Seeds and Soil

Sometimes apparently simple stories can have deep psychological significance. Consider the parable of the sower:

“Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow:

And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up.

And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth:

But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.

And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.”

Mark 4: 3-7

What do these three lots of seeds represent? Jesus immediately expounds the hidden meaning to his disciples:

“The sower soweth the word.

And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts.

And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness;

And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended.

And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word,

And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.”

Mark 4: 15-19

So this allegorical story about a sower sowing seed on different types of ground is actually about imparting “seeds” of spiritual truth via “the word” in people’s hearts. The seeds fail to grow sufficiently to give fruit, signifying that the spiritual truth fails to produce any tangible results. Why? Not because there’s anything wrong with the seeds, but because the soil is bad. In other words, there’s something wrong with the human heart.

In the parable, Jesus describes three ways in which the heart is indisposed to receive his teaching. If what he describes is true to life, we shouldn’t be too surprised to find that these three unfruitful personality types actually correspond to modern psychological typologies.

Consider the classical clinical diagnosis of mental health patients into different personality disorders. Theodore Millon helpfully describes them in the following way:

Narcissists are “Egotistical, arrogant, grandiose, insouciant. Preoccupied with fantasies of success, beauty, or achievement, See themselves as admirable and superior, and therefore entitled to special treatment. Is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other’s feelings.”

Sadists are “Explosively hostile, abrasive, cruel, dogmatic. Liable to sudden outbursts of rage. Gain satisfaction through dominating, intimidating and humiliating others. They are opinionated and close-minded. Enjoy performing brutal acts on others. Find pleasure in abusing others. Would like to engage in sadomasochist relationship, but will not play the role of masochist.”

Dependents are “Helpless, incompetent, submissive, immature. Withdrawn from adult responsibilities. See themselves as weak or fragile. Seek constant reassurance from stronger figures. They have the need to be taken care of by a person. They fear being abandoned or separated from important people in their life.”

Obsessive-compulsives are “Restrained, conscientious, respectful, rigid. Maintain a rule-bound lifestyle. Adhere closely to social conventions. See the world in terms of regulations and hierarchies. See themselves as devoted, reliable, efficient, and productive.”

Borderlines are “Unpredictable, manipulative, unstable. Frantically fear abandonment and isolation. Experience fluctuating moods. Shift rapidly between loving and hating. See themselves and others as all-good or all-bad. Unstable and frequently changing moods. People with borderline personality disorder have a pervasive pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships.”

Of the three types of “bad soil” in the parable of the sower, the first is typical of narcissistic personality disorder or sadistic personality disorder. In my psychological schema, these are represented by the Diva and Demon archetypes; the second is typical of dependent personality disorder, represented by the Victim and Addict archetypes; and the third is typical of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder or borderline personality disorder, represented by the Muggle and Muppet archetypes.

What about the “good soil”, that is, those people whose hearts are capable of receiving and nurturing spiritual truth and producing “good fruit”, that is, real, tangible results?

“…these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.”

Mark 4:20

Again, just as there are three types of bad ground, there are three types of good ground – some produce more fruit than others. What are these three good types? Let’s suppose that they would be the converse of the negative archetypes. We can imagine the following hierarchy:

Philosopher Kings produce “thirtyfold”.

Warrior Monks produce “sixty”.

Mystic Shamans produce “an hundred”.