Iron John: Aries

Iron John: Aries

Mar 23, 2022

Illustration: Iron John - by Otto Ubbelohde, 1909

{Image description: Black and white illustration of a man in a small lake in the middle of a forest. The man has very long hair and beard and the water is up to his chest.}


This is the story of a prince who learns to live with a savage and primitive man, and in the end has him at his disposal, and enjoys all his riches and attributes. This tale illustrates well the Aries energy. When used unconsciously and frivolously, it can be violent and destructive, but when illuminated by the awareness of the Sun it's a lesson in courage and bravery.

The Wild Man is such an archetypal character that Robert Bly used this tale to illustrate his theory about rescuing the "Natural Man," the true masculine nature inherent in all men, in his book Iron John: A Book about Men (1990). There are some variants of the Wild Man theme, the oldest record being the Epic of Gilgamesh, a Sumerian legend about 5000 years old. In this myth Enkidu is created by the gods from clay, and grows up among animals and away from civilization. His purpose is to confront King Gilgamesh, but he eventually becomes his best friend.

The tale of Iron John begins when the hunters, whom the king had sent to hunt in the forest near his castle, mysteriously disappear. The first one disappears, the second one disappears, and all the hunters that the king sends into the forest to search for the previous ones disappear.

Until a young hunter arrives in the kingdom and volunteers to enter the forest to find out what happened to the other unfortunates. The king warns him of the danger he is in, to which he replies, "I will take the risk, for I know no fear. Despite standing at the edge of the unknown — the forest, which in fairy tales represents our dark, threatening and unconscious nature — this hunter does not hesitate to face it. Aries is a Fire sign, instinctive and unrestrained by nature, and of the cardinal mode, which accentuates his initiative, leadership and determination. Rams do not waver or give up, and for them there is only one path, forward.

When his dog disappears near a well, the hunter calls some men with buckets and, bucket by bucket, they empty the well until they find a wild man. In some stories the man’s hair and beard are of a reddish shade, like rust, and so long that they go down to his knees. In others he has his whole body covered with hair of the same color.

At this point the creature's rough and primitive nature is defined, symbolizing Aries energy at its worst, acting out of insecurity and neediness, defending himself from others with indiscriminate attacks and hiding in the depths of his pit, alone and unconcerned about anyone else. Mars, the red planet and god of war, is the ruler of Aries and lends this sign his qualities, courage, audacity and bravery, but also his flaws, brutality, aggressiveness and selfishness.

After being captured, Iron John is locked in a cage and put on display in the castle. But one day, the king's son, who was playing nearby, drops his golden ball into the cage. The Prince then negotiates the return of his ball in exchange for the furry man's freedom. After getting what he wants, fearing punishment, he ends up running away with the savage into the forest.

The wild man tells the boy that he will never see his family again, and, to pay him back the sacrifice, promises him great riches. The ball symbolizes, according to Bruno Bettelheim, the narcissistic nature of the child that needs to be left behind, as well as the family, the lap in which he grew up, but which, at a certain point, is no longer enough to foster his growth. The protagonists of the stories only become heroes if they accept to leave behind their home, the protected environment of childhood in which they grew up, to venture into the unknown, with all the risks and mysteries that this implies. Aries is the archetypal hero, ready to throw himself into the adventure of fulfilling their destiny.

Iron John, at this point already playing the role of the master in the boy's initiation, then puts the Prince to the test. But because of his impatience and recklessness, very Arian characteristics, the young man fails the tests and, as a consequence, the wild man sends him out into the world to meet poverty. In truth, this is meant dor the young prince to get to know others and the world beyond himself, for Rams can be too individualistic and self-centered. Despite having failed overcoming those trials, Iron John recognizes the goodness in the Prince's heart and makes himself available to help him whenever he’s in trouble.

Our hero finds work in the kitchen of a castle, and then as a gardener's helper. But not wanting to attract attention he covers his golden hair, a testimony to his royal origin, with a cap. After starting out as a prince, the young man reaches the lowest and most humble position, precisely to have the opportunity to prove himself worthy of enjoying the riches that Iron John has promised him.

Some time later, the kingdom goes to war, but the enemy army is more powerful and the war is as good as lost. The prince there and then decides to help the king and, taking the weakest horse, the one left in the stables, goes to the edge of the forest where he calls Iron John, who brings him a strong and fearless horse and an army of brave soldiers. The young prince and his men join the king's army undercover and win the battle. He then disappears as secretly as he arrived. The young man later returns to the castle with the same beaten horse he had left with.

In this episode the young hero shows himself worthy of using the strength that Iron John offers him. This strength is no longer raw or primitive, like the wild man in the beginning of the story, nor impulsive or impatient. It is decisive, courageous and focused, embodying the best characteristics of Aries. The king organizes a feast to celebrate his victory and orders a tournament with the hope of meeting again the mysterious knight who helped him win the war.

The Prince attends the tournament and is unmasked when his helmet falls off and everyone recognizes the gardener's helper. The young man then reveals his true identity, and when the king allows him to ask him for anything, he replies very sincerely and bluntly "I want your daughter for my wife". Ram is all instinct and action, so when he speaks he is honest and forthright, without frills or embellishments. During the wedding celebration a distinguished king appears with his entourage. It is Iron John, who had previously been transformed into a wild man. The prince has broken his spell and the king offers him his kingdom and all his riches in exchange.

Throughout this tale we get to know the various facets of Aries. First the primitive and violent side that, without intention and focus, can do so much damage to those around them and to themselves, and in the end the honor and glory we can find when we use our fighting energy and the ability to assert ourselves in the service of something greater than us. The Wild Man teaches us that raw, instinctive, untamed strength, when led by a conscious mind is an inexhaustible treasure that transforms anyone into a winner and a hero.



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