ARAS: Archetypal Symbolism and Images

Principles of ARAS Classification Based on Purpose of ARAS

The growing number of images of the ARAS collection called for the development of a robust classification and description scheme. Jessie Fraser took on the enormous task of coordinating and organizing the 4,000 photographs from the original Eranos collection, expanded by another 1,000 collected by Jung, 800 from Jolande Jacobi and 1,500 added by herself. All the illustrations used by Erich Neumann in The Great Mother and those collected by Dorothy Norman for her exhibit "The Heroic Encounter"37 became part of ARAS as well.
 
Jessie Fraser was acutely aware of the need to develop a new classification to serve the unique archive. Experimentation was the order of the day, to find the most effective and meaningful methods of organizing and presenting the material for study.38

To study psychologically the symbolism of art in depth and to examine the ways in which this symbolism is expressed from the point of view of art history are two very different approaches to the same material. Archeologists, art historians and critics are concerned primarily with historical development of art forms within specific cultures, and the influence of the art of one culture on that of another. They are interested in the evolution of art, in innovations and borrowings of style; in designs, techniques and composition. During this century these disciplines have been highly developed.
 
Meanwhile, in an entirely different field, the interpretation of art symbolism in terms of psychological meaning has been evolving. ...The psychological approach is in no way opposed to that of art history-indeed, to be entirely valid it must take art history and criticism into account-but the attention of psychology is focused on art products from a completely different point of view. For while the art historian is concerned aesthetically with man's artistic achievements, the depth psychologist is concerned with their human meaning.39

In collaboration with analytical psychologist Joseph L. Henderson, MD, of San Francisco, Fraser devised a system in the 1960s which would focus on the archetypal aspects of the collected items rather than letting them stand as examples of cultural history.
 
Nine categories were established in which the individual items are entered chronologically with an identifying number. These categories are:

1. The archaic world, paleolithic and mesolithic
2. The ancient world, Egypt and the Near East
3. The classical world, Aegean, Minoan, Mycenaean, Etrusco-Italian, Roman and associated cultures
4. Pre-Christian Europe, prehistoric, protohistoric and barbarian Europe
5. The Western world, works of the last 2,000 years
6. The Islamic world
7. The Asian world 8. The vanishing non-technical world, Africa, Oceana, sub-Arctic, Indians of the Americas
9. The Emerging Psychological world

This categorization has been described in an earlier article about ARAS in this journal.40
 
Jessie Fraser never intended the image description to interpret the symbol in any way, but it would connect to information about the mythical and cultural background and the art history in order to let the user make his or her own interpretation. Even so, it is possible to find many suggestions for a psychological understanding. This caused ARAS to adopt a change of format and divide the text into three main parts, which allow current users to distinguish more effectively between factual and interpretative description. This new format was established in the mid-1980s:

1. Description of what is seen in the image
2. Cultural Context, which describes the mythical or cultural background: What the culture that created the image believed, and for what purpose they used it.
3. Archetypal Commentary which describes the comparative cross-cultural patterns of the image and how to think about it in a psychological way.

This format is the basis for the two volumes of the ARAS Encyclopedia41 and all newer entries. Entries written before that time do not include a separate archetypal commentary, but may have a section about symbolic meaning. Each image is catalogued under several searchable subject headings and, in the online version, also indexed by keywords from a database containing more than 10,000 archetypal themes.
 
The ARAS classification scheme follows the iconographic principles first described by Erwin Panofsky (1892-1968) in his Studies in Iconology,42 in which he distinguishes between three levels of description: 1) Primary or Natural subject matter; 2) Secondary or Conventional subject matter; and 3) Intrinsic Meaning or Content.
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The evolution of the ARAS classification scheme has paralleled the evolution of the ICONCLASS system in time; however, the ARAS scheme is very different, given its focus on archetypal symbolism. ICONCLASS is a subject specific classification system first developed by Dutch art historian Henri van de Waal(1910-1972) in the early 1950s and published between 1973 and 1985. This system is often used by art historians, researchers and curators to describe, classify and examine images. It is a hierarchically ordered collection of definitions of objects, persons, events and abstract ideas that can be the subject of an image.43 The ICONCLASS system describes images according to the Description and Cultural Context dimensions mentioned above, but it does not provide the Archetypal Commentary dimension addressed by ARAS's archetypically focused keyword classification scheme.
 
The following example illustrates how the selection of a specific image from the ARAS archive gives the user a comprehensive description of that image according to the three dimensions: Description, Cultural Context and Archetypal Commentary. It also shows how the user can peruse the archive for other similar images, and any other images, whose classification contains the same archetypal themes.
 
Example from ARAS Collection to Illustrate Structure and Function of ARAS
 
ARAS operates on the collective level of symbols and dreams, not the personal level. ARAS does not contain a picture of someone dreaming of their elderly aunt, so a user will find material related to such an image by searching for keywords such as "old woman," which then opens up for archetypes such as "wisdom figure, feminine," "prophetess," "Sophia," "virgin, dark" or "witches and witchcraft." In New York, people often dream of the subway and its trains and tunnels. This makes it relevant to look up keywords such as "underworld" and "vehicles." Our ancestors did not dream about the New York City subway system, but they did dream about journeys or trips to the underworld, and maybe that is what the dream is about. The extensive net of cross-referencing, based on archetypal themes, makes this exploration of the subject possible.44
 
One approach to the archive is to browse. For example, in looking for an Egyptian image, the searcher can concentrate on the Egyptian section, using the ARAS cultural timeline described in the next paragraph. Someone interested in American Indian symbolism can select that part of the archive. Or one can choose the cross-cultural aspect, viewing a particular image in many different cultures and historical eras.
 


Figure 8 ARAS cultural timeline for 529 "dragon" images.
http://search.aras.org/ searchresults.aspx?query5dragon

The organization of the material in the ARAS archive makes it possible for each user to study a symbol or image from one time and place, and relate it to other symbols or images from other time epochs and other geographical locations. The symbol chosen here is the mythological creature "the dragon." Entering "dragon" into the ARAS search engine results in 529 different images, each depicted by a thumbnail image, a summary description and "live" markers on the ARAS cultural timeline (Figure 8).45 The cultural timeline shows that the 529 images cover all eras, from the Ice Age to the twentieth century, and all cultures. Clicking on the marker within the Islamic World on the cultural timeline, and choosing the second Islamic image, opens up the screen picture below, with the image on the left side (Figure 9) and the following text on the right side:46

ARAS Record 6Ad.045
Bahram the Gor Killing the Dragon
 
Date: 1370-1371 CE
Artist: Unknown
Origin: The Islamic World : Iran : Timurid
 


Figure 9 Bahram the Gor Killing the Dragon, 1370-1371 CE. Ink, colors and gold on paper, 17.5612.5 cm. Origin: Timurid, Iran. Provenance: Shiraz, Iran. ARAS Record 6Ad.045. Repository: Topkapu Sarayi Library, Istanbul, Turkey.

Summary
 
The exploits of Bahram V, also known as Gor ("wild ass")-the pre-Islamic Iranian ruler, hero, and dragon slayer-are catalogued in the Iranian national epic, the Shah-namah. Here Bahram is shown slaying a dragon from the land known as Turan, which was ancient Iran's greatest rival. According to the text, the monster was a lionlike creature with female breasts and hair down to the ground, but this artist has depicted instead a more typical, and perhaps more familiar, oriental sort of dragon.
 
Description
 
A horseman is about to shoot an arrow at a dragon twice his size. The horseman is clothed like a hunter and sits astride a black horse. In the background, three gentle slopes suggest a range of mountains in this highly abstract composition. Beyond the mountains is the blue sky. Filling much of the foreground is the serpentine body of the dragon. This dragon has four legs, a long black mane and a green beard. Here and there tufts of grass and small bushes suggest vegetation.
 
Cultural Context
 
The Shah-namah, the national epic of Iran, was written by Firdawsi of Tus in the eleventh century CE. Firdawsi drew on an earlier redaction of the traditional epic of Iran and on numerous other sources as well as oral tradition for his material. The Shah-namah, as a whole, is a collection of episodes that provides a more or less continuous story of the Iranian empire from the creation of the world out of nothing to the downfall of the Sassanian rulers of Iran in the Arab conquest during the seventh century CE. The episode of Bahram V killing the dragon is only a minor incident in the vast epic, but it provided a natural subject for an illustrator.
 
The epic, a long chain of episodes arranged chronologically, was considered by its contemporaries to be a historical account. Poetic formulae provide the Shah-namah some unity as does the ancient Iranian metaphysical concept of a cosmic dualism between the absolutes of good and evil and the final victory of good. This dualism finds one expression in the description of the ancient struggle between Iran and Turan--reflecting probably the age-old antagonism between settled farmers and nomadic herders but, also, the wars between Iran and Turkey waged since the year 628 CE.
 
The episode of the dragon occurs in the course of a hunting trip undertaken by Bahram the Gor:
 


On the third day, when the sun lit up his throne and the world became white, mountain and sea taking on the hue of ivory, the valorous king of kings set out once more to hunt. He espied a dragon having the appearance of a male lion, on its head a mane as long as the creature's own height and on its chest two breasts like a woman's. He affixed to his bow a cord and a poplar-wood arrow which he let fly at once at the dragon's chest. Another arrow he shot through the creature's head white the blood and venom came spurting from its chest (Levy, 309).

 
Bahram the Gor is not the only dragon slayer in this Persian epic. A later (seventeenth century) edition of the poem that is now in the Cochran Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York depicts a similar scene in which the hero Goshtasp is slaying a dragon.47 Other dragon slayers in this tale are Rustam, who like Herakles had to perform seven labors, including the slaying of a great dragon capable of becoming invisible at will, and Esfandiyar (the son of King Goshtasp), who also performed seven labors, the second of which was to fight an enormous and venomous dragon.
 
Archetypal Commentary
 
In putting together his "history," Firdawsi used myths about the gods as well as legendary and historical material. Many a god is transformed into a hero or king in this way; that is, what was once mythical becomes "history" by attributing the stories about the gods to human beings. The chief dragon slayer in Iranian tradition was originally a divinity.
 
The Iranian god Tistrya resembles his cousins Indra and Thor, the dragon slayers of Indian and Scandinavian mythology. All three have their roots in a common Indo-European ancestry. Tistrya is the god of the atmosphere-a storm god. He protects the vitality of the living cosmos. In order to do this, he must vanquish the demon of drought, Apaosha. Sometimes Tistrya is simply presented as the primeval producer of rain, seas and lakes. Elsewhere, the emphasis is on his role in the annual cycle of nature as the giver of offspring, the one who defeats sorcerers, the Lord of all the stars and the protector of Aryan lands.
 
Tistrya serves as a divine model for numerous heroes in Iranian lore, and there seems to be no dearth of dragons to be fought. Everywhere in Indo-European religions, the dragon symbolizes chaos--or those forces that oppose order, be it on a cosmic or psychic level. Ultimately, the dragon cannot be destroyed, or, better yet, it must be destroyed over and over again. This is because on the deepest level the chaos that the dragon represents is the matrix out of which life issues. To destroy this chaos (a completely illogical possibility) would be to destroy the possibility of renewal and rebirth once the old forms of creation grow weak and decay.
 
The dragons that the individual must fight are those that represent aspects of the personal and collective unconscious that are hostile toward human culture and personality. Usually these unconscious dragons appear in projection, outward onto the environment in the form of enemies. The task is to recognize the inner nature of the dragons and to assume a conscious attitude toward them, that is, to take up a moral role of being responsible for one's own feelings and fantasies.
 

Not infrequently, when an individual is in danger of falling prey to unconscious psychic elements, the delicate balance between sanity and insanity depends on whether he can gain and hold on to insight into his condition. His physician has the difficult task of deciding whether or not to press him to recognize that his strange ideas and feelings are of subjective origin. If the patient can grasp this, he turns his face towards sanity. But these contents of the unconscious are so remote from his own conception of himself that he usually experiences them as though they were objective, coming into his consciousness from outside--that is, as though they originated in the machinations of other persons or in an uncanny world of spirits. For this reason there is always a grave risk that if the physician calls these projected and unassimilable elements by their rightful names he may cause a panic, and the attempt to reinforce the patient's conscious standpoint and sanity may precipitate the final plunge into the maelstrom of the unconscious that it was designed to prevent. If, however, the manoeuvre is successful, and the patient comes to recognize his strange ideas as phantasy or illusion, as projections that distort his understanding of the world about him, he will not become insane, even though the illusion, the projected material, remains to be dealt with. He will recognize that it is a nonpersonal power of the unconscious that is assailing him--a dragon to be fought on the subjective plane and not an objective reality to be combated by overt action (Harding, 274f.).

 
Material or Technique: Manuscript illumination: ink, colors, and gold on paper
Measurement: 6 5/16 x 4 7/8 in. (17.5 x 12.5 cm.)
Provenance: Iran : Shiraz
Repository or Site: Turkey : Istanbul, Topkapu Sarayi Library
Image Sources: Gray, Basil, Persian Painting (Albert Skira: Geneva, 1961): 63.
 
References
 
Grottanelli, Cristiano. "Dragons." The Encyclopedia of Religion. New York, 1987.
Harding, M. Esther. Psychic Energy: Its Source and Its Transformation. 2nd ed. New York, 1963.
Hinnells, John R. Persian Mythology. London, 1973.
Ingersoll, Ernest. Dragons and Dragon Lore. New York, 1928.
Levy, Reuben, trans. The Epic of the Kings: Shah-Nama, the National Epic of Persia by Ferdowsi. London, 1967.
 
Glossary
 
FIRDAWSI (Persian: Firdawsi)-Persian poet (c.935-1026 CE). Firdawsi spent approximately thirty-five years composing his great epic, Shah-namah ("Book of Kings"), which was published first in 1010. An account of Iranian kings both mythical and historical down to the Arab conquest of 652 CE, the work is one of the world's great epics.
 
Scanned Versions: New York Commentaries San Francisco Authority Cards Star #598
 
Archetypes in this image
 
Archers, Arrows and Darts; Bow; Dragon and Rider; Dragon Fight; Horse, Black; Indra; Thor.
 

The Archetypes in this image section at the end of the image description is central to ARAS in that it permits the user to amplify or circumambulate a theme or a subject, as previously described. The archetypal classification of each image lets the user search for, and find at great ease, other images of the same archetypal theme and thus amplify the chosen subject or image across cultures and time epochs.
 
In the case of the dragon, a search of each of the shown archetypal themes leads to the following results, all shown in similar ways as the original image, with thumbnail images, summary descriptions and with all images marked "live" on the ARAS cultural timeline:

- Archers, Arrows and Darts: 264 images;
- Bow: 424 images;
- Dragon and Rider: 4 images;
- Dragon Fight: 83 images;
- Horse, Black: 10 images;
- Indra: 59 images;
- Thor: 39 images.

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