition is not clouded by the dissipations of relentless pleasure seeking and the resultant fear, we may discover a longing, a nostalgia deep within that tells us we may have once known this silence, and still love it more than we might know. This longing is fed too, perhaps, by being tired of the jostling effects of life, its traumas and endless no-win scenarios, leading to death and dissolution.
So, we read the books and search the Internet, finding many who tell of the way back to this stillness. They vary from the intellectual work of Hubert Benoit
, to the practical experiments of Douglas Harding
. We find the paths back to this center also called by many names: 'the inner movement', 'self-remembering', a 'double-pointed arrow of attention, one directed in, one out', 'observing the observer', or 'looking back at what we are looking out of'. Many speak of 'silence', and even the many forms of silence. From this information alone, we may not come any closer to really knowing this still-point, but if we persist in looking, we may get lucky and discover much that it is not. We begin to see that it cannot be something of the mind, for we find the mind is motion. We may be fooled into thinking that the stillness is something we can manufacture, that it's found only in ashrams or monasteries, or that we can force it onto the relative world through controlling the environment. Or we may decide to create it within by controlling our mind, forcing it to think only what we have been told we should think, and discover that this too is folly.
When the still-point is finally reached, even if only for a moment, it is unmistakable. If we have allowed ourselves to hone our intuition and clear our thinking, we will find that this silent place within is not just a concept, but very real. The movement necessary to turn our attention back away from the outer and inner movies of the mind and senses is found to be also something real, and not a thought or concept at all. We find too, that we forget, and are carried back into the mind at every instant. But if our love for the silence is true, it will turn us back into it again and again, provided our previous experience with the mind and its motion has been enough, or too much.
This is where what we value or really love comes in. If our meaning is taken from the changing scene of the relative world, we will keep our attention directed towards it. We will turn away from the silence within, and our longing will be for the excitement and changes of the mind. We may declare our love for the center, but our attention will long for the agony and ecstasy of the world of form. Boredom with silence too, means our value has not yet moved inward from the world to truth, but remains trapped by the colorful kaleidoscope of the mind, and the energy releases of the body.
This part of the journey is a journey within. We retreat from our former love for motion and change, and move inwards toward simplicity and truth. After the still-point has been found, and correctly valued, our attention is then turned round, and we begin a new phase, one of our new love being tested. While we continue to hold a part of our gaze on the still-point, it being what we really are, we also turn round and engage in the world of action. This is to test our love, to see if the trials and tribulations of the outer world can knock us off course, and change our point of reference. If we come back to the center, time and time again, during and despite every trial, we find we are becoming less of the world and more of the silence. In any situation in life, no matter how difficult or how often we forget, if we eventually return to the still-point as our anchor, we find we are becoming one with it. We become that which we love.
Bob Fergeson ( this article was orginally published in the Missal of November, 2004)
- Quotes -
" Creativity represents a miraculous coming together of the uninhibited energy of the child with its apparent opposite and enemy, the sense of order imposed on the disciplined adult intelligence. " - Norman Podhoretz
" Happy is he who still loves something he loved in the nursery: He has not been broken in two by time; he is not two men, but one, and he has saved not only his soul but his life. " - G.K. Chesterton
" One must ask children and birds how cherries and strawberries taste. " - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
" The great man is he who does not lose his child's-heart. " - Mencius, Book IV
" To the psychotherapist, an old man who cannot bid farewell to life appears as feeble and sickly as the young man who is afraid to embrace it.
" Whoever carries over into the afternoon the law of the morning... must pay for doing so with damage to his or her soul.
" When you come to think about it, nothing has any meaning, for when there was nobody to think, there was nobody to interpret what happened." - Carl Jung
" Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. " - Pablo Picasso
If children grew up according to early indications, we should have nothing but geniuses.
If you think you're too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.
- Bette Reese
Copyright 2010 - Robert Fergeson. All Rights Reserved.