There is a phenomenon within all of us that connects us to every story ever told.
It also ties us to our ancient past, and informs the psychology of modern generations; it is what makes us feel like many people in one, and helps us see ourselves within other people; it is what sets our hearts on fire when cuddled up with our favorite movies, and what draws us out into the vast unknown. This phenomenon is the world of archetypes. And whether you’re totally unaware of what archetypes are, or you work specifically within the archetypal realm as tarot readers do, deepening your understanding and connection to archetypes is a road to healing, inner focus, and profound creative inspiration. If you are a writer, yoga instructor, sex worker, artist, therapist, teacher, bus driver, psychic, or really any human being existing on this planet, it is both useful and important for you to deepen your understanding of archetypes, and I’ll explain what, why, and how.
First formally conceived by C. G. Jung at the turn of the 20th century, archetypes were originally referred to as “primordial images,” or unconscious symbols that appear around the globe. After decades of researching the mythologies of civilizations thousands of miles and years apart, Jung discovered that certain motifs appear over and over again. He found that every civilization has a concept of a Great Mother, as well as an authoritarian Father, an untamable Trickster, and an irresistible Seductress, among many others. Because these images are so pervasive, and because they seem to hold the same symbolic significance throughout the world, Jung theorized that they came from a deeper place than the localized cultural psyche, that their omnipresence cannot be coincidence. Jung believed archetypes exist within a psychic space that every human has access to, but is beyond the individual psyche. He called this space is the collective unconscious, the psychological groundwater that we cannot see, but from which we must drink to live.
The discovery of the collective unconscious is, to many, the most important of our time. It confirms not only that there is something more than just our individual hearts and minds, but also that there is such a thing as a unified human condition. Our experience of being human is essentially the same as our ancient ancestors’, and so we can draw from this well of collective unconsciousness to better understand our humanity, as well as to heal and grow.
And how we do that is by interacting with the archetypes, the gods of this unconscious space. While they seem to be only a collection of images or repetition of characters, archetypes are actually serious psychological forces. Any good Jungian will tell you working through your father issues is not only about your father, but how he stands up to the archetypal Father. The archetypes leave profound unconscious impressions on us that we experience more as powerful feelings than anything else, to the point where we often become somewhat obsessed or “possessed” with certain archetypes. You may be desperate for the tender love of the Great Mother, but if your own mom is cold the striking discomfort could a drive you to perseverate on righting the relationship. Or (like weirdo me) you may be fixated on the archetype of the Old Wise Man, and run through a chain of wrinkled male role models to give you the answers of the universe, only to be ever-disappointed by their mere mortality. On a bigger scale, many men are corrupted by desire for the Seductress, the Marilyn Monroes and Aphrodites and Kim Ks; and many contemporary young women become “possessed” (or embody) the archetype of the Amazon, the woman warrior, as Gloria Steinem and Katniss and Khaleesi herself.
Sometimes being wrapped up with an archetype (as with the last example) is not a bad thing at all, but gives you the energy to become who you are. But often, if you’re not careful, you can become overwhelmed by it, as with the example before that. The key to dealing with archetypes is to learn to identify them, which you can do by noticing which ones intrigue us and which ones set us off. The simplest way to do this is to pay attention to how you react to them in books, movies, and myths. How does it feel when the loyal servant Sam carries both Frodo and the Ring? What twinges in you when Maleficent appears on screen in her horned glory? Then, if you are observant, and deeply in touch with your inner landscape, you can note those same feelings when you project them onto a real person, or sense them when you get mixed up with an archetype in your mind. Being able to recognize that you are particularly attracted to the archetype of the hero-knight, for example, might be able to save you from projecting it onto a guy who will never really come to your rescue; similarly, understanding how you’ve over-identified with the archetype of the unassuming Maiden might help you liberate yourself from smallness.
So now that it’s clear how archetypes affect us, and what their dangers are, how do we work with these archetypes to our benefit? Just as an archetype can overwhelm you, it can also empower you. Focusing on a specific archetypal energy could help you resolve or improve a frustrating aspect of your personality. If you’re meek, get in touch with the Amazon. If you’re boring, get in touch with the Trickster. And, in my opinion, the best way to meet these archetypes is through the tarot or oracle decks, but you can also find them in your favorite poetry, in movies, literature, art, essentially any mode of creative expression. Try meditating on the archetype, having a conversation with it, or simply writing a little story about it to get to know it a little better. These simple practices will the invite the archetype up from its unconscious depths and into your personal psyche. Working with various archetypes, particularly those you are not especially connected with, can also spark those creative juices big time, so for all those makers out there, you should really try it out.
If any of you have your interest particularly piqued, I highly recommend reading Jung’s Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Or, if you have a question, drop a line. 😁