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July 26, 2008

Reading and Healing Idea #4: Seven Archetypes for Reading the Landscape

[from Julie Moir Messervy's The Magic Land]

The seven archetypes help you begin to see the world as a garden,
offering a vocabulary that describes a set of forms that you feel strongly about.


All kinds of possibilities in these seven archetypes.  For creating a healing place.  For reading ideas.  For writing ideas.

For instance:
Choose an archetype you feel drawn toward and look for it in the landscape—in your own landscape.

Choose an archetype and look for it in novels, in stories, in poems.

Notice if there are any connections between what you are drawn toward in the landscape and what you are drawn toward in narratives and poems.


This archetype is likely imprinted on the body during early experiences of being immersed underwater—in the sea—in a pool—or in the womb.  But, interestingly, in a garden, and according to Messervy, this archetype doesn’t necessarily require water.  It can be recreated with any element that creates a sense of immersion or engulfing. 

She offers Tolstoy’s ancestral home, Yasnaya Poliana, with its apple orchards and groves of birches, as one example of immersion.  It’s an interesting twist.  A nice surprise.  The sea can be recreated with a path beneath trees.  A leafy canopy.  A bench beneath a leafy branch.

I love the words Messervy uses here for recreating in a garden that sense of security one may have experienced as a small child—or that one may have longed to experience—in someone’s arms or in small tucked away places in the world.  A wealth of words here.  Nooks.  Alcoves.  Retreats.  Eaves.  Cottages.  Pavilions.  Dovecotes.  Snuggeries.  Tree houses.  Bowers.  Summerhouses. 

What characterizes a cave-like place in particular is that it’s both small and snug—and that it has an opening from which to look out at the world.  In this way, it’s a bit different from immersion.  One is contained by a space—but looking out.

The key word here is Enclosure.  Also Encircle.  Sanctuary.  And the garden she offers as illustration?  Shi Zi Lin, a celebrated garden in Suzhou, China, “enclosed by a whitewashed wall punctuated by an elegant plum-shaped door and pomegranate-shaped windows.”

In less celebrated gardens this sense of enclosure can be recreated with a fence or a hedge.  These can be used to enclose a single garden.  They can also be used to create small rooms within a garden.  Or a harbor can be created with something as simple as a semi-circular bench.

Of the seven archetypes, harbor may well be the most essential in creating a garden.  It may also be the first step.  “A magic land,” Messervy writes, “derives its enchanted quality by its distinction from the everyday world; a garden requires enclosure to feel magic.”

A promontory has to do with going out to the edge of something.  Adventure.  Exploration.  A peninsula.  A precipice.  A frontier.  A bridge.  And in a garden?  It could be a balcony.  A porch.  A terrace.  A deck jutting out over a ravine.

Self-explanatory?  A place that feels remote, surrounded on all sides.  A place perhaps slightly difficult to reach.  In a Japanese garden, rocks are sometimes used to create and suggest island features.  Tortoise islands.  And crane islands.  For good fortune.

This archetype has to do with vision, perspective.  The bird’s-eye view.  Literally, an elevated spot in a garden.  Say a hill, or a treehouse.  But, also, Messervy suggests, any vertical focal point can fulfill this archetype.  A birdhouse.  A particular tree.  A piece of sculpture.

The eye is drawn up.  One climbs in one’s imagination.

The challenge here, she suggests, is how to bring the sky down into the garden.  This requires a frame.  For instance, a reflecting pool.

"When its waters lie perfectly still, it mirrors the sky; when raindrops fall, a liquid unity is created between the archetypes sky and sea."