A Comparision of Historical Archetypal Intergenerational Family Roles
From the beginning of history, people have told stories and myths to pass on morals and role expectations. These archetypes live on in the lives of people even until this day, in some form or another. Carl Jung from his work with psychology and specifically dream symbolization summarized these roles into two categories with different incarnations. Joseph Campbell found many archetypal constants in his studies of ancient myths, folk tales and ceremonies. Much of Western Civilization takes its expectations of family roles from the Bible and Greco-Roman mythology, yet even in Native American legends, there is a correlation among many aspects of family roles. This is not to say that there are not exceptions or that the roles match completely, but the agreement of certain positive role traits for grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters appears to support a stable intergenerational family interaction structure.
As people mature and grow, their specific family role often changes. Women can go from daughter to mother to grandmother. Men can go from son to father to grandfather. Not all do, but for most these two generational progressions are very likely. It makes sense on one level to look at the difference between the genders in a generalized manner before going into the specific role archetypes. Jung named the generalized gender archetypes animus and anima. In its positive form, the animus is a mediator of religious experience and ceremony, a champion and protector, an initiator of action, objective and full of spiritual wisdom. In its negative form, the animus is a robber, a murderer, a rapist, brutal, distant, cold and always sees absolutes. Likewise the anima in its positive form is a mediator between Ego and Self, a guide to the inner world, personal, spiritual and full of transcendent wisdom. In its negative form, the anima is a seducer, a "poison damsel", a witch, insecure, moody, depressed and uncertain. The aspects of the animus and the anima are present in folklore and legends and provide good comparison points for gender roles that seem to cross many cultures. (Jung, 1968, pp 186 - 207).
Though Joseph Campbell arranged his research in the form of archetypal hero stories, it is not that hard for us to see the family archetypal roles in the framework of a family gathering or feast. At the head of Campbell's dining table would probably be the Hebrew "Aged of the Aged", an ancient male ancestor, seen only in profile for no one can know all he knows, with a long beard that contains the Truth of all Truths, guarding the gates of mercy and dispensing splendor, descending in equilibrium and a balance of power (Campbell, 1973, pp 268). To his right possibly would be the Native American Spider Woman, a grand-motherly figure who keeps track of paternity, gives advice to the young and instructs them in the matter of traditions (pp 69 - 70, 131). To his left would be the archetypal Ruler or Sun God, the father and ruler who tests and challenges his children until he deems them worthy to receive his knowledge and power (pp 131 - 136). Next to him, is the Universal Mother, nourishing and protecting creatrix and life giver (pp 113-114). Across from her, is probably the Archetypal Hero-son, constantly challenging the father in preparation to someday take his place (pp131-136). Possibly keeping the peace, would be the daughter, The Princess of the World, the treasure of her father's eye as are all Sleeping Beauties and Midas's own child. A pure and affectionate young lady, destined to be the future wife of another hero (pp190 & 243).
This family feast would probably look like many that have been portrayed in film and literature. Grandfather giving out advice and direction. Grandmother making sure the traditions are being followed. Father demanding order and respect, while the Mother is creating a nourishing meal and occasionally breaking up tensions between the Father and the Son. And the Daughter trying to smooth things over between Father and brother to keep their conflict from coming to a head during this special time.
Still, one had to wonder if some of this primitive tableau may be influenced by Campbell's own experiences - it matches so well with many of the family gatherings shown by Hollywood. What would the same family feast look like with the Greco-Roman gods in attendance? Our grandfather figure, Kronus (alternate spelling "Cronus") was once the ruler of a great golden age (Buxton, 2004, pp 54) and tried to keep his off-spring from succeeding him by swallowing them whole (pp 48). One can only imagine the interaction between this grandfather and the father Zeus, who while not quite matching his ancestor's golden era in his endeavors, at least found a way to keep his own off-spring from usurping him (ibid.). "You'll never be the ruler I was!" would probably be said more than once, answered by, "At least I'm still in charge, old man." Our grandmother would be in the form of Rhea, the universal mother and goddess of grain and fertility. We could probably imagine her intervening between Zeus and Kronos, while making the meal. Hera, the mother figure and protector of marriage (pp 71), would probably be making sure no one was misbehaving. Her son Hephaestos, or Vulcan, who despite his despised lameness still uses his skills to support his father's rule and his mother's power (pp 84), would find himself often in the middle of the fights of his parents, making neither of them happy with him. While his half-sister Athena, goddess of wisdom, craftsmanship and war (pp 69), busies herself in a productive manner.
Looking at the Greco-Roman tableau gives us a much more contentious family gathering, more so if the rest of the Titans and Olympians are in attendance. And yet, we can see an exaggeration of the stereotypical Italian/Greek family dynamic also shown in films and on stage. The family still has a structure in which there the family needs are being met.
Continuing on, let us consider the Bibical family archetypal roles. Jacob, father of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, is the greatest example of a grandfather in the Old Testament. Head Patriarch of his family and its spiritual head, Jacob gave guidance, blessed his off-spring and became a surrogate father to two of his grandsons (Gen. 48: 1-20). A good example of a Biblical grandmother would probably be Naomi, mother in-law of Ruth. In the Book of Ruth, Naomi is the keeper of traditions and advisor of the younger women in her family. Through her knowledge and love, she helps her son's widow to find a stable life. Due to the amount of material written, our supreme father figure is Abraham, grandfather of Jacob. As shown in the Book of Genesis, Abraham was head of the home, provider, disciplinarian and teacher of his children. If any woman can be called the ultimate mother of the Bible, then it would be Mary, the Mother of Christ. A handmaiden of God, the Four Gospels of New Testament shows her to be a introspective nurturer, a pure soul and a keeper of social customs. The ultimate son could be none other than Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Throughout His earthly ministry, he sought to do His Father's will and even on the cross, He made sure his mother was cared for in His absence (John 19: 27). In the Books of Esther and Ruth, we find the ideal daughter in their main subjects. Both women were obedient humble, demur, faithful, loyal and cared for their elders.
This family dinner would be much more peaceful than those diagrammed before in this paper. Here all members would do being their duties with thought and consideration. There would be knowledge given freely from elder to youth. There would be teamwork shown among the family members to bring the feast together, each using their own skills and talents to benefit all. There would not be the insecurities of father against son, or mothers fearing to be displaced. The needs of the family are not only met, but are met with little conflict.
So far, we have found among the cultural forces discussed family structures most European Americans are familiar with. What would a Native American family structure be like? Interestingly, the legend of the Warm Wind Brothers Versus the Cold Wind Brothers from the American Northwest, describes a family dynamic very close to the Bibical one in regards to intergenerational roles (Edmonds & Clark, 2003, pp 26-27). The Grandfather is chief of the tribe and a diplomat, who doesn't withhold knowledge from his sons. The Grandmother is very supportive and alert to the spiritual signs. The chief's youngest son serves the tribe and dies doing his duty. His wife and mother of the Grandson, makes sure her son is trained to save his father's people and give him instruction to guarantee his success. Like the Bibical archetype, knowledge is freely given and the family members work together as a team.
In the American Southwest among the Hopi, the Spider is consider their Grandmother because she spun a web to give them light when they first came to the Earth's surface, which could be considered guidance - an archetypal grandmotherly role (pp 68). Later as the Spider Woman, she continues to give guidance and "light" the way. Death and the Locust are considered their Fathers because Death lead them onto the Earth's surface and Locust showed them great medicines, both actions acts of knowledge and an archetypal father's role (pp 70-71). In the Hopi legend of the First Journey through the Grand Canyon, the Wise Son goes on a quest for something helpful he can bring back to his clan as their tradition dictated (pp 77).
Among the Cheyenne of the Great Plains, grandmothers are also dispensers of wisdom and knowledge (pp 183). The surrogate parents of Falling Star, Father Meadowlark and Mother Meadowlark, prepared him to protect his people as a good son by making him a bow and giving him advice respectively (pp 190). The Dakota-Sioux, another Great Plains nation, has a legend of a grandfather who taught his people how to grow corn (pp 211). There are similar archetypes among other Native American nations. Daughters in most Native American tales are usually obedient girls waiting for a husband.
Summarizing the American Indian tales, we find an overall family dynamic in between John Campbell's primitive archetypal family and the Bibical one. A family dinner among this archetype would have the grandfather giving instruction, grandmother giving much wisdom and knowledge. The father would protect the family and make sure his son could same (unless he is the Sun-God). The mother and daughter would be making the meal. Here in this family there is also a sharing of knowledge and working together for the good of the whole.
Based on the archetypes studied for this paper, it would appear that an intergenerational family structure needs to have a sharing of wisdom and knowledge and a sense of teamwork to function smoothly. The more the elders share with the younger generations in regards of knowledge, skills, powers and responsibility, the less relational conflict there is between the generations. And the more the younger generation seek to learn from the elders, the more successful they are in their quests.