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What is an archetype? An archetype is a personal energy that is expressed authentically in a social role. For me this is very exciting. It means we can be authentically who we are in our relationships. Many psychotherapies seem to believe that the conflict between the individual and society is inevitable. (Freud for instance spoke of the ‘reality principle’, that is the individual had to restrain their desires in accord with ‘reality’. That reality could be transformed so that we lead a joyous life was not contemplated.)
Archetypes offer the possibility of living a life that is both true to ourselves and to theat benefit of society as well. Archetypal psychology sees that individuals functioning as they were meant to is part of what makes a healthy society. For me this experience of who I am flowing into authentic action is the experience of joy.
Alot of archetypal psychology can be quite ‘airy-fairy’. There is a sense of wizards exploring their power and rescuing the innocent aspect of their psyche, but less sense of doing the washing up.
I was fortunate that I found a book that brought archetypal psychology down to earth. It is Awakening the Heroes Within by Carol S Peasrson. It has 12 archetypes: the innocent, the orphan, the caregiver, the warrior, the lover, the destroyer, the seeker, the creator, the sage, the ruler, the magician and the fool. Each of these archetypal energies is part of us. However we each have one that tends to stay with us throughout our lives (for me it is the sage).
The book contains a quiz to help you identify which of the archetypes is dominant in your life at the moment. (There is also a version, slightly up-dated, that you can do on line.) It also contains a couple of exercises at the end of each chapter to help you get in touch with each archetype (these aren’t terribly good in my opinion. The strength of the book is in the exploration of each archetype and how it applies in our life.).
I have gone back to this book over and over. I discovered it more than 20 years ago and it hasn’t gotten stale. It has offered a framework for my journey through life unlike any other – it combines both personal authenticity and social transformation: rare indeed.
I don’t want to suggest that it’s perfect. It was written when the author was fairly young. In the chapter on the sage she traces its development through our life course (as she does for each archetype) and stops at (US) college age. She suggests that there may be stages of development after this. (Just possible, don’t you think?)
How can we identify our own archetype? There are many books that have lists to help you do this. Awakening the Heroes Within is the best of these that I have found. But there are other ways.
- Imagine your life as a myth (I have found it worthwhile to write it out – roughly, the point it to gain insight into who we are not produce a work of literature). What would you name this myth. Does it remind you of other myths you know of? What name would you give your role in the myth? Then reflect on the resources, strengths and weaknesses of this role. What assistance does this role need?
- What is it that comes naturally to you? What role or character in a myth or fairytale does this kind of activity. (For this you may need to find what kind of energy you are using – there aren’t many myths about computer programmers, but there are lots about artists, craftsmen and artificers.)
- What is your dream job? What would you name this in mythic terms. The one job could have many archetypal energies. An architect may be an artisan, building reliable shelter that people feel good about every time they come home. The architect could be the artist making our world a more beautiful place. They could be a healer who heals our relationship with the natural world. They could be a priest making room for the spirit. Or a community healer building spaces that invite people to come together hospitably.
For me I’m the sage – I tend to watch and observe what goes on. And my drive is to do something useful with knowledge; while knowledge for its own sake is fun it doesn’t satisfy me for long. A common problem for the sage is to be too detached and seeming elusive to others. This is feedback that I have often received – “I want to know who you are Evan!”
When I have the time and space to be just me I love exploring ideas and how these could be used to build a better world. I tend to teach stuff about thoughts and feelings and in the counselling I’ve done I tend to teach. This is my natural approach.
My dream job is doing psychotherapy my own way: the emphasis being on understand, allowing the individual to come to their own sense of who they are and, in a sense, just getting out of the way and letting them get on with it.
For me discovering my archetype has given me the labels to communicate easily about what is most important to me. Please let me know if you find this way of thinking useful for you (I realise it doesn’t appeal to everyone.) Let me know what you think your archetype may be. I look forward to your comments.
If you liked this post you may like these other ones. These talk about specific archetypes.
And these give a basic introduction to archetypal psychology and its biggest danger.