Systems of Archetypes

A variety of “systems of archetypes” exist. A system of archetypes is a way of studying patterns present in existence. These patterns are not simple and quantifiable patterns, like those studied by the field of mathematics, but much vaguer and more loosely defined patterns. They are patterns which are manifested by the universe only when it reaches the level of complexity of intelligent entities.

The study of archetypes is therefore an intuitive, imaginative study encompassing the domains of inquiry of such fields as psychology, sociology, anthropology, and theology. Furthermore, the material for study is furnished by one’s own life and knowledge. It is therefore not necessary to gather a great deal of new knowledge to study archetypes; rather, it is a matter of understanding, organizing, and to a certain extent unveiling knowledge that one already has.

A system of archetypes studies the patterns present in human life by organizing them into some fixed number of “archetypes” or categories. Each system of archetypes is said to have been communicated by higher spiritual intelligences, and therefore each is allegedly based on much greater knowledge than our own. The task in working with a system of archetypes is one of taking this fixed, small set of concepts, understanding them ever more deeply on an intuitive level, and integrating all of one’s knowledge and experience into the system insofar as this is possible.

According to Ra, there are three main systems of archetypes:

“It is appropriate to study one form of constructed and organized distortion of the archetypical mind in depth in order to arrive at the position of being able to become and to experience archetypes at will. You have three basic choices. You may choose astrology, the twelve signs, as you call these portions of your planet’s energy web, and what has been called the ten planets. You may choose the tarot with its twenty-two so-called Major Arcana. You may choose the study of the so-called Tree of Life with its ten Sephiroth and the twenty-two relationships between the stations.”

Elsewhere in the Ra material, Ra gives information on the Tarot.

The same claim is made by Gurdjieff in P.D. Ouspensky’s “In Search of the Miraculous,” where Gurdjieff identifies four main lines of esoteric thought: the Hindu, the Egyptian, the Persian, and the Hebraic. Furthermore, he says that for three of these — the Egyptian, the Persian, and the Hebraic — we have parts of their theory. These are presumably the Tarot trumps (the Egyptian), the astrological signs (the Persian), and the Tree of Life (the Hebraic).

Neither of these sources mentions the I Ching, though it is clear that the I Ching is a system of archetypes. Gurdjieff also presents his own system of archetypes in “In Search of the Miraculous.”

Aleister Crowley recommended the study of archetypes using the Qabalah in many of his writings (example).

Since all of these systems of archetypes are describing the same thing, it follows that we ought to be able to map from any one to any other. I have long puzzled over this question of how the systems of archetypes correspond, and I currently believe that they can be correlated with each other best by placing the archetypes of each on a circle. Two archetypes which are placed at approximately the same points then mean approximately the same things.

I will show how this is accomplished for each of these four systems of archetypes: the Tarot trumps, astrology, the Tree of Life, and the I Ching. (Gurdjieff has already done this for us with his system of archetypes, with the Enneagram.) I begin with the I Ching, as it is the simplest of the four to do this with:

Next will be the astrological signs. Each astrological sign is defined by two attributes: one of the four elements (fire, air, water, or earth), and one of the three qualities (cardinal, fixed, mutable). The following table shows the correspondences:

Cardinal Fixed Mutable
Fire Aries Leo Sagittarius
Air Libra Aquarius Gemini
Water Cancer Scorpio Pisces
Earth Capricorn Taurus Virgo

To map the astrological signs, two circles are required — one for the four elements, and one for the three qualities:

These two circles can be merged into one sphere. The twelve signs will then exist around the perimeter of this sphere. This, however, is extraordinarily difficult to draw.

A similar strategy is required for the Tarot trumps. Ra claims that the trumps are divided into three groups of seven. The three groups are for Mind, Body, and Spirit. The members of each of the seven groups are given the same names: Matrix, Potentiator, Catalyst, Experience, Significator, Transformation, and Great Way. The following table shows the scheme:

Mind Body Spirit
Matrix I – The Magician VIII – Strength XV – The Devil
Potentiator II – The High Priestess IX – The Hermit XVI – The Tower
Catalyst III – The Empress X – Wheel of Fortune XVII – The Star
Experience IV – The Emperor XI – Justice XVIII – The Moon
Significator V – The Hierophant XII – The Hanged Man XIX – The Sun
Transformation VII – The Lovers XIII – Death XX – Judgment
Great Way VII – The Chariot XIV – Temperance XXI – The World

Thus, under Ra’s scheme, “The Magician” is called “The Matrix of the Mind,” “Death” is called “The Transformation of the Body,” etc.

Also, under Ra’s scheme, “The Fool” stands alone, and is called “The Choice.”

Now, with the foregoing scheme, we can map the Tarot (using, as before, two circles which can be joined to form a sphere):

Finally, here is the Tree of Life:

If the circle is taken as representing existence, we then understand each of the systems of archetypes as a different way of dividing this circle. I imagine that at this point to say anything regarding the meanings of various points on the circle would be more unhelpful than helpful. That information would probably be best obtained by studying one or more of these systems of archetypes.

It is possible on the basis of the foregoing analysis to present a correlation of all of these systems. The following illustration shows how all of the systems’ terms can be correlated to each other to yield a single, unified (and at this stage highly syncretic) system:

This illustration shows how all of the terms of the different systems map onto each other.

Each sephiroth except for those on the middle pillar maps onto one of the I Ching trigrams and onto one of the seven archetypes of the Tarot. Kether and the Great Way map onto the wholly yang and wholly yin trigrams taken together as a unit. These terms are also equivalent to “spirit” from the Tarot and “cardinal” from astrology. “Body” from the Tarot equals “fixed” from astrology, and “mind” from the Tarot equals “mutable” from astrology. Each of the four elements maps onto a pair of trigrams and their corresponding sephiroth and Tarot archetypes. The Choice and Tiphereth are equal.

If the reader finds the foregoing analysis to be valid, then all of the systems under discussion — that is, all of the major systems of archetypes — have been unified into a single system. Furthermore, this system, when simplified somewhat, becomes congruent with with Gurdjieff’s enneagram:

In light of these facts I intend to elaborate upon Gurdjieff’s enneagram in future posts.

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