The Themes of the Octagram: Joy, Decay, Hope, Despair
In his book, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, Jung drew a colorful comparison between the sun’s daily path and the stages of a human life. These four “stages” were likened to the emergence of consciousness in the psyche.
The first: “In the morning it arises from the nocturnal sea of unconsciousness.” Here there is an opening and expansion as the sun “widens the higher it climbs in the firmament.” It is growth, life, and promise.
The second: the sun, then, “pursues its unforeseen course to the zenith.”
The third: “At the stroke of noon the descent begins. And the descent means the reversal of all the ideals and values that were cherished in the morning.”
The fourth: “Light and warmth decline and are at last extinguished.”
Bringing this comparison to the literal “stages of life” — as the chapter is called — provides an intuitive understanding of the human life. The rising sun is childhood, where growth, energy, and promise abound.
The sun pursuing its zenith in maturity, where one sacrifices the endless promises of childhood for something sustainable, focused, and mature.
The beginning of the descent marks the midlife, where the investment put into the first two stages are harvested and embedded.
And, finally, the finality, where the setting sun marks the end of a life, and perhaps with the final bit of light, all that has been accomplished that day lies visible.
While we believe a human follows a similar path psychologically— awakening to their Ego, and spreading to their Subconscious, Shadow, and eventually, Superego — the themes of the Octagram act as more “lifelong” forces in our lives.
Cycles of the Psyche
By all appearances, humans — like the universe — move in cycles. We are born, we grow, we reach the height of our growth, and begin the journey of our latter half, moving towards the end of our lives.
The seasonal cycle of spring to summer, summer to fall, and fall to winter, capture this organic movement from the height of birth and life, to the stillness of its culmination. Is it any wonder that sunsets garner so much solemn admiration, while sunrises are more “joyful”?
These four stages echo within our own psyches. Our sides of the psyche pull along a similar trajectory. The gift of our Ego gives us a base identity and then expands to the rising Subconscious, moving to the maturity in our Shadow/Unconscious, and then culminating in facing the Superego.
The Fourth Turning
The inspiration behind these Octagram themes comes from one of Chase’s most cited books, Strauss and Howe’s “The Fourth Turning.” A book about the generational cycles of culture, history, and humanity, there are “themes” attached to these cycles.
Based on Strauss and Howe’s theory, there are four archetypal stages in the cycle of turnings.
- There is a “High” where things are moving, aspiring, and positive.
- There is an “Awakening” where people unify over like values.
- There is an “Unravelling” where unity begins to dissolve.
- And finally, there is “Crisis,” where instability and chaos bring the death of the old.
Strauss and Howe offer an alternative, more accessible way of articulating these four stages:
Like the seasons, spring promising growth, summer promising maturation, fall promising entropy, and winter the final death of nature, these stages are baked into the environment. And of course, spring awaits to reanimate the dead and begin the process again.
We have assigned these archetypes to the Octagram variants of the 16 types.
From Layne’s Pen
It was a community member named Layne (on the Discord) who first made the connection between Strauss and Howe theory and the variants of the Octagram. Here’s what he had to say:
“Originally it was a theory I came up with proposing that certain Octagrams may be more common with certain generations or perhaps different turnings.
I created those 4 themes to loosely connect the Octagram to the turnings:
UD | SF to the ‘High’- 1st Turning (Hope)
SD | SF to the ‘Awakening’- 2nd Turning (Joy)
SD | UF to the ‘Unravelling’- 3rd Turning (Decay)
UD | UF to the ‘Crisis’- 4th Turning (Despair)
However, as I said, this is an oversimplification of the turnings.
But really for the most part I was thinking of the Octagram when coming up with those themes:
SD | SF – Experienced good times and heading towards more good times. (The best word I could think of to describe this was joy)
SD | UF – Experienced good times but now heading towards dark times. (The word that came to mind was decay, due to the darkening of one’s experience, from brightness to darkness)
UD | SF – Experienced dark times but heading towards brightness/ the light. (Due to the brightening of one’s dark experience I thought hope was the most appropriate word)
UD | UF – Experienced dark times but heading even further into the darkness. (Despair seemed like a fitting word for that)
It was after I created these themes for the Octagram that I tried to apply it to the turnings/ generations.
So while these themes do also vaguely connect to the turnings and generations. They’re much more suited to the Octagram.”
The Four Variants
Taking Layne’s proposal, we begin to see how a given type can be expressed in four vitally different ways.
The “Joy” variant belongs to the SD | SF (Subconscious Developed, Subconscious Focused) types. These types learned to rely on their Child and Inferior (Infant) function, which were likely nurtured in their early environment.
Joy is derived primarily from the Subconscious. SD | SF types rely heavily on their Subconscious which, while it can create naïveté, is a source of energy and vitality for life, generally with a capacity to enjoy it.
There is an ease in which these types can utilize both their Inferior and Child functions. They get to face their fear and are used to overcoming it (Inferior) and get to let their Child play. While on its face, SD | SF may seem like immaturity, it can lead them to access these functions in a much higher order than other variants.
The Inferior function for an SD | SF type can act much more like a “Hero” function because the Aspirational Inferior becomes “Heroic” in the Subconscious. SD | SF variants use their Inferior function with the most ease.
These types also learn to use their Child function carefully. Just as the Inferior can aspire, the Child function takes on more of a parental, responsible role in the Subconscious. SD | SF ISFJs, for example, tend to be more precise and constant with their logic than other Ti Child variants.
This is also why SD | SF ISFJs may “test” as ISTJs (picking up on a higher thinking function) or even ENTPs (their Subconscious type) because of this SD | SF phenomena of heavily relying on their “Ti” function.
Decay is for types who started out SD | SF who, usually through a “rude awakening,” are required to develop their Unconscious/Shadow to cope. For SD | UF types, the prior over-reliance on their Ego functions likely got them in trouble.
For whatever reason, they find themselves needing different tools, rather than honing mastery of the ones they have. The realization and eventual acceptance that one isn’t prepared, and that they are not up to the task as is, that different tools are required to proceed, can prove quite painful.
As Chris Taylor said of “Decay,” it is “Decaying away from the Ego. This does not mean a ‘doomed’ state. What ends up Decaying is your ego investments.”
To “Decay” is to burn away all that is unnecessary. Of all variants, we believe Decay is the variant most focused on refinement. SD | UF types often go through painful, through sharp — and possibly quick — transitions. It may be like getting smacked by a train, but SD | UF types can learn their lessons fast.
Lastly, for the SD | UF, consider that their “UF” is a “Supercharge” of what they are looking for. These types are typically used to being SD | SF — in Joy, enablement, etc. — thus they are not looking to overstay their welcome in the UF territory.
Psychologically we believe that both “UF” variants are temporary. But, the transformation back to SD | SF requires the SD | UF variants to put in the effort to develop their Shadow, and extract wisdom and understanding which will push them toward further maturation.
Take Robert Greene (INFP) and Solomon (ENTP), for example, who most would consider profoundly wise figures. Solomon spends much of Ecclesiastes “decaying” prior ego investments, and refining certain ideas of living to find they lack substance. Likewise, Robert Greene deals in eroding our shared illusions about power, inviting us to a perspective that is built on facing reality for what it is, not what our ideals would paint it as. A difficult lesson for Greene to have learned himself.
It is a personal opinion that SD | UF variants are capable of supercharging wisdom the absolute fastest. But only a portion of the SD | UF types will accept the journey to wisdom. If the don’t accept it, they may SD | UF for a long time.
“Despair” is survival mode. It is energy sapping, as the Ego is not allowed to expand or function in its desired state. This means one’s Ego was not permitted when they were young, and that it is still not available to use currently. The Shadow and Superego provide the tools for survival, but there is often much pain, and likely trauma, for the UD | UF, “Despair” types.
For UD | UF types, despair becomes a way of life. It goes from an “outlook” — I have to be this to survive — to a tenet of who they are. After months, even years, caught in despair, it becomes difficult to even hope for something better.
UD | UF types are so far away from joy, so disabled in their Ego, that it becomes nearly impossible to look at life with ease or peace. But, especially with the help of relationships, there is a road to Hope.
If you think of the seasons, winter has the least amount of variety. There are stages and movements in spring, summer, and fall, but winter is death. It is the long night. Despair is about coping and “dealing with it,” and surviving.
But, from the adversity of despair the seeds which fall to the ground and die and are being prepared for something reanimating. Just as winter waits and waits for spring, the UD | UF types are wondering if Hope exists at all.
The UD | SF variant is characterized by hope. Having faced adversity in childhood — their Ego not being able to exist as is let alone comfortably expand into the Subconscious, they later found the strategies and environments to overcome. This is the opposite of the “rude awakening” that Despair types get. The UD | SF types were born into the proverbial “rude awakening.” It was normal for them.
The UD | SF variants were likely not coddled or adequately shielded from some of the harsher experiences of life. But like all those who are not entirely shielded, but survive, they will grow strong in the places where they were once vulnerable. The movement from the darker, challenging times to the lighter more times is the essence of their hope.
This is the essence of the UD | SF’s Hope: “I survived early on and things got better. If I keep going, things will continue to get better. I have the power to overcome.”
UD | SF variants are likely to seek out challenge. They use their Hope to move through adversity, knowing that light will always come.
On the Cycles
It was a risk introducing the Octagram themes in the context of “cycles”. The risk lies in communicating misunderstanding. An SD | SF ISFJ, who aspired into their ENTP Subconscious, may be best characterized as “Joy” — and perhaps closest to the relaxed “summer” season.
But someone’s development — which side of the mind they have developed into — rarely, if ever, changes.
The SD | SF ISFJ will find their home in Joy— in the psychological “summer”. Just as a UD | SF ESTP will find their home in Hope — in the psychological “spring.”
The SD | UF may find their home in the psychological fall, while the UD | UF may find it in the psychological winter. Though in despair, the great emptiness of winter may bring some peace.
But a human being, regardless of type or development, moves through cycles of Joy, Decay, Despair, and Hope. What an Octagram variant reveals, however, is which season (and which cycles) one finds their home in. It is not to say that an SD | SF variant is immune to Despair. But it is to say they are likely the most resistant to Despair, and view life more peacefully through their “Joy” variant.
But, most SD | SF types will have periods in their life where they move from Joy to Decay — from the refining and “dying to self” that the Unconscious (and fall) bring.
All this to say: though we believe humanity moves in cycles, our Octagram variant reveals which cycles are most dominant in our lives — and which cycle we feel closest to home. Where are you most at home — fall, winter, spring, or summer?