Last night's episode of Game of Thrones was particularly dark and gruesome. The Game of Thrones books and HBO series depict a power struggle among a group of ruling families within a fictional society based on feudal, medieval Britain and Europe.
I enjoy watching even the more violent and disturbing episodes, because they make me think about forward progress through history and Jung's collective unconscious. I love to work with archetypes in my own self-growth process and Game of Thrones is chock full of them.
An archetype is a universal symbol that alerts us to repeating patterns and behaviors embedded in our individual and collective psyche. Archetypes range from the broad and general to the refined and specific; both simple and complex characters in literature, film and television invite us to recognize archetypes. In Game of Thrones we have a complex structure of interconnected archetypes and characters, some simple and obvious: Warriors like Jon Snow and Rob Stark, The Heroine (Daenerys), The Witch (Melisandre), The Villain and Corrupt Ruler (Joffrey). We also see characters embodying multiple archetypes or evolving from one archetype to another, such as Catelyn Stark, The Mother and the Wise Old Woman, and Shae, The Prostitute who evolved into a dutiful Servant and Lover.
In the twins, Cersei and Jaime Lannister, I recognize an interplay between the Anima and the Animus, and even through their long separation, Jaime has found another way to keep this going with Brienne of Tarth. Here comes a spoiler, so skip the next sentence if you are not caught up on the episodes. In the violent scene where Jaime loses his right hand, we are reminded that he was once an unmatched swordsman. It is significant that he lost his last sword fight to a woman serving as a knight, and that he lost his hand saving her life and her virtue. The right hand was cut off, and the right side of the body represents the masculine. Brienne of Tarth is a masculinized noble lady, a female knight. Those of us working to balance and allow expression to both Anima and Animus can play with all of the subtleties of the Jaime Lannister character. I am excited to see how his relationship with Brienne unfolds, and also to watch how the incestuous dynamic will change between him and his female twin Cersei.
Many of us are also developing awareness of ancestral patterns and tapping into collective memories. The more violent and barbaric scenes in Game of Thrones, depicting cruelty, ruthlessness, enslavement, prostitution, sexual abuse, warring, relentless power struggles, betrayal and torture--these alert me to repeating behaviors throughout the development of human history. We see the underbelly of our tribal beginnings and the struggle for survival and dominance we have shared as a species. These conditions still exist on our planet today, but have continued to improve over thousands of years, with periods of regression followed by quantum leaps of forward progress.
In my interfaith seminary training, we have studied the theory of conscious evolution and also Jungian techniques in spiritual counseling. I have learned that we must work to bring our collective and individual Shadows to consciousness. Carl Jung said, "What is not brought to consciousness comes to us as fate." Seeing violence and upheaval, within ourselves, in our world, in our relationships, or even on television... is unpleasant. We can turn off a show or put down a book, and it is wise to use caution in what we take into our consciousness. At the same time, it can also be therapeutic and constructive to actively work with dark literary or artistic content. It shakes things loose so we can recognize them and lessen their grip on us. As someone with a literature background, I have done this for years and will continue to do so. I applaud the Game of Thrones writers for bringing so many collective issues to a mass audience. I will keep watching and doing my own work on the side.