One of the primary mythic patterns which is informing and giving shape to what is collectively playing out on the world stage–as well as within the human psyche–is the archetype of the “wounded healer.” To quote C. Kerenyi, a colleague of Jung who elucidated this archetype, the wounded healer refers psychologically to the capacity “to be at home in the darkness of suffering and there to find germs of light and recovery with which, as though by enchantment, to bring forth Asklepios, the sunlike healer.” The archetype of the wounded healer has to do with discovering the healing encoded within our wound, as if we are finding light that is hidden within the darkness. The wounded healer is literally the deeper pattern that is at the bottom of the process of healing itself. The figure of the healer who is wounded symbolically reveals to us that it is only by being willing to face, consciously experience and go through our wound do we receive its blessing. We have all been wounded, which is to say that we are all potentially wounded healers in training.
“The process of individuation,” of becoming whole, to quote C. G. Jung’s closest colleague Marie Louise von Franz, “generally begins with a wounding of the personality and the suffering that accompanies it. This initial shock amounts to a sort of ‘call,’ although it is not often recognized as such.” Once we become wounded, we usually project the obstruction onto some external event or person. Upon closer investigation, however, our wound brings into bold relief the nature of our limited condition – it is not imposed on us from outside by external powers, but rather, the genesis of the forces obstructing us arises within our own being.
As if following a deeper calling, the event of our wounding sends us on a journey in search of ourselves. It is a wounding experience when the ego (the smaller self) initially encounters something greater and more powerful than itself, which is to say that the event of our wounding is initiatory, potentially leading us to our true vocation and destiny in life. This idea is expressed in the Biblical story of Jacob. After wrestling with the dark Angel of God (who was clearly the stronger of the two), Jacob was wounded in the hip. For the rest of his life he carried a limp as a result of the encounter, symbolizing the fact that the birth of the Self is a wounding experience for the ego. As a result of his ordeal, Jacob is given a new name–“Israel” (he who has wrestled with God)–signifying that his identity has been changed as a result of his encounter with the numinosum. It should be noted that Jacob was wrestling with the angel in the first place because he would have been killed otherwise.
Being wounded can catalyze a breakdown or breakthrough, depending upon our ability to creatively express and give meaning to our overwhelming inner experience. The experience of becoming wounded can seemingly break us, while simultaneously breaking us open, thereby facilitating a connection to the world of the unconscious with its inexhaustible riches. In other words, our wound is potentially the doorway through which flows the revitalizing stream of the unconscious with its infinite creativity.
When our conscious ego encounters a “charged” unconscious, if the concomitant tension–experienced as an uncomfortable state of suffering–can be endured, something new and creative, that the ego couldn’t have made by itself, is the result. The surrendering of our ego-pretense and acknowledging and embracing our brokenness opens us up to be able to recognize and receive more resources from both the psyche and the world at large. Being in touch with our woundedness is a hedge against inflation, keeping us grounded and ensuring against any tendency we might have to become too self-important.
Songwriter Leonard Cohen sings, “There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s where the light comes in.” Though entering us through the cracks in our fragmented self, this power of light, the numinous dimension of the psyche with its mytho-poetic nutrients, is imbued with a living intelligence all its own that can deeply enrich our experience of being human. Similarly, the esteemed psychologist William James says, “If there are supernormal powers, it is through the cracked and fragmented self that they enter.” The great writer Ernest Hemingway said that the world breaks everyone, but afterwards, some of us become stronger in the broken places. As if prompting our evolutionary growth, our wound can potentially reveal itself to be a sacred affliction that is mysteriously bound up with our creative genius.
It is an archetypal, universal idea that becoming broken, though on one hand seemingly obscuring our wholeness, is actually an expression of it. This is to say that getting broken is part of the divine plan. For example, according to the Kabbalah, it was only after the sacred vessels that God had prepared to pour his light into actually break that humanity’s potential to become fully itself is set in motion. It is as if some form of destruction, deconstruction, or disintegration is a prerequisite for individuation and is necessary for the birth of the Self.
The anguished realization of our wounded condition is actually the first step toward recovery of our lost wholeness. Wholeness doesn’t necessarily mean not having a wound; rather, it is to be embracing the wound that we do have. The archetype of the wounded healer symbolizes a type of consciousness that can hold the seemingly mutually exclusive and contradictory opposites of being consciously aware of both our woundedness and our wholeness at one and the same time.
As long as we feel victimized, bitter and resentful towards our wound, however, seeking to escape from suffering it, we remain inescapably bound to it. Paradoxically, we can only escape the suffering by accepting another kind of suffering that is purifying. Instead of continually trying to avoid relationship with our suffering, if we are able to turn the violence that initially created our wound into what Jung calls “genuine suffering” (as distinguished from unproductive, “neurotic” suffering), we can recognize our wounding as a numinous event, an archetypal moment that seeks to make us participants in a divine, eternal happening.
We are then able to restore to our soul its capacity for consciously re-experiencing the suffering intrinsic to the initial wounding event. Suffering is an oftentimes unacknowledged means of transforming consciousness. This suffering is not pathological—it is a passion of the soul, not a disease of the mind. To quote Jung, “Real liberation comes not from glossing over or repressing painful states of feeling, but only from experiencing them to the full.” The key is to consciously experience our wound without identifying ourselves with it.
Scholar Erich Neumann, a colleague of Jung, writes, “Consequently, the individual history of every creative man is always close to the abyss of sickness; he does not, like other men, tend to heal the personal wounds involved in all development by an increased adaptation to the collectivity. His wounds remain open, but his suffering from them is situated in depths from which another curative power arises, and this curative power is the creative process.” Situated in the depths of the unconscious, the curative power of the creative spirit is catalyzed by and emerges through the genuine suffering of our wound. Instead of trying to fit in and become “normal,” a creative person is at the mercy of and in service to their wholeness, wherever that may lead.
Neumann continues, “As the myth puts it, only a wounded man can be a healer, a physician. Because in his suffering the creative man experiences the profound wounds of his collectivity and his time, he carries deep within him a regenerative force capable of bringing forth a cure not only for himself but also for the community.” Our seemingly personal wound opens us up to experience the deeper archetypal wound that is playing out in the collective body politic, as if the two–the microcosm and the macrocosm–are reflections of each other. Stepping out of taking our experience–as well as ourselves–personally allows us to consciously experience the collective wound of our time. Stepping out of ourselves in this way constellates a curative force within us. This “regenerative force” is the living, holy and whole-making creative spirit.
There is a transformative and healing effect when we recognize how our individual suffering is a personalized reflection or instantiation of the collective suffering that pervades the entire field of consciousness. As if an iteration of a deeper fractal, our personal wound is, in condensed form, the localized signature of the impersonal collective wound in which we all partake. It is liberating and healing to step out of pathologizing ourselves and re-contextualize our personal conflicts, problems and wounds as part of a wider transpersonal pattern enfolded throughout the global field of human experience. As if potential shamans who have taken on (which has a double meaning: to confront, as well as to take into ourselves) the illness in the field, we are suffering from the spirit of the age.
Interestingly, Chiron, who symbolizes the wounded healer, inhabits a cave within which is an entrance to the underworld. This symbolizes that to fully experience our wound, just like the archetypal descent of the shaman into the underworld, demands that we travel into the depths of the darkness within the unconscious. In Kabbalah, this is known as the “descent on behalf of the ascent.” Those fortunate to come out the other side and return back to the human world of consensus reality bear healing gifts for the community as fruits of their ordeal.
The prototypical exemplar of the archetype of the healer who carries a wound is the cross-carrying Christ himself. Symbolizing this archetypal process, after his crucifixion, Christ descended into the hell realms, only to return bearing the resurrected body. Interestingly, in the Acts of John, one of the most important apocryphal texts, Christ says, “I will be wounded and I will wound, Amen.” A revelation of a numinous event, our wounding can become the catalyst for the creative spirit to inspire us to grow beyond ourselves. Acceptance of our suffering is the supreme act of worship, as it is the most intimate participation in the sacred way of the cross that Christ symbolizes. Just as the spear wound in Christ’s side was seen to be the womb of the church, our wound, borne openly and willingly with consciousness, becomes the vessel for our individuating soul.
Our wound is not a static entity, but rather a continually unfolding dynamic process in which we are participating moment-by-moment. Our wound is not just happening to us in the role of a passive victim; we have a hand in its generation. The reciprocal interplay between our conscious ego and the unconscious sculpts our wound to take the particular form it does. An integral aspect of what constitutes our wound to manifest whichever way it does is our reaction to it – how we relate to it, what meaning we place on it, how we bear it. Etymologically, “to bear” has to do with giving birth. The symptoms of our wound can be likened to a creative womb out of which emerges a new version of ourselves. When embraced, the pain of our wound reveals itself to be the birth pangs of a new inner being.
As Kerenyi points out, a wounded healer, as if by “enchantment,” magically brings forth “Asklepios, the sunlike healer.” The wounded healer is intimately and mysteriously related to the mythic figure of Asklepios – who symbolizes the healing aspect of the medical arts. Their relationship is symbolic of the inter-connection between the seeming opposites of illness and healing, even bringing into question whether these processes are actually opposed to each other or whether healing and sickness are inseparable aspects of a deeper process that is being revealed through their interplay. Instead of our healing coming from outside of ourselves, Asklepios–as “the sunlike healer”–symbolizes that, just like the self-generating light of the sun, the ultimate source of our healing is to be found within ourselves. According to the myth of the wounded healer, we wouldn’t have realized this without the event of our initiatory wounding, a realization which re-contextualizes our wound from something that obscures our healing to something that reveals it.
A pioneer in the field of spiritual emergence, Paul Levy is a wounded healer in private practice, assisting others who are also awakening to the dreamlike nature of reality. He is the author of Awakened by Darkness: When Evil Becomes Your Father (Awaken in the Dream Publishing, 2015), Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil (North Atlantic Books, 2013) and The Madness of George W. Bush: A Reflection of Our Collective Psychosis (Authorhouse, 2006). His upcoming book, The Quantum Revelation: A Radical Synthesis of Science and Spirituality, is due out in April 2018 (SelectBooks). He is the founder of the “Awakening in the Dream Community” in Portland, Oregon. An artist, he is deeply steeped in the work of C. G. Jung, and has been a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner for over thirty years. Please visit Paul’s website www.awakeninthedream.com. You can contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org; he looks forward to your reflections.
 C. Kerenyi, Asklepios: Archetypal Image of the Physician’s Existence, 100.
 C. G. Jung, Man and His Symbols, 166.
 Jung writes that the birth of the self is always a defeat for the ego.
 From his song “Anthem.”
 Quoted in Eugene Taylor, William James on Exceptional Mind States: The 1896 Lowell Lectures, 110.
 Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, CW 9i, para. 587.
 Erich Neumann, Art and the Creative Unconscious, 186.
 From the old High German word beran comes the word gebaren, meaning to carry, to gestate and give birth.