Of Archetype and Mystery

In the seminal work on Waincraft, Sea Sky Soil, Nicanthiel Hrafnhild has done an outstanding job of sketching out the Powers of pre-Christian Northwestern Europe, stripping them of their various cultural masks and distilling the essence of their roles and functions. For that is what these entitites are—Power and Function given form and understanding.

As hard polytheism has become the dogma of the day in the modern neo-pagan movement—or at least the most vocal dogma of the day—far too many have thrown archetypal understandings of the gods and goddesses of the pre-modern world aside, often with little understanding of what an archeype truly is. Equally dismissed (and just as quickly) is the work of Depth Psychologists and Jungian Psychoanalysts under the mistaken notion that they equate the Powers to “mere thought forms” or aspects of the human psyche. True, there are Jungian and Depth Psychologists who do that very thing, but such views are far from monolithic and even within that milieu, the understanding of the ultimate nature of an archeype is far from dogmatic.

I have always appreciated occultist RJ Stewart’s definition of an archetype as “a Matrix or key Image which gives shape and direction to energies arising out of the Primal source of all being” (Underworld Initiation, p. 92). It is from this definition that I will base the remainder of this writing.

The archetype emerges from the otherworld (or what Jung termed “the collective unconscious”) and shapes, shares and mediates the energy of that realm in the mundane world.  From the Otherworld, through the imaginal, and into the everyday flows the circuit of power. Please note that the term “imaginal” is not the same as “imagination”. The imaginal realm is a Jungian term referring to the realm of the walker between the worlds—it is “real” (just all realms perceived through non-ordinary states of consciousness are “real”) but far from concrete. The imaginal is shaped by the psyche of the individual engaging with it, thus the key imagery will be interacted with and understood in highly personalized ways, but the underlying power remains constant. Also note my equating of “the collective unconscious” with the Otherworld (or more specifically, in my model, the Underworld).

The collective unconscious may be understood as a realm of the human mind, but this is an incomplete and rather sophomoric understanding—a handicapping of Jung’s original vision (I highly suggest that those in doubt examine Jung’s “Red Book,” a deeply spiritual exploration of Jung’s personal experience that has revolutionized Jungian thought).

This is where the Powers of Waincraft come into play. If, as I posit, a “God” or “Power” is not an individual per se, but rather a function or role that takes on differing (but not entirely dissimilar) individual traits as it’s power is mediated through the imaginal and into the mundane, then there is space not only for a world full of differing Gods and Powers, but for the interconnected Powers of one’s ancestry to shift according to time and place. Thus, on the European landmass the “Lord of the Green” was likely a hunting and vegetation deity to the folk of the Mesolithic Period, a god of horticulture to those of the early Neolithic, and a god of high agriculture to the historical age. When Christianity swept through Europe and the people of that place completely shifted their worldview and lifestyle, this Power was relegated to unraveling folklore, and yet even then may still be seen in figures such as John Barleycorn, the Greenman, and Robin of the Wood.

Today, as I endeavor to reconnect with the earlier, more land-centered ways of my ancestors, I experience the Lord of the Green in all of these guises and more as the Archetype now filters through my own post-modern experience of the 21st century. This Power is most certainly real and ever present—the modern world, despite our technological advances is still utterly dependent on the growth of plant and animal life—thus its function is intact. Yet the shape and direction of its energies will appear differently to me than to a Mesolithic tribesman hunting and gathering on the Baltic sea coast. How could it not? At the same time, it’s key imagery remains intact, despite the unique weave of my own imaginal capacities.

We live in a world of reification and clear delineation where mystery is feared and abjured as a relic of the age of superstition. Yet, paradoxically, it is Mystery that nourishes our souls and drives our connection with the larger world. The Powers are the heart of Mystery and the very essence of our connection to the Sacred.

To take this a step further, the archetypes may fold into one another, overlapping (again depending on time and place) supporting and shifting as they mediate their particular key imagery, role and function. As two groups separated by geography (and perhaps lifestyle) come into contact, the Powers bleed together as their roles and mythos suddenly overlap.

“The Lord of the Green”, known by whatever name to Group A is suddenly placed shoulder to shoulder with the “Lord of the Green” known to Group B as the peoples collide and intermingle. “Lord of the Green A” takes on characteristics of the “Lord of the Green B” and vice versa in order to continue to fulfill their purpose (to mediate and give shape to certain energies everpresent in the world).

In time, this Power’s name may (and likely will) change to reflect the newly emerging experience of the people. In one area concerned with hunting, this Power may be associated strongly with death and the underworld. In another area concerned with growing, this Power may be associated strongly with fertility. As they collide, their key imagery merges in the imaginal realm and the result is The Lord of the Green and Black, who, in the colder half of the year guides lost souls to the Underworld and oversees the Sacred Hunt while in the warmer half of the year shows a softer face and is concerned with the fertility of the land and it’s people.

In the modern age, my experience of this Power, filtered through my own imaginal capacity and the unique landscape I inhabit, may differ greatly from how someone across the continent, in a completely different landscape experiences the Lord of the Green. Moreso, the broad “pantheon” sketched out in Sea, Sky, Soil may not entirely match my experience and thus will shift, with some Powers being accentuated, others being absent entirely, and still others merging accordingly. For who is the Maiden of the Woods to a people inhabiting a desert region?

This is the might of what Waincraft offers. A completely flexible, bioregionally specific manner for modern Europeans and Euro-Americans to connect with the deep, imaginal spirituality of their ancestors without appropriating from other cultures or crafting anew from whole cloth (ala the New Age). And while this particular essay has been “god” focused, the same goes for the other aspects of divinity embedded in the Waincraft model—from the Powers, to the Fair Folk to the Ancestral Dead and the Wights of the Land (individual entities of place). All simply await engagement.

~Bryan Russellson