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What happened!?! Our hero is hanging upside down! In the thirteenth edition of the Archetypal Tarot Podcast Julienne Givot and Cyndera Quackenbush help to dispel the superstition that often surrounds cards such as The Hanged Man, card number twelve in the Major Arcana. After an exploration of the Hanged Man’s symbolic imagery and the martyr archetype, this podcast illuminates an invitation to test the inner strength gained in the previous card and make valuable sacrifices during this period of “hang time” (yes, a sports reference made its way into the podcast). Also join the discussion of movies featuring the martyr archetype – you may just find a new perspective, or your world turned upside down!
Cyndera also references this animation of a talk by Alan Watts done by the creators of South Park.
Julienne’s rendition of The Hanged Man
(watercolor on paper)
Julienne’s article goes deeper into the myth and motivation of the Martyr Archetype.
- Sacrifice – Letting go – Surrendering – Passivity
- Suspension – Acceptance – Renunciation – Patience
- New point of view – Contemplation – Inner harmony
- Conformism – Non-action – Waiting – Giving up
For the Hanged Man – pay attention to the course that Paul Giamatti’s character takes in The Lady In The Water (2006) as he is pulled out of his self-induced isolation to become a Hero and what he needs to sacrifice to do so.
The Martyr in Film:
Meryl Streep in Silkwood
Ben Kingsley in Gandhi
Sean Penn in Milk
The Martyr in Books:
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde
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Rider Waite Hanged Man card
©Jason Blait courtesy of Flickr
Let’s consider for a moment that we all have a container in our psyche that holds the entire history of our being wounded: betrayal, abandonment, shame – the whole painful enchilada. This same container also holds the story of our healing: past, present and future. The archetype of the Victim is our guide through these storylines and shows us either a heroic triumph or an exasperating epic that never seems to end. The difference being which side of the pattern we pay attention to.
The Victim, like the rest of the survival archetypes has a bad reputation which might be why it’s easy to spot in others but sometimes difficult to own in ourselves. This bad rep is due to most of us only seeing the unempowered side. The unempowered version of the Victim is stuck, complains about how they have been wronged and are convinced that they had little to no bearing on the outcome of the wounding incident. We’ve all known “Debbie Downers” who incessantly complain about everything and re-frame their experience to get attention or sympathy. Often times this is seen as the Martyr which shares a good bit of DNA with the Victim, but lacks the element of witnessing a larger truth. The unempowered Victim will hand everything over and expect someone else to ‘fix it’. The balance of power lies outside when the Victim shows up in it’s shadow form.
“It’s your/their fault.”
“It’s all my fault.”
“I’m always getting hurt.”
“No one understands me.”
“I didn’t have a choice.”
“This always happens to me.”
Conversely, the empowered Victim has an intimate understanding of their own trajectory of having been wounded and what it took (or will take) to work with it to come out on the other side stronger and more wise than before. Their power remains within them even if they ask for help. Help for the empowered Victim is not handing the problem over to someone else but to actively engage to work through an issue with some assistance.
“I made a mistake, now I’m going to…”
“This is really hard but I can do this.”
“I’m going to need some help with this.”
“I’m getting back in the game.”
“Live and learn.”
Spotting this pattern as it emerges allows for a broader range of choices where one can decide which side of the Victim card they want to play. Recognizing that the Victim is an archetypal pattern that all humans share can be a first step to take the sting out of a situation and make room for real compassion. After all, compassion is one of the things we seek when we’ve been hurt. Recognition and attention to the situation seen first as a pattern also points us toward discernment and wisdom instead of harsh judgement which can just exacerbate the pain of the situation.
The richer more enlivening place to draw from is that of the path of healing, which is to say the empowered Victim. Healing encompasses the story of the wound as well as what it it took to get to wholeness again. Not only wholeness but an expasiveness that did not exist before the wound. What do I mean by this? This quote from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross the pioneering psychiatrist sums it up nicely.
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These people have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen…”
©Garry Wilmore courtesy of Flickr
Having gone through something difficult and come out the other side with more wisdom, compassion and understanding is the Victim’s ultimate journey. The ways and means of a life with knowledge of the Victim pattern reminds us how strong we can be. A talisman that says we can’t rush healing to a perfection of wholeness but neither can we stay in the pure pain of a wound for very long. Even those who claim they are wounded beyond repair are not immune to what the world brings them as healing salve if they are open to it. The kindness of a friend or a beautiful piece of music can be healing. It’s the choices one makes to accept the gifts of healing and the stories we choose about what happened to us that make the difference. The Victim is a guide to how we work with the painful times as well as a way to be more generous with ourselves and others.
Image by Loving Earth via Flickr
Know a Martyr? Most people have had the experience of working with or knowing someone with a Martyr archetype, or maybe you even see it in yourself. I’d like to provide some information in order to help understand and work with this pattern.
Bad Reputation The Martyr archetype seems to get a bad rap and I think I know why. It has to do with the Martyr’s very visible shadow form and a motivation behind the behavior that is not always clear. You might be familiar with the ‘hand-on-forehead-oh-I’ll-do-it-because-no-one-else-will’ type of Martyr behavior. This is but one shadow aspect of the pattern that has garnered a bad reputation but there is far more to it than that.
Motivation The heart of any archetypal pattern is its underlying motivations. Unless we are looking for this archetype in ourselves we won’t always know what is motivating the person involved, but being aware of the probable motivators can make all the difference. This awareness enables us to work with the archetype more effectively and take things less personally.
Witness, Sacrifice, Receive The archetype of the Martyr has it’s roots in witnessing as much as in sacrifice. The word ‘martyr’ itself comes from the Greek word for ‘witness’. It is synonymous with a willingness to proceed because of a higher cause or truth despite the risk of injury or sacrifice. While we tend to associate the Martyr with its shadowy side of manipulation, at it’s core it’s about doing the right thing – even if that right thing is just in the mind of the individual. An important and often overlooked facet of this archetype is that of receiving, be it help, praise, recognition or what have you. I found this written about the archetype of the Martyr at work in the Organizational Development Journal helpful:
Healthy martyrdom revolves around sacrifice by choice, which opens the martyr to receive as well as to give. People who feel they must take care of everything and everyone, yet refuse to receive in return, are acting out the shadow aspect of the Martyr archetype. Their ceaseless giving permits them to manipulate and feel superior to those they are helping, even as they complain about how deprived they are.
Mistaken Identity Since the behavior can be similar, maybe people confuse the Martyr with other archetypal patterns. The difference is in the motivation. Below is a list of a couple that I come across frequently in my practice.
- If the core motivation is feeling less valuable and therefore doing more to seem of greater value – it’s not the Martyr but the Prostitute archetype at play.
- If the core motivation is to protect from being taken advantage of, doing more or showing up in a way so as to fend off criticism, it’s most likely the Victim archetype. Of course it could be a little of both.
The Martyr is also mistaken for the Hero, Advocate, and Avenger archetypes but differs in the fulcrum of it’s motivation. The Martyr can very often be an aspect of the Mother and Father archetypes where the role of witness for the family tends to fall to one or both of the parents in addition to the sacrifice called forth by the archetype.
Statue of Joan of Arc / photo ©Julienne Givot
The Empowered Martyr The empowered Martyr witnesses a higher principle and is willing to go the distance not for themselves but for the benefit of others. It’s the witnessing and not just the sacrifice that makes a Martyr.
Modern Martyrs Lilly Ledbetter was employed by Goodyear Tires for nineteen years before she discovered that she was paid far less for the same work as her male peers. She filed a lawsuit against Goodyear, and after a long legal battle, her case was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court; she lost. The Supreme Court stated she had taken too long to file a complaint. Ledbetter pursued an effort to persuade congress and the President that there was a need for change. Over a decade later she succeeded and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was signed into law in early 2009. A woman of retirement age, who probably had other things to attend to, decided that the principle of fair pay was worth the effort and sacrifice even if she herself would not be able to take advantage of the goal she worked for. This is the heart of the empowered Martyr.
A mention of modern day representations of the Martyr archetype would be remiss without of course honoring Civil Rights pioneers Martin Luther King Jr. and Harvey Milk, Rwandan genocide survivor Immaculée Ilibagiza, and most recently Aung San Suu Kyi Nobel Peace Prize Winner from Burma.
Films: Paul Scofield in A Man for All Seasons; Meryl Streep in Silkwood; Denzel Washington in Malcolm X; Ben Kingsley in Gandhi; Sean Penn in Milk; Made in Dagenham
Drama: Saint Joan by G.B. Shaw.
Fiction: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens; Little Bee by Chris Cleave
Religion/Myth: Many Christian saints, including Joan of Arc; Mansur al-Hallaj (10th-century Sufi mystic martyred for his belief that God existed within him).