Caryatids: Images of the Queen Archetype

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“The Queen is a mother impulse in all of us. She sits close to our Anima or archetype of the feminine. The Queen is the part of us that wants to see the people around us grow and flourish under our watchful gaze.” CG Jung

Femininity is universally associated with beauty, softness, tenderness, receptivity, relationship, and caring. While some equate these qualities with weakness, Spirit Warriors know they make us stronger than we ever imagined possible. Of the many symbols suggesting this kind of strength, none speaks as strongly to me as the caryatid.

Caryatids are gigantic columns or pillars in the form of beautiful, fully draped females. A very old architectural device, they were originally used to support immense entablatures in sacred public buildings. In ancient times it was said that seven priestesses founded major oracle shrines. These priestesses had different names in various parts of the world.

In the Middle East they were known as the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, hence their common usage as columns holding up temple roofs. These same pillars are referred to in Proverbs 9:1: “Wisdom [Sophia] hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars.” On the Acropolis at Athens, caryatids are associated with the strong and independent goddess, Artemis Caryatis, from whom they get their name.

My first glimpse of caryatids at the British Museum filled me with awe and wonder. In them I saw feminine beauty, gentleness, independence, spirituality and mystery blended with majestic, connected, immovable strength. I was looking at a manifestation of, and metaphor for, the Queen archetype. This is a feminine aspect of power and strength with which every psyche is furnished regardless of gender. The Queen archetype in all of us serves our drive for species-preservation.

A defining characteristic of the caryatid’s strength is her queenly way of serving society. She is strong enough to support huge social structures involving a variety of people, skill levels and activities, but never takes on more than she can handle, never gets crushed under the weight of her responsibilities.

Nor does she claim godlike perfection and omnipotence for herself: no savior complex for her! She simply receives what she is strong enough to receive; contains what she is large enough to contain; gives what is hers to give. Her strength is not based on compulsions to prove anything or pretend to be something she is not, but on a clear understanding of the nature of her gifts, dimensions of her interior space, and limits of her authority.

Like caryatids, mature Queens have a sense of social responsibility. They are pillars of society who are passionate about transforming individuals and communities by protecting, preserving, and advancing culture.  They support art, artists, museums, libraries, symphonies, musicians, opera, ballet, and other creative endeavors. They found hospitals, schools, orphanages, community centers, and charities.  They are advocates for homeless shelters, unwed mothers, food banks, wounded warriors, and anyone in need.

Healthy Queens strive to listen and understand; share in pain or joy; defend the innocent, weak, vulnerable and disenfranchised They have a quiet, grounded strength that does not belittle, gossip, or betray confidences. They accept without rejecting differing opinions and protect without exploiting weakness. They do not relinquish softness; rather theirs is the softness of the lioness, not the lamb. Although receptive, they are never doormats. They nurture but never smother. Theirs is the warm and life-giving receptivity of the womb, not the cold hardness of the tomb.

Caryatids and Queens stand tall and firm with eyes wide open. With steadfast devotion and resolve they support institutions and endeavors which are in everyone’s best interest. We emulate their strength when we subordinate our ego’s will to the greater good and work for the betterment of all without betraying our personal standpoints. May we all, female and male alike, manifest more of this benevolent use of feminine strength and wisdom.

Beginning quote found at: https://www.reddit.com/r/Jung/comments/rgpv94/explication_of_the_queen_archetype_passive/?rdt=34672

Jean Raffa’s The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications, Inc. Jean’s new Nautilus Award-winning The Soul’s Twins, is at Amazon and Schiffer’s Red Feather Mind, Body, Spirit. Subscribe to her newsletter at www.jeanbenedictraffa.com.

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Comments

25 Responses

  1. I hope your publisher will want to pull together several collections of this beautiful work in books. At this point you must have written 5-6 books of essays.

    1. Thank you very much, my friend, for being such a stalwart and loyal supporter of my writing. It means very much to me. I might suggest the same to you, by the way. Your pieces on ArchetypeInAction (http://www.archetypeinaction.com) are wonderful and you have an amazing audience. We need more courageous, tell-it-like-it-is writers like you who are willing to stick their necks out for worthy social causes. I can’t believe how well my piece, “Why Vampires? Why Now? Has done there. The last time I looked it had over 8,000 views! That’s a pretty big deal! Here’s the link if anyone wants to see it. http://www.archetypeinaction.com/index.php/en/tools-to-change-society/55-jungian-topics/480-why-vampires-why-now
      As to your suggestion, I have over 350 original essays here now. I’ve considered waiting for a full 365 so there’d be one for every day of the year, but that would make a big book! I think I like your idea of several smaller ones better….. 🙂
      Gratefully, Jeanie

  2. Hi Jeanie, this post put me directly into the energy of what you are writing … thank you … a resonant counterbalance to the often disparate “modern” world we live in. Blessings, Lee

  3. Dear Jeanie,

    You have so beautifully and succinctly described the magnificence, beauty and strength of these deeply symbolic ancient caryatids. Thank you for sharing their archetypal ‘queenly’ qualities with us! I see them standing tall, regal like too, with the weight of the world on their minds … like many a strong woman I know, a few men, but mainly women. And from this powerful image I receive much love, strength and inspiration myself.

    I’ve just read from the British Museum website that in each of their missing hands they would probably held a sacrificial vessel which fires my imagination … as I ask myself, was it a flat dish, a tripod cauldron, an ornate vase? If you, or any of your readers, know the answer it would be wonderful! In pure synchronicity, we’re off to visit a museum this morning where a major new ‘mythical’ exhibition has caught my eye, ear and heart!

    Love and light,

    Deborah

    1. Thank you, Deborah,

      Our mutual resonance for these images signals the presence of an archetype. The Queen lives within us and speaks to us through the powerful emotions we feel when we see them. This is how she shows us our potential. This is how she calls us to develop and express it.

      The energy of this archetype has called us both to empower our feminine sides and share the importance of this with others. You were called to write poetry, prose poems, and books about her in her guises as Mother Nature and Soror Mystica, I was called to write essays, speeches, and books about her in her guise as Goddess of Wisdom. May our efforts sow seeds and bear fruit in others.

      As Ashen says, “Long live the queens . . . ”

      Much love,
      Jeanie

      1. “May our efforts sow seeds and bear fruit in others.” Amen dear sister! The Divine Feminine has so many names I realise, Sophia, being my ab-soul-ute favourite one. What a journey this thing called life is! I feel so lucky to have found a small group of like-minded supportive souls, a little tribe of sorts which reminds of a poem, ‘The Layers’, written by Stanley Kunitz whilst he was in his mid-nineties … I hope you enjoy! x

        The Layers

        I have walked through many lives, some of them my own,
        and I am not who I was,
        though some principle of being
        abides, from which I struggle
        not to stray.
        When I look behind,
        as I am compelled to look
        before I can gather strength
        to proceed on my journey,
        I see the milestones dwindling
        toward the horizon
        and the slow fires trailing
        from the abandoned camp-sites,
        over which scavenger angels
        wheel on heavy wings.
        Oh, I have made myself a tribe
        out of my true affections,
        and my tribe is scattered!
        How shall the heart be reconciled
        to its feast of losses?
        In a rising wind
        the manic dust of my friends,
        those who fell along the way,
        bitterly stings my face.
        Yet I turn, I turn,
        exulting somewhat,
        with my will intact to go
        wherever I need to go,
        and every stone on the road
        precious to me.
        In my darkest night,
        when the moon was covered
        and I roamed through wreckage,
        a nimbus-clouded voice
        directed me:
        “Live in the layers,
        not on the litter.”
        Though I lack the art
        to decipher it,
        no doubt the next chapter
        in my book of transformations
        is already written.
        I am not done with my changes.

        1. Wow, Deborah. I love that. Thank you. It speaks beautifully to the ephemerality of a life, old things passing by, new things slipping in, our tribes all scattered, sometimes here, sometimes there, everything accepted as a precious part of the miracle and mystery. I too feel very lucky to have made myself a tribe as I go forward through the layers. It’s been one of the best gifts.

    2. I forgot to say that I do not know what the caryatids held in their hands. Wikipedia says merely that they carried unknown objects believed to be part of a religious ritual that was held in the temple.

        1. Since the Erechtheum is believed to have been a temple to Athena and Poseidon at one time, I expect it would have been objects for religious rituals: amphoras of wine, water, and precious oils, small votives, decorated bowls and boxes of various sizes for offerings of fruits and spices, statuettes of the god and goddess, perhaps weavings with images of religious symbols, etc. offerings of fruit, etc. Years ago we visited the fabulous Heraklion Archaeological Museum in Crete which has a spectacular assortment of objects from Ancient Greece. I took some pictures. If I can find them maybe I can post some here next week.

          1. Ah, many thanks for sharing these wonderful ideas Jeanie! In my own imagination, I thought maybe they’re holding scrolls … but then that feels more masculine than feminine. Well, whatever they were holding, they’re magnificent and I love them! x

          2. Scrolls are a great option. I like that. There were wise women who wrote in those days, even in patriarchal cultures. But you may be right. But of course they were rarely celebrated. You’ve piqued my imagination about this so much that I’ve just written next week’s blog post about it! I’ll add scrolls to my list of possibilities!

  4. My dear Jean, I am so happy to find the power of Anima in me, and as I read your description of this pillar, it becomes the highest privilege in my life. I was somehow aware of my feminine craft in Iran those days when I was a young boy. I never felt like a macho! But when I came to the West and got to know Jung better, I understood it more clearly. And now I am just concerned how can I explain it to my fellow countrymen! This revolution belongs to women, and I hope the young men fighting with their sisters and wives will understand it. With an immense gratitude, my precious teacher, thank you.

    1. Dear Aladin, it is men like you who cherish the feminine within themselves that give me hope. Cultural changes in attitude take root slowly and with many setbacks, and the compelling differences between our masculine drive for self-preservation and feminine drive for species-preservation will always create conflicts, but change is possible and inevitable. We may not see the desired partnerships take shape at the cultural level in our lifetimes, but I take comfort in knowing that our capacity for love is as strong as our lust for power. Thank YOU, my friend for all you do in service to love.

  5. My comment just got wiped out, so I’ll try again. I love these images of the feminine and thank you for bringing this wisdom in a small absorbable dose. My women’s mythology group has been studying Sophia, but there are almost no pre-Greek images of Her so I’m glad to look at these Goddesses. You remind me how much we need the Divine Queen and where I should direct my devotions at this moment. We’ve never needed Her more.
    (I still don’t get notifications of your new posts, so will sign up again with my gmail account. That might work.)

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