Exploring the symbols, metaphors and archetypal patterns found in myth, pop culture, literature, astrology, religion, psychology, Tarot, art and history--and why they matter.
Archetypes - The Stories We Live By
It can be difficult to discover personal meaning and purpose when we don't zoom out to get a big picture of the patterns and symbols in our life. One way we can discover the patterns and purposes of our life is by discerning prevalent Archetypes and symbols.
What is an archetype? An archetype is a template or original pattern from which copies are made. Psychologist Carl Jung, author Joseph Campbell, storyteller/author Clarissa Pinkola Estes, psychologist Jean Shinonda-Bolen and others are among those that have brought the concept of Archetypes into our consciousness.
To break it down in practical, every day terms, Archetypes are patterns that are universally recognized. We see Archetypes in myths, fairy tales, literature, and movies. Think about your own life. Which types of movies do you like? Do you consistently cast yourself in the Hero role? The Underdog or Victim? The Detective? What about the Warrior, Princess, or Femme Fatale?
Do any of the "characters" you play interact consistently with others? Do you find that you clash with Victims, for example, and wish they'd stop whining? Do you want to kick them? Are you a Bully? (Coward?) Do you seek to rescue them? (Rescuer) Empower them? (Liberator) Ignore them?
Many Archetypes "dance" with one another. Advocates are often paired with Victims, Knights with Damsels, Students with Teachers, Mother/Father with Child, etc. These Archetypal dramas play out repeatedly, whether we are conscious of it or not. The benefit of becoming conscious of these energies is that we find ourselves entering an awareness of what animates us and the kind of relationships we are drawn to.
"Animation" is usually an emotional reaction of either enthusiastic affinity or extreme distaste. When we are able to identify these energies, we can step back and begin to see the forest for the trees. That is, we can see the patterns in our life and in others, instead of viewing everything so personally. In recognizing these patterns, we become more conscious, and when we become more conscious, we then have choice.
There is no choice without awareness.
This is why many Archetypal dramas in relationships have identifiable repeating patterns, even with different partners: there is no awareness of what energies we our using, our motivations, or the Archetypal dynamics of our relationships to others and the world.
Archetypes are neither good or bad, despite the reputation of some. Each one can strengthen, protect, and help fulfill our soul's curriculum we designed before incarnation. For example, the Prostitute archetype sounds quite negative. Yet, when we are aware of this particular pattern, we become empowered--refusing to "sell out" for survival or security.
There are light and shadow connected to every archetype. However, they do not correlate to good/bad or positive/negative. Rather, the "light" areas of an archetype are the ones we recognized and readily embrace. The "shadow" areas of an archetype are the ones we project onto others. This projection can either be in the form of adulation or hero-worship or in the form of demonization and judgment.
To project an archetypal pattern to another is, in some way, not to “own” it. Carl Jung believed that archetypes reside in the collective unconscious, which is why they are universally recognized and contained, to a greater or lesser degree, within the psyche of every person. Jung asserted that when an individual over-identifies with an archetype--to the point of almost becoming "possessed" by a pattern--psychosis results.
Another way we can see our life symbolically is to examine symbols that surround us. What animals, trees, or objects do you identify with? List as many qualities you can about them. Are there any correlations to your life, personality, or interactions with others? What are you good at? What is your bliss? If you could turn into a character or Archetype, which would it be? What do you collect? Do certain symbols crop up in your dreams?
Disciplines such as astrology, Tarot, and personality models all contain archetypal patterns. For example, in Celtic astrology, archetypal patterns are correlated with tree spirits and their personalities. In Chinese astrology, archetypal patterns are correlated with 12 different animals who display certain hallmark traits. The Major Arcana of the Tarot features 22 developmental archetypal patterns such as Fool, Magician, Empress, and Hermit.
In the Enneagram, there are 9 Types which manifest specific archetypal patterns. A Type 7 often manifests the Hedonist and Renaissance Person pattern, while a Type 9 often manifests the Peacemaker or Diplomat archetype. In the Ansir system, the 14 Style "Bosses" are named for their archetypal behaviors, with monikers such as Visionary, Empath, and Healer. David Keirsey has categorized humanity into four temperaments which contain four variants each. For example, The Idealist temperament (NF) includes Champions, Healers, Counselors, and Teachers.
Guidance and information is all around you in the form of Archetypal energy patterns and symbols. Insight is transmitting like a radio signal on a specific frequency. Learning to see ourselves and our lives symbolically sharpens our ability to see these patterns, and injects greater meaning and purpose into our lives. It also helps us discover areas where we are "asleep", and in waking up to the parts we and others are playing in this drama called life, we become more flexible and skilled at making conscious choices for our highest good.
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