There is a trope in the manosphere that lifting weights can substitute for therapy. There is a kernal of truth in this. Lifting weights can indeed get your body pumping and release endorphins that create positive emotions. However lifting weights is only a short term measure if the goal is to do inner work. And to understand why mythologically, we have to take a trip to the first Lord of the Rings movie.
The fellowship is tasked with destroying a powerful yet evil ring. It consists of 4 hobbits, an elf, a dwarf, two men and a wizard. The hobbits symbolize innocence and youth, while the dwarf, elf and two men are all based on the Warrior archetype. The wizard is obviously based on the Magician archetype. Towards the end of the movie there is a scene where the fellowship of the ring is passing through the Mines of Mora, an underground passage way. Right before they can exit the mines through the Bridge of Khazad-dum they are forced to confront the Balrog, a fire breathing dragon-like monser. In an interesting sequence of events, instead of Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas or Gimli taking on the Balrog, Gandalf, the wizard in the crew, tells the others to move on and takes on the Balrog himself.
I was reminded of this scene while reading the Robert Moore and Douglass Gillete series on The Magician archetype, where they make an off-hand comment that there are some battles that the warrior is inequiped to face and only the wizard can face them. What did they mean?
First, what did they mean by warrior and magician?
“A man accessing the Warrior archetype has ‘a positive mental attitude.’ This means that he has an unconquerable spirit, that he has great courage, that he is fearless, that he takes responsibility for his actions, and that he has self-discipline. Discipline means that he has the rigor to develop control and mastery over his mind and over his body, and that he has the capacity to withstand pain, both psychological and physical. He is willing to suffer to achieve what he wants to achieve. Whether you’re a triathlon trainee, a medical school student, an executive enduring the misguided attacks of your board members, or a husband trying to work out difficulties with your wife, you know that discipline of your mind and perhaps your body is essential.
The Magician is the knower and he is the master of technology. Whatever his title, his specialty is knowing something that others don’t know…The Magician is an initiate of secret and hidden knowledge of all kinds. And this is the important point. All knowledge that takes special training to acquire is the province of the Magician energy.
The Magician energy is the archetype of awareness and of insight, primarily, but also of knowledge of anything that is not immediately apparent or commonsensical. It ‘observes the Ego.’ Its proper role is to stand back and observe, to scan the horizon, to monitor the data coming in from both the outside and inside and then, out of its wisdom - its knowledge of power, within and without, and its technical skill in channeling - make the necessary life decisions” Additionally the magician is the archetype that guides you through inner work. Because inner work is in the domain of that which is hidden and not apparent the way outer work is.
What is the dragon? The dragon in mythology is the symbol of the monster in the unknown. Jordan Peterson says that early in our evolutionary history when we were prey animals, we were hunted by snakes and birds and the dragon is a metaphoric amalgamation of those biological threats. We abstract out the idea of danger by representing it as a dragon In Jungian psychology dragons, also represent inner demons and in Western mythological stories, the heroic thing to do is to confront them voluntarily.
Coming back to the scene from Lord of the Rings. The insight here is that the warrior does not always have the toolkit to confront the dragon and win. For example, say someone is suffering from poor self esteem. Calling upon the warrior archetype he can engage the discipline he needs to start going to the gym four times a week.
This is because one of the gifts of the warrior is disciplined action in the external world. Lifting weights and going to the gym is certainly helpful to get you to learn to be more disciplined and will hone your physique over time. And having a good physique will also give you better feedback from the outside world. You will become more attractive and people are more likely to smile at you or acknowledge you and this will create a positive feedback loop for your mental state as well. However if the root of your lack of self-esteem was because your caregivers were not around or that your early interactions with them were not nurturing, lifting weights will only partially solve that problem. To fully resolve it you must draw upon the Magician archetype and do the inner work to heal.
I also saw this video from Tim Ferris a couple of moths ago when he talks about how he has this self critical voice that is always judging him. He had always been able to process that critical voice by journalling but at a silent meditation retreat where he was not allowed to journal, he found this self-critical voice get louder and louder to the point where it became unbearable. He had this really interesting moment in the interview where he was like “I’m one of the most elite people in the world and yet this voice in me is so self critical.”
I think this is the point when Tim Ferris who has this amazing ability to figure out how to optimize your life (a warrior ethos) and how to learn new things as efficiently as possible, confronts a problem that his warrior energy is inequipped to deal. He must turn to his magician resources and journey inward to confront the dragon. This is not something he can optimize or do efficiently. It’s going to take as long as it takes.
I’m constantly reminded of that when I see these people on twitter who constantly talk about taking action. There are many times in your life when you must do exactly that and take action. But remember, while the warrior asks ‘why don’t you work harder?” the wizard asks: ‘why is this work so hard for me in the first place’?