Her name in English, it is Joan of Arc. She is dead, but alive. Not alive in the flesh and blood way, for she lives in that realm we call archetypes.
Let’s look at Jeanne - I prefer to use the French version of her name - with three different lenses.
1-The context of her times, or the historical lens
2-The political view, what were the politics of her era
3-The mythological meaning of Jeanne d’Arc and what she stands for as an archetype
Jeanne lived in an era of national turmoil and fear. She was born about 1412, when the hundred years war was not yet a 100 years old. Half on, and half off, the throne of France was a youngster himself, Charles, the dauphin who refused to have himself crowned.
Jeanne was born in a town that wasn’t too far from the lands controlled by the English. How long had the English been in France? That takes a quick review of its history in order to understand the context a little more fully.
France was a hodgepodge of lands controlled not by the monarch, but by Normans, English kings, and the French king’s vassals. The king of France owned very little; about 15% of France was in direct control of the king. The rest of the land was controlled by the French king’s magnates and vassals.
You begin to see the issue here? If I were the Dauphin Charles, I’d be a bit nervous myself about the situation in my kingdom.
Jeanne, at about 12, begins to hear voices in her head, coming from Saints Michael (Archangel), Catherine and Margaret. These voices urge her to help the Dauphin take back the kingdom. When she is 16, she decides to act on these voices.
Jeanne is a peasant girl with no schooling to speak of, and yet she has the audacity to think she can help the Dauphin. First, however, she has to get to him, as in visit him face-to-face, to persuade him to take back his country. The glitch being, not everyone in Charles’ country want him to take it back. The Burgundians, for one, have an alliance with the English. Indeed, it is the Burgundians who will capture Jeanne and sell her to the English.
And then there’s Charles’ behavior as well. Does he want the responsibility of being king? It is an ornery job, because there are politics involved. His country is so divided,(sound familiar?) that it will take a mighty effort to pull it together.
And when he does pull it together, it will be Jeanne who is sacrificed on the alter of political expediency.
The word, myth, means story. It is a special sort of story, like a legend or a story with great inner meaning. Jeanne’s story is definitely mythological, even though she is a part of recorded history. Why do I say this? Because it is a hero’s story that ends in tragedy. Her actions have significance beyond her life. Because her story is one of legend, meaning, she will influence people as long as her story can be told.
Once she saw Charles, she was able to persuade him to give her chance. He gave her armor, weapons and soldiers. Jeanne put them to good use as she played the leader that lifted the siege of Orléans. Jeanne led the troops to victory at Patay. The process to bring France together continued in the cathedral at Rheims when Charles received the crown.
Most people in the modern world do not grasp the depth of meaning found in a coronation. It’s a sacred moment. Moderns in the West tend to be secular. To them, voting is a sacred duty. And yet, voting has not brought us relief from human foibles.
In 1430, Jeanne, at the ripe old age of 19, was captured, sold, put on trial, and a year later, burned at the stake, for heresy, by the English. The English would want to be rid of her. And, as I mentioned above, Charles did nothing to save her.
Jeanne’s feast day is this Sunday, May 30. Nonetheless, she represents much more than a religious saint. She is an archetype for leadership, with the following skills:
Fearless and confident
Holds no malice
As she was dying, her confidence stood firm as she called out the name of her Jesus.
Charles is not an archetype for leadership. Nor does he have a feast day. Indeed, those who hesitate and allow others to do their dirty work for them have themselves consigned to the after thoughts of history.
Be like Jeanne.