As my enemies have often pointed out, I am not a Jungian analyst by profession, but I'd bet Jung would have been quite happy for me to find inspiration in his work, particularly as quite a bit of it involved the literary equivalent of thinking aloud.
There are many interpreters of Jung, including the erudite Anthony Storr, who would probably agree with my understanding of his concept of archetypes. Jung seemed to be suggesting that not only are archetypes images and themes that reside in the collective unconscious memories and musings of humanity, but that they also have agency – a bit like the Greek, Roman, Norse and Hindu pantheons of gods. We might say 'I don't know what came over me!' but an Ancient Greek would say: 'Aphrodite must have been in a bad mood when she made me fall in love with that so and so!'
Especially in the Hindu pantheon of gods/archetypes, there are good and bad versions of the same concept. So, with monarchy, the good and just King and Queen represent order, ethical rule and peace in the land. The bad version represents totalitarian rule and aggression against others. Jung also suggested that groups of people 'possessed by an archetype' were more irrational than an individual in the same position, who might just see the error of their view.
And archetypes are not the real deal that exists in what Robert Bly called 'the mythological layer' – but people tend to confuse them with their earthy equivalents. So, we now have mass hysteria at the death of the late Queen reminiscent of that following the death of Princess Diana (princesses are a powerful archetype too, and as Robert Bly suggested of Marilyn Monroe, such archetypes can destroy those who channel them).
There's nothing wrong with recognising archetypes but when we confuse them with earthly reality the trouble starts. The Windsors are not creatures of myth, they are a dysfunctional and quarrelsome family who are surely just as damaged by the archetype they are confused with as the folk who project all their hopes and fears onto them.
Pause the menopause
Another powerful archetype is the older woman, the 'Crone', who may be presented either as a kindly granny figure or a monstrous witch who is a foe to younger women. Thankfully, we seem to have disentangled ourselves from the latter version of the archetype, but judging from the continued popularity of 'anti-ageing' products, many don't want to be seen as the 'older woman'. Except now there seems to be a reaction, and we can't pick up a women's magazine or visit the cosmetic counter of a shop without seeing articles about how we should have 'menopausal leave' from work, or buying 'menopausal' shampoo, face cream and such.
I hope this doesn't sound anti-feminist, but I can't help wondering if this has gone a wee bit far. For many of the said articles seem to describe the process as a maelstrom of hormones, mental fog, hot flashes, dreadful skin and hair issues – you name it, some woman has suffered from it.
Yet do we really want to be seen as victims of this 'archetypal period'? I'm sure there are many poor ladies who do suffer all these torments, but equally there must be a similar number like me who never had any untoward symptoms at all. In fact, I was probably menopausal when I began a PhD at the age of 50. In my earlier life, I would never have coped with the logical thinking and sheer determination that this required. It's rather like women getting together and telling each other horror stories about difficult childbirth when most births are problem free. And I have a cynical suspicion that the plethora of 'menopausal' beauty products have been dreamed up by a crafty marketing agency who has spotted a gap in the market.
Although Freddy the new cat was supposed to have a role of destressing me from the horrors of the Tories, royal archetypes and similar anxiety-making stuff, he has so far only added to stress and probably lost a couple of lives into the bargain, let alone costing me a great deal of money.
Not only has Freddy fought all the cats in the vicinity and because he came off worse, he's now refusing to go out unless I accompany him round the garden like a well-trained bodyguard, but he is one of the few cats I've had who is a picky eater, compounded by the fact that not long after he arrived he managed to develop pancreatitis (according to the vet, not uncommon in cats who have been stressed). This has required antibiotics, vitamin B injections, steroids and special easily digested – and very expensive – cat food (which he disdainfully rejects).
I was at my wit's end about what to tempt him with when, as I was snatching a bite of my frugal lunch (a reduced-price Tesco chicken mayonnaise sandwich), Freddy jumped up, grabbed the sandwich, and began devouring the filling with gusto. Similarly, he adores madeleines and any sponge cake.
The SSPCA had referred to the challenge of getting him to put on weight, and I now suspect that he has never eaten proprietary cat food but has been fed on scraps of human food (he will also eat little bits of ham that he likes to take from your hand). My challenge is to wean him off junk food onto a balanced diet, but have you ever tried to get a cat to do what it doesn't want?
He is probably also suffering from the cat equivalent of post-traumatic stress and complains very loudly that his life has changed for the worse. The only thing he seems to like is sleeping on top of the duvet cover while I read in bed – he even has a hot water bottle to relax him. Our latest bedtime reading didn't last long as I was anxious to finish the third volume of Richard Osman's brilliant stories about the Thursday Murder Club. I see a fourth volume is planned and I hope Osman can sustain the level of humour and invention of these clever books – they certainly de-stress me even if Freddy doesn't!
Dr Mary Brown is a freelance education consultant