The Alchemy of Claire and Jamie: The Sacred Marriage in Outlander’s “The Reckoning”

outlander-midseason-premiere

Approximately ten years ago now, Bruce and I were sitting at dinner with our friends/neighbors and their friends from Australia. Our neighbors are way too much fun. Though they have lived in Santa Barbara for at least forty years, Kathleen was born in Australia and Eric was born in Scotland, which means that Bruce connects with them on the side of Celtic culture, and I am simply amused at being with them. On this particular occasion, I was gushing to our friend Kay about how obsessed I am with all things Scottish, Irish, and really just all things generally Gaelic. She looked at me with eyes wide and said: “Have you read Outlander?” “Outlander,” I replied, “I haven’t even heard of it. What is it?” She looked at me and said, “I’ll write it down for you. You just need to read it.” Thennnnnnnn, I went to grad school. I did a PhD. And I read nothing except Jung, Campbell, and Hillman for almost a decade. Imagine my joy when I heard that Starz had given the green light to a series! Finally, I would find an entrance into the lovely world of Diana Gabaldon’s mythic imagination.

Now, I am aware that I am beyond late jumping on this bandwagon, but I have recently become completely obsessed with this series. I’ve seen all the episodes at least 3 times, and I am currently in the middle of reading Drums of Autumn (book 4). There are so many rich things that I could explore about it, but one particular insight came to me as I was watching episode 9 (The Reckoning) a few days ago. I realized that Outlander gets done in about five minutes on the show and two chapters in the book what it took the 50 Shades series three books and a whole film to attempt to (largely unsuccessfully) address–that is the relationship between sexuality, ego destruction, psychological healing, and recreation. Being visually inclined as I am, I would like to examine the show. Let’s look at Jamie and Claire as archetypal energies themselves, and then we can examine the episode itself.

Jamie and Claire: The Warrior and The Healer

These characters are far too rich to boil down to one archetypal image each. The power of mythic images is that they resonate on a high vibration, offering kaleidoscopic facets that speak to each participant in the language and image that addresses what the participant needs to engage at that moment. This is certainly the case with Jamie and Claire. Their power as images lies in the archetypal wholeness they represent. And there are many different avenues that might be traversed in discussion about them. By way of introducing who they are, however, I’d like to look some conscious aspects of them, which happen to be the aspects of them that resonate personally with me.

Without a doubt, Jamie is an archetypal image of the warrior. Tall, broad, and strong–he symbolizes the best there is to offer in the image of the mythic protector. Furthermore, he represents a particularly American fantasy of the Scottish highlander, an image that has been fused in popular culture with what is often called the “Scottish” or “Celtic Warrior Poet,” that is the kind of warrior who fights because he feels and loves so much, an archetype that I am well acquainted with, being married to a man who deeply identifies with this image, and who has an uncle that embodies this energy in the family structure as well. Jamie embodies the kind of warrior that fights to protect that which they are passionate about. Whether he is fighting off English soldiers or receiving a whipping for a young woman just to help her avoid humiliation, Jamie embodies honor, duty, unbending strength, and the brave Scottish heart.  If you are curious what this archetypal image might look like in contemporary popular culture, check this out the iconic ending scene of Braveheart.

Claire is an archetypal healer, a nurse, a nurturer with the soul of a mother bear. Soft and loving though she often is, she is every bit as fierce as Jamie. She is as fiery, passionate, and brilliant as she is stubborn, a personality that makes her the perfect partner to our American fantasy of the Scottish highlander. Claire embodies a potentiality for a motherly kind of nurturing, but foremost, she represents the power of female sexuality In contrast to a great many stories presented in our time, Claire makes no apologies for her desires, be they sexual or any other, nor for her abilities, and her opinions. Images of this kind of female character are present all over popular culture currently, from Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser to Virginia Johnson of Masters of Sex.

Ares_Aphrodite_

Fans of this series love the connection between Jamie and Claire. In their interaction with each other, these characters create and inhabit the energetic space that the Greeks understood as the love affair between Ares and Aphrodite; war and beauty. In their most positive form, these archetypes inspire humanity to amazing feats of sacrifice for the protection of their beloved passion. Ares and Aphrodite are generally depicted as an entwined pair of lovers incapable of keeping their gaze and touch from one another. That kind of connection exists between Claire and Jamie. From the moment that they meet to their first kiss at their wedding, a heat begins to build between them that represents the passion between love, beauty, and the warrior. That heat becomes the centerpiece for the entire series (both in the books and the television series). An exploration of this passion continues for the next episode, an exercise in the way love evolves over time. It’s quite sweet, but if these characters did not delve into the realm of shadow, they would not offer a sense of wholeness to the mythic patron, and this is what Outlander does so well in contrast to other current stories that traverse similar territory…*cough, cough* 50 ShadesGame of Thrones

–As an aside, the actors on this show do a brilliant job of constellating this energy. Through the brilliance of Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan, Claire and Jamie’s passionate encounters dance across the television screen in a tender, yet simultaneously raw and un-sanitized depiction. It’s beautifully acted, shot, and adapted, really. The entire cast and crew should be commended, and if they don’t receive tons of Emmy nominations next year, there is no justice.–

As I see it, the alchemical relationship between Claire and Jamie as developed through The Reckoning begins to uncover the aspects of shadow necessary to truly unite Claire and Jamie. In depth psychological circles, much has been discussed of hermeneutical possibilities of this ancient science of alchemy through a metaphorical lens. This fusion of energies that are traditionally understood to be masculine and feminine create an alchemical process often known by Jungians as the coniunctio or the sacred marriage–an alchemical process of turning lead into gold, of fusing masculine and feminine…or metaphorically melding elements together to create something new, something golden and precious is present in this episode of Outlander. If, as I’ve previously suggested, Claire and Jamie represent archetypal interpretations of beauty, love, passion, and protection, a true connection between them must mingle these archetypal energies, which means that aspects of both of these archetypes already exist within them. In other words, as much as she is an image of love and beauty, Claire is also an image of the passionate and powerful warrior, and as much as Jamie fights like a lion, he also constellates the golden beauty of Aphrodite.

In The Reckoning, this becomes quite clear. During the fight they have after Jamie rescues Claire from their archnemesis Jack Randall the two viciously and fiercely scream at each other, all the while laying out their hurt and vulnerability to each other. After a scene of violent name calling, Jamie opens to Claire, telling her of his terror at the prospect of returning to Fort William, where Jack Randall nearly flogged him to death. He sinks to the ground with tears in his eyes telling her that she’s “tearing his guts out.” It is clear that feared not for his own life, but also for Claire, who (his actions prove) he loves more than his own life. In return, she offers him compassion as they both ask forgiveness of one another. A voice over from Jamie notes that he had already forgiven anything she had done or ever could do and that that was falling in love.

This scene turns directly into another where Jamie whips Claire with his belt, giving her “justice” for what her disobedience nearly costs the men. Jamie wants to resolve the situation. He kindly tells her that “if it was only me that you hurt, I wouldna say more about it” and then he pulls out his belt and approaches her. Of course, she considers this punishment to be injustice. She kicks him in the face and calls him a sadist, begging him to listen to reason and not follow through with the sentence he believes she deserves, but she fails and he whips her. The scene is portrayed as comical as it is serious. Jamie doesn’t really want to punish her, it is important to remember that he is a man of the 18th century and in that time a husband is responsible to his community to deal with respond to the actions of his wife. In the context of Highlander culture, this is the punishment she deserves. On the other hand, it is clear that some part of this complex hero enjoys releasing the frustration his fear has created, as he appreciates that she is a woman who will fight back against him when she believes him wrong.

This “punishment” creates a rift in the relationship between the two. Jamie begins to realize that he will need to find a new way forward with his wife. After helping to solve some clan politics, he comes to understand that true relationship is not forged through imposition of will. As he is the one who has done wrong, it is up to him to approach her for forgiveness. He must re-open the connection between them that was closed when he insisted on rigidly maintaining the old roles between husband and wife. Returning to their chamber, he tells Claire that he has watched his uncle begin to bend, that it was more important to him at that moment that he restore peace than to be correct, and that made him “mindful.” He then proceeds say that perhaps things need to be different between them. He kneels before her, offering fealty, and vows to take his own blade into his chest if he ever again raises a hand “in rebellion” against her. Asking if that is not enough, he looks at her entreatingly, asking if she wants to live apart, if she no longer wants him. She tells him that she should want to leave him, but she doesn’t.

This simple action re-opens the energetic connection between them–Jamie tells her how much he wants her, asks if she will have him. When she acquiesces, they have the kind of mad, passionate, encounter that rips open the boundaries between two people, during which Claire takes a dagger and holds it to his throat telling him that if he ever raises a hand to her again, she will “cut out his heart and have it for breakfast.” Again Cait and Sam play this so well together, because through their talent and interpersonal connection, the viewer can actually witness the archetypal energies between them melding into each other as they volley domination and submission passion and love back and forth at each other.

Claire becomes the image of archetypal, seductive devouring feminine, and Jamie becomes an image of the archetypal masculine in ecstasy at this experience of being consumed. And immediately after, Jamie takes command over Claire, covers her, and tells her that he “means to make her call him master.” Afterward, Jamie kisses Claire sweetly and recites one of the most iconic lines from the book: “I am your master, and you are mine. It seems I canna possess your soul without losing my own.” At that moment, what this entire scene has been building up to is obvious. They have truly become one.  They have faced their own darkness, each other’s darkness, and they have brought the aspects into consciousness necessary to bond. They are aware that they have the power to destroy each other, a destructive impulse that Dr. Sabina Spielrein, a notable elder of psychoanalysis, observes is a necessary part of sexuality as it precipitates the destruction of the ego and the recreation of a new identity. Through the process, they have consumed each other, and through this consumption, they have been made whole. They have taken the lead of these archetypes and turned then into gold. And in the landscape of Diana Gabaldon’s imagination, for Claire and Jamie, this bond is irrevocable.

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15 Comments

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15 responses to “The Alchemy of Claire and Jamie: The Sacred Marriage in Outlander’s “The Reckoning”

  1. Thank you for your post. Like you, I am late coming to the appreciation of the Outlander. The Starz portrayal of Diana Gabaldon’s Book 1 captured my attention and I recently finished reading book 1 and now onto reading book 2. I view Claire and Jamie’s archetypal personas from a more complex perspective than the one you have described in your post. I would not limit Claire to a “healer” as she absolutely has some Athene-like warrior qualities, just as Jamie has some tortured Ixion qualities. And I actually believe they both have more archetypal qualities longing to be identified and discussed. There are subtle,yet important elements, in the Starz “punishment” scene that differ from the book. This series (books/film) is a rich weaving of religion, mythology, psychology, politics (power and control), eros (sex), economics, and history. As you continue to explore the relationship in your analysis and writing I hope you will expand the depth and complexity of the individuals and their relationship rather than simplify.

    • Thanks for your comment. I totally agree with what you said about the archetypal personas being complex. I have just finished the 3rd book, and I can tell you that there are certainly all kinds of archetypal energies in play in the series. I thought I did make that clear when I said that the archetype of the healer and warrior exist in both the characters…that that is what allows for the alchemical connection to take place. For certain, Claire has plenty of warrior-like qualities, as does Jamie of the wounded healer. What I intended to convey is that the alchemy between Jamie and Claire’s archetypal energies begins to bring those archetypes into fullness in both of them. If I were to expand this into a journal article, I would certainly continue to amplify these images. Thanks for reading. 🙂

  2. Pingback: “Outlander” and the Sacred Marriage | Jody Bower writes

  3. intenteffect

    This is the smartest take I’ve seen on Outlander! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  4. Thank you for your thoughtful analysis. I wonder if Diana had all this in mind when she was writing…

  5. Caroline Smith

    Insightful review and comment. Thanks to both of you.

  6. Jules

    Thank you for this post. You write beautifully. This is my favourite episode of the season, for all of the reasons you write about!

  7. thank you for writing what I couldnot express myself that’s a rare gift you have as does DG

  8. Rosa Garza

    You refer to the destruction of the ego. How does this work with what happened to Jamie at the hands of Jack Randall?

    • OOOOOO….that’s a good question. I would submit that Jamie’s experience with Jack Randall is another aspect of ego death. We continue to experience different aspects of ego death all through our lives related to different parts of our identity. I think that when Jamie is violated by JR, it causes an ego death in connection to his sense of his abilities as a warrior. There is both a willingness to sacrifice and a sense of defeat in his acquiescence to JR. As opposed to a laying down of control into the hands of a loving partner with Claire. Jack breaks the part of his ego that sees himself as a victorious warrior. That, as well as the death of his sense of sexual autonomy is the central difference as I see it.

  9. Brenda Shaw

    Fascinating analysis beautifully written. I watch The Reckoning almost every night going from the fight at the river to the “spanking” and the make-up love scene. I do not have the background nor understanding to interpret and explain as you did. I knew the episode resonated for me on many levels not the least of which were the vows, passion, and melding into one with my own husband. Thank you for this insight. The Outlander series has become a course of study for me. You have added a fascinating interptetation to my learning which would be worthy of much discussion.

  10. Linda Bouley

    Your writing is lovely and so clear. Here are a few of my observations related to these EPs which I agree depict the full formation of Jamie & Claire’s bond as a married couple:

    Though it appears that Claire decides to stay with Jamie in EP111 when she returns to stay with him instead of going back to Frank, I think she really didn’t have a choice on that hilltop because the soul of their joined relationship had already been sealed. When Jamie spoke the “I am your master” lines in EP109, she knew in that moment that she and Jamie had a rare connection, but she didn’t fully integrate what it was or truly meant. Claire gave a small nod ‘yes’ after Jamie spoke them in the show, and in the book, she briefly thought that Frank had never gotten close to that level of loving her. Jamie’s unselfishness in bringing her to the stones was heart-wrenching for him because I he had already fully acknowledged the depth of their relationship; but in giving Claire her freedom to go back though the stones to Frank, it allowed her to see what she had known already from EP109, but perhaps had not acknowledged in any conscious way – she could not live without him.

  11. Pingback: On the Archetypal Significance of Television Epics and Ridiculously Embarrassing Celebrity Crushes | Of Myths and (Hu)Men: Myth and Ritual of our Time

  12. Pingback: On the Archetypal Significance of TV Epics and Ridiculously Embarrassing Celebrity Crushes | Of Myths and (Hu)Men: Myth and Ritual of our Time

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