Get to know your spiritual archetype
Who are you? At the deepest level of your psyche, what instinctually drives you? We take a look at Carl Jung’s work on the 12 major archetypes and their shadows.
Your life is like a movie on the big silver screen with you as the protagonist acting out your archetypal journeys. Ever notice how the protagonist in a film follows familiar patterns? They must defeat an internal or external challenge of some kind — save the world, save someone else, their career, a relationship, a cause, and they face obstacles along the way in order to achieve this. Within the first 15 minutes something usually happens — they have an accident, get divorced or are inspired to pursue a dream. This gives them a goal, followed by obstacles to the goal — discrimination, poverty, gender, lack of self-worth, oppression. The result: their journey.
“Just let go. Let go of how you thought your life should be and embrace the life that is trying to work its way into your consciousness.” ~ Carolyn Myss
In facing their external and internal demons the protagonist is forced to grow and express their potential. It is through this journey that the protagonist also gives expression to their inner archetypes. Do they may become the bully who makes others’ lives difficult, the hero who saves the day, the rebel who promotes needed change or turns to crime, the mother figure, the addict or the mystic? Not only may they give expression to these archetypes, but they may encounter these archetypes in others along the way.
What is an archetype?
An archetype is a typical example of a certain person or thing. When I use the term “mother figure” or “warrior” or “rebel” or “mystic” you don’t just know what these words mean but you have a sense of the values, meanings and personality traits associated with each of them. You know that a “mother figure” doesn’t mean a “mother” but rather is associated with nurturing, unconditional love, caring and self–sacrifice. You know that a “warrior” isn’t just a fighter but rather a character of unswerving courage, determination, leadership and drive to pursue combat and conquest. In this way each of these ideas is archetypal.
The idea of an archetype was first explored by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato with his idea of forms. Plato believed there was the physical world we lived in, and the non-physical world of preexisting ideal templates or blueprints. Such ideas included roundness, hardness and so on. Swiss father of analytic psychoanalysis, Carl Jung, developed this concept into the notion of archetypes. Jung was an expert on religious and mythical symbology, and he noticed his schizophrenic patients often had shared themes and symbols in their dreams and fantasies. He also observed similarities in symbols and their meaning across cultures and time. He wondered how this could be, and proposed that these similar ideas arose because our psyche contained archetypal ideas common to everyone that existed before the person was born. This information was considered unconscious and belonging to what he termed the collective unconscious. Jung’s pupil, Eric Neuman, said that just as the body is made up of organs formed genetically prior to birth, “So the mind possesses organs (archetypal knowledge) which structure it.” Jung thought we either inherited this information or accumulated it through some mystical process and that the purpose of life was to become conscious of it.
Jung believed we each contained a collection of dominant archetypes in our personalities which are unique to each of us.
International best-selling author and speaker Carolyn Myss refers to the archetypes in our collective unconscious as our “inner net” — an energetic grid of archetypal knowledge providing us with an innate understanding of what is right and wrong for us and others. She says this knowledge “needs to be awakened, stirred from within, recognised intuitively.” Myss outlines 70 archetypes on her website including the prostitute, the networker, the vampire, the poet and the fairy godmother.
Jung believed we each contained a collection of dominant archetypes in our personalities which are unique to each of us. For example, one person may have strong mother, rescuer and artist archetypal energies in their personality, while another person may have strong warrior, mystic and joker archetypes. People also find that different archetypes emerge at different stages in their life. They may only encounter their “warrior” for instance when faced with a challenge in their late 30s. They may also have many archetypal energies running at the same time. Knowing your dominant archetypes means that you understand better the archetypal journeys which are shaping your life, and to what extent you may be expressing their shadow side.
The archetypal journey
In her book Awakening the Heroes Within, Carol S Pearson outlines Jung’s 12 major archetypes along with their shadow expression and outlines them as stages in shaping the journey of our lives.
Pearson says that while we are all equal, we have to “let go of the illusion of our insignificance” and have the courage to take our own hero’s journey, as she believes we each have an important gift to give. Pearson says our journey requires us to ask the following questions: What do I want to do? What does my mind want to learn? How does my body want to move? What does my heart love?
Pearson believes that once we have moved past the shadow expression of an archetype and expressed its positive potential, our sense of self has developed enough to move into the next stage of our journey, which is the next archetype of Jung’s 12 primary archetypes.
The idea of an archetype was first explored by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato with his idea of forms. Plato believed there was the physical world we lived in, and the non-physical world of preexisting ideal templates or blueprints.
We may move through all these stages many times, for she views this journey as not linear or circular, but like a spiral, with “marker events” when things come together as a result of a new reality we have encountered. She believes that each time we begin our journey again we do so at a new level and return with new treasure and transformative abilities. Problems can give birth to new archetypes in our personalities, and archetypes emerge to teach us how to live. Pearson’s outline of Jung’s 12 major archetypes and their shadow are summarised below.
The 12 major archetypes
Preparing for the journey
Goal: To be happy.
Fear: Doing something wrong.
Gift: Faith, optimism, hope, trust, open-mindedness.
Shadow: Denial of what’s really occurring, being too trusting.
The Innocent wants to be free, happy and loved. This is the golden age where the individual is happy trusting and the world is a safe good place. The Innocent is not critical of the group they join as long as they feel liked. But in wanting to fit in they must decide which qualities to sacrifice to do this. My intellect so I can be the “fun one?” My conscience so I can belong to the group of criminals? Eventually the Innocent sees the world is not perfect. They won’t always be loved, and they experience “the fall” where they are disappointed. Here they become the Orphan.
Goal: To belong. To regain their life.
Fear: Standing out, being left out, being exploited.
Gift: Realism, honesty, pragmatism, resilience, ability to band with others to regenerate.
Shadow: Cynicism, loss of oneself, playing victim.
The Orphan is the dependable down-to-earth realist. They avoid situations that are going to hurt them, but they need to learn to regenerate by connecting with others. In doing this they gain a strong sense of self within the community and this strength gives rise to the Hero archetype.
Goal: To win.
Fear: Weakness, vulnerability.
Gift: Courage, discipline, determination, skill.
Shadow: Using warrior skills immorally to get their own way, addiction to achievement.
Once the Orphan has a less idealistic view of the world, and a dependable sense of self within a community, the Warrior emerges. The Warrior has courage and discipline to set goals, achieve and fight for themselves. Once a positive strong expression of Warrior has emerged the individual has the sense of self to care for others and becomes the Caregiver.
Goal: To help others.
Gift: Compassion, generosity, nurturing.
Shadow: Playing the martyr, being exploited, guilt-tripping, compulsive rescuing.
Once the individual has the discipline and drive to fight for themselves, they can learn to act with meaning, fight for others and put others and the greater good before themselves.
At this point the person has developed their sense of self enough to begin their greater journey.
Goal: Freedom to experience and explore all life has to offer.
Fear: Conformity, emptiness, being trapped.
Gift: Autonomy, ambition, expansion, identity.
Shadow: Aimless wandering or perfectionism.
The person has attained a sense of self but is searching for more and must leap into the unknown and brave loneliness to seek new paths, often finding themselves in the process. They may assume that enlightenment is about becoming better, resulting in going from one self-improvement course to another but never committing enough to accomplish anything. At some point the seeker experiences suffering and seeks revolution to change what isn’t working. This gives rise to the Rebel archetype.
Goal: To overturn what isn’t working. Metamorphosis.
Gift: Humility, metamorphosis, revolution.
Shadow: All forms of self-destruction — addictions, compulsions, abuse of self and others.
The Destroyer embodies rage about structures that no longer serve their life and wants to strip these away to make way for the new. This can be painful and result in the destruction of self and others. If the Rebel can process the pain and release it, they can embrace love again.
Goal: Bliss in relationships, work or the surroundings they love.
Fear: Feeling unloved, unwanted.
Gift: Passion, commitment, enthusiasm, gratitude, intimacy, sensual pleasure.
Shadow: Relationship/sex addiction, being unable to say no to passion, feeling destroyed if a lover leaves.
Once the Destroyer has transformed themselves, they can find their true love and passion and commit to this. This may be a passion for another person or for any aspect of life. This gives birth to the true self.
Goal: Identity, to realise a vision and create things of enduring value.
Fear: Inauthenticity, mediocre execution.
Gift: Creativity, imagination, vision, individuality, aesthetics, skill, vocation.
Shadow: Obsessiveness and workaholism.
From the passion of the Lover the archetype of the Creator can emerge to express true potential and find true identity in relation to the outside world.
Goal: Order, prosperous family and/or community.
Fear: Chaos, being overthrown.
Gift: Responsibility, control and leadership.
Shadow: Over-controlling behaviour, rigidity, authoritarianism, entitlement.
Now the Creator has aligned us with our true self we can lead from a place of responsibility and strength.
Goal: Transformation. To make dreams come true.
Fear: Evil sorcery, unintended negative outcomes.
Gift: Personal and transformative power, finding win–win situations.
Shadow: Lessening our possibilities, the evil sorcerer, manipulation and dishonesty.
With the power of the ruler our Magician is activated, and we know how to heal ourselves and others and make dreams reality. Here our world can blossom.
Gift: Wisdom, non-attachment, knowledge, scepticism.
Shadow: Cold, rational judge. Dogmatism, needing to be right.
Despite making dreams a reality the person still longs for ultimate truth and deepens their search. This archetype can bring great wisdom and intelligence.
Goal: Joy, fun.
Fear: Boredom, non-aliveness.
Gift: Freedom, humour, being present, joy.
Shadow: Gluttony, sloth, frivolity, wasting time.
Now the Sage has learned non-attachment and wisdom the person is free to live in the moment with full joy. They can lighten others’ lives, have fun, play and make jokes.
When you see the world through archetypes you can see when others are acting out these roles. This can help to depersonalise their negative behaviours and games. For example, your company’s over-controlling CEO may be expressing the shadow of “the Ruler” archetype in her inflexible, cold and entitled behaviour. In this way her behaviour is more about her than you.
You may also recognise a unique collection of archetypes and their shadow in your own life taking you on a journey. It’s important to remember that each person’s collection of archetypes and journey is unique. As Jung said, “Do not compare. Do not measure. No other way is like yours. All other ways will deceive and tempt you. You must fulfil the way that is in you.”
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