Of Kings and Slaves
I have had two figures that have been reoccurring in my dreams recently, the figure of a king, and the figure of a slave. Though their appearance change, they always show up together, and I have an innate knowledge that they are the same person.
While trying to figure out the best way to represent the sameness and the difference between the king and the slave, drawing them as a Janus, or bifrons, figure made the most sense.
Janus was the ancient Roman god of beginnings and transitions. He was often depicted as having two faces, because he could see into the future, and into the past. To me a Janus figure represents a dual nature, in this case, the extremes of power–an all powerful king, and a lowly slave.
The image of a king is one of power and responsibility. He holds the wealth of nations, he is the ultimate authority. He is the decision-maker, and the results of his (and other’s) decision rest firmly on his shoulders. He is a masculine power. He is the closest thing to a god on the earth.
In further exploring the symbolism of the king, the Arthurian legend of the Fisher King came to mind. The Fisher King was the last in a long line charged with protecting the grail. He was wounded in the leg or groin, and his health was reflected in the well-being of his kingdom–upon receiving the crippling wound, his kingdom became an uninhabitable wasteland. The health then of the king archetype is a reflection of my mental health. Unfortunately, determining the well-being of my king has proven to be a difficult task.
There is a great deal of anxiety attached to the image of the king for me. For all the good, benevolent and compassionate deeds he preforms, he is also a stubborn, proud tyrant. I have a flowchart in my art journal under the entry for king; anxiety<–tyranny–>discipline. The way that the tyranny of my inner king is directed, if it is towards anxiety or discipline, has a profound impact on my mental well-being.
If I look at the slave that always accompanies my king, I see a puppet, a tool, a thing to be used. Even though the slave in my dreams is always male, the archetype of the slave is a female power, and as I was exploring the symbolism of the slave, it became natural to write about it with female pronouns.
The slave is more flexible and adaptable than the king. Her road is a tough one, but it is also the path of least resistance. She knows she will never “get ahead” in life, and she’s content with this. Her existence is based solely on serving others, she is the epitome of humility.
In a way, I found more freedom in the slave image than in the king image. The slave doesn’t have to make the tough decisions, and she doesn’t take responsibility for her mistakes. But this is a trade-off for a comfortable life. She has traded comfort for ease. She also believes that her worth comes solely from what she does.
I spoke to my sister on the phone while I was researching the characteristics of the slave. We were talking about some of the causes that I am passionate about (victims rights, feminism, education, etc). I expressed a wish to be able to do more, and she said “You don’t have to save everyone”. This struck a deep chord in me. I don’t think the slave knows that she doesn’t have to save everyone except herself. She doesn’t see herself as worth saving.
The most important thing about these archetypes is that they always appear together. I never see the king without the slave, and I never see the slave without the king. They are one and the same. There is a balance to be made between these two extremes.
I think that everyone has a dual nature, that we all have our extremes. The idea that I need to find my center, find my balance is one that has been overwhelming to me lately, mostly because I don’t know how I’m out of balance, I don’t know what side of the scale is lacking, so to speak.
Perhaps it isn’t so much that I’m out of balance, but the things that I’m using to find my balance is off–it does no good to counter the arrogance of a king with the fatalism of a slave, for instance.
The combination of the king and the slave also bring to mind the Christian God, with the kingly representation of God the Father, and the lowly Jesus of Nazareth. It is possible that I am being told to become closer to God, I don’t think that is the whole of the message.
I have worked on decoding the meaning of the king and the slave for a long time now, and I don’t think that I’m anywhere near having it all figured out.
- “To embrace sustainability is to adopt the perspective of the two-faced Roman god of portals…” (svanwees.wordpress.com)
- Flipside… caution… there might be spoilers here! (loiselden.com)