Archetype of Crucifixion

Self sacrifice is the fundamental influence in this archetype. It has been formed by countless people giving of their life, either in death or in long lives of self giving, such as mothers give to their children, or so many give in war or a life of service, that it has created a huge behavioural pattern in the unconscious of humanity. Therefore the symbol is not referring only to Christianity, it is an image that expresses a fundamental aspect of life itself. Many processes in nature are confronted by death, or the need for self giving, in creating the new, or giving life to another. A mother gives of her body and sometimes dies in the process of giving birth. In reproduction many animals die. The sun is dying as it pours out its energy, thus enabling life on earth.

In the Roman Catholic faith the symbol also represents something other  than the presented one that Christ gave his life to redeem humanity. It is an image of the social organisation that Roman Catholicism was, and still is in some countries; namely an image of the sacrifice each individual makes of their identity as they submerge their personal needs in that of the community. To quote Ron, mentioned in my book Eye of Dreams:

I saw the church and its ministers as representing the power that causes a nation or group to become like an anthill, or like a group of animals such as the mole-rats,[i] to act as one organism. The individuals have to submerge their will and personal needs for the needs of the group. This was represented by Christ on the cross – the pain of sacrificing ones life for the community. This insight was deepened by seeing that all the functions of the individual were taken on by the church and state. For instance, to act as a single organism – the body of Christ – the worker cells would not function like brain cells. That is, they would not make decisions or decide policies. This was taken over by a special group of men acting as special cells – rather like in a termite’s nest where some termites are workers, some soldiers. They are specially reared and chemically stimulated to fulfil these roles. Worker bees are fed differently to the queen for instance. Thus in the group organism of human society there are different castes or levels of function. The means of stopping workers from taking independent decisions was by the use of force, threats, fear, murder – religious or social persecution or subjugation.

Looked at in this light religion was a very functional process that induced and enforced the life of the social organism. It acted as a self regulatory or healing function in the ‘body’ of the people also. It encouraged individuals to lose themselves in the good of the whole – to give their lives to it. The overall person – the collective person – was represented by Christ. Christ also represented the life of the individual as he or she connected with the mass of other ‘cells’. It also of course enabled many to hold on to power and wealth.

The sort of self sacrifice that Ron describes is one we all face in society. None of us are whole, because the functions of deciding major aspects of our life, what we will do with our resources, are undertaken by the state – in other words by a hierarchy of individuals – and we lose our autonomy, and are thus ‘crucified’ for the needs or redemption of others.

But dreams show other aspects of the crucifixion archetype, as with the following.

Somehow I knew we were all actors performing a show or drama. It was the crucifixion, and I was to be crucified. Yet at the same time I was simply watching it, and was someone else as well. But instead of being put on a cross, a figure on a slightly higher curve of the battlement, who was also me, carefully aimed an arrow at the sacrificial me. The bowman me was like an Eros figure, and the arrow a dart of love. It was fired and hit me in the heart. Yet in some way it never pierced me, as it had a rubber sucker on the end. Nevertheless the show was over. We all dispersed. With others I walked down a street with two friends, Bill and Ray, maybe as one person. He showed me a poem he had written about his son, or a heart shaped thing.

Here, crucifixion is linked with love, and of course deep love is a way of giving yourself or dying to another person. Such a death, one arising from self-giving, is shown in the symbolism of crucifixion as opening the door to sharing a wider life. In the death or willing sacrifice of ones ego there can enter awareness of how this links you with universal life. You experience how life itself is continually sacrificing itself. But there is no real pain as birth follows death, and both are part of a huge cycle.

The symbolism of the nails in the hands and feet depict how our personal awareness, and the divine at our core, are nailed to physical life, and through being willing to work at the common tasks necessity demands, we experience the falling away of personal desires. The nail holes in the feet are the willingness to accept everyday life and earthbound consciousness, instead of struggling to rise above common humanity. The binding clothes are the restrictions of sensual consciousness as it falls away.

Remember, this is just one archetypical behaviour that has been etched into the human racial memories, so there is no suggestion of what is right or wrong here.

Yet another facet of crucifixion lies in our vulnerability as human beings. Our personal awareness is at the centre of all it is touched or impacted by. Here is the agony of personal crucifixion being met by one individual on their journey through the darkness of our times.

I had been talking with my wife about where and how do we find purpose, real manhood and womanhood in today’s world. We talked about past cultures, primitive peoples, and how many of them had the dignity and shining quality of manhood and womanhood.

I felt the situation wasn’t a simple one though, and did not necessarily mean we had to learn from the primitive. Because when the primitives, such as the Kalahari Bushmen, were stripped of their myths and fantasies, they became smashed beings who lost their purpose, their quality, their manhood, their soul. Many of such primitives became alcoholics or lost people. And aren’t modern men and women primitives who have been shorn of their ancient fantasies, religions, ways of life, territory, securities, and beliefs? But on feeling this I knew we cannot go back. We must go forward to survival with some wholeness.

What came out of this as I explored inwardly was a reply to these questions. That is, there is no way of life, whether as ancient peoples, modern human beings, hunters, intellectuals, business person, social success or failure, that will in itself give us purpose or meaning or wholeness. There is no answer to our problem in that direction. No religion, no practice or philosophy will give us that assurance and quality the primitive had by being protected by their deep involvement in their religion and traditional way of life.

The answer as I saw it is to go through the agony of completing the job that has been started. If we are primitives who are smashed because we have lost most of our fantasies that protected as from the reality, awfulness and wonder of our situation, then we must complete the process and let the rest of our fantasies fall away until we cut through to the wonder, so we can really look at reality. We must come to terms with our situation. That is the maturity and quality of manhood and womanhood today. After meltdown it is only what is left that has any survival value.

As this was happening I realised that is the meaning of Jesus’ cry – Father, father, why have you forsaken me? It’s because at the moment of aloneness when we realise there is no external being to save us, there is no longer anything but what we are, then we are stripped of all fantasy and external aids.

That is the atmosphere many of us are in at this moment. Our beliefs in anything except the physical have been stripped away. What has been put in their place are statements told as truths that there is no mystery to human life except it be chemical or hormonal. There is no reality except death. In a recent copy of the magazine New Scientist there is a reader’s letter in response to a previous statement about there being no evidence for life beyond the death of the body. It says:

I contest your statement that the “so-called ‘Lazarus phenomenon’ has never been documented in brain-dead patients” (5 August, p 6). If a flat electroencephalogram is taken as an indication of brain death, then there are documented cases. An article in December 2001 in The Lancet (vol 358, p 2039) refers to the case of a young woman ‘who had complications during brain surgery for a cerebral aneurysm. The EEG of her cortex and brainstem had become totally flat. After the operation, which was eventually successful, this patient proved to have had a very deep NDE [near death experience]’. This included an out-of-body experience, during which she observed things that happened during the period of the flat EEG and that were subsequently verified. (From issue 2567 of New Scientist magazine, 02 September 2006, page 18)

Although such evidence exists for a reality other than our existence only as chemicals and hormones, bones and muscles, our culture largely denies it. This denial is another form of crucifixion of your personal potential and the reality in which you exist. This is a description of it as met by someone being torn by this social denial:

Crucifixion is being buffeted, torn by all the fears, angers, hates, prejudices human beings are heir to. There’s no creator we are told by our pundits. We are only maggots. There is no life after death. Crucifixion is the meeting of the fears and darkness this leads to. It is to meet the death of all that ones inner life cries out for. It is the courage to meet the awful emptiness of being assured we are a meaningless lump of flesh and bones.

As I went through this it really did feel as if I had at last understood the meaning of that cry for father from the cross, and the taunts of the mob. The mob are all our own inbuilt doubts, fears, angst, cynicism that lash out at our life process. Our fears have to hit us to test the strength and validity of our existence. Also the fears we breed in us need to test that essence in us that shines out the sense of a wider and significant life; so they shout, “Crucified him. Crucify him!” They need an actual experience of testing and death to discover what the truth is; what lies beyond. And the cry from the cross is the meeting with the reality of that human condition. We are not divine. There is no father to help us. We are alone. Death confronts us. We reach rock bottom. We fully accept our humanity. Then comes death and all falls away except that Reality innate in all things.

All those feelings and stages are implicit in the archetype of crucifixion. So many men and women have trod this path of being ready to walk directly into the darkness of personal death, because life as it is painted by the extant philosophy and religion have taken away all personal connection with the underlying reality of life in them. Life is a spirit that never takes form yet is in all form. It is forever dancing absorbing experience, and only if we let drop all the things we hold onto as security can we know it as it dances. When we touch that power and it leads us to crucifixion, then we are led into an initiation in which we meet all our illusions and fears and come face to face with death. And that exposure to conscious death is a doorway to new life.

Useful Questions and Hints:

I have met many difficult life circumstance, but have I allowed myself to surrender to their impact to find what lies behind such fears and pains?

If crucifixion is the dropping of everything, have I let go of my beliefs and prejudices as well as my pains?

Have I experienced such a death and rebirth in my life, and if have, what died in myself and what was added?

See LifeStream.

[i] This refers to a species of mole that live a communal life with only one fertile female. The others are dominated via a chemical substance in the dominant female’s urine. This makes them infertile workers, actually producing physical change.


-Grace 2013-02-27 9:45:55

Hello Tony,
I read your article with interest and gained some insight from it. I had a deep experience of inner crucifixion when I was about 40 years old which changed my life. Woud you be interestd in hearing about the experience. I am now 59 years old.

-Matt 2012-09-26 10:23:14

Thank you this helped a lot. Namaste

-Bob D 2011-09-08 22:22:31

This article rings true to mr feelings. I have always had a deep metaphysical emotion that a crucifixion was part of one of my prior lives and at some point I will again have such an experience.

    -Tony Crisp 2011-10-08 10:50:43

    Bob – Thanks.

    I would like to hear what your crucifixion was like.


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