Through a Jungian Lens

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Puer – An Attitude of Youthfulness

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Philosopher in Meditation - Rembrandt, 1632

Philosopher in Meditation – Rembrandt, 1632

In my last post I talked about how I am finding myself with a more youthful attitude in the second half of life. In Jungian psychology, this youthful attitude being lived out is called the Puer or Puer Aeternus. As I also mentioned, I am reading Thomas Moore’s book, Original Self, and it is that reading that brought my attention to the Puer.

Puer is not simply literal young age, but an attitude of youthfulness that may be full of spirit, ambition, high destiny, and a forgetfulness of mortality.” [p. 29]

I have never considered myself as acting from the puer spirit, if anything, I have always seen myself through its opposite lens, the senex or the “old man.” Even as a child others around me referred to me as an old soul, one who is serious and weighted down with the needs of others, a caretaker and mediator for those around me who, in spite of their age, acted immaturely – parents and even grandparents included. It was just the way it was. As I moved through life, this self-identification with being a serious, responsible person who was also caretaker and mediator at the same time, became a way of life that fit into my career choices as teacher, school administrator and counsellor. I found it difficult to play with abandon. I was definitely never the life of any party. I was who I was and accepted that – and if truth be told, I fed that belief by resisting impulses that would betray this identity. Like this image by Rembrandt, I was a philosopher, a person who meditated upon the mysteries of life and sought ways to bring back what I learned to help heal the wounds of others, wounds more often than not caused, in my opinion, by acting with immature abandon.

Dionysus and Eros - faces of the Puer.

Dionysus and Eros – faces of the Puer.

My ego held back impulses that I now know came from the shadow, the opposite face of the old man, old soul – the puer. As I saw it, this youthful and irresponsible spirit was represented by my father who was always on the move, always chasing a dream of fame and fortune, chasing women and letting others clean up the messes he made. There was no way in hell that I was ever going to be like him even though strangely, I loved him, probably because of his spirit as much as the fact that he was after all, my father.

“In psychology puer also refers to a type of man or woman who embodies this idealistic, romantic, playful, and self-contained spirit, or in whom this spirit is dominant and defining. . . . The puer spirit is both a blessing and a curse.” 

But somewhere along the way, the puer spirit began to invade my outer life without my permission. I fought back of course, but to little avail. The shadow that is denied and repressed will find a way out and when it does, one feels the hand of fate at work and blames the fallout on others rather than take ownership. Yes, I blamed others for “I” was not like this. Well, at least not the way I saw and knew myself.

The rest of the world saw what I didn’t. I was a musician and loved entertaining others, especially children. I was a story teller for my children and grandchildren. I didn’t supervise the play of my children and their friends, I was playing with them. I danced and danced and danced with my beautiful wife, captured by the music and creating a tableau of romantic love through dance. And, I loved (and still love) my wife with a passion that would honour Tristan and Romeo. With summer holidays arrival I would take my family (and sometimes their friends) on voyages of discover to distant cities and forests where play and wonder were unplanned but welcomed. I told myself that I was being a responsible parent, that I was doing all of this for my children and wife. I would never admit that I did this to appease the puer spirit that was pushing at the seams of my self-control.

Now I am older and for the most part, have given up on a few of my fictions. I admit that there is an immature, youthful, romantic and playful face of myself. Rather than seeing this face as a curse, I am now grateful for its presence. Now that I am older, I welcome its presence in my life for its gifts.

The puer is an aspect of the spiritual side of a man or woman rather than the deep, downward, grounded soul. The puer spirit keeps us moving, looking ahead, creating and imagining.” [p. 30]


Written by Robert G. Longpré

September 19, 2013 at 6:13 am

4 Responses

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  1. The Puer would drive me nuts when I was doing Jungian therapy as so many people wanted to wallow in the Puer and NOT GROW UP. The negative Puer – the spoiled brat – is not a pretty sight.


    September 19, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    • Agreed – but to repress the Puer does cause serious problems as well that end up in a culture with serious problems. The question is how to grow up, give space, place and acceptance to Puer as well as Senex. Balance within leads to balance in the outer world.


      September 30, 2013 at 8:33 am

  2. I appreciate this pointing out of the positives of the puer. It has always been put forth in the negative, but having that youthful spirit as we age is life affirming.

    Robert Caldwell

    September 23, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    • I agree, Robert, that the appearance of the Puer as we age makes aging and the approach of death bearable. Thank you.


      September 30, 2013 at 8:37 am

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