Integrating the Sovereign Archetype & Becoming Ruler of Your Own Life
In my recent travels through Ireland and Scotland, the places and landscapes that struck the deepest chords with me turned out to be locations associated with kingship.
The Hill of Tara, where the High Kings of Ireland received their coronation.
Arthur’s Seat, the high hill above Edinburgh, fabled to be the location of King Arthur’s Camelot.
The fields of Bannockburn, where Robert the Bruce - after the death of William Wallace - took up the cause of Scottish independence and won a decisive victory against the English, clearing his path to becoming King of Scotland.
Now, my interest in this isn’t that of the history buff, who loves to obsess over the details of military battles or political intrigue from a millenia ago. And I don’t feel some fascination with royalty, the history of royal families, or the modern day drama of the British royals, for instance. Couldn’t care less.
My interest in these sites of kingship is exclusively in the realm of psychology, particularly that stream of thought within Jungian psychology which explores how certain images and symbols express deep patterns within the human psyche. Jung referred to these deep symbolic patterns as archetypes.
One of the most powerful archetypes in the human psyche is the symbolic image of the sovereign leader: The King, The Queen, The Ruler.
In her book Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes To Help Us Find Ourselves & Transform Our World, author Carol S. Pearson describes The Ruler archetype as a “symbol for wholeness and achievement of the Self… an expression of our selves in the world, an expression powerful enough to transform our lives… When The Ruler is active in our lives, we are integrated, whole, and ready to take responsibility for our lives.”
So, as she makes clear, becoming the Ruler of one’s life is not about wearing a literal crown, assuming royal pretensions, or wielding some position of political power. Instead, a healthy integration of The Ruler archetype leads to a state of mind consisting of empowerment, wholeness, responsibility, and concern for others.
What does it mean to integrate the archetype of The Ruler, The King, The Queen into our lives in a truly healthy way? The Ruler within is what gives you access to genuine, authentic empowerment. An inner power that is good, noble, and honest. An inner power that nourishes yourself and the world. An inner power that enhances - not diminishes - the empowerment of those around you.
The Ruler within sets the boundaries of the kingdom and knows how to access the archetypal energy of the Warrior to protect and defend those boundaries.
The Ruler within is a creator, a source of fertility and generativity, seeding new ideas & giving birth to new possibilities.
The Ruler within creates healthy structure, establishing a sacred order that nourishes and protects those living within the realm, creating peace, prosperity, and abundance for the kingdom.
The Ruler within guides you in the wise use of your power for the benefit of all.
It is, of course, a challenge to talk about power - and the use of power by rulers and leaders - because it is so easy to find examples in our world & in our past of the misuse and abuse of power. Lurking behind every abuse of power is the corresponding shadow of the Good King… The Tyrant.
But we must not allow the tyrants of the world to make us think that they have a monopoly on the use of power, or the capacity to feel empowered. Their power is always a distortion, a twisting of truth, a mirage built on a foundation of lies.
Theirs is not an expression of genuine, mature, integrated empowerment. It takes a truly grown man to be a King, a truly mature woman to be a Queen, a truly whole human to be a Ruler.
And behind the seemingly strong face of every tyrannical Shadow King is a scared little boy whose only means of soothing his wounded ego are cruelty, abuse, manipulation, and domination. (Look up the “dark triad” personality traits - narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism - to learn how tyrants big and small operate psychologically).
So what might be a healthy measure of genuine empowerment, the true power of a wise King, Queen, or Ruler?
Here’s perhaps a surprising answer: the capacity to bless.
In their work on the archetype of The King, authors Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette discuss how the mark of a great leader is a capacity to offer blessings: to the people, to the community, to the land itself.
“The good king,” they write, “always mirror[s] and affirm[s] others who deserve it. He [does] this by seeing them… noticing them, knowing them, in their true worth.”
They describe how we can offer blessings from the fullness of our own empowerment: through “meaningful touch, spoken blessing, attachment of high value to the other, picturing for the other a special future, and an active commitment to the other to help realize that future.” In the real world, this may look like the owner of a company who offers her employees a truly liveable wage, full health insurance, resources and support for their mental health, a workplace structured around respect and the dignity of all employees… because she sees and acknowledges them in their true worth. The mark of a true Queen.
Or the father who blesses his children with his full, consistent presence, who gives his undivided attention to their growth, who sees and mirrors their needs, who speaks with love and affirms their worth on a daily basis, who models for this children strength, honesty, integrity, and responsibility with his own actions. The mark of a true King.
I became aware of this capacity to bless from a place of empowerment through the men’s circle I sit with. We regularly engage in a practice of offering a “King’s blessing” to one another. We first access that energy of our inner inner King… grounded, strong, powerful, integrated, whole. And from that place of psychological Kingship, we offer words of blessing to one another.
We speak words of affirmation, offering compliments about another man’s character or positive actions. We offer words of good fortune to upcoming endeavors and projects. We say prayers of health and prosperity to each other’s families. We offer words of comfort and healing for recent heartbreaks and disappointments.
This practice has become for me a powerful reminder that to be truly in our power is NOT about having the force to push someone else down. Our true power is to be found in the graceful strength to lift another up, to make someone feel seen and heard and honored and blessed.
In fact, when I was standing in those places of ancient Kingship in Ireland and Scotland, I felt a blessing bestowed on me: an encouragement, offered by ancestors long ago, to step into the fullness of my empowerment, to be the Ruler of my own life, to be the King of my own kingdom like never before.
As Carol Pearson writes, “we become The Ruler by taking complete responsibility for our lives - not only for our own inner reality, but also for the way the outer world mirrors that reality. This includes the ways our individual lives affect our families, our communities, and our societies.”
So, when we look at the world around us and see our kingdom resembling a wasteland and power held in the hands of psychological tyrants, this is our call to adventure.
How many stories from fables and fantasy involve a lowly but brave hero discovering that they are secretly the heir to a great kingdom who has long been awaiting their return? Why is this motif repeated in stories again and again and again? Because it is a psychological reality that is fundamentally true about each of us, at the deepest layer of our being. Each of us is a King, a Queen, a Ruler of our own lives who has forgotten our true identity, but who must now learn to step into that role of leadership with humility, strength, grace, and merciful justice.
Like Aragorn in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, many of us start our journeys as an exiled ranger, lowly in appearance and lacking all pretense of royalty, but who nevertheless earns his rightful place as King through courage, integrity, and selfless service to all.
J.R.R. Tolkien capture this moment of coronation beautifully in The Return of the King, the last book of Lord of the Rings:
*** Aragorn knelt, and Gandalf set the White Crown upon his head, and said:
But when Aragorn arose all that beheld him gazed in silence, for it seemed to them that he was revealed to them now for the first time. Tall as the sea-kings of old, he stood above all that were near; ancient of days he seemed and yet in the flower of his manhood, and wisdom sat upon his brow, and strength and healing were in his hands, and a light was about him.
And then Faramir cried: 'Behold the King!'
The “Return of the King” is a moment of psychological homecoming to our true power, our true nobility, and our capacity to bless others with our empowered gifts.
It is a reminder that each of us wears wisdom upon our brows.
Each of us holds strength and healing in our hands.
And when each of us takes our proper place as King, Queen, or Ruler of our own lives, our light will bless all those around us.
- Matthew Foley