Masculinity and male archetypes


Traditional definitions of masculinity include attributes such as independance, pride, resiliency, self-control and physical strength. (Qualities not, obviously, exclusive to men.)

I prefer to think about masculinity in terms of archetypes. That of the hero-warrior is probably the best known and most revered. All men, boys and young men especially, dream of possessing the warrior’s courage, daring, toughness, savvy and skill.

Other archetypes include the wise man, who functions in part as the thinker to the hero-warrior’s man of action; the son-lover, a golden boy of youthful promise, playful, imaginative, artistically gifted, full of romantic yearnings and hedonistic appetites; and the king. “Take charge of your life,” is his message to a man.

“Act,” commands the warrior. “Don’t think, act.” “Think,” counters the wise man. “Use your mind. Harness the enormous power of the mind.”
“Feel,” intones the son-lover. “Go with your feelings. Listen to your heart.”

No one is exempt from service, least of all the king. “I’m 80 years old,” said one ruler, “and all I’ve ever known is service. My true concern is not for me,” he said, when asked about his rapidly deteriorating health. “It’s never been for me.”

“The most potent symbols,” write the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, “always exert an intangible authority, which can only be compromised by the more tangible forms of power.” The king is rather than does; he rules but does not govern.

The king does not govern his kingdom, he is his kingdom, at once the personification of its territory and the individual embodiment of its people.

In the archetype of the family, it is the mother who governs, while the father rules.

Father and mother each have their own role to play in relation to children. Both, of course, direct and protect, as well as nurture, but the father will be far more focused on preparing the child for a life outside the home. The father prepares the child for a very cruel world. (Check out James Hillman’s analysis of the story about the Jewish father and his son in his essay “Betrayal” in Loose Ends …)

Without a connection to the father, a man either can’t find his way in the world or progress and perservere on his chosen path; he’s easily corrupted or swayed. Without a connection to the mother, he can’t nourish himself or others; self-criticism runs rampant, unchecked by a basic self-acceptance. Without a connection to the hero, he lacks thrust and motivation, shrinks from challenges, avoids taking risks. Without a connection to the wise man (or woman), he has great difficulty making sense of his life or his role as a man; actions may have goals but seem to serve no overall purpose. Without a connection to the child, his days lack sparkle and freshness, the future holds little promise, existence stretches out all around him like barren land, as seemingly empty as a desert.