The 9th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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The wise old man (also called senex, sage or sophos) is an archetype as described by Carl Jung, as well as a classic literary figure, and may be seen as a stock character. The wise old man can be a profound philosopher distinguished for wisdom and sound judgment. Sage A wise and virtuous person, an accomplished one who is second in rank to a saint
This type of character is typically represented as a kind and wise, older father-type figure who uses personal knowledge of people and the world to help tell stories and offer guidance that, in a mystical way, may impress upon his audience a sense of who they are and who they might become, thereby acting as a mentor. He may occasionally appear as an absent-minded professor, appearing absent-minded due to a predilection for contemplative pursuits.
The wise old man is often seen to be in some way "foreign", that is, from a different culture, nation, or occasionally, even a different time, from those he advises. In extreme cases, he may be a liminal being, such as Merlin, who was only half human.
In medieval chivalric romance and modern fantasy literature, he is often presented as a wizard. He can also or instead be featured as a hermit. This character type often explained to the knights or heroes—particularly those searching for the Holy Grail—the significance of their encounters.
In Jungian analytical psychology, senex is the specific term used in association with this archetype. In Ancient Rome, the title of Senex (Latin for old man) was only awarded to elderly men with families who had good standing in their village. Examples of the senex archetype in a positive form include the wise old man or wizard. The senex may also appear in a negative form as a devouring father (e.g. Uranus, Cronus) or a doddering fool.
In the individuation process, the archetype of the Wise old man was late to emerge, and seen as an indication of the Self. 'If an individual has wrestled seriously enough and long enough with the anima (or animus) problem...the unconscious again changes its dominant character and appears in a new symbolic form...as a masculine initiator and guardian (an Indian guru), a wise old man, a spirit of nature, and so forth'.