Many years ago, the island of Crete was ruled by the cruel King Minos. One day he summoned to the island a famous inventor called Daedalus, who brought with him his son, Icarus, to do a job for the King.
Minos had the inventor build a great palace for him, within which, was housed a complex labyrinth.
“What is this labyrinth to be used for?” asked Daedalus.
“I pay you to build, not asked questions!” barked King Minos, in reply.
When the palace was finished Daedalus looked upon it with pride. Nowhere in world was there a palace so fine. But when he found out that the purpose of the palace was to house a beast in the basement, a minotaur, that would be fed men and women, he was horrified and felt remorse.
He sought to leave Crete. But the unmerciful King denied him, as he was the only one who knew the secret of the maze and how to escape it.
“The secret must never leave the island. Therefore, you and Icarus must remain here forever”.
Daedalus and Icarus lived in great comfort in the King’s palace but, all the same, they were prisoners. Daedalus despaired over their predicament.
Their room was at the highest point in the palace. Every morning he put seeds out on the window sill for the birds. He liked to study them, the way they soared high on the wind into the sky, far above the beautiful blue sea below. Seeing their freedom comforted him. It also inspired him. “What if…” he wondered.
From that day on he studied the birds intently. When the birds nested on the window, he begged them to give him a feather. By candlelight, late into the night, the great Daedalus worked on his greatest invention of all.
A whole year went by.
Then one morning Icarus was awoken by his father urging him up.
“Don’t make a sound Icarus. We are leaving Crete”.
From under the bed he pulled out four folded fans of feathers.
“I sewed the feathers together, with wool from my blanket.”
He perched Daedalus on the windowsill, melted a candle and placed the sticky wax on his son’s shoulders. With the wax soft he stuck the feathers to the shoulder blades of Icarus.
“Now, help me do the same sun. When the wax sets, we will fly away far from here, free like the birds!”
Icarus was afraid, but his father reassured him.
“Have courage Icarus. Keep your arms wide, fly close to me, and above all Icarus, this is to the most important part…Don’t fly too close to the sun!”
Off out over the guards below and the palace walls Daedalus and Icarus flew, out into the wide-open expanse of sea and sky.
Icarus was thrilled. He could see the whole world below, it all looked so small: the river and hills, the waves and the sand. The more he flew the more confident he grew. In his boldness he flew higher, above the seagulls, all the way up as high as the sun.
Daedalus screamed after his son, warning him again, but with the wind in his ears, Icarus could not hear him.
“I am the first boy to fly, I am the greatest, no one can catch me!” cried Icarus.
Soon he could feel the heat of the sun on his face. The wax began to melt and trickle slowly down his arms. Suddenly he remembered his father’s advice…Don’t fly too close to the sun!
But it was too late. His wings began to shed their feathers. One by one, they fell from his body drifting away until Icarus was in free-fall, crashing faster and faster through the air. Past the clouds, past the seagulls, past Daedalus, until he hurtled head first into the deep blue sea sinking all the way to the fish at the bottom.
All that was left of Icarus was feathers scattered here and there across the surface of the glittering sea.
The old Greek Myth of Daedalus and Icarus is a story of judgement and naivete; kindness and cruelty; invention and impetuousness; courage and (over)confidence; resourcefulness and helplessness; skill and ineptitude; victory and defeat; wisdom and folly.
Perhaps we can easily identify a Daedalus, an Icarus, a King Minos in the world around us. But as Joseph Campbell says, “All the gods, all the heavens, all the hells are within you”. Through a more nuanced reading of this myth, a psychological reading, if you will, we can see that all of us contain an inner Icarus, Daedalus and Minos. We are all capable of acting with the cruelty of Minos, the cunning and craftiness of Daedalus, and the false confidence and foolishness of Icarus.
The question is when, and in what contexts, to I inhabit these roles?
Daedalus, as the symbol of wisdom, creativity and compassion in this story is naturally the archetype that we want to draw on more. How do we become more Daedalus-like in our daily dealings? How do we draw on and develop this potential within ourselves?
Becoming aware of those moments in our lives when we are inhabiting different archetypal patterns. When you fall into foolishness, the impulse towards cruelty, the call of heroic action and wisdom. If We meditate on the qualities of a Daedalus, perhaps imagining ourselves at the start of each day moving through your day with these qualities, how might it impact how you are in the world?
It can be helpful to journal and reflect on those moments when you are at your best, expressing the qualities of wise discernment and creative invention. How can you foster more of these moments? What environments bring them out? What contexts create and activate the best qualities within you?
Try reflecting at the end of your day upon where was I in self-at-best today? (Daedalus) Where was I in self-at-worst? (Minos, Icarus). Remembering though that the Minos or the Icarus is not the enemy, not something to be gotten rid of, but a part of our humanity that is valuable and can indeed teach us something. It is possible to honour these parts of ourselves while not letting them run the show. They need to be recognised and known, rather than denied or ignored.
A practice like this cultivates a natural mindfulness – where we are constantly monitoring our moment to moment functioning and reflecting on the efficacy of that functioning. We notice ourselves falling in and out of different modes and states of being and in this noticing can step out of unskillful ways of being into more resourceful parts of ourselves.
Ultimately, in the ship of the self, as is it sails on the seas of life, we can make space for the Minos and the Icarus on board as members of the crew, but making sure that we keep our Daedalus at the helm.