The Servant Archetype: Re-Claiming the Joy of Serving
Archetypes are simply characters in the human narrative. We see these characters across culture, language, religion, and geography. Archetypes, hugely investigated by Carl Jung, reveal a collective conscious. By looking to the collective or external, we can gain insight about our internal world.
The Servant/Master dynamic is introduced in many religious themes. Many say that through service, one can find themselves and that this is apart of the spiritual path. The Servant is an altruistic character that finds joy in service to oneself and the world. However, as I convey the Servant archetype consider the Indentured Servant – someone who is working for a price in hopes of having freedom. In Caroline Myss’s book Sacred Contracts she says that the Servant archetype is primarily surrounding finances and how we use lack of finances to engage in a life of servitude (Cinderella). The Servant can be disempowering - many will use the Servant as a means to exploit and have power over others in the name of duty. On an individual level, you may disempower yourself by saying, “Don’t be selfish” whenever you consider your own needs. So, a seemingly light do-good attitude can quickly be manipulated if one isn’t careful.
On an individual level, consider how the Servant lives inside of you. Do you find joy by serving others? Do you look for opportunities to leave your schedule to serve the environment, animals, or other humans? What do you love about service? As a result of this joy of serving, do you also sometimes feel resentful for doing it? Do you feel like you have lost a sense of who you are because of your sense of duty? Are you in a job just for the money? Are you in a relationship just for the money? Do you escape your own life and responsibility to yourself by serving others? Do you find all your relationships are based in service and as a result feel like no one is giving back? Is it difficult for you receive?
Look into your ancestral narrative around “buying freedom.” So much of the immigrant story is hard work and sacrifice put in for a slice of the American Dream. Also consider the Great Depression and attitudes of scarcity in your family.
There is a duality that exists in every archetype. Jung believed that by holding these dualities, we also expand ourselves. There is light and shadow in everything.
Light Attributes: The light of the Servant is joy and love that comes from the heart through service. The servant could make you a loyal caretaker for those who are truly in need. You will discover a whole new side of yourself through service. In the act of service, you may feel greater connection to humanity, animals, and the earth. The Servant creates a sense of purpose and meaning to your life that is very powerful.
Shadow Attributes: The shadow is that the servant uses financial scarcity as a reason for lack of moving forward with their life. To what extent are you neglecting your mental and physical health? You may be using service as an excuse to not care for the physical and emotional needs of yourself and your family. “I don’t have enough… money, time, energy, strength (you fill in)…. “ The Servant may cling to the need to be special - “only I can do it” - that could be a means to have power and/or control. Would you lose a sense of security or control if you received from others? The Servant gains a sense of security within the world by giving of themselves and does not want to lose this security. The Servant can manifest relationships based in codependency. Do you have resentment toward your work or loved ones because you feel like there is no room for you to exist in the relationship?
Explore how the Servant exists in your life: how is it empowering you and how is it disempowering you? The key is balance. There will always be shadow, but if you can learn from the shadow and name it in your life, it will have less power over you. For example, you may be in a job just for the money but you can re-frame the dynamic. The job doesn’t have power over you because you need the money. Consider you are choosing this job because money is important for you to follow through with your higher purpose – to care for your family. Focus on your deeper desire and greater purpose. Seek ways to use the Servant for empowerment through a heart of joy and love for yourself and the world.
To explore archetypes further, I recommend works by Caroline Myss & Joseph Campbell to start.