The sage is a reflective being, who, filled with the knowledge of the world, ultimately seeks truth, which is more prevalent than ever in our current, modern whirlwind of false news, fast fashion, and social media.
In literature, the sage has sometimes been referred to as the ‘wise old man’, indicating the long association between the archetypal sage and masculinity. Indeed, most characters in popular culture depicted as the embodiment of this archetype have been men – think Gandalf, Dumbledore, and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Although these characters are very likeable, the essence of this archetype risks being lost to a gendered image. By looking closely at what this character represents and their values, their timeless, ungendered relevance is revealed – and no, long grey beards are not compulsory.
Qualities of the Sage
The sage archetype is thought by some to be an older, wiser, more powerful version of the archetypal magician, possessing a vast range of knowledge. However, though the two certainly share similarities, they are also crucially different. The magician actively uses their knowledge and power, whilst the sage, having passed through the most energetic part of their life, has moved into a more reflective phase. At this particular point in life, the sage looks inward, seeks truth, and thinks deeply. Valued for their fair judgement, the sage is a source of objective, sound advice, and is called on by even the most powerful rulers in need of guidance.
The archetypal sage is motivated by a desire to understand the nature of life – a focus that leads them in the pursuit of truth, believing that it is at all times discoverable, inherently valuable, and always worth uncovering, even when uncomfortable or upsetting. With the ascension of a ‘post-truth’ era, where the lines between fact and opinion are increasingly blurred, it’s easy for the sage’s values to appear outdated and old-fashioned. Whilst they place trust and integrity highly, the rest of the world has been overwhelmed by the sheer cacophony of individual opinions and conflicting information perpetuated in the online sphere, sometimes abandoning ‘truth’ altogether.
Nonetheless, in amongst this post-truth culture, society has instigated a demand for more stringent monitoring of information to ensure that it consistently reflects the most up-to-date facts. More and more frequently, we are seeing corrections and amendments in news stories published days after the original to counter misinformation. Conversely, this (alongside the use of Donald Trump’s favourite phrase, ‘fake news’) suggests a reinforcement of the truth’s existence, indicating that while society is currently experiencing a post-truth phase, there is a growing obsession for honesty overall. The key difference, then, is that we now appreciate each person to have their own version of the ‘truth’, as opposed to merely an interpretation of one shared, objective truth.
Encouraging a more critical, objective approach to our misinformation-filled world, the values of the archetypal sage has taught many of us to identify false information online through fact-checking, or at least to be more discerning about the information presented to us. Nonetheless, our ongoing disconnection from more ingrained aspects of our reality – including how our clothes and food are made, and by who – demonstrates that there remain plenty of opportunities for learning. By considering the things in our life that we often overlook, a fuller picture emerges, and whilst we may not like all the things we discover, the sage in us knows that these things are always worth uncovering.
Critical consumers that take an interest in the products they buy have already made real, visible differences to the practices of many industries, and these success stories are a great source of encouragement. In the last few years alone, growing awareness regarding our use of plastics has inspired many supermarkets and food manufacturers to reduce the plastic content of their packaging, whilst public outcry against palm oil production persuaded many manufacturers to remove it from their products. Though these are small victories, they should be celebrated for both their positive impact on the planet and as proof that, as a society, we still critically analyse our world, emphasising that there are tangible benefits to uncovering the truth; even, and perhaps especially, when what we don’t like what we discover.