The Art of Archetypes: King


The King energy is primal in all men. It bears the same relationship to the other three mature masculine potentials as the Divine Child does to the other three immature masculine energies. It comes first in importance, and it underlies the rest of the archetypes in perfect balance. The good king is also a good Warrior, a positive Magician, and a great Lover. And yet with most of us, the King comes on line last. We could say that the King is the Divine Child, but season and complex, wise, and in a sense as selfless as the Divine Child is cosmically self-involved. The good King is wise with “the wisdom of Solomon.” 

Whereas the Divine Child, especially in his aspect as the High Chair Tyrant, has infantile pretensions to Godhood, the King archetype comes close to being God in his masculine form within every man. It is the primordial man, the Adam, what the philosophers call the Anthropos in each of us. Hindus call this primal masculinity in men the Atman; Jews and Christians speak of it as the imago dei, the “Image of God.” Freud talked about the King as the “primal father of the primal horde.” And in many ways, the King energy is the Father energy. It is our experience, however, that although the King underlies the Father archetype, it is more extensive and more basic than the Father. 

Historically, kings have always been sacred. As mortal men, however, they have been relatively unimportant. It is the kingship, or the King energy itself, that has been important. We all know the famous cry when a king dies and another is waiting to ascend the throne. “The king is dead; long live the king!” The mortal man who incarnates the King energy or bears it for a while in the service of his fellow human beings, in the service of the realm (or whatever dimensions), in the service of the cosmos, is almost an interchangeable part, a human vehicle for bringing this ordering and generative archetype into the world and into the lives of human beings. 

As Sir James Frazer and who others have observed, kings in the ancient world were often ritually killed when their ability to live out the King archetype began to fail. What was important was that the generative power of the energy not be tied to the fate of an aging and increasingly impotent mortal. With the raising up of the new king, the King energy was re-embodied, and the King as archetype was renewed in the lives of the people of the realm. In fact, the whole world was preserved. 

This pattern – the ritual killing and reviving – is what lies behind the Christian story of the death and resurrection of Christ, the Savior King. The danger for men who become possessed by this energy is that they too will fulfill the ancient pattern and die prematurely. 

In chapter 3, we said that the “death” of the archetypes of boyhood, and especially the Hero, was the birth of the man, that the end of Boy psychology is the beginning of Man psychology. What, then, happens when the Hero – the adolescent boy – is “killed”? 

The dream of one young man, right on the cusp of his making the transition from boyhood to manhood, illustrates this moment of the Hero’s death and shows what form, eventually, his new masculine maturity might take. It shows the coming on line of the King energy – not to be fully realized for years to come. Heres the dream: 

“I am a soldier of fortune in ancient China. I’ve been creating a lot of trouble, hurting a lot of people, disturbing the order of the empire for my own profit and benefit. I’m a kind of outlaw, a kind of mercenary. 

I’m being chased through the countryside, through a forest, by soldiers of the Chinese army, the Chinese emperor’s men. We’re all dressed in some kind of scale armor, with bows and arrows and probably swords. I’m running through the woods, and I see a hole in the ground, the entrance to a cave, so I rush into it to hide. Once inside, I see that it is a long tunnel. I run along the tunnel. The Chinese army sees me go into the cave, and they run after me down the tunnel.

At the end of the tunnel, I see in the far distance a pale blue light streaming down from above, from what is probably an opening in the rock. As I get closer, I see that the light is falling into a chamber, an underground chamber, and that in the chamber is a very green garden. And standing in the middle of the garden is the Chinese emperor himself in his elaborate red and gold robes. There is nowhere for me to go. The army is closing in on me from behind. I am forced into the presence of the emperor himself. 

There is nothing to do but to kneel before him, to submit to him. I feel great humility, as though a phase of my life is over. He looks down at me with a fatherly companion He’s not angry with me at all. I feel from him that he has seen it all, that he has lived it all, all the adventures of life – poverty, wealth, women, wars, palace intrigues, betrayals and being betrayed, suffering and joy, everything in human life. It is out of this seasons, very ancient, very experienced wisdom that he now creates me with compassion. 

He says to me very gently, “You have to die. You will be executed in three hours.” I know that he is right. There is a bond between us. It’s as though he’s been in exactly my position before; he knows about these things. With a great feeling of peace, and even happiness, I submit to my fate.” 

In this dream we see the heroic Boy Ego of the soldier of fortune finally meeting his limits, meeting his necessary fate, in the presence of the King. What happens to the boy is that he comes into right relationship with the primal King within and is reconciled with the “Father,” as Joseph Campbell puts it. 

John W. Perry, the well-known psychotherapist, discovered the King’s power to heal by reorganizing the personality in the dreams and visions of his patients. In psychotic episodes, and in other liminal states of mind, images of the sacred King would rush up from the depths of his patients’ unconcious. In his book about this, Roots of Renewal in Myth and Madness, he describes a young male patient who kept drawing pictures of Greek columns and then associated them with a figure he called “the white king.” Other case reports tell of a patient’s seeing the “Queen of the Sea,” and a great wedding between the patient as Queen of the Sea with the Great King, or of the pope suddenly intervening to save the visioner. 

Perry realized that what his patients were describing were images that exactly paralleled the images found in ancient myths and rituals about the sacred kings. And he saw that, to the extent that his clients got in touch with these King energies, they got better. There was something about the King – in ancient times and in the dreams and visions of his suffering patients – that was immensely organizing, ordering, and creatively healing. He saw in their visions the ancient mythic battles of the great kings against the forces of chaos and the attacks of the demons, and then the glorious enthronement of the vigorous kings as the center of the world. Perry realized that the King is, in fact, what he calls “the central archetype” around which the rest of the psyche is organized. He saw that it was at those moments in which his patients had “lowered levels of consciousness,” when the barriers were down between their conscious identities and the powerful world of the unconcious, that creative, generative, and life-enhancing images of the King arose. People moved from craziness to greater health. 

What happened with Perry’s patients is parallel to what happened in the young man’s dream of the Chinese emperor. The infantile Ego let go, fell into the unconcious, and met up with the King. Boy psychology vanished as Man psychology came on line and reorganized and restructured the personality. 


~ Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette, King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine, p. 49-52.

[Art: The Lion King (1994)]

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