I understand archetypes in a very basic way, as symbols or schemas which are timeless and universal. Although I find C.G. Jung’s ideas and theories to be endlessly fascinating, I don’t agree with everything he stood by. With that said, I also wouldn’t necessarily consider archetypes to be a “healing tool,” but something to consider and playfully notice in life.
Because philosophers or mythologists like Joseph Campbell have also noticed patterns of particular characters in myths, literature, and across human culture, there is a certain sense of connectivity in human minds portrayed in creativity. Jung called this “connectivity,” in many more words and dense study, the collective unconscious. Archetypes are one small component to literally something much larger. They are understood in the basis of our human psyche or “a psychic organ present in all of us…it personifies…the real but invisible roots of consciousness” (Jung, 1951, p. 94).
Aside from the archetypes I’ve read in fairy tales and encountered in various aspects of culture, I occasionally see them as representations of aspects within myself and in my life. When I come to better understand these common characters, I feel like I can better understand something more deeply human. As I apply them to my life, I feel as though I am able to more definitively manifest a life I love to live. It sounds overly romanticized and dramatic, but as you recognize some of the archetypical characters, they do after all, most often appear in tales of fate, destiny, epic tragedy, and happily ever after.
To play with how archetypes work for you, think about both the obvious and hidden characteristics in each. Go beyond the stories they’ve appeared in and imagine what they represent to you. Perhaps these characteristics apply to qualities and behaviors you also embody.
A few archetypes, or personal adaptations of them, I’ve accepted as the most relevant in my life are as follows:
The Child. This is innocence and the birth of a new beginning. We all go through cycles in our life, so as something ends, the beginning is the Child. I also consider this archetype to represent miracles. New job or relationship? Change in tradition? The Child is present. Sometimes when there is about to be a change in my life, I dream I’m pregnant or of an egg. The Child appears when we feel some loss or conclusion. It is there to keep you moving and feel the hope of a fresh start.
Anima and Animus. This is the masculine and feminine within all of us. I find masculine and feminine to be somewhat difficult to grasp in psychology and symbolically because it’s not associated with the gender characteristics socially embedded in us. Right when I want to roll my eyes for the masculine representing logic and rationality and feminine representing emotion, I have to remember masculine isn’t exactly “man” and feminine isn’t exactly “woman.” It is part of everyone regardless of gender.
The easiest way for me to shake the automatic gender associations is to picture the Yin Yang symbol, two opposites equal in importance needed to balance. When you feel a need for greater balance in your life, this is the archetype.
The Hero (or Heroine). This archetype is most commonly portrayed as embarking on a journey. There are particular steps the hero must pass to be the accomplished, bold, often admired archetype. Their journey is one of change, experience, and learning. We may consider ourselves the Hero of our own story, making our way through, excuse the cliche, the journey of life. Every time you are brave you embody the Hero.
The Shadow. These are our darker qualities. There is a shadow side to just about everything, but it doesn’t need to be “bad” or feared. It gives us opportunities to learn and grow, and we need it to counter our light. Where there is confidence(light) there is vanity(shadow). It is usually the undesirable contrast.
Ruler. This embodies nobility, leadership, justice/negotiation and I think has a masculine/feminine quality to it because of King/Queen. I also like to combine the Caregiver in this one because of the shared quality of working and caring for others. Although the Caregiver has a more nurturing component to it that isn’t usually present in a Ruler.
When have you been of service to others or claimed your power? This could be an aspiration for you and you need to discover where in you this Ruler is, how this archetype can be grown. Maybe sometimes you feel so much gratitude that you perceive yourself to be living with the abundance of a King or Queen.
A combination of the Creator, Wise Elder, and Common Tradesman. Creators tend to be in the forms of the Witch, Sorcerer, Wizard, Magician, or Alchemist. They are resourceful and craft their desires. How are you a creator of your own reality? The Wise Elder is approached for their learned experience and expertise. Sometimes they are healers. Common Trades(wo)men are the people in the story who are skilled, hard workers. They might be a Blacksmith or Baker. They have patience and strength. Tradespeople are also creators, and they needed in the community.
Storm/Tempest. I’m not sure if this is one of the “official” archetypes, but like the Journey, the Storm isn’t an archetypical person but an event of sorts. As you can guess, the Storm is an uncontrolled, tumultuous time of change, forced reconstruction, and re-evaluation.
The Animal. The Animal is another one perhaps not really considered an “official” archetype, but still an important one. It is primitive, maybe the Trickster sometimes (fox, wolf, serpent). What animal’s qualities can you shape shift into? A lion, dolphin, or peacock? Animals have many teachings and gifts for us.
Allow archetypes to support you on your journey. Archetypes are believed to help achieve wholeness. While I can’t say whether wholeness is truly achievable, when you grow some of the archetypes in your life and behavior, a deep sense of balance may come close.
Go rule, conquer and shape shift through shadows and storms, births and balance!
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References: Jung, C. G. and Kerényi, C. (1951) Science of Mythology Essays on the Myth of the Divine Child and the Mysteries of Eleusis London and New York: Routledge. English ed. pp. 94-107, 111-116.
Jung, C. G. and Kerényi, C. (1951) Science of Mythology Essays on the Myth of the Divine Child and the Mysteries of Eleusis London and New York: Routledge. English ed. pp. 94-107, 111-116.