Personifying social life in the age of organization

The gods and goddesses: personifying social life in the age of organization

Martin L. Bowles

Goffman, E.

1967 Interaction ritual. Garden City: Doubleday.

Graves, R.

1955 The Greek myths, Vols. I and II. London: Pelican.

Guest, D.

1987 ‘Human resource management and industrial relations’. Journal of Management Studies 24/5: 503-521. Introduction

This paper continues the series of papers by Bowles (1990; 1991a, b) to provide an understanding of social processes in organizations according to a Jungian framework. This work builds on earlier contributions offered by Denhardt (1981), Mitroff (1983a, b), Krefting and Frost (1985), and White and McSwain (1983). Such an approach attempts to incorporate a depth model of psyche and to move beyond the reification of human action in organizations, with its behaviourist or cognitive emphases and ‘scientific’ epistemology, typical of mainstream psychology. Alternative sociological approaches, providing a subjective account of social life, can also be understood to reify the human agency by focusing merely on the analysis of conversation and other modes of social construction. (Goffman 1967; Silverman 1970). Neither orthodox psychology nor subjectivist sociology get near to the essence of what it is that is truly human. Without an appreciation and a central understanding of the role of the unconscious, all attempts to explain social life must fail. Explanations of social processes must account for the psychic structures of individual participants. (Fromm 1968; White and McSwain 1983).

The aim of this paper is to explore the images of archetypes as they are currently reflected in organizational life. The concept of archetype is explained before providing a discussion of archetypes as ‘gods’. The position adopted here is that the life forms or archetypes can be thought of as the ‘Gods’ which mankind has worshipped in different guises from antiquity onwards. The rational and scientific culture has all but changed the understanding of the contemporary world into a set of concepts turning life in general, for many, into a meaningless fight for survival where material gains become the sole reference point for human experience. Jung (1967a) states that when the Gods die, they become our diseases. In other words, when we fail to honour the archetype, they can manifest themselves instead in various forms of physical and mental illness. These archetypes are characterized here by reference to Mount Olympus and the pantheon of Greek gods and goddesses. The images of gods as they are currently evoked and represented in contemporary organizational life are identified. Further, those gods and goddesses who receive little appreciation or recognition in the current age of organization are reviewed.

It must be emphasized that the form of analysis offered here is a psychological or esoteric one, not a religious one. Nothing can be said of the nature of a Godhead, as it is beyond the realms of human comprehension to know. This draws on the Kantian distinction between ‘what is’ and ‘what is rationally knowable’. References to gods and goddesses are thus made at the level of god images as they are manifested through the collective unconscious and as they are represented in myth, dream, fairy tale, and fantasy (Campbell 1976). Such an understanding was evoked by Jung (1967a, 1968b, 1970) and was more recently elaborated and extended by Hillman (1972, 1975, 1980, 1981). In elaborating the ideas of these seminal thinkers in the context of social life in organizations, caution needs to be exercised as the implications of their work lie beyond the limits of this paper.

An Archetypal View of Social Life

Kirkhardt and White (1977) provide a model of social life which includes four levels of reality: a ‘structural level’ referring to institutional arrangements embodied in patterns of expectation and social contract; a ‘social relations’ level which refers to the realm of social consciousness in which individuals negotiate; a ‘nomological level’ which refers to the realm of individual consciousness through which individuals experience and construe reality; and a fourth level, that of ‘human encounter’, which involves a dialogue with the deepest levels of the psyche. The ‘human encounter’ level can operate so as to convert unconscious energy to inform the human ego, social relations and social structure. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that an inter-penetration can occur between all four levels (Mitroff 1983b) and, in this way, the social world can lead to the elaboration of archetypes at the deeper level of the psyche. These unconscious energies, White and McSwain (1983: 294) state, ‘exert a major impact on thought and action in the world, whether this is directly recognized or not’. The nature of the unconscious is such that it represents ‘an objective reality analogous to that of the body, in that it is as highly structured and as law like in its processes as is the body — and just as autonomous’ (White and McSwain 1983: 195).

The attempt to include the ‘human encounter’ level, or what will be referred to as ‘archetypal reality’, in social understanding, is seen as providing several advantages over contemporary approaches in the social sciences. First, it brings explanations of social life more in line with developments in other disciplines which are indicating an order of complexity of life phenomena far beyond that suggested by traditional science; for example, the notion of ‘implicate structures’ in physics (Bohm 1980) and the notion of ‘morphic resonance’ in biology (Sheldrake 1988, 1990). These ideas have very clear parallels with Jung’s notion of archetype. Second, an archetypal understanding moves beyond the ‘ego psychology’ which has characterized so much of recent social history; the ‘me’ and ‘I’ as the centre of being, the narcissistic centring and retreat into oneself (Lasch 1979). Such an approach is not only alienating, but one of hubris. Third, an archetypal explanation emphasizes that each individual comprises both masculine and feminine elements (gods and goddesses) which help to challenge the mysogyny practised in patriarchal societies and organizations. Fourth, an archetypal understanding emphasizes the role of the imagination in unlocking the ‘ground of being’ and extends our epistemologies and modes of knowing who and what we are (Hillman 1975). It moves us beyond the narrow limits of positivism and science, the intellect and thought towards the imaginal, feelings, and intuitions. Fifth, and particularly important, is the realization that the social world can be constructed in any infinite number of ways according to the archetypal constellations involved. In other words, the type of social life we currently experience is merely one singular archetypal expression of a whole range of possibilities. By engaging alternative archetypes then, the form of social life, potentially at least, can be quite different. There is therefore no inevitability in the nature of the contemporary corporate society that exists. These ideas will be developed further in the paper.

Before discussing the gods and goddesses of organization, the notion of archetype and the basis on which archetypes are referred to as gods is explored. This framework is vital to understand the archetypal perspective through which the gods and goddesses of organization can be understood.


Previous description of archetypes in relation to social and organizational affairs has been presented by Jung (1964b), Odajynk (1976), Denhardt (1981), white and McSwain (1983), Bowles (1990, 1991a, b). Bowles (1991a) describes how, for Jung, the unconscious is composed of two parts. First, the personal unconscious contains forgotten material, subliminal perceptions and impressions which do not have enough energy to reach consciousness. In addition, it also contains all those psychic contents for which the individual experiences an incompatibility either morally or intellectually with a consciously held ego position. Second, and of major concern here, is a deeper layer, referred to be Jung as the ‘objective’, ‘collective’ or ‘universal’ unconscious. The contents of the collective unconscious belong to each and every individual and trace the collective history of human beings through oft-repeated experiences which become etched into the human mind. Jung (1969: 227) states, ‘Archetypes are the river-beds along which the currents of psychic life has always flowed’. The psyche then, as does the body, exhibits the evolutionary time scale and it would be surprising if it were different in this respect. The number of archetypes comprising the collective unconscious is potentially limitless, but in reflecting ‘typical experiences of life’ they are most clearly represented by immediate realities such as mother, father, child, hero, wise old man, birth and death.

Archetypes are the building blocks of psyche and help to inform our social action and experience. They are what Hillman (1975) calls, the ‘skeletal structures of the psyche’. Archetypes are forms of apprehension which give rise to ways of thinking, feeling, imagining and experiencing and, for Jung, they are the images of the instincts, but whereas instincts are understood as typical modes of action and reaction, archetypes emerge into consciousness as ideas and images (Jung 1969). From birth, the experience of the child’s environment will constellate archetypes in particular ways. The experience of mother, for example, as good or bad, as nurturing or uncaring, will constellate either the positive aspect of the mother archetype, whereby images of the rewarding experience of the personal mother will be set in motion, or, alternatively, the negative aspect, where more threatening or provocative images of the personal mother will be released. The child’s experience of parents, brothers, sisters, teachers, playmates and so on will constellate the archetypal make-up of the child which will affect consciousness in the way psychic energy either flows or is inhibited in the feelings, images and affects that are realized, and, in this way, the matrix or blueprint for a human life is laid down.

To regard the archetypes as historically evolved, as Jung most often referred to them, emphasizes the empirical point of view, but the notion of archetype was in fact borrowed from Plato and St. Augustine. Plato conceived of a world of phenomena and a world of forms or Ideas. By the former, Plato meant the changing and essentially unreal world of appearances which corrupts, decays and dies. The world of Forms on the other hand is real and eternal, and is different from the things we sense. The ‘objects’ that are sensed are impermanent; we can have opinions of these objects but their true knowledge cannot be known. In using the ‘parable of the cave’, Plato described how only ‘appearances’ can be seen. Human beings, as it were, live in a cave, chained in such a fashion that they cannot move, but must look at a wall. Light (truth) above and behind them streams into the cave but they see only the shadows of reality projected on the walls and apprehended through sensory experience. What was called ‘reminiscence’ by Plato serves to demonstrate the existence of these Forms. Reminiscence involves a rational knowledge (logos) of the soul for Plato, but a rationality different from the objective, empirical form of rationality we currently know, being one which gives vital expression to the role of the imagination. St. Augustine, in a somewhat similar vein, spoke of ‘principle ideas’. These ideas do not form on their own accord, but are laid down in the mind of an individual through the hand of a divinity. Jung (1968a: 101) actually queries the historical explanation of archetypes when he confesses ‘whether the archetypes ever originated at all is a metaphysical question and therefore unanswerable’. He adds that if they ever originated, their origin must have coincided with the origin of the species. There are therefore two separate explanations of the derivation of archetypes in the collective unconscious.

Moreno (1970) says that in order to prove the existence of the archetypes, three criteria need to be satisfied: first, one observes the same thing in different individuals; second, others confirm that they have made the same observations; third, the same or similar phenomena can be shown to occur in the folklore of other peoples and races. Jung provides evidence throughout his collected works of collective forms and ideas of different individuals recorded in myths, dreams and active imagination. Support for the notion of the mother archetype has been produced in detail by Neumann (1954). Campbell (1976) testifies to the appearance of archetypal configurations as expressed in mythology worldwide. For Jung, myth is the symbolic expression of the inner unconscious drama which can become accessible to man’s consciousness by way of reflection. Primitives do not invent myths, Campbell (1976) states, they experience them. Myths appear to convey vital messages, so much so that when a group or culture loses its mythology a moral catastrophe occurs. Further support for the notion of archetype has been provided by others writing from the fields of philosophy and religion (Corbin 1972; Casey 1974).

It is difficult to prove the existence of archetypes by observing the behaviour of normal individuals, due to its supra personal and primitive nature. In a critical assessment of the notion of archetype, Moreno (1970: 24) states, ‘that the archetypes bring forth to the present individual the mind of our ancestors is probably correct, as dreams, schizophrenia and other observed phenomena reveal’. Moreno (1970: 8) concludes, ‘like the majority of hypotheses concerning modern science, they are suggested by empirical observations, but not derived from them’. Hillman (1975: 118) states, ‘Archetypal ideas are primarily speculative ideas, that is they encourage speculation, a word which means mirroring, reflecting, visioning’. The fact that the contents of the archetypes are ultimately interwoven with the conscious mind, and, as such, with the everyday world, provides the clothing through which the archetype speaks. The content with which archetypes are represented will vary according to the history and culture of a society, and will be filled out by individual experience.

Archetypes and Gods

The gods and goddesses on Mount Olympus could be taken at one level to represent a set of metaphors through which contemporary human life and social action are more fully understood (Handy 1978). Morgan (1980, 1983a, 1986) has supported the use of metaphor against the tyranny of positivistic epistemology in organization studies. At another level, the gods and goddesses can be understood to be more than mere labels which symbolize particular features of social life. Miller (1981) argues that, as transpersonal energies, the archetypes are ‘divine’: they convey a mystery beyond human understanding and, as such, constitute the gods and goddesses of human experience. Miller (1981: 98) states, ‘The Gods and Goddesses are not cute allegories and analogies, figures of speech for evangelizing and moralistic orators, just as they are neither psychological nor social roles. Rather they are the empowering worlds of our existence; the deepest structures of reality’. Bolen (1984, 1989) names the archetypes as gods and goddesses which live through us, capturing our thoughts, feelings, and behaviour. Hillman (1972: 168) argues that, in Jung’s language, the archetypes reflect the gods and supports this case by stating ‘… that, that takes place in the psyche reflects the divine’. For Hillman (1975), the founder of the school of archetypal psychology, the gods are not to be believed in, but imagined. The imagination is understood as the essence of existence, denoting the ground of experience. Hillman (1975: 226) states, ‘By entering the imagination we cross into numerous precincts’. William Blake (1966) wrote, ‘The Imagination is the Human Existence itself’. Hillman (1975), in condemning the approach of positivistic psychology, states that the basic questions of psychology are reached only by means of the imagination. More recently, in the area of organization studies, Morgan (1986) has argued for the use of ‘imaginization’ to comprehend the make-up of social life.

The Role of Myth in Social Life

Freud (1940), with a focal reliance on the myth of Oedipus, was the first to understand how myth depicted the essence of psychological experience. However, it was Jung who principally expanded the place of myth in describing the plurality of the psyche. More recently, Hillman (1980: iv) has observed ‘we are learning what other cultures always knew: to know ourselves we must know the gods and goddesses of myth. We must face the Gods’. Hillman (1981) states that the gods of myth show that by loving, quarrelling, cheating, revenging, killing, and by being sexually obsessed, vulnerable and torn apart, they are not only perfections, reserving all abnormalities to humans, but are quite the reverse. In this regard, Hillman (1980: 3) states ‘the myths in which gods appear are replete with behaviour, that from the secular standpoint must be classified under criminal pathology, moral monstrosity of personality disorders’. The gods then are human — all too human — but in essence they are transpersonal: they exist in us, but at the same time beyond us, they inform our everyday thought and action, but they are not a personal acquisition. Hillman (1981) is very clear to point out that the Gods cannot be psychologized because they are ultimately unknowable. Therefore, they cannot be part of an ‘ego psychology’. They can only be imagined; not finally spelt out. In all senses, this approach is a Platonic attempt to understand the nature of human experience. It is the antithesis of the Aristotelian approach. Jeger (1967) comments that Aristotle admitted that the whole of his school’s philosophy was just another formal and logical vocabulary for what Hesiod (1953) in the ‘Theogony’ had explained in mythic forms as the stories of the Gods. Miller (1981: 54) recognizes a twist when he states, ‘… if we have got rid of the gods by thinking in a particular sort of way and if the new concepts, ideas and logics of thinking are merely new names, then the gods have not been got rid of at all. They are still there as Aristotle knew, repressed and forgotten but actually alive in our ideas’. The gods and goddesses then, have been turned into ideas, concepts and categories of secular philosophy. In this guise, they take on a rationalistic pretence and become scientized. What Aristotle and other Greek thinkers objected to in the world of the gods appears to have been the anthropomorphic way of thinking about human meaning. However, to change gods into concepts has, as Miller (1981: 56) states, ‘swept away the feeling in the thinking that makes life lively’. Jung (1970) comments that concepts are coined and negotiable, whereas images are life. The cool rational thinking world becomes a dead world, a world which lacks life and vitality, where intellectual formulation and the aridness of scientific enquiry are expected to provide a meaningful justification for living a life. If the criteria of health and adjustment are used, what a setback science and secular philosophy have been! Miller (1981) argues that a re-mythologization of life is necessary, fundamentally to put feeling and intuition back into life; to address the overemphasis on rationalism.

When the gods and goddesses are understood in the light of the insights offered by the collective unconscious, a new myth evolves. Myths will always need to change according to the age and its knowledge. The myth of science is long outworn and needs to be re-vitalized and re-modelled. Heidegger (1966) proposes that we think of the Greek gods as worlds which ‘name the realities of life’, a need caused by the imposition of logic and rationality as the unrestrained dictator in contemporary life. It is not a matter of giving up logical thinking, it is ‘to become aware of the pantheon parading our thoughts without control and even against our will’ (Miller 1981: 53).

Organizations and Gods

A full elaboration of the psychological nature of the Greek gods and goddesses has not been achieved, but an important start to this work has been offered by Hillman (1972, 1975, 1980), Miller (1981) and Bolen (1984, 1989). A full account of the nature and characteristics of the Greek gods is provided by Graves (1955), Kerenyi (1979), Otto (1979) and Stassinopoulos (1983). In using the Greek pantheon, it must be recognized that this is a patriarchal one. Nevertheless, Kerenyi (1981) comments that religion in Greece never became exclusively patriarchal in that it retained a venerated mother divinity. In fact, Bolen (1984) uses the Greek goddesses to attempt an account of the psychology of contemporary women. It must be understood that the gods and goddesses as archetypes are constituent of the collective unconscious of both men and women. Whilst the terms ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ are used, they are understood as contrasting psychological forms which are not necessarily tied to gender (Samuels 1985). In using images of gods and goddesses to portray life in organizations, it is important to realize that these are used to describe structures of consciousness which, for Hillman (1980: 30), represents ‘a manner of existence, or attitude toward existence and a set of ideas’. It is not so much that the individual lives through the archetype, but that the archetype lives through the individual. Hillman (1980: 30) states, ‘I do not ever truly have ideas, they have hold, contain, govern me’. It must be remembered that for Jung (1968) the archetype is ‘unknowable’, it can only be intuited from the images of everyday life within which the archetype clothes itself.

In the following account, the gods and goddesses are described in accordance with what we know of their genealogy in myth, and through contemporary images which infer an archetypal pattern. This follows the scheme of Bolen (1984, 1989) who depicts the gods and goddesses as described in myth, conveying archetypal patterns, and shaping life at the level of each and every individual.

The images of the gods and goddesses which most clearly express the nature of contemporary organizational life with its emphasis on hierarchy, goal-directedness, efficiency and rationality, are Zeus, Apollo and Athena. These features of organization were central to Weber’s (1947) description of the morphology of bureaucracy: the organizational form which came to dominate twentieth century social life. In 1958, Simon provided a classic exposition of the rational model of organization, where efficiency was the central goal for achievement. For Simon (1958), it was only with reference to the goals of an organization that an individual’s action could be described as rational: acting alone, the individual was incapable of rational behaviour. Rationality for Simon (1958) was understood as the accomplishment of ‘given purposes’ which, as Denhardt (1981) argues, is a narrow definition of rationality itself.

In a cultural and ideological framework which focuses on rational action, the irrational side of organization inevitably becomes repressed. This irrational side can be represented by the images of the gods Aries, Poseidon, Pan and Dionysos. The Goddess Aphrodite represents not only sexuality, but human relatedness, and her son Eros is symbolically important as an image in which, in the present age, can be seen as a way out of domination, hierarchy, and division. Artemis, Dionysos, and Hermes also represent important images through which the current emphasis on rationalism, control and submersion to a social ethic can be corrected. By using these images, it must be understood that myth is not a concrete, rational or literal language. A fixed meaning, therefore, cannot be attributed to a particular figure in myth. Myths and symbols are a means to explore: they are hermeneutic devices, which serve to convey meanings and feelings often not directly accessible through formal modes of language. No definitive meaning of a myth can be attempted as this would render it a dogma, which is what religious practice attempts to achieve.

The Sky Gods of Greek myth define the characteristics of all patriarchal cultures, those gods who live in the heavens or mountain tops and who are omnipotent deities, who rule at a distance and expect complete subordination to their interests. Myths clearly demonstrate how these gods fear overthrow by a son, as exemplified in the myths of Cronus or Uranus. Cronus swallowed each of his children when it was prophesied that a son would overthrow him. In all, he consumed three daughters and two sons. The sky Gods were for ever concerned about a counterveiling agency that would lead to their downfall. This conveys a desire to maintain vested interests. A father who consumes his children’s autonomy and growth suffers from what Bolen (1989) calls a ‘Cronus complex’. Such a complex can be said to play a part in those organizations which are characterized by rigid hierarchy and power domination. The biblical story of Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice Isaac according to God’s (Yahweh) demands, is testimony to the blind obedience that can be expected according to patriarchal values. Patriarchal values emphasize the acquisition of power and control (Denhardt 1981). Bolen (1989) describes how patriarchal culture is hostile to inncence, and how it devalues child-like qualities and awards men for their ability to be like Abraham, Agamemnon and Darth Vader, who couple blind obedience with authority and ambition.

Zeus: Power-centred Action

The images of the Sky Gods of the modern contemporary age can be compared to the larger than life versions of men (and women) in power in contemporary organizations who characterize many aspects of the Zeus myth. Zeus can be considered as the ruling archetype within contemporary culture and organizations, where precedence is given to the mental realm of power and will. Zeus himself was the chief and most powerful of the Olympian Gods. From his position in the sky, he dominated the landscape and ruled over it all. The position of his rule is of great symbolic importance. Bolen (1989: 45) states, ‘to venture upward into the sky realm requires leaving the earth, losing touch with a tangible world in order to gain a wide overview of the terrain’. Such a view potentially loses touch with the detail and essence of everyday events. Bureaucracy, and the abstraction of social life it represents, is of this kind. The bureaucratic organization is the view of how an organization should operate according to a formal logic (Apollonian). Bureaucracy is something that Zeus would appreciate in order to prevent others’ emotions and behaviours getting out of control. It would serve as the agent of his dominion. At the same time, however, Zeus would not appreciate bureaucracy acting as a limitation for his whims and fancies. Bolen’s (1989) study of Zeus emphasizes the image of the authoritarian father who has the final word. Zeus’ emblem is ‘might makes right’. This might include a certain degree of openness up to the point where decision is made. Iacocca (1984: 55), who might be thought of as exhibiting a Zeus-like image, states: ‘my policy has always been to be democratic all the way to the point of decision. Then I become the ruthless commander’. Bolen (1989: 58) comments that if a Zeus-type figure has to wage a major conflict in his business that may ruin others financially, or fires people who have worked for him or makes on example of someone, he can give orders that are equivalent to thunder bolts. A Zeus-type figure has little or no feeling in such a situation; his psychological distance allows feelings and values to be circumvented.

In myth, Zeus was particularly adept at strategy and forming alliances in an attempt to consolidate his power — a clear characteristic of contemporary organizational life (Pfeffer 1981). However, Zeus’ most definitive characteristic was his attempt to impose his will on others. Anyone who dared to incur his wrath could receive first-hand experience of his thunderbolt. The world of power and domination represented by Zeus is akin to bureaucracy and aspects of more recently devised management systems. Townley (1989), for example, describes how increasing attention given to performance appraisal systems in organizations leads to an increased monitoring of behavioural and attitudinal control. The new practices of what Berg (1986) calls ‘symbolic management’, also attempt to enhance organizational control through ideological means. Bolen (1989) comments that we become like Zeus when we want an exalted position and power either over others, or in order to accomplish what we want in the world.

Zeus not only represents domination, in myth he is also described as a rain-bringer, and therefore has a generative function. There are clearly times when the image of a Zeus figure, either at an organizational or societal level, is called for. In the political realm, Margaret Thatcher might be said to represent a Zeus-type figure, showing that such an image is not the preserve of men only. The capacity for decisive action can be countered by a Zeus figure’s fear of being usurped in any programme which radically changes the power structure or the status quo. Zeus’ position, at the human level, is often one of a monumental ego, Bolen (1989) states, and where change is seen to enhance power and standing, then decisive action can be countenanced.

As a philanderer, Zeus was a master of disguise in order to win his way with the women that he eyed from Olympus. He could become a shower of gold to impregnate Danae; he seduced Leda in the form of a swan; and as a white bull he carried off Europa. Zeus, then, could be many things to many people. When an individual is chameleon-like, it can be difficult for others to pin down who this person actually is, and what he/she represents. What is more, it can be equally difficult for the person concerned to know who he or she really is. Zeus, the master of disguise, represents something of the capacity of contemporary organizations and managers to manipulate information to create images. Again, the emphasis on symbolic management (Berg 1986; Alvesson 1990) demonstrates the increasing attention to this activity in the management of organizations. Indeed, the innovation in leadership theory in recent years has been to stress the function of management as the management of meaning (Pondy 1978; Smircich and Morgan 1982). The management of such images designed by the organization for the organization, clearly represents a form of ideological control.

A significant part of the Zeus’ ‘shadow’ is the capacity for emotional distance. The contemporary individual who demonstrates a Zeus pattern acquires power and money as though it were a game; has little sensitivity, moral capacity, or empathy, etc. In this way, the pattern represents Maccoby’s (1976) Jungle Hunter, who is on the move to enhance his power and reputation and cares little for others. Zeus’ symbol is the eagle, and on Mt. Olympus he is characteristically on the look-out for who and what he wants to acquire. In the contemporary era, this is represented by the takeover, merger or the international market. The Zeus pattern is single-minded in action, but the capacity for single mindedness leaves little or no room for genuine human connection. Everyone is expendable. When the expression of emotionality and sensitivity do occur, it is more likely to be strategically exercised in order to enhance and manipulate power. The element of self-possession of Zeus the god is demonstrated in his dark aspect as the incestuous father who seduced his daughter Persephone. His paranoia was shown by swallowing Metis, who was pregnant, when he feared that she would give birth to a son who would overthrow his father. Zeus’ paranoia is linked with his need for power. This mantle of power which Zeus represents often manifests itself at the human level as inflation and grandiosity. When the shadow of the Zeus pattern unravels itself in full, it can have ill-fated consequences for people, organizations and society more generally. The story of Harold Green at ITT is indicative (Sampson 1978).

Apollo: Regulatory Control

Apollo was Zeus’ favourite son and his world is that of the intellect, will and mind. He was the lord of day and night who represented the ‘solar’, ‘bright’, ‘shining’ and ‘pure’ elements, who served to illuminate the rational or the spiritual. Apollo was an archer, a law-giver and punisher of wrongs. As with all gods and goddesses, these characteristics represent both admirable and shadow characteristics.

Bolen (1989) suggests that, as an archetypal pattern, Apollo personifies the need for a clear definition, order and harmony which prefers to look at the surface rather than at what underlies appearances. As an archer, Apollo sets his sights, defines his target and is purposeful.

However, this purposefulness is achieved at the expense of feeling and emotion. Desire for distance, from ‘going skyward’, the principle of Apollo being the ‘solar’, whether it be the intellect or the spirit, can cause an abstract form of reference, as it does for the Zeus pattern. Apollonian consciousness manifests itself at the organizational and societal levels in the laws and rules, legal institutions and the apparatus by which order is upheld. Apollonian consciousness is very uncomfortable with any degree of turbulence, emotional intensity or discord. Apollo’s ethic is a rational one in which reason and logic are the instruments through which order is achieved. The Apollonian pattern informs the ‘science’, ‘objectivity’ and ‘reason’ of the contemporary age. Bureaucracy is fundamentally a system of the rule of law of so-called objective reason (Weber 1947), where ‘logic’ so-called, overrides emotional, temperamental and subjective issues (Denhardt 1981). In this way, it claims to be ‘scientific’. The work of Simon (1958), referred to earlier, has played a very significant role over the last thirty years in defining the issue of organizational rationality and its achievements, for both theorists and practitioners. The scientific assumptions and values which underpin organizational design, stemming from Taylor to more recent statements of contingency theorists, reflect a body of thought which reifies human agency, treating it as something to be moulded, designed, and manipulated. This, Ingersoll and Adams (1987), state, represents a truncated and deformed version of ‘reason’. It is, the authors comment (1987: 366), ‘a technical rationality that seeks to analyse and control rather than to understand and appreciate’. The machine metaphor (Morgan 1986) has held the paramount ground in the theory of organizational ideas and design. Such ideas have recently received much thrust according to the evangelism of TQM, or Total Quality Management.

Apollo the man, Bolen (1989) suggests, does not want to be ‘top dog’, he wants to be part of a team and his purpose above all is to serve those in charge. His own sense of power is achieved from serving and satisfying the power-holder’s need for regulation and control. In this way, Apollo, in his human form as the bureaucrat, represents the much-needed arm for the execution of a Zeus dictatorship. The Apollo man can be thought to represent what Whyte (1956) calls, the modern ‘organization man’.

To the extent that organizational and social life requires some degree of order and regulation, and to the extent that human reason can be used to achieve this, Apollonian consciousness is a necessary attribute of organization. However, as Bolen (1989) notes, there is a hidden and dark aspect to this archetypal pattern which involves repression of feelings and emotions. This repression can cause Apollo to be a vengeful God, as demonstrated in the myth of Orion. Artemis, Apollo’s sister once loved a hunter, Orion. Jealous Apollo challenged her to try to hit a far-off speck in the distant sea, doubting whether she could do it. Competitive Artemis rose to the challenge, hitting the target, only to find out too late that she had killed Orion, who had waded out into the sea until only his head was above water. Bowles (1991a) describes the shadow of Apollonian consciousness in contemporary organization. Monick (1987) notes that the shadow of Apollonian consciousness, or what he calls ‘solar phallos’, is motivated by conquest in the interest of ‘truth’. Bowles (1990a) comments that the shadow of Apollonian consciousness emerges in the tyranny shown to those who are unable and unwilling to measure up. The emphasis currently given to financial and accounting control in organizations, the attempt to turn all values, including human, into numbers, is reflective of an Apollonian consciousness.

Athena: The Pragamatism of Action

After swallowing Metis, described above, Zeus developed a raging headache and Hephaestus, who was serving as midwife, drilled a hole in the side of his head to allow the birth not of a son, but of Athena. Athena was her father’s daughter, helping to serve the patriarchy in every way possible, and she was the only one entrusted with his thunderbolt. Athena represents ‘rational thinking and standards for the domination of world and reason over instinct and nature’ (Bolen 1984: 76). Athenean consciousness does not of itself depend on the rule of law as it does under Apollonian consciousness. It represents getting a job done in the most ‘efficient’ way, and in the fastest time. Athenean consciousness might employ any system of management which serves as a means to an end. Handy (1978) describes Athenean organization as being marked by its problem-solving nature, and relates this to what he calls a ‘task structure’ of organization. More recently, there have been attempts in some organizations to dismantle some aspects of bureaucratic control and replace them with what are sometimes referred to as ‘organic management’ practices. Increasing emphasis has been given, as noted earlier, to symbolic management (Berg 1986; Alvesson 1990), organization culture (Peters and Waterman 1982) and performance appraisal and merit-based payment schemes (Townley 1989), to substitute for (or add to) organization control systems. Despite the crusading tones of some of the Human Resource Management initiatives, little evidence of any fundamental change in the values by which organizational management is achieved is evident (Guest 1990). The change that might have taken place, Kanter and Mirvis (1989) suggest, is a new form of individualism which flourishes on selfishness and self interest.

It is in the realms of the city that the goddess Athena holds up the norms of the cultural canons and exercises governance over the ‘Errant Cause’ (Otto 1979). The maintenance of practical daily life is her concern. Hillman (1989: 29) notes that this structure of consciousness ‘is eternally bound to its father Zeus, giving it a certainty of judgement and conviction of objectivity whereby it maintains an impersonal and selfless concern for “the good of the whole”‘. Athenian consciousness is, above all, the rule of the head over the heart. It is decidedly patriarchal.

Athenean consciousness has both a positive and shadow side. Bolen (1989: 76) states that this structure of consciousness ‘… offers foresight, can espy, predict abilities, prepare for them and normalize the unexpected’. In the everyday world, it can be of immense positive gain in the flexibility it offers for the achievement of organizational and societal goals. Nevertheless, the goddess Athena wears the terrible image of irrationality, the Gorgon, on her breast. She is utterly and completely resistant to the irrational realm: emotions, conflicts and spontaneous expression are totally outside her sphere of existence and she can be utterly ruthless when she comes across them. Hence Hillman (1980: 30) comments, ‘It becomes hard to distinguish between the virtue and the tyranny of judgement in Athenian consciousness’. Where organizations are not orderly and individuals do not internalize the rules, Athenean consciousness can display a vindictive and cruel side. Bolen (1989: 103) states, ‘The Goddess did not concern herself with asking, “It this fair or is this moral?”‘ Effectiveness is the only criterion for Athenean consciousness; there is little or no moral or ethical dimension. This explains the capacity of organizations characterized by an Athenean consciousness to enter into areas of illegal and/or unethical action (Sampson 1978; Jackall 1988). It also helps to explain the design of organizational and labour processes which demean those employed. (Littler and Salaman 1984). A ruthless concern for the task characterizes Zeus, Apollo, and Athena in contrasting ways and each archetypal pattern will inform consciousness with particular ways of sensing, thinking, feeling and behaving. They represent particular modes of apprehension and are the images of gods most clearly expressed in contemporary organization. Together, they reflect structures of consciousness typifying power-dominated systems which aim to subjugate the human will through patterns of organizational hegemony.

The shadow sides of Zeus, Apollo and Athena can be further understood with features depicted by the gods Poseidon, Aries and Hades.

Poseidon, Aries and Hades: The Repressed Side of ‘Rational’ Organization

Poseidon was the flood-bringer and Earth-shaker, whose realm was the seas. His symbolic animal was the horse which represents power and animal instincts. The images of Zeus, Apollo and Athena, as represented in contemporary social life, train us to devalue and repress feelings and instincts. The Apollonian structure of consciousness bottles up feelings to the point where Poseidon’s world threatens to break through the defences to show violent, vindictive, destructive and dangerous intentions. The more repressed such energies are, the more potent they, in fact, become. At the human level, such feelings will normally be projected onto some other individual, or group, so that they serve as the scapegoat (Bowles 1991a). As a grudge-holder, Poseidon had no equal. Bolen (1989) states that Poseidon is part of the father archetype ‘that lost out’ to Zeus, and is repressed in men (and women) who attempt to keep everything under control.

Aries is another who represents a repressed shadow side of the rational gods and goddesses. Aries was depicted by Homer as the God of frenzy, battle, bloodshed, and irrationality. For Aries, instinct and emotion dictate action, with little or no capacity for reflection and deliberation. For this reason, in myth, he was hated by his father Zeus. Bolen (1989: 199) states, ‘Psychologically, Aries represents Zeus’s shadow, that part of himself that he disparaged because it was undeveloped and/or was contrary to the ideal image he had of himself’. Denhardt (1981) and Bowles (1991a) have described the Organization Shadow as that which represents the repressed, undeveloped and irrational side of management thinking and behaviour which is disguised beneath a carefully erected image of informed and systematic conduct.

The underworld, which includes the repressed side of human life — the ‘shadow’ — was, in the Greek pantheon, ruled over by Hades. It is this shadow world which is projected onto other individuals, groups, organizations or whole societies to produce the scapegoat effect. Where feelings, instincts, emotions and shadow characteristics are retrieved from the shadow world, in Jung’s (1966) opinion, a wider and more informed consciousness is achieved. The growth of consciousness then makes the unconscious projection of shadow less likely. In the current historical epoch, however, little encouragement or emphasis is given to enhancing consciousness, either in organizations, or in the wider society. Hence structures of consciousness as represented by Zeus, Apollo and Athena have a firm grip on social life and deny entry to wider patterns of human experience.

It must be recognized that Poseidon and Aries, as archetypal expressions, are not only destructive or limiting: they become so when repressed. All structures of consciousness require recognition. As a mode of apprehension, the Poseidon archetype potentially gives the opportunity to experience one’s deep emotions, feelings, life and relations in general. As a psychological experience, Hillman (1971) notes, feeling anchors the individual more in an authentic experience of self. The Aries archetype, Bolen (1989) suggests, predisposes an individual to be in touch with life in a way which allows instinctuality and spontaneity to provide vital reactions. Where this is tempered with an Apollonian consciousness, which can achieve a regulating ordering of feelings and emotions, then a more complete human experience is rendered. Further, the Aries archetype represents access to courage, the capacity to confront those who attempt to subjugate human interests, and in this way the god was held in high regard by the Romans, under his name of Mars. At the present time however, social, political, and economic structures appear to inhibit the movement toward this structure of consciousness in protecting the edifice of so-called efficiency and rationality.

Hermes: God of Businessmen, Thieves, and Travellers

Hermes is the messenger of the gods, the eloquent god of speech, god of businessmen, thieves and travellers, and the spiritual guide of souls to the underworld. He represents the archetype of what Jung calls ‘the trickster’, characterized by cunning, cleverness, and the ability to change shape and form. The trickster is often associated with the hero. The trickster can be chameleon-like in the way he/she attempts to achieve goals. In myth, Hermes is not power-hungry like Zeus, or given to practical management like Athena. The archetypal pattern suggests an impulse for movement, for new ideas, new ventures, new travels and new experiences. It would be frustrated by bureaucracy, but like the Athenean patters, the main concern would not be whether something is illegal or wrong. Bolen (1989: 167) states that an individual characterizing this consciousness, ‘… is only concerned with whether a ploy or a negotiation will work’. The capitalist ethic is argued to legitimate a managerial ethos where profit and economic return carry precedence over human, social, ecological and moral issues (Bowles 1991a). The Athenean structure of consciousness, which includes the capacity for getting a job done, together with the structure of consciousness represented by Hermes, which includes the ‘ideas man’, the opportunist, can both represent aspects of the contemporary ‘Organization Shadow’ (Bowles 1991a).

As the god of eloquent speech, Hermes is a communicator who can contact people in different sectors and realms. In his trickster style of communication he can lie, charm, and do whatever he thinks will serve his ends. At the everyday level, the emergence of the management of symbols as a strategic initiative in the management of organizations can perhaps better be attributed to this structure of consciousness.

The structure of consciousness represented by Hermes can be understood, then, in two ways. In his trickster role, Hermes is as an opportunist, self interested, who can violate an ethical code or the interests of others for his own gain. In his positive role, Hermes helps to bring about change, as a creative spirit, bridging fruitful new ground. At the personal level, this structure of consciousness can serve as the messenger, the means by which an individual gains access to the remote areas of his/her unknown psychological world.

The Neglected Gods and Goddesses of Contemporary Social Life

The argument presented her is that current social and organizational life restricts human interests and experience. There is a major neglect of the goddesses representing the ‘feminine’ archetype in contemporary social life, briefly depicted here by reference to Demeter, Aphrodite, and Artemis. Further, aspects of the ‘masculine’ archetype which need to be recognized and incorporated into human experience are represented by the ecstatic figure of Dionysos and the crippled Hephaestos.

Demeter, Aphrodite and Artemis: Aspects of Femininity

Demeter was the goddess of grain who presided over bountiful harvests. In particular, she was worshipped as a mother goddess. As the mother of Persephone, Demeter represents the maternal archetype, nurturing and nourishing, either physically, psychologically or spiritually. In patriarchal organizations, dominated by the images of the likes of Zeus and Apollo, the nurturing and nourishing quality receives very short shrift. Organizations often maintain a pretence of these qualities, even though their presence is one of image rather than substance. For example, Elden (1985) and Hanna (1985) have discussed how programmes which purport to introduce schemes for participation in organizations often retain and reinforce hierarchical authority structures and management styles. Bowles (1991b) contests that in contemporary organizations, the feminine image is manipulated in order to give the appearance of consideration and goodwill while, in effect, patriarchal dominance is maintained, reinforcing feminine subordination.

Aphrodite is one of the most well-known Goddesses of the Greek pantheon, symbolizing the transformative and creative power of love. For Aphrodite, important relationships are those through which new life can be generated. This can represent union through a sexual drive, but it is also something much deeper, represented by the meeting of ideas and minds, so that individuals can experience bonds with others which provide growth in psychological, emotional or spiritual spheres. Bolen (1984: 225) states, ‘Platonic love, soul connection, deep friendship, rapport, and emphathic understandings are all expressions of love’. Aphrodite represents an affirmation of life; a tremendous force for change in the capacity to create new life. It is Aphrodite’s son, Eros, himself a god of love, who also represents the importance of human relatedness and connection. In respect of organizations, reviews of the literature of change initiatives fail to suggest that they have played any significant role in challenging contemporary structures of control, so allowing the Eros archetype to emerge. (Tannenbaum and Hanna 1985; Bowles 1993).

Another aspect of femininity is represented by Artemis who, as the Goddess of the Hunt and the Moon, represents an independent feminine spirit and its goals. Moore (1979) describes Artemis as representing nature in its pure form, possessing the capacity to ‘uncivilize’, and Otto (1979) describes her as mild, pure, uncanny, remote and untouched. She is different from Athena, who is in the service of the patriarchy. In myth, Artemis acted swiftly and decisively to protect those who appealed to her for help; she showed compassion for the victimized, powerless women and children. Artemis can be thought to represent the capacity of both women and men, to achieve self direction and initiative, to pursue one’s own beliefs and goals with conviction. In this way, the Artemis archetype represents a capacity for resisting the fall into ‘Organization Man’ (Whyte 1956) or the ‘Organizational Society’ (Presthus 1978), which uses patterns of rewards, sanctions and other inducements to achieve social conformity. Symbolic management (Berg 1986; Alvesson 1990) again represents an important ideological tool in the desire to inculcate images for social compliance and the internalization of corporate values and goals. The Artemis archetype, therefore, is important in the contemporary era for preserving individual integrity and difference.

Artemis, in representing independent action and drive, is antithetical to another of the Greek goddesses, Zeus’ wife, Hera. As goddess of marriage, Hera represents the world of social obligations and continuity. It was Hera who attempted to socialize the Gods on Olympus, without success. At the organizational level, the image of Hera is depicted in attempts to achieve socialization and a ‘unity’ of purpose, as is strongly presented in the rhetoric of Human Resource Management (Guest 1987).

Alternative Aspects of Masculinity: Dionysos and Hephaestus

Dionysos was god of wine, ecstatic experience, and wildness. The mystical realm and feminine qualities were very close to him. The Dionysian structure of consciousness presents a challenge to recognize the inner purpose and ecstasy of each human life. It is firmly antithetical to the principle of conformity and the blind obedience of the ‘social ethic’. A god of wine, Dionysos, represents not drunkenness, but ‘spiritus’ the spirit of life. The Dionysian structure of consciousness seeks the experience and challenges of life in its many different facets and appearances. Handy (1978) describes the God Dionysos as representing an existential ideology and culture in organizations whereby the individual, rather than being subordinated by authority, is actually supported and encouraged to achieve his/her own individual purpose and goals. On the one side, arguments for new technology, re-skilling, flexible organization and organic management are all features which would support the achievement of a Dionysian culture as described by Handy (1978). On the other side, however, it is argued that the levels and circuits of organization control are becoming more stringent and pervasive (Littler and Salaman 1984; Townley 1989; Burriss 1990), leading to a more powerful and encompassing ‘social ethic’.

When the Dionysian structure of consciousness cannot find expression, the shadow side will appear. In a repressed form this can manifest itself through pornographic sex, violence, drugs, or the mindless and soulless search for the next ‘kick’. In many ways, our societies can be said to represent a Dionysian problem. In the ‘Birth of Tragedy’, Nietzsche (1924) contrasts the Apollonian and Dionysosian as fundamentally contrasting cultural attitudes and experiences. The Apollonian represents the mastery of everything savage and untrained. It strives for a world in which the individual and nature interact in eternal peace and happiness.

In contrast, the Dionysian represents the turbulence of a world which is shifting, changing and attempting to find expression of its nature. Such a world is depicted as essentially one of suffering and becoming. The Dionysian is alien and opposed to the Apollonian, and vice versa. These are the two great themes of world art and culture. These themes can be understood as the two strains which, in general, oppose each other under the edifice of organization and social affairs.

Hephaestus: The Artist and Creative Spirit

As a life spirit, giving purpose to individual achievement, Dionysos is not unlike Hephaestus, the artist and creative spirit. Hephaestus is god of the forge and of craftsmen. He was the only god on Mt. Olympus who worked, and for his efforts he was ridiculed and made an object of scorn by the other gods. He was the creative genius who fashioned Pandora — the first human woman — for Zeus and represents the introverted capacity to fashion creative work from the depths of one’s being. In contemporary organizations, generally speaking, the nearer one is to the point of production (Hephaestus’s forge) the lower are the rewards, both financial and otherwise. In a patriarchal organization, rewards are usually directed at the intellectual, power driven, politically adept world of management (of Zeus, Apollo and Athena). Increasingly, rewards in organizations reflect the capacity to define and manage images and symbols, whether it be in marketing, financial management, or in the management of human resources. Bolen (1989: 222) states, ‘In a sky god culture, such as patriarchies, what is “earthy” is devalued or repressed: Mother Earth, passionate feelings, instincts, bodies, women and men who are like Hephaestus’. Further, Hephaestus’ art and skill, introversion, and feminine qualities hold little place in competitive patriarchy where such characteristics would be regarded at least as flamboyant, but more often would be ridiculed and disparaged. What Hephaestus’ type and style does suggest is the range of the masculine element: it is much more than the power-driven, hierarchical masculinity found within patriarchal organizations. Therefore, when organizations are described as ‘masculine’, they must be understood to represent only a very narrow band of what masculinity is, in its full spectrum.

The gods and goddesses, the plurality of ideas, feelings, enervations and experiences that these archetypal patterns represent, inform us of the paucity of human meaning, imagination and existence in the age of organization. What this analysis does suggest, however, is that the social world is constituted in particular ways, according to particular structures of consciousness. To the extent that we as human beings exercise some agency over our world, the potential exists, by attempting to address and honour alternative structures of consciousness (other gods), to create opportunities for social change and improvement.

Points to Heed

In using the patterns and myths of the gods and goddesses to inform social understandings, there are dangers and warnings that should be heeded. To say, for example, that ‘activism is the work of Hercules’, is misleading. The idea is not that myths literally describe or prescribe actions. Miller (1981: 16) states, ‘They do not symbolize univocal (i.e., unambiguous, one-voice) behaviours’. Rather, myths express in ways that we are not able to articulate, our feelings, thoughts, consciousness, or sense of our own behaviour. Another concern is the extent to which an individual can ‘possess’ a myth as his/her own. This can serve, as noted by Miller (1981), as a way of defending against psychological depth and the deepening being achieved, to the extent that a particular myth becomes the total and absolute reference point for the experience of the individual, which cuts off other myths apposite to the individual at different stages of the life experience. Thus, whilst myth represents life, life itself is always more than (a particular) myth. Where myth is used in an attempt to consciously control life experience, then the myth is devalued, and represents only an ego psychology. Another issue is that, in employing myths, we are not attempting to return to an historical time in the past, nor to an imaginary time that was or may come again (Hillman 1981).

Stein (1980) has given a number of clear warnings, whilst supporting the myths of the gods and goddesses as points of understanding in our lives. Stein (1980) warns that a connection of personal experience with myth can produce a psychological inflation through identification with an archetype. Such an inflation is clearly evidenced in the case where an individual lives a hero myth, as in the life of Hitler. At the same time, however, to be able to place one’s life experiences in a pattern which allows one to interpret and gain understanding — a purpose which myth serves — is of the utmost importance. In this way, myth, rather than causing an inflation, can serve to burst one. Archetypes and myths should be used as background insights for reflecting and organizing behaviour, but such reflection, Stein (1980) warns, does not dissolve or even necessarily alter the constellating archetypal content and its force. However, Stein (1980) notes that a reflective consciousness potentially allows some distance to emerge between an ’embedded I’ and a ‘reflective I’. Without a reflective consciousness, the individual runs the risk of merely responding as a ‘puppet of the archetype’.


The analysis suggests that contemporary organizations are often dominated by the images of gods characterizing power, exploitation, mechanical action and ‘rationality’. Images of other gods and goddesses, who represent the wider spectrum of human phenomenology, are seldom represented. Mt. Olympus and the myriad images of gods and goddesses represents the breadth and diversity of human potential. In these terms, a clearer understanding can be gained of why, for so many people, life in organizations is experienced as arid, meaningless and alienating. Before we rush to describe and define the post-modern world, a deliberate reflection of the human phenomenon is necessary. There is no utopia to be achieved, but there is the capacity for consciousness, so as to better inform social experience.


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COPYRIGHT 1993 Sage Publications, Inc.

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