There was once a young man called Narcissus. His mother, anxious to know her son’s fate, consulted the blind prophet Tiresias. ‘Will he live to old age?’ she demanded.
The boy grew up to be extraordinarily beautiful and was loved by everyone he met. Although he had never seen his own face, he guessed from their reactions that he was beautiful; but he could never be sure, so he depended on others telling him how beautiful he was in order to feel confident and assured. Thus, he became a very self-absorbed young man.Liz Greene and Juliet Sharman Burke (2000)
The Divine Child Archetype
There is somewhat of a mystery in this passage. As was alluded to in the last installment, Narcissus spent his youth in complete shelter. His mother, wishing to assure his destiny, sealed his fate by denying him the capacity to see his own reflection; by denying Narcissus the capacity to know himself, his mother assured that he would grow up in the dark. Unfortunately, he would never understand the man that he was willed to become.
An enigma is present as well. When a parent chooses the path for their son or daughter, the individual will, (freedom) is lacking, and the protagonist becomes enslaved by the antagonistic nature of the storyline predetermined for them by their parents. We can draw parallels between the story of Narcissus and the historical accounts of Siddhartha Gautama, who’s father sheltered him from the world in order to assure that he would become the king foretold within the prophesy foretold at the time of his birth. While the Buddha eventually escaped the prison of the palace he was housed within, what we will see in this story is that the protagonist will face death as the ultimate fate of the prison his mother conspired to keep him in at the time of his birth.
What is present in this passage, as well as throughout the story, is a missing masculine presence. As we explored in the last segment, there is no father present within the context of the story. However, what is even more detrimental to the protagonist, is the absence of any masculine character whatsoever. If Freud was right, and the Oedipal energies need to naturally move from the mother towards the father in order for a boy to learn of his true masculine presence, then the absence of the mature masculine sets Narcissus up to never have the capacity to understand his emergent masculine identity. Without love of Self, there can be no love of other. Therefore, the tragedy present within this divine child archetype centers on his inability to reflect upon his true gifts, which he seeks through a reflection from outside sources.
In the case of Narcissus, his fate was sealed by a well intentioned mother and a fool who acted as an initiator to the mature masculine. Like the story of Narcissus, competing themes that would lead to psychological growth and the unfolding of the life cycle were present at the time of the protagonist’s birth. However, they never taught the protagonist to learn to love himself from an introspective perspective.
The lack of a mature masculine mode of feeling is a driving force behind the theme of this story. It’s absence forms the foundation of the subsequent lack of maturity the protagonist undertook to find his true nature.
The Wildman Archetype
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins…Mathew 3:1-6
Many images exist of the Wildman as an initiator of young boys into the secrets of the adult masculine. In the biblical verse above, John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey as food. He wore the goods of the animals that were killed to cover his body. The above passage shows clear indication of the wild and untamed nature of this initiating (baptizing) man. John the Baptist, was wild by nature, and shows us a good example of the Wildman Archetypes role in the initiation journey of young men ready entering adult life.
In the story of Narcissus, Tiresias acts as an initiatory agent. He is the only masculine presence in the story other than Narcissus. However, he shows no inherent capacity to stand up to Narcissus’ mother’s plot to deny her son a rightfully separate identity. Instead, Tiresias assumes a passive role in this story; as an initiating man he is somewhat removed. He lacks the backbone to stand up to the much more powerful feminine energy found within Narcissus’ mother.
Psychologically, it is the role of the Wildman Archetype to initiate the young boy into the adult aspects of the masculine psyche. Here, the perspective of Christianity gives us clear indication of what an initiatory process entails. It is wild, animalistic, filled with food of locusts and honey. Initiation is a cleansing ritual, from a wild source, The River. But in our story, Narcissus does not touch the water, he does not cleanse his soul, and therefore, he is doomed to suffer the course of only seeing his reflection, versus taking part the source of what he finds so beautiful. He fails to realize his utmost potential. He fails to cleanse himself of his worldly attractions as a means to understand the essence of his soul.
The wild man is a divine archetype of profound significance. It drives the force behind all masculine energy. We are all Wild by nature, and the essence of the Wildman is no different.
In the story of Narcissus, there is no Wildman present. He simply does not exist. However, he is present in context of Tiresias. However, this presentation is unfortunately negative, as Tiresias is a psychopomp to move the story of Narcissus and Echo forward to its natural conclusion.
Tiresias never initiated Narcissus. He never brought him hunting, fishing, or even out of the confines of his mother’s home to experience the beauty that nature entails. Instead, Tiresias left Narcissus to his fates. This mirrors the sad fact of so many boys, who in this day and age, either grow up out of choice, or are forced to grow up without loving fathers to teach them the value based systems that make humanity humane.
The lesson is clear. Initiate the youth into a morality and value based system we will be happy to put our names behind… Even after we are dead to this world, its effects will still be felt. I welcome your thoughts.
Greene, L. & Sharman – Burke, J. (2000). The mythic journey: The meaning of myth as a guide for life. New York: Simon and Shuster.