The Archetype of the King/Queen/Ruler

In some ways the archetypal symbol of the king is not unlike that of the hero/ine and father. The difference is that the king is an established and acknowledged authority figure, whereas the hero is trying to deal with difficulties and meet strange fates and changes, and the father usually has a more personal connection. The king therefore represent control, or aspects of control such as taking control, relinquishing control; re-establishing control; recognising loss of control, and so on.

The king is one of the most powerful symbols of fatherhood, which in its widest sense means the source that gave rise to us – as with the concept of God. But there is also a power aspect to the father, which often gives rise to dreams about fighting with, being unloved by, or killing or disempowering the father in some manner.

In some myths the king is sick and dying, and this theme occasionally appears in our dreams. Whether we prefer to relate this to our father, to the image of the Self, or to God, the theme still suggests that what had governed ones life, what had directed feeling responses and decisions, is now losing power, perhaps dying/disappearing from ones life altogether. Therefore it denotes changes. It shows the person taking a difficult step in maturity – that of taking more responsibility, accepting more liability for creating their life.

King Solomon is a figure depicting the positive side of the king archetype. In this phase the king is an image through which we contact those immense resources of certainty, of being loved and loving, of being sure about what we should do in life, and of having powerful rights to social action and the worlds resources. Of course, at certain stages of our life, this would be stultifying. Most of this still relates directly to two things – our relationship with our father, and with the overall circumstances of our life – how Life or God is treating us. In other words, how we relate to the events and circumstances of our life.

The archetype of the king or ruler has developed out of thousands of years of social interaction between rulers and subjects throughout the world. To explain this social side of the archetype I include the following description of how identity of a group and of individuals, is deeply connected with a leader figure such as king, queen or Pope.

The attitudes toward leader figures and royalty seen in modern individuals appears to have developed out of the way humans originally related to each other in small groups. This was added to and refined when humans began to live in larger social gatherings. In both circumstances virtually all early human groups looked to leader figures for guidance and protection.

One of the greatest factors influencing this relationship between a group, the individuals in it and a leader is that of identity, both of the individual, and of the group.

In a small group, such as the hunter gatherer groups which preceded the larger tribal or national groups, we see that the identity of the individual was largely formed out of the relationships with members of the group, and from their collective beliefs and customs. This was and is very evident with tribal peoples – the history of tribal Africa and the Jewish people gives graphic illustrations of this. Thus the ‘identity’ of the Jewish people is still very much alive today, forming obvious links with people otherwise separated by nationality and national culture. The religious beliefs and customs of such a group form a major part of this personal and group identity.

The identity, and the way of life connected with the identity, appear to be quite vulnerable, and when threatened, bring about as much reaction from the members of a tribe or nation as one sees when something like an invading bacteria threatens the integrity of the body. In both cases there is massive defence and counter-attack, especially where the apparent attacker has different religious or cultural beliefs. In the body the bacteria or virus are attacked and where possible destroyed. In early communities this was exactly the way the tribe or nation defended against invasion by a foreign culture or group.

In larger social gatherings, even within one tribal or national group, the individual may at times lose a sense of direct relationship with all the members making up the town or nation. There may at times arise a sense of being ‘lost’. I mean by this that the individual loses their direct perception of kin relationships within the group; of how they are an integral and useful or respected member of the group; and of any shared bonding experience within the group. A ‘face known to all’ such as a king or queen – a person given respect by all – can act as a means of representing the whole community to the individual. Through this connection the individual has a psychological or even mystical participation with the whole group or culture. Social rituals in which every member of the community could take part were of special help in bonding the individual with the group. In our own times in the West this is so lacking that enormous division and schisms occur in our communities, leading to conflicts and destruction.

Apart from the leadership skills of an authority figure such as a king or queen, it is in this area of being a point of recognition, a beacon, a face common to all, that royalty had and have a powerful role. The politician and film-star do not fulfil the same role.

An example of this from history clarifies what is meant. It was at one time common for people of strength to be asked to swear allegiance to the ruler. In this situation, if I, as one of the countless members of the social group making up the nation, witness such a ‘swearing in’, and if I feel myself identified with the nation, then I feel the person who has given allegiance to the ruler, has also sworn to support my own interests. This is because of my unconscious identification with the group/tribe/nation. If however, I see someone who shams their allegiance, or refuses it, then through my identification I feel such a person is at odds with me. I can therefore suspect them of the possibility of working against my personal needs, and against the social environment which is my domain.

There is a hidden aspect of this which I feel may often have been misunderstood. It was the statement that the ruler stood as God among the people. When one understands the importance of identity, of integrity and how the king or queen represents the collective tribe or nation, this point is no longer mysterious.

For instance, as a British subject, it is impossible for me to hold in mind all the members of my ‘tribe’. I cannot even get any clear view of what activities throughout the world all my tribal kin are doing. This may seem unimportant, but there are deeply practical issues which make it of great power in an individual’s life. But with a little thought these can be clearly seen.

To start with, the things that are a needed part of my life and work, such as my home, transport to work, the telephone and power to heat workplace and house, are not produced by any one individual. It is only out of our COLLECTIVE EFFORT, our unified endeavour, that such wonders as a house, a town, electricity, are forthcoming. This miracle of creativity cannot arise out of any one person’s life or work. We are immersed in this miracle, yet we cannot put our hand on it at any time. It is something that is not physical except in manifestation. Yet it is perhaps the most important issue confronting us. To lose sight of it, to lose it as a working part of our own life, is to lose sight of reality and our best interests.

So humans need a symbol of this collective spirit, this miracle of collective effort. A monarch is such a symbol. The king or queen fulfil such a role. They remind us of something of utmost importance. They remind us of our collective power, our ability to create and survive through cooperation. A politician doesn’t do this because they are fighting for and representing only a polarity of public interest. A film star doesn’t do this because they are depicting an individual within society, with the possible wonders, threats, struggles and triumphs of that.

Another factor is that the individual within the group, does not in fact have existence unless given identity by the members of that group. This is evident in very ordinary ways, but also in the most profoundest of ways. In 1994 I moved to Australia. I lived there a year. It was a very difficult period. The reason being that in the UK I was known, my family lived there, I had work contacts. In Australia I was an unknown. I didn’t arrive with a fanfare. My family did not live there. The result was my self esteem dropped immensely, along with sense of hope and the possibility of work. I also lacked the support of friends and family.

At the profoundest level, research has shown that babies reared outside of human contact – such as those lost and reared by animals, or such children as Helen Keller who was deaf and blind – do not develop self awareness and a human identity. This suggests we are given identity by our kin and countrymen, in particular by the teaching of language. In fact my research suggests that our very mind is barely our own, but is constructed largely out of ready made pieces of family and national culture and attitudes, and from the concepts integral to the language we are taught. We add tones and ‘furniture’ and call it our personality. But language, ancestral influences, family contact, personal experiences; national culture, are the building blocks from which our being is formed.

Therefore we have a very profound link with our language, culture and nation of birth. Although we may not admit this consciously, it is known in our depths. The ruler is a symbol of this collective humanity of which we are a part, and out of which we have arisen. This collective culture is, like the collective and cooperative effort already spoken of, a very difficult thing to hold in our hand. Once again though, it is of greatest importance to our own existence. This collective spirit which, in a very real sense, has created us, doesn’t have an external form. It is though, as suggested, sensed by us, even if as an individual we do not have great intellectual perception. So although there are other meanings for the word, we often give the name ‘God’ to this powerful influence in our life. The action of the millions of people who make up our ‘tribe’ is, after all, incredible potent and formative in our life. The influence of this action is both mysterious and profound. Therefore the national religion is, in this sense, a synthesise of the development and wisdom of this collective spirit or action. The church as an establishment, represents the spirit, the culture and the history of this strange wonder from which the individual arose. Therefore, on state occasions, the church needs to be represented along with the reigning monarch. But it is the reigning monarch who represents both the culture, history and spirit of the people, and their collective effort in the present.

The reigning monarch is therefore God to the people in that he or she is the physical manifestation or symbol of both the creative spirit out of which each individual was given existence, and also their collective creative power today.

Present Day Problems For Royalty

Early tribal groups, such as the Jews, fought for their identity by externally, or internally, killing out whatever threatened their beliefs or customs. Modern warfare still seems to be based on the same drive – the fight to maintain ones identity or existence as an individual and group.

Various changes in the world have battered at the traditional way individuals and groups maintain their integrity. This is well and good. If thought of in terms of a computer program, the traditional social program in which a person swore allegiance to a religion and monarch worked well in the past. But its success rested upon fighting, as our body fights, aliens entering it – by killing them. Thus nation fought against nation, religion against religion. It would be chaos to run this program in today’s world. Those nations running this program in its old form are still in bloody conflict. Obviously there are other factors than identity involved, but this is still a major force.

Of course this social program needs updating. I don’t have any ready made formulas to do this. I believe as a species we are in process of experimenting and developing this new ‘program’ or programs. Even so certain things are fairly obvious. With the breakdown of old forms from of which we gained identity, massive personal uncertainty and feelings of social alienation have developed. I believe the huge modern development of such competitive sports as football or baseball are one of the ways some people deal with the loss of their tribal or national identity. They erect a ‘virtual’ tribe which they join, enabling them to feel a form of identification. The fighting that breaks out is in line with the old program. Immigrants also bring other cultural forces into the nation which are difficult to integrate.

Nevertheless the old needs still remain :-

1 Collective effort still needs to have a symbol to remind us of its mystery and power. This in particular can forge a link between the various cultures within the one nation.

2 We still need a sense of kinship, or recognition within the community, and a meaningful role within it.

3 We still need meaningful shared activity within which we can find bonding. That millions of people watch a TV soap at the same time is not bonding in the same way that gathering and celebrating a harvest together was bonding to older communities.

4 Individuals still need a meaningful way of linking with the spirit of their culture and history. For these are the very womb of their personality, the mother and father of their identity.

I believe there are forces at work which are binding people’s identity in ways that are difficult to predict the results of. The Olympics and international sport have awoken the commercial interest in the possibility of grasping the attention of a vast and world-wide audience. The move toward cable and satellite television opens the way for such commercial interests to grasp not only attention, but also give a form of identification. As can be seen from the guru phenomenon, wherever people place their identity, there also flows their work energy and cash.

I believe that a form of super-augmented hero figures are being developed by the large corporations – figures who will have enormous power to sway peoples interest and allegiance and take the place of monarchs. Not only are these figures being presented as having a god-like life, living standard and power, but the public are also led to believe they can share this life, perhaps through a contest or winnings such as a lottery.

In contrast to this, I believe people still need a realistic hope to motivate them. They need a sense of contributing to the society which gave them existence and a realistic and satisfying reward for their part in collective cooperation – living on social security breeds a sort of half life. They need to be recognised for something of worth in their activities toward other human beings. They need moments during which they feel a part of something greater than their own limited self. And they need symbols of the wider life and culture of which they are an integral part.


-FairyTaleLover 2012-03-01 20:15:42

Very interesting reading, although a little too demanding for my present knowledge on psychology.

I was trying to find some support for my theory about kings in fairy tales. See, I think we should note two important things about their figures.

They represent authority, power and control, but usually story begins when they start loosing those attributes. King can be sick, as you wrote, or some higher power do something out of his control (think about Sleeping Beauty or Golden Apples) or…

The point of fairy tales is, as I believe, to explain how power is not something you should take for granted. You can gain it (heroes of fairy tales) or you can loose it (most of kings).
Kings are, as I think, there to show this process of transition in plastic, easy understandable way…

In fairy tales everything is possible!

By the way, I am glad to find this side. Maybe I will learn some psychology after all:)

Cheers from Ljubljana, Slovenia

    -Tony Crisp 2012-03-02 14:12:15

    FairyTaleLover – It is good to meet you. And thank you for the link to you site that I think many people will find interesting –

    But I am not a psychologist, simply an old a man who has followed his dreams, and was educated by them. For instance, although I write of archetypes, my main theme is looking at what dreams say about symbols and life. And they are often very different to folklore, and each has its place in our life. But something we forget is the wonderful story that Genesis tells, and the enormous depths once we get past the simply story we have been presented with.

    But the king in dreams isn’t too well represented in the Archetype of the King/Queen. Much better in the following examples under King in the dictionary.

    Here is king used in a different way: My wife had screamed due to some trouble with her period. She was pregnant. The troubles she was having were the traditional signs that she was pregnant and bearing a King Child. I felt that the whole pregnancy would be difficult due to these signs of kingship, but the delivery would be easier. I didn’t feel too pleased about her having a baby, but soon adjusted to the idea.

    The woman was in fact having a baby, but it was not diagnosed at that time. The baby turned out to be an unusual child, and could walk at 5 months, and at school outstripped all his peers intellectually.

    I was being presented to a Persian king in the grounds of his palace. As we talked a group of happy, laughing young girls came into the garden, followed by a rather sad looking middle aged woman who I thought must be the king’s chief wife. This woman was obviously in charge of the harem and was sad, I felt, because the king no longer wanted her sexually and had relegated her to the role of household organiser. One of the girls came to Sally and said, ‘Don’t you recognise me? We were together in a previous incarnation ‘.

    I realised the king represented my husband, and I was the chief wife. In the early years of our marriage we had been joyously sexual, but this has faded in recent years, and we have grown apart sexually. But I felt he was too inhibited to have affairs with other women, as the dream suggested. The past life I see as referring to the early years of our marriage. Some months after the dream however, my husband brought home a young girl from work – in the film industry – and said she needed temporary accommodation. There followed a long series of affairs with different girls, while I cooked, cleaned and looked after them all. From Dream Power by Dr Ann Faraday.

    As you can see, king can mean all sorts of things depending on the dreamer and their circumstances.

    If you felt like writing something on fairy stories that could connect with this site I would be very grateful.


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