Marie Louise Von Franz. Feminine in Fairy Tales.
The king represents the dominating principle. For the symbolism of the king I refer you to Jung’s Mysterium Coniunctionis,3 where there is a whole chapter on this subject. The king represents on a primitive level a personification, or is a carrier of the mystical life power of the nation or tribe, which is why in many primitive civilizations, as you can read in Frazer’s
“The Dying God,”the health and physical and spiritual power of the king guarantees the power of the tribe, and he has to be killed if he becomes impotent or ill. He is deposed after a certain number of years because the carrier of this power has always to be young. He is an incarnated Godhead, the living strength of the tribe. Among the Shilluks in the Upper White Nile this is clearly expressed by the fact that the old king, when he is to be killed, is shut up in a hut with an untouched virgin and starved to death with the girl; the so-called throne (a primitive little chair) is put in front of the hut, and his successor sits there: at the moment of death the life spirit of the old king enters the body of the new king. From then on he is the king and carrier of this principle.
Again jumping to conclusions, you might say that the king has all the aspects of a symbol of the Self, but this is too general and inaccurate in fact, though the king is the life principle and image of God and the center of physical and spiritual organization and in that way carries the projection of the Self, the regulating dominating center of the aspect of totality. But that is not right, insofar as the archetype of the Self is, according to our experience, not so much bound to time as that. Also we have the image of the dying king, or the sick or old king who has to be deposed, which does not fit with the idea of the Self as regulating center of the psyche, which does not have to be deposed. Therefore, in what way is he and is he not the Self? The answer is given in the ritual of the Shilluks which I described to you. The king is not the Self, but a consciously formulated symbol of that archetype. The king of our civilization is Christ, he is a symbol of the Self, he is the specific formulated aspect of the Self which dominates our civilization, the King of Kings, the dominating content. I would say that Buddha is the formulated aspect of the symbol of the Self in the Buddhist civilizations. Thus the king is not the archetype of the Self but a symbol of the Self, which has become a central dominating representation in a civilization.
It seems an archetypal law of general validity that every symbolism which has taken shape and form in collective human consciousness wears out after a certain time and resists renewal owing to a certain inertia of consciousness. Most inner experiences after ten or twenty years lose some of their strength and, especially in collectivity, most religious symbols tend to wear out. Think of all the children who should relate to the symbol of Christ and be Christian and who by the time they are six years old are already bored and shut their inner ear because to them it has already become a kind of slogan and makes no more sense, it has lost its numinous qualities and its value. I have also been told by parsons and priests that it is practically impossible always to write a sermon into which they can put themselves, for there will inevitably be days when the man is tired, or has quarreled with his wife, when this “wearing out” effect will be visible. If Christ were completely numinous to him, that would not happen. It seems a tragic fact that human consciousness tends to be unilateral and single-track, not always adapted to inner processes, so that certain truths are formulated and adhered to for too long.
The same thing applies to the inner evolution of an individual—someone has an inner experience and lives it for a while, but then life changes, and the attitude should change, but this is not noticed until dreams show that a readaptation must be made. In midlife, consciousness tends to persist in certain attitudes and does not notice quickly enough that now that the inner direction of life has changed, consciousness should also change for approaching death. Religious contents also, as soon as they become conscious and spoken of, lose their immediate freshness and their numinosity, for which reason the great religious systems undergo movements of renewal, or there is a complete change and renewal or reinterpretation so that the system regains its immediacy and original meaning. The aging king who has to be replaced by a new king expresses this general psychological law. Whatever has reached general recognition is, in a way, already doomed; it would only be wisdom to know that and always be ready for a change of attitude. But just as the individual generally perseveres in his old attitude, so does the collective, and to a much greater extent. Then you have to face the inertia which can be dangerous to the content. The mystery of the renewal of the king refers to this.
The king has another aspect: he is not only the profound hope of a civilization, but at the same time the religious representative. An effort was made to evade the unavoidable tragedy of the king having to die from time to time by doubling the power, that is, by having a medicine man and a king. The medicine man is not so much involved in the earthly activities of organization, for his task is to cope with the immediacy of the religious experience. Therefore, in many primitive tribes there is discord between king and medicine man, who is the “gray eminence” behind the king, or who is kept down by the absolute rule of the chief. This is a squabble which was carried on in our own history when the Catholic Church tried to be the power over the king, or certain kings tried to replace the pope, or to govern him and rule the religious life of the Catholic Church. The idea behind the division of power was to keep the two separate, so that the religious aspect should have the possibility of renewal, and organization should keep to its own duties. In this way it might be possible to keep balance in the opposites, the tendency toward the continuity of consciousness and the necessity for constant inner renewal. The drawback is the danger of a quarrel and split between the two powers, which really belong together in the psyche.
In fairy tales it is often the simple person who becomes the next king, after many processes and peripeteias. We must investigate what this means. If the prince becomes king, he is the right person by inheritance, and we could call that a renewal within the same dominant, like for instance that of the Order of Saint Francis of Assisi within the Catholic Church. There was a moment of danger for the Catholic Church when the Order of Saint Francis might have formed a movement of its own, but remaining within the Catholic Church, it became a rejuvenating movement of spiritual life. This would be analogous to the prince becoming king. On the other hand, if the fairy tale says that a very anonymous and unexpected person becomes king, then the renewal of the dominant of collective consciousness comes from an angle, both sociological and archetypal, from which it was least expected. The dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary provides such an example, for in some circles of theology this new dogma was rather looked down upon, but the pope emphasized that it was the general popular wish that it should take place. He met with great opposition and referred to the visions of Fatima in Portugal; thus the assumption of the Virgin Mary is based more on a feeling movement among the simple people than on theological thought. The pope himself is said to have had visions (though this is not officially stated). From an unexpected corner such as the pope’s unconscious, such a new symbol came to light: the renewal comes from the unexpected place.
In general, we might conclude that if the fairy tale tells us of a simple man becoming king, it describes a process of renewal of collective consciousness which comes from the unexpected and officially despised part of the psyche, and from the simple people, for in a population, in a confused way, the simple suffer more than the learned people from the undercurrents of archetypal development. For example, in universities and all educated circles it is argued that there is too much technique and not enough relation to nature in the life of modern man. The more dominant classes are aware of this, but a simple peasant boy who leaves his village to work in a factory is not, yet he suffers from it much more immediately and may become desperate and perhaps hate his fellow men and not know that he is suffering from the disease of the time. In his psyche a longing for a change of attitude may be constellated and expressed symbolically. He may try to overcome his trouble by going to a renewal meeting, for he sees things on a very primitive level, and he may try to cure his sickness in this way. Such vague suffering may be solved in a symbolically demonstrated form, or he may feel that his life is meaningless and drink himself to death.
The archetype of the king can indicate the fertility and strength of the tribe or nation, or the old man who suffocates new life and should be deposed. The hero can be the renewal of life or the great destroyer, or both. Every archetypal figure has its own shadow. We do not know what an archetype looks like in the unconscious, but when it enters the fringe of consciousness, as in a dream, which is a half-conscious phenomenon, it manifests the double aspect. Only when light falls on an object does it throw a shadow.« Back to Glossary Index