Archetype 24: Returning

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Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them.

A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need.

So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’

So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’

And they began to celebrate.”

—Luke 15:11–24

The Reading

This reading is the story of the Prodigal Son. Prodigal, in the context of this story, means extremely wasteful. The boy was given a great deal. The boy was given love. He used it to insult his father, telling him he couldn’t wait any longer for the father to die. The boy was given an inheritance. He spent it, we can assume, on wine, partying, and loose women. The boy’s Ego was controlling his life. But the flame couldn’t burn forever. Eventually he ran through his money. What would he do now? Return to his father? Not so long as his Ego had a say. He would take a job, even the most menial job imaginable, tending pigs. Pigs are unclean animals, according to Jewish law. A pig-tender is looked down upon by everybody. The boy is paid next to nothing for this degrading job and can’t even feed himself. Eventually, close to starving, his Ego is humiliated. And he is able to listen to the voice of Wisdom. He returns to his father.

The story now takes an odd twist. What would the listeners of Jesus expect the father to do? Perhaps tell the boy to get lost. After the insulting treatment the boy gave the father, that would be completely understandable. At best, the father might throw the boy a few scraps of food and give him an opportunity to prove he has learned his lesson.

Instead, the father does something completely unexpected. He welcomes his son back with joyous arms. Even the boy’s older brother is horrified. This is unfair. But the father only sees that his son, who has been lost in so many ways, has returned. The darkness that has clouded his life has been lifted.

The Hexagram

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In the symbolism of lines, the yin line (open) is symbolic of darkness, and the yang line (closed) is symbolic of light. In this hexagram we have a single line of light pushing up into the darkness, symbolic of the return of the time of light.

The Archetype

There is a time...

  • To welcome back the light that has been banished for so long.
  • To let the return happen of its own accord and to not rush it before its time.
  • To give the newly vitalized energy time to emerge.
  • To treat things tenderly and with care, so that the return will lead to a great flowering.

Now is that time.

Moving Lines

Moving Line in the First (Bottom) Position

 A moving line in the bottom position suggests the necessity for a slight detour, but tells us to return to the path as soon as possible. When Ego temptations occur, put them aside before they take hold and gain control. These precautions will lead to a good result.

Moving Line in the Second Position

 A moving line in the second position calls for a decision based on carefully listening to the voice of Wisdom. A support system is helpful. This is a time to be guided by those who have compassion and wisdom.

Moving Line in the Third Position

A moving line in the third position warns against giving in to inner insecurity and flip-flopping positions. It is natural to feel apprehensive, but this can be overcome by always returning to Wisdom’s way.

Moving Line in the Fourth Position

 A moving line in the fourth position describes a situation in which one is in the company of obsequious people but still connected with a strong and wise friend. This friend should be trusted to return one to the path of Wisdom. There is no need to offer rewards or threaten punishments. A path guided by Wisdom is a reward in itself.

Moving Line in the Fifth Position

 A moving line in the fifth position counsels us that when the time for return has come, you should look within and seek Wisdom. You should not make flimsy excuses for what you have done. If you have done something wrong, admit it and apologize. Then repent by turning away from Ego and resolving to follow Wisdom’s way.

Moving Line in the Sixth (Top) Position

 A moving line in the top position warns that if one misses the opportune time for return, misfortune will be the result. Ego is a poor substitute for Wisdom. Beware of Ego hardened into obstinacy.

Other interpretations of Archetype 24:

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Reproduced with permission from Wisdom's Way; The Christian I Ching copyright (c) 2015 Roger Sessions.