Budda, Christ, Harry Potter and Maggie in Million Dollar Baby are all examples of the Hero archetype. Their stories follow a shared pattern of stages such as an unusual birth or childhood, an initiation, an exile, a period of many trials and tests, a symbolic death, a rebirth or transformation, and a return home.
Archetypes are characters, situations and objects in myths, art, literature, religion, and fairytales that are universally identified with. For example, Warrior, Teacher and Servant are experienced in most cultures yet in different forms. The Warrior archetype can appear as G.I. Joe, a Japanese Samurai, Rambo, Xena and a Gladiator. Although different, these Warriors share common experiences such as fighting for justice with tenacity and strength.
There are no good or bad, better or worse archetypes. They all bring qualities worthy of incorporating into our life at certain times and are needed in balance. Looking at the Rebel archetype, admirable qualities would be challenging authority to evoke social change or rejecting established systems, such as those found in church and family, when they no longer serve us. Rebel energy in an imbalanced state would be rejecting reasonable authority out of anger or when merely following others.
Archetypes carry powerful universal themes and emotional meaning such as love and betrayal. Archetypal energy often feels as if something has taken over us and is possessive and controlling. We may find our self in archetypal situations such as living with the Evil Step-Mother or under the wrath of the Tyrannical Father. We may share a similar Orphaned Child story with Cinderella or feel as if we are the Outsider, born into the wrong family or not fitting into society as in The Ugly Duckling.
Joseph Campbell, author of The Power of Myth, emphasized the importance of myth and archetypes in our life. Whether we encounter archetypes in dreams or in our waking world, psyche is attempting to integrate various qualities into our life. When we realize we are in a certain archetypal pattern, its energy loses some of its hold on us and alerts us to alternate ways thinking, feeling and acting.
We may be caught in the shadow of the Victim, blaming others and evoking pity in order to get our needs met. In this case, we recognize the Victim role and begin to look at ways to take responsibility and to be more empowered. We may begin to notice patterns of how we fall into the Pioneer shadow, compulsively needing to move or change when stressed. At other times, we may be asked to call up the Hero’s outward exploration and respond to challenges.
As Carl Jung did, we ask, “What myth am I living by?” By looking at archetypes and myth we gain self-awareness and feel connected to universal themes, compassionately realizing our very human and necessary situation. Next week we’ll explore the Hero’s journey.