The Archetypal Message is
"Get Into Your Body"
Avatar: The Archetypal Message Is “Get Back In Your Body!”
There’s been so much written about Avatar since its release last month that hits the target but misses the bulls-eye. Right wing conservatives fear it is a call to eco-terrorism, the Vatican is afraid that it calls for a return to Paganism and Nature worship, minority writers see it as another example of white supremacy. Certainly many see it as anti-corporate and anti-military, and even more people see it as a call to defend the environment. So many perspectives and all right – in their own way.
This is what good stories do! They make us think; they bring up emotions; they touch on our beliefs. So even without the Golden Globe to tell us this was the best story going this year, we all know that it is, because Avatar has affected hundreds of millions of people around the world. It has become one of our new collective myths.
Avatar’s appeal is not just visual, it is visceral. Like the ancient myths, it gives form to new archetypal energies, new ways to see ourselves as a people. Woe to the corporations, because it speaks to people’s hearts – and makes us think about our lives and about our world. How it speaks to us and what we hear is filtered through what we believe and the emotions those beliefs bring up for us. This is what a good story does – makes us think about what we’re feeling and valuing and hopefully teaching us to see a bigger picture.
So I’d like to take you on a Jungian exploration of the film so you can see the archetypal depth of meaning there, and know why so many people are drawn to the story.
Carl Jung’s work with fairy tales indicates that they are the bare bones of archetypal stories, and symbolic of an archetype’s energies and purpose. Archetypes are known through their symbols and the stories those symbols create - such as myths, and later when Christianity banned the old myths, the fairy tales they became, passed on through the generations, stories about how to deal with life.
The beginning of a fairy tale always sets up the initial situation in life: A king and queen long for a child indicates that the collective culture (the king and queen) cannot produce new life. Without new life and energy, a culture dies. The beginning of the story tells us where the problem or the wound is.
At the beginning of Avatar, we hear and see Jake, our wounded hero. His scientist twin brother has died and he is enticed to take his place on Pandora to make enough money to get his legs working. As he watches his brother’s body incinerate, he thinks: He was the brains and now he’s gone. Jake wonders if he’ll be able to finish his brother’s work, since Jake is the brawn of the pair. Jake was a Marine who sees himself as a grunt doing what needs doing, and now he is left with only his wounded body. He is paralyzed, and has no standpoint.
So the situation in the kingdom is that there is a wound to our warrior nature, a wound that affects our standpoint. When I say warrior nature, I mean not only our soldiers, but the warrior within each of us that is willing to fight for what we believe in. When we lose our belief in the system, we are wounded. We have no real standpoint because we are paralyzed. What can I believe in? The not-knowing keeps us paralyzed. So the story starts off right away with the questions, what do you believe in and what are you willing to fight for?
Using military personnel to symbolize this state of being is (1) true to life, since private companies like Blackwater came on the scene, and (2) symbolic of what happens to warrior energy when it has nothing to believe in anymore – it works for money, it gets cruel, and in the end, it operates out of fear. The Colonial is a character whose outlook on the job is based in fear, which comes out as violent aggression. He is afraid of the Na’vi because they’re better warriors than he is. And so he retreats to ‘pumping iron” and encasing himself in a metal monster to fight. FEAR rules him. He is not a warrior, but a coward.
This is the shadow that Jake has to face, because he too lives in fear – that he’ll never walk again. The need to heal his body is what keeps his hopes alive as Jake begins to inhabit his avatar. This is the second wound in the story – the wound to the body itself. Jake needs to become ‘embodied’ again – he wants his legs back. When he gets those legs in his avatar body, he remembers his old skills and opens himself to learning new things.
This is the biggest issue we all face in our culture. We need to get back into our bodies. People in the West are 'dis-embodied'. We all live in our heads - otherwise, how could we stand the ugliness and pollution and continuing rape of our natural world? And so our bodies suffer with disease and from eating disorders. How have we come so far away from the body knowledge that is our heritage? How could we come to the point where we actually destroy our environment in our pursuit of wealth and power? Who wants to live in a dead world? Not me!
The freedom and joy of the body moving, leaping, daring is a major component of this story, just as Pandora’s beauty complements the body’s freedom. The corporate people live in metal boxes, without beauty or free movement – the walking which was such a big part of the game of golf is reduced to putting in the office.
The Na’vi live in their bodies. That means they use their bodies to live, and not just to carry around a brain! And it doesn’t mean they go work out at a gym and think they live in their bodies. They move through their day, depending on their body’s wisdom, strength and curiosity. Many people long for the ability to have those Na’vi hair endings that can unit them to magical horses and amazing dragons. If people spent most of their time out in nature, they would develop a similar organ of perception that unites them to nature. We can feel at one with nature if we choose to really go out into it and live there. Our culture has cut us off from the natural cycles of Life – one reason we allow Nature’s destruction. If we were conscious of our body’s responses to life, we wouldn’t allow corporations to poison our air, water, food, and bodies in pursuit of wealth. That’s not a good enough reason to kill our planet and all of us.
And yet, we do nothing, because our warrior nature is also wounded. Let’s look at Jake as he learns from Netiri how to become a member of the People. He’s courageous, daring, strong, inquisitive and persistent, playful, foolish and fearless, willing to take risks and willing to learn. All good warrior traits, and completely opposite the Colonial’s attitudes of fear, control, and manipulation. What’s our attitude toward life? Will we succumb to fear because of the economy or can we become courageous, daring, inquisitive and playful? Can we take a leap of faith in ourselves? That’s the question!
The Divine Feminine
Once we return to our bodies, we reconnect with the Divine Feminine spirit of Life. Eywa is the spiritual energy of Pandora, an energy that pervades the landscape and beings of Pandora. As a matter of fact, it is the Eywa who announces that Jake is important to Pandora. How do we know that it wasn’t this Spiritual energy of Life who substituted Jake for his scientist twin, knowing, because all of life is connected not just the life on Pandora, that it was this particular Being, rather than the scientific ‘brain’ that was needed to save Pandora.
Why would Spirit go outside Pandora for a new hero? Is it because white men, even the damaged ones, are superior to everyone else? I think not. Psychologically, Spirit brought Jake to Pandora because new knowledge has to be integrated into the Na’vi collective psyches if they want to get rid of the Sky People. It is not about a white guy knowing more than the natives, but about the integration between two different types of consciousness that takes everyone to a higher level of awareness.
Spirit operates in our lives, whether we know it or not. Spirit does not take away our free will, but rather opens us to the possibilities available to us in life. It is this deep connection to the Divine Feminine that heals Jake and opens him up to his ‘kingship’, just as a connection to the Divine Feminine can heal our ‘wounded’ body and Earth and restore us to a more balanced understanding of life.
I love Neytiri! She’s a perfect expression of how a woman lives the deep power of the Divine Feminine, grounded in her body, open to her intuition, in tune with her instincts. I love her fierceness, and I have promised myself that when my grown sons act up, I WILL say to them with a hiss: You are such a child!
It is Neytiri’s fierceness that is called for now in our world, and like her strength and loyalty which open Jake up to his feelings, women need to stand in their fierce beauty and challenge men to open to the power of the Feminine. (Remember, the soul is feminine.) Clarrissa Pinkola Estes wrote about this kind of feminine fierceness in her book, "Women Who Run With the Wolves". Neytiri is one of the best cinematic female characters since Veronica Franco in "Dangerous Beauty". It is this kind of female strength that attracts and helps birth the king archetype in men.
Because between the three women in the story, Jake does grow up and take responsibility for the part he plays in the destruction of the Home Tree which symbolizes the World Tree – the Tree of Life. We too have to grow up and to acknowledge our part in the destruction of life – our home - if we’re ever going to step up and do something about it.
And it isn’t only about acknowledging that corporations don’t have our collective interests at heart. It’s about looking at the underlying belief of
our patriarchal culture which says that there is a Father God who lives in the heavens and who has no Feminine counterpart. This belief allows us to think the material world is 'dead matter' instead of the feminine aspect of the Divine – the Divine ability to Incarnate in material life. This belief in only the power of the Masculine Spirit has cut us off from Feminine Spirit, which comes through our bodies and souls and gives us a truthful 'standpoint' about life. When we get 'embodied' again, we regain our connection to the Feminine Spirit of Life and to our connection with Spirit in an intimate way. That’s how we grow into conscious human beings.
Our hero gets a chance to be an Avatar, which means an incarnation of a god or spiritual essence. We could all take this lesson to heart and remember that each of us contains a part of Spirit, and it is our spiritual destiny to integrate our body and Spirit, which we do through connection to our soul.
Our hero, in connecting to his avatar body and to Pandora, learns the truth of the Celtic belief that the good king is wed to the Land to protect its health. (The Lion King has this story plot: once the evil Scar kills the rightful king, the land dies. We get the Wasteland.)
Avatar is the myth of the return of the King. This is another urgent demand of our times - we need men to take up their 'kingship' again and protect life, not create death in the service of the economy. The inner king has returned in many women, but we also need the feeling, intuitive queen to ground our energies. We need both men and women working as partners to use their energy and talent to reclaim our world before we destroy ourselves.
Avatar creates a holistic experience that touches our hearts, which is where we discover the truths of life. That's why people love it. Because it's realer than the mindless, soulless reality our modern corporate culture would have us live in.
We know something is hitting the mark because people are longing for the kind of beauty that fills Avatar. Sadly, one of the outcomes of this longing is that people are getting depressed because they can’t live on Pandora. Unfortunately, this is because we do not understand how the imagination works. As children we did, and we could work magic! But as our imaginations were put to sleep by our education, we lost the ability to step into a story and make it our own.
Now that we are older and hopefully conscious, we can re-learn to honor the Imagination and listen to its voice. It will tell you: ask for beauty, truth, honor, body awareness in your life and then create it by invoke Spirit whenever you do anything and your life will take on meaning. Learn to listen to your body, not just get in shape. Unite with like-minded people through ritual and learn to understand the signs Spirit sends you. When appropriate, let your fierceness make the point; take the leap, love someone who knows themselves, dare to risk death for the love of both your land and your people. If you want to live on Pandora, find the Pandora in your world, and defend it.
The visuals in Avatar are so breathtaking they open our imaginations and hearts to the message of the story. The wounded Soldier, who has faced death and accepted it, now goes on to a new life. Avatar is about change, about ‘death and rebirth’, about awakening to a new vision of life. Jake is called to become a mythic person, taming the King Dragon to claim his power. We are all being called upon to become mythic people again, so claim your souls and fly free!
Cathy Pagano is a Jungian therapist, astrologer and storyteller. She occasionally writes movie reviews when the stories touch on the mythic, archetypal dimensions of life. See some of her reviews at; www.starofthebards.com/moviescopywrite 2010 Cathy Lynn Pagano, All Rights Reserved