Queen Elizabeth was part of our psyche

Ben Okri

NB: This is a fascinating meditation, not merely on the Queen, but on God, monarchy, twentieth-century history and impermanence. Not to mention our regard for sheer human decency. Well written sir. DS

Monarchs have passed away before, but there is something special which Queen Elizabeth has done, which makes it harder for the nation. She blurred the boundaries between her reign and the realm.

She was a Queen that was hard for republicans to reject, hard for those who are against the monarchy successfully to protest against. She was an excellent advertisement for the monarchy because she did best in recent times what great monarchies through the ages do to their people, become part of their psyche. She did it so well that in some way to think ill of her was to think ill of oneself. It is how kings and queens through the ages have ruled and made their people feel the legitimacy and inevitability of their rule.

Queen Elizabeth ruled at a time when the spiritual energy of the world was moving from a male-centred universe to one desperately in need of feminine energies. After two world wars, after the toxicity of Nazism, which was male energy at its most disordered and insane, what the world truly needed, at the level of its subconscious, was a female force, a stable, balancing, presence.

This meditation is not concerned here about the rightness or the wrongness of the monarchy. It is an observation on why Queen Elizabeth was especially successful . Deep down what the world needed after the upheavals of wars and the violence of empire and the rampant capitalism that damages and diminishes humanity was the touch of the high maternal. It is the same reason why in past ages, in ancient civilisations, certain goddesses came to the ascendancy to compensate for particularly bloodthirsty epochs.

This is why in many ways the phenomenon of Queen Elizabeth is different from the particularity of Elizabeth herself. But she has to be credited with knowing how to let the person of Elizabeth be the vehicle for the subconscious phenomenon that was Queen Elizabeth.

How many people know how to let myth work through them, exalting their station and their presence, wielding a force and an influence in the world vastly disproportionate to their person? Many years ago, Prince Charles, in an interview, agonised over the difficulty of getting the common man to understand the notion of the divine right of kings. That struggle was appropriate. It is hard, even impossible, to get people to understand that notion. It is difficult nowadays to get people to understand the divine right of anything – unless it be the divine right of freedom, the divine right of life itself. Everyone wants to be independent, to stand on their own two feet, not to look up to anyone, not to feel inferior to anyone by birth, or by colour or gender. Everywhere people are fighting for freedom.

This does not mean that deep down people don’t need a mother or a father, and don’t want to run back to those archetypes. But we have entered a new age. The gods have tumbled down. Nietzsche claimed that God was dead. The church struggles. People lose their faith and their beliefs daily. This perhaps makes us porous. And into that inner porousness, that vacuum between two periods, a transition from an old world to a new world, the figure of Queen Elizabeth was just what was needed. The nation drew her into its psyche for shelter and for stability, in a world where empires were falling and the great dependable structures were all crashing down one after another.

Hence the power of that iconography, that Leonardo calm and enigma, that constancy in a world where leaders of nations prove themselves comical figures and tin men, psychopaths and monumental narcissists….


When the Queen came calling in 1961