Part 1 of a 4-part Introduction to Archetypes
By Marieke Cahill
January 14, 2022
A rage rose from deep in my belly. Not just my own anger at the out of character actions of my soon-to-be ex-husband, but a rage shared by women and femmes throughout time and space. It was an archetypal experience of rage.
When most people hear the word “archetype”, they think of the “12 Archetypes”: The Hero, The Wise One, The Child, The Queen, The Explorer, The Rebel, etc. But those are just the tip of the archetype iceberg. The truth is that archetypes are much more vast and full of possibility!
Archetypes are portals into the depths of the soul that reveal themselves in images and metaphors found in dreams and patterns of human experience.
Archetypes are portals into the depths of the soul that reveal themselves in images and metaphors found in dreams and patterns of human experience. They are unknowable in their entirety and are only able to be known by the images and patterns that represent aspects of these energies.
To be more specific, the 12 Archetypes are actually archetypal images or symbols that represent aspects of the primordial energy behind them. For example, take the archetypal image of the Hero, one of the most commonly known archetypal images. When we think of a hero, we have a general idea of what they symbolize: strength, overcoming adversity, helping others, self-sacrifice, bravery, etc. That general idea and sense of a thing is the energy of the archetype. It is an energy that we see represented in religion, myth, fairytales, and stories all around the world. It is an energy common to the human experience.
This image can also be represented in archetypal experiences, when this archetypal energy becomes evident in one’s life. When we are called to face a challenge and navigate with the qualities of a hero, we are embodying that archetype in our experience.
Now, I say image because that’s the term used by Carl Gustav Jung, the psychologist who pioneered the concept of archetypes in relation to the human psyche, and within the depth psychological community, but the term is misleading. An archetypal image is not limited to the visible. It can be a sound, a sensation, an emotion, an experience, or any other representation of the archetypal energy.
An archetypal image is not limited to the visible. It can be a sound, a sensation, an emotion, an experience, or any other representation of the archetypal energy.
The concept of archetypes goes all the way back to Plato and his theory of Forms. But it is the early 20th century psychologist C. G. Jung who coined the term archetype and identified archetypes relating to the psyche (the soul and mind) such as the Shadow. Jung’s archetypes of the psyche created a mythology for the Western psyche. In the 1970s, James Hillman then formed the post-Jungian branch of depth psychology (the study of unconscious psychological processes) known as archetypal psychology that focuses on the connections between the human psyche and the archetypes present in polytheistic mythologies and fantasies. The 12 archetypes that are so popular are rooted in Joseph Campbell’s work on myth and the “Hero’s Journey”, work that has informed much of Hollywood’s storytelling in addition to many other aspects of Western culture.
But how does this help us in our day to day lives?
Instead of feeling that deep sense of rage and thinking something was wrong with me, I could reframe it in the context of my connection to shared experiences of injustice. Instead of rejecting my rage, this reframing helped me feel and process my emotions in a healthy way, reach out for support, and address the root of the problem directly. It enabled me to stay centered in my integrity and be aware of what was happening without lashing out. I felt rooted in my power instead of disempowered.
Framing experiences through archetypes and the personal mythologies that arise from them can bring ease in difficult circumstances, a creative and flexible sense of being, and ultimately lead to deep fulfillment.
Want to learn more about how to work with archetypes in your own life? Join me for a free ABC Creative Workshop and have fun learning about the connection of archetypes, creativity, and life.
References and Additional Resources:
The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious by C. G. Jung
The Soul’s Code by James Hillman
The Hero with 1000 Faces by Joseph Campbell
Jung Lexicon by Daryl Sharp
Jung: A Feminist Revision by Susan Rowland
The Heroine with 1001 Faces by Maria Tatar
Phaedrus by Plato