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wounded king and Trumpism

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      Does anyone here see the myth of the wounded king as a basis for the cult following the President has managed to develop based on his public declarations of his suffering and ill treatment?


      Intriguing question.

      However, we do need to be cautious and adhere to forum guidelines:

      5. Avoid Contemporary Politics

      Given the volatile nature of contemporary political discourse, we ask that members steer clear of candidates or current political controversies. Forum members come from across the political spectrum. There are other fora across the internet for discussing myth and politics.

      As in any discussion forum, there are likely participants on all sides of current controversies – there is no political test required for exploring myth; Joseph Campbell’s work is admired by liberals, progressives, populists, conservatives, communists, and libertarians alike. However, in my experience administering multiple myth-oriented discussion boards on a variety of platforms for more than two decades, any discussions of the mythological dynamics driving current politics, no matter how reasonable the participants are and how civil they begin, soon strike archetypal nerves and trigger shadow projections, drawing reactions pro and con outside rational discussion.

      That way lies flame wars — and we are not going there.

      That said, in my mind I see a distinction between what you describe as “the cult following the President” (those who, to use his example, would support him even if he shot someone on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight – the hardcore base or personality cult, many of whom did not get involved in politics before his candidacy), and those whose politics generally align with his.

      I wouldn’t say the myth of the wounded king is a basis for the president’s fanatical following – just don’t see that parallel. Amfortas did not have a fanatical following who claimed his wound was inflicted by another so not his fault, nor did Amfortas complain about his wound – no “public declaration of his suffering and ill treatment”: unless asked about it, he suffered in silence.

      Amfortas (or Anfortas, in some versions) was raised from an early age for the role of Grail King. He becomes the Maimed King because of his personal failure to live up to the role. The wound he receives as a result is, in Campbell’s words, “in a magical way associated with the waste and sorrow of his land” (Creative Mythology, p. 391).

      Plenty of waste, sorrow, pestilence, and grief in our land today (speaking specifically of the United States), but the president’s most fanatical followers do not associate that with any failing on his part. (On the other hand, many of his opponents do.)

      There are a number of mythic associations one could make to the current administration drawn from many myths (the Grail King, yes, or the myth of King Minos as Campbell recounts in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, or elements of the hero journey arc in general, and more), but to go there calls up opinions, pro and con, about the policies and controversies of this presidency.

      As an aside, though Joseph Campbell had strong political opinions (see the letter he wrote to President Nixon supporting the secret bombing of Cambodia, a neutral nation, once that was exposed: Correspondence: 1927 – 1987, p. 242), he avoided all mention of political candidates or current political controversies, much less what side he might favor, in his writings or his lectures.

      Mythology, like biology, is nonpartisan





        I appreciate the reply. I was very aware of the thin ice my question treads across re guidelines, but I have honestly sought to understand cult followings as a cultural phenomenon.

        I suspect that all cult behavior has a deeper unconscious origin and operation than most cult members can imagine.

        Minos was scheduled for ritual regicide, if I remember correctly, and he managed to substitute the prize white bull, and boy did he pay for that bit of trickery.

        If Anfortas was a king indeed, had he not a following?

        My reading of this myth leads me to think of the wounded king as any leader that is seen by his followers to suffer in their name. How about Jesus, or any other of the religious teacher/leaders that were crucified etc.

        Philip K. Dick, in his stories, invented a cult whose mythic leader was pictured as a sufferer trudging uphill through a hail of stones, arrows, and spears.

        Does not Trump remind his followers repeatedly how he suffers mistreatment at the hands of everyone against him?

        (I would rather not have heard about Campbell’s letter to Nixon. I do not think him as a political writer at all.)

        His editing and publishing of Portable Jung knocked me back on my heels, and I have been trying to assimilate Jung ever since.



        I have to agree it is so difficult to not look at current events from a mythological perspective, which does so much to deepen and enhance understanding. Unfortunately, considering all the shadow projections that can call up, it is playing with fire to go there.

        The dynamic you describe re ritual regicide is one that was followed by god-kings as conscious self-awareness evolved over time and a sense of ego (me, myself, I)  became more sharply defined. By today’s standards, I can’t really fault someone for deciding to step back from doing one’s duty by voluntarily submitting to death, and instead substituting a stand-in (though the earliest replacement sacrifices were other humans; the Apis bull in Egypt and similar bovines elsewhere are much more acceptable to 21st century ethics).

        However, though in the case of King Minos there is a substitution involved, it’s not to save his own skin, but something a bit more sinister (and, re current affairs, perhaps more on point – definitely a profit motive involved):

        “The bull in question had been sent by the god Poseidon, long ago, when Minos was contending with his brothers for the throne. Minos had asserted that the throne was his, by divine right, and had prayed the god to send up a bull out of the sea, as a sign; and he had sealed the prayer with a vow to sacrifice the animal immediately, as an offering and symbol of service. The bull had appeared, and Minos took the throne; but when he beheld the majesty of the beast that had been sent and thought what an advantage it would be to possess such a specimen, he determined to risk a merchant’s substitution — of which he supposed the god would take no great account. Offering on Poseidon’s altar the finest white bull that he owned, he added the other to his herd.”

        The Hero with a Thousand Faces (3rd edition © 2008)

        Campbell zeroes in on the exact nature of the transgression:

        “He had converted a public event to personal gain, whereas the whole sense of his investiture as king had been that he was no longer a mere private person. The return of the bull should have symbolized his absolutely selfless submission to the functions of his role. The retaining of it represented, on the other hand, an impulse to egocentric self-aggrandizement. And so the king ‘by the grace of God’ became the dangerous tyrant Holdfast — out for himself.”

        I’ll leave it to anyone so inclined to connect the dots ( a case can be made this is nothing unusual for many rulers in today’s world, though some are more egregious than others).

        Your reading of the myth of the Wounded King expands the story so it works for you, which is not necessarily a bad thing. From my perspective, though, that still seems one heck of a stretch that requires projecting assumptions grounded in contemporary culture back into another time and era to find correspondences where none explicitly exist. Kings, for example, didn’t have followers (especially in those pre-Magna Carta days); they had subjects. Choice isn’t really part of it – if you are born into that land, you are stuck with its king, for good or ill.

        Amfortas’ subjects aren’t depicted as seeing him suffering in their name; yes, he suffers, but as a result of his own arrogance and action – and, as a result of his failure, all his subjects suffer too (as opposed to Christ, who is blameless and lifts the suffering of his followers by taking their suffering on himself).

        A case could no doubt be made today that the nation is in dire straits because of poor decisions by an ego-centric leader, but I seriously doubt “the base” knows (as it seems does everyone in the bewitched castle in the Amfortas tale) that their leader brought that suffering on himself. The wounded Grail King never once tells his subjects how he suffers mistreatment at the hands of everyone against him; he suffers in silence (way at odds with current events!), and waits patiently for another to relieve him of his pain – and the person who does arrive and heals king and kingdom is received as the new Grail King (rather than Amfortas protesting that the throne remains rightfully his).

        But then, that’s my perspective, which is bound to differ from yours; myths aren’t like sacred scripture, where there is only one inerrant interpretation requiring a Hundred Years War over whether communion mass is transubstantiation or consubstantiation (either way, one still drinks the wine and swallows the wafer). If your interpretation helps you make sense of the strange, surreal circumstances playing out today, particularly the behavior of the multitude, who am I to argue?

        In contrast with the Grail myth, I do find some correlations between King Minos and contemporary actions of some political leaders – but the mythic archetype I find most useful in processing what’s in play today is that of the Trickster – specifically, Coyote. Though we sometimes think of him as relatively benign (perhaps shaped by the kind-of-cute, persistent, ultimately incompetent Wile E. Coyote who launches elaborate schemes yet never succeeds in catching, killing and eating the Roadrunner – reminding me of Barney Fife if he were an animated feral carnivore), many of the myths throughout the southwestern United States  where Coyote plays a central role portray him as anything but a sympathetic figure.

        Only on rare occasions does Coyote come off well (e.g., stealing fire – or the Sun – for humankind, and even then he exhibits problematic behavior). For example, of 66 traditional Coyote tales collected from Jicarilla Apache storytellers by anthropologist Morris Edward Opler, only two portray him in a halfway favorable light. The rest depict him as self-absorbed, regularly guilty of deception, adulterous, lascivious perversities, grabbing women by the p****y, luring culture heroes to their death, stealing babies, cheating innocents and strangers, hoarding, self-gratification galore, and more. He regularly persuades individuals and whole communities to trust him, pretending to look out for others to get what he wants and then screwing everyone in the process (no principles – wholly transactional, come to think of it). He is especially gifted at fomenting conflict and confusion.

        And yet, what he does to disrupt the cultural status quo ultimately works out (though only rarely for Coyote, and not always for those who cooperate or are conned by him).

        That last bit is what I take refuge in … lots of chaos and conflict in society right now, a lot of excrement being stirred up and brought to the surface. It very much feels like trickster energies have been in play, especially the past four years as traditions are ignored, institutions damaged, and norms overturned – and yet, despite all that, feels like we are in the birth of something new.


          Manners and goals may differ, but in essence it is the opposite of the maimed king. It reminds me to the smashing of the Sumer civilisation by Sargon II on the very same grounds: to conquer the fertile soils, exploit it and cast oneself as a god-ruler, a dictator, an usurper, a tiran (in abundancy available throuhout time, not to mention the recent century and this one), and to mirror this fruitless road as stonestep to heaven. The neo-feudal promise, this simple one-dimensional temptation bewitching the secret and selected mass. Dante’s deepest hell en face. The perspective of about the half of the northern american united states people, a global minority.


            I really appreciate considered replies.  Not a lot of people have the patience to discuss this stuff.

            So a willing victim of a ritual regicide would be submitting much as a sacrificial child under an Aztec knife.

            You seem to indicate that ego development ushered in this new view, yet ego development through history seems to only be a ladder climb by one gender.

            Amfortas could not help but be king, just like my tomcat, George.

            I have some Campbell lectures that I listen to over and over.  Keeping up with him in thought is not easy but is fun.

            Here is a diagram I found.  Maybe it shows us that unconscious currents, in which we are all shipwrecked sailors of some sort, get swept along and maybe swept away, depending of the worthiness of each Queequeg coffin.




              Amfortas, the fisher king, the maimed king, unable to bring the land back to fruitfullness, a masculine genderisation in contrast to the femenine earth which brings forth life and nourishment. The saviour involved, Parceval (righly identified by JC as ‘par ce val’ – through the middle – the straight way through the valley not to be temped by impressive mountains (aka shouting, swearing, lying and twisted braggarts) but instead aiming at a unspoiled straightforward trueness) is the only one who must learn to overcome subjection of habit, cast, indoctrination and the lot, to act and decide on one own grounds, responsible, responsive, supportive and in concord with the world around. This very story is not about Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere and the rest around the table, the arthurian pantheon, but the hero in who we can reflect ourself. This is the profane (and way older) version rendered into a reinterpreted mashup of occidental and oriental sacral traditions of much later time.

              The victims of aztec rituals were captives of war. It can be assumed there were not eager to contribute in this fashion the aztec sun cult.

              It is very difficult to read the blue part. It is to romantic and way to simplified to my taste.


                Thanks again for the reply.  The “blue” field of the posted diagram is just an anima/animus as part of the model.

                I am posting a link to a story by psychiatrist Bandy Lee that articulates the thinking I was trying to express.  She describes the narcissistic leader who flaunts his wounds and attracts followers who feel wounded in similar ways.  She describes their relationship as a “lock and key”.




                The Scientific American article is an excellent analysis, jeb13. Now that four months have passed since the January 6 insurrection, seems we are not doing a very good job of following the author’s recommendations. The “offending agent” has been removed, but there are no legal consequences for him (thus far); indeed, he continues to have a lock on the support of his party– so much so that several political leaders who seemed outraged and done with him on January 7 are back to kowtowing.

                Leaves me wondering at times if mental illness might be contagious . . .

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