Archetypes and the Story of Joseph – Part 2

Archetypes and the Story of Joseph – Part 2 March 27, 2021

This is another guest post from Dana Horton following up a recent first post, “Archetypes and the Story of Joseph – Part 1“. Thanks so much to Dana for this, as ever.

We’re back! Our last post (more than a month ago) was about archetypes — or more specifically, how everyone has a combination of archetypes. Archetypes are not magical angelic creatures, but are personality traits inherent within each one of us. Understanding archetypes is partly about introspection (gawwwd). But recognizing archetypes can also help us understand why people act the way they do in the world at large — sometimes people just can’t help themselves because … it’s their archetype. Let’s move on to the Old Testament and Joseph in Egypt.

Q. Most Biblical scholars look at the Old Testament stories as a combination of history, mythology, and symbolism. When the scribes put pen to papyrus back in the day, did they actually write these stories with the symbolism in mind?

A. We were not there. So we do not know what was in the mind of the scribes (or the original story-tellers) when they handed down the narrative of Joseph over the centuries. But something about the characters, or the themes, or … the archetypes .. must have resonated with them.

Specifically we might look at Joseph as a father figure and the land of Egypt as the Divine Feminine (the Chief Editor has a hard time with that one, but just go with it). The story shows that despite all our human frailties, we have the opportunity to unite with God in the end.

We again consulted with one of our readers who is well-versed in archetypes about her thoughts on the matter. We’ll call her Ms B (as opposed to Aunt Bee from Mayberry #millennialshavenoclue). Specifically, Ms B thought it unlikely that the Biblical story-tellers set out with the intention of reciting a narrative that we would be analyzing 3,000 years later.  And despite their best efforts, we gotta think that most of those stories probably changed a bit each time they were retold.  Further, even after someone finally put them in writing, future copyists also made further changes (intentional … or not) as time wore on.

Less far away, fairy tales from a century ago took a similar route. Hans Christian Anderson did not create the fairy tales we know. He merely recorded the oral traditions that created them.  The stories that lasted over time were the ones that spoke to people’s psyche just like the popular movies Star Wars and Harry Potter speak to our times.

Stories resonate differently with each one of us. Some people may read the story of Joseph (or Yoda) and see themselves in one of the characters. Other readers may resonate with Joseph’s dysfunctional family dynamics. And others (i.e. the Chief Editor) find these stories interesting simply from a historical perspective.

And then, certain stories just work for some unknown reason. It speaks to us whether we get it or not.

Q. What does it mean to see Joseph as a father archetype, or as symbolic of the intellect.

A. Male figures often equate to the archetype of the Great Father, representing things like logic, reasoning, math, and writing.  “In the beginning was the word…”  (John 1:1) tells us, from a religious perspective, that God is a Great Father symbol and therefore represents the things the great father represents: Logic reasoning, and the ability to think rather than feel. “The word” is a patriarchal concept rather than a matriarchal one. 

 Side note:  In the western world, we typically resort to using the terms male and female rather than yin and yang, or even A or B.  It has nothing to do with gender, we just use gender to represent the archetype. That might help the Chief Editor get his mind around seeing Egypt as a symbol of the great feminine.

Q.  Talk a little about the concept of archetypes and the collective unconscious.

 ALet’s see if we can put a visual on this. Think of the collective sub-consciousness of humanity as a river. Floating on top of the river are a bunch of archetypal rafts. Joseph is on the archetypal raft called the Great Father. But all the other males in the story are on different rafts; they are aspects of ourselves that we have to recognize to become whole.

Here is an example:  One of Joseph’s brothers slept with his dead brother’s wife. Yep, it’s right there in Genesis. But he gets his karmic reward at the end of Genesis, when his father Jacob issues a vitriolic curse upon him right before he (Jacob) dies. How’s that for family drama? But in addition to the dysfunctional family dynamics, from an archetypal viewpoint we can read this story as encouraging us to manage and control our instincts.

Let’s go all metaphysical here. The highest perception of Truth is represented by Joseph. The land of Egypt provides a good physical backdrop to also represent the collective sub-consciousness of humanity (the river).  Perception of truth is great father energy; consciousness is great father energy; but the earth is great mother energy – Mother Nature.   Editor’s note:  This gives rise to the conspiracy theory among more than a couple Biblical scholars that maybe the entire story of Joseph (and subsequently Moses) is simply a fable, invented to make a point rather than a retelling of actual events.

Each archetype has different symbols that represent it. The modern Hero Archetype is seen in Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter — both have a wand.  The medieval Hero is King Arthur — also with a sword.   Going back to ancient Egypt, after Joseph we get Moses — carrying a powerful staff (i.e. wand) that can turn into a snake and do all kinds of stuff. Each of these individuals represents an aspect of the hero archetype.

No individual literary symbol represents the absolute complete archetype, because we can really see only a piece at a time. And that could be why the Joseph story has all those brothers with all those different characteristics.

Q. What about Joseph’s dreams?

A. Now we are really out of our comfort zone. We went back to Ms B for some help. All stories, Biblical to fairy tales to Star Wars, have something real in them. And whether it is Joseph’s dream or our own dreams there is often something from our daily life that shows up.  Dreams are how our subconscious continues to work on our problems even while we are asleep.  We can get clues as to what we are trying to do and where we are in the process by trying to understand our dreams (Editor’s note: If you can remember them).  Fairy tales and myths often are doing the same thing.  Joseph’s dreams (he had a lot of them) may be a way of telling us about the collective subconscious of Egypt or the Jewish nation at the time.

Q In our research on archetypes and Joseph, we ran across several references to Cinderella.

A. Not surprising. Every culture has a Cinderella story with different trappings. The story (whether it is Joseph, Cinderella, or Pretty Woman) is tapping into something deep in our psyche that is in the collective subconscious. These stories get passed down because they speak to individuals – they light up our psyche. 3,000 years ago, someone heard the story of Joseph, was touched by it, and wanted to share it.  Same with the story of Jesus and other religious figures. And because psyches are different from one person to another, there are many different versions that get ‘recorded’ over the millennia.

Q. What about Joseph’s dysfunctional family?

A. Dysfunction is kinda the norm. It does not matter if there were really brothers who gave away a younger brother into slavery. The archetypes in the story speak to the subconscious so we can get the point on many levels — not just one.  Cinderella’s family was dysfunctional. Joseph’s family was dysfunctional. Pretty Woman’s main character was a prostitute, so there’s that.

We could choose to take these stories and dreams literally and just look at the surface. For example, if we have a dream about being chased by a tiger, maybe on the surface it means we fear tigers. But if we go into the subconscious, perhaps there is something else that the psyche is working on.  But the subconscious chose a tiger so we would feel fear.

OMG. There is so much more to explore here. But we have to cut it off for today. Thanks to everyone who made it this far.

Dana Horton is from Ohio, United States and has recently retired as Director of Energy Markets a large utility company. In August 2019, he earned his ministerial license through a New Thought religious organization called Centers for Spiritual Living based in Denver, Colorado. He acted as interim minister at the Columbus Center for Spiritual Living for several months afterward, where he learned a lot more about religious and spiritual organizations. At this time has no interest in returning to any formal religious structure. But he enjoys investigating spiritual principles, how they originated, and how they might be applicable to everyday living.


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