The Divine Child – An Archetype of Hope or a Narcissistic Idealisation?

“You open the gates of the soul to let the dark flood of chaos flow into your order and meaning. If you marry the ordered to the chaos you produce the divine child, the supreme meaning beyond meaning and meaninglessness.” C.G. Jung, The Red Book.

Carl Jung believed that the divine child archetype is a symbol of the developing personality and represents milestones in the unique process of individuation. Individuation is the development process whereby we achieve psychological wholeness by transcending the divided and unbalanced constituent parts of our psyche. According to Jung, the child archetype, which includes symbols such as the child hero, or the child with adult-like qualities, is a manifestation of a potential future that has yet to be realised, either within each of us as individuals, or within our community and collective setting as demonstrated in our shared cultures.

Jungian archetypes include the persona, the shadow, the anima/animus, the self, and the hero. Jung’s archetypes have been influential in the field of psychoanalysis, particularly in the areas of dream interpretation, personality assessment, and therapy. By identifying and exploring these archetypes, individuals can gain a deeper understanding of their unconscious motivations and conflicts, and work towards greater self-awareness and personal growth.

Jung believed that the emergence of the divine child symbol in dreams, art and culture, is an indication that the individuation process has been initiated, and that we can resolve “the tension of opposites from which the divine child is born [as] the symbol of unity.” (Carl Jung, CW 9.2 Para 59). Jung proposed that the symbolic importance of the image of the divine or golden child rests on the manifestation of the archetype of the Self. Jung called the child image “a symbol which unites the opposites… capable of the numerous transformations… it can be expressed by roundness, the circle, or sphere, or else by the quaternary as another form of wholeness. I have called this wholeness that transcends consciousness the ‘self’” (CW 9i, Para 278). 

While Jung’s theories on mythology are complex, he believed that myths are original revelations of the unconscious and that they reveal the inner workings of the psyche. According to Jung, archetypes are universal, inborn models of people, behaviours, and personalities that play a role in influencing human behaviour. Archetypes are innate and inherited, and they shape our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Jung believed that by understanding these archetypes, we could gain insight into the human psyche and better understand ourselves and others. Jung’s argued that archetypes are analogous to

“Riverbeds which dry up when the water deserts them, but which it can find again at any time. An archetype is like an old watercourse along which the water of life has flowed for centuries, digging a deep channel for itself. The longer it has flowed in this channel the more likely it is that sooner or later the water will return to its old bed” C.G. Jung, Collected Works 10, Civilization in Transition, “Wotan” (1936), Paragraph 395.

Some examples of archetypes include those of the mother, the child, the trickster, and the hero, among others. Jung’s concept of archetypes was influenced by the theories of Immanuel Kant, Plato, and Arthur Schopenhauer. Jung’s idea of archetypes differs from Plato’s concept of Ideas in that they are dynamic and constantly seeking expression in an individual’s personality and behaviour. Jung believed that these archetypes can be activated and given form in the encounter with empirical experiences. Indeed, that they are ever-present within our culture as recurring motifs and images.

The Divine Child archetype is closely related to the Golden Child motif in mythology. Both represent qualities of innocence, purity, and redemption. The Divine Child is an image of oneself in the purest form, with all weaknesses, vulnerabilities, hopes, and ambitions. The Golden Child motif is a common theme in mythology, where a child is born with extraordinary potential and is destined to bring prosperity and happiness to the world. The Divine Child archetype is often associated with the child hero, who is a potential future.

The Divine Child is portrayed in the media in various ways, including as a child who displays adult-like qualities, giving wise advice to their friends. The Divine Child archetype can, for example, be presented as a figure that rejects the cold, stiff version of masculinity, especially those that leave no room for play, emotion, or innocence. The Golden Child motif is a common theme in mythology, where a child is born with extraordinary potential and is destined to bring prosperity and happiness to the world. Some characteristics of the Golden Child motif include:

  • The child is born with extraordinary potential.
  • The child is destined to bring prosperity and happiness to the world.
  • The child is often taken away from their parents or family.
  • The child is often persecuted or threatened by evil forces.
  • The child is often rescued or protected by a hero or a divine figure.
  • The child is often associated with qualities of innocence, purity, and redemption.
  • The child is often portrayed as having magical or supernatural powers.
  • The child is often a symbol of hope and renewal.
  • The child is often a catalyst for change and transformation.

   Common symbols associated with the Golden Child motif include:

  • Metallic colour on some body part: In some folktales related to the motif of the calumniated wife, the wonderful children are described as having arms of gold up to the elbow and legs of silver up to the knee.
  • Golden hair: In the novel “Golden Child,” the protagonist’s hair symbolizes his status as an outsider in his family and community.
  • Golden chest: In tales from the Mongolic peoples, the children show a golden chest, often combined with a silver backside.
  • Golden Child symbol: The Golden Child symbol is a popular icon that represents the Golden Child motif.
  • Immunity to magic: In the game “Dark Parables,” the Golden Child is a child of a pure heart that is blessed during the Silver Moon and is then immune to all kinds of magic.

Based on Jung’s theories is psychological disturbance, the shadow, complexes and neuroticism, we can examine the nature of archetypes as part of the wider process of the development of the self. It’s useful, then, to speculate on potential ways the Golden Child symbol could be misused or manipulated:

  • Idealisation: The Golden Child symbol could be idealised to an extreme degree, leading to unrealistic expectations and putting pressure on individuals who are associated with this symbol. This could lead to feelings of inadequacy or a sense of being trapped in a role that doesn’t allow for personal growth or authenticity.
  • Narcissism: The Golden Child symbol could be used to fuel narcissistic tendencies, where individuals believe they are superior or entitled due to their association with this symbol. This could result in a lack of empathy or an inflated sense of self-importance.
  • Exploitation: The Golden Child symbol could be exploited for personal gain or manipulation by others. Individuals who are associated with this symbol may be taken advantage of or used as a means to achieve certain goals or agendas.
  • Neglect of other aspects: Focusing solely on the Golden Child symbol could lead to neglect or suppression of other important aspects of the individual’s personality. This could hinder their overall development and limit their ability to embrace the full range of their potential.

The question that arises, then, is how these archetypes are manifested in contemporary media culture, such as in films, games, social media and so on? How is the image of the divine child manifesting in debates and discussions about gender identity, for example?  What are the risks of over-focussing on symbols of the divine child and idealising children as a totem and therapeutic solution for adults psychological disturbances and neurosis?

Overall, according to Carl Jung, archetypes are innate and inherited models of people, behaviours, and personalities that play a role in influencing human behaviour. By understanding these archetypes, and the process by which they operate in the psyche, individuals can gain insight into the human psyche and work towards greater self-awareness and personal growth.

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