What are Archetypes and how do I work with them?
Archetypes are personifications of collective humanity’s unconscious with identifiable characteristics which influence personal thinking, motives, and beliefs. They operate through the personal unconscious of an individual. You can work with archetypes by learning about them and discovering their influence in your life by becoming more familiar with when one is active in your subconscious.
Archetypes are made up of identifiable characteristic traits, qualities, and interests that combine to create a domain of influence, agenda, and purpose. Archetypes form major dynamic components in the basic psychological blueprint of the human personality.
“Carl Gustav Jung developed an understanding of archetypes as universal, archaic patterns and images that derive from the collective unconscious and are the psychic counterpart of instinct. They are autonomous and hidden forms which are transformed once they enter consciousness and are given particular expression by individuals and their cultures. Being unconscious, the existence of archetypes can only be deduced indirectly by examining behavior, images, art, myths, religions, or dreams. They are inherited potentials which are actualized when they enter consciousness as images or manifest in behavior on interaction with the outside world.”
“The term “archetype” has its origins in ancient Greek. The root words are archein, which means “original or old”; and typos, which means “pattern, model or type”. The combined meaning is an “original pattern” of which all other similar persons, objects, or concepts are derived, copied, modeled, or emulated.
The psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung, used the concept of archetype in his theory of the human psyche. He believed that universal, mythic characters—archetypes—reside within the collective unconscious of people the world over. “Archetypes represent fundamental human motifs of our experience as we evolved; consequentially, they evoke deep emotions.”
As the word itself implies, archetypes are related to types—types in the sense of having characteristic traits or a set of qualities that seem to appear together over and over again in recognizable, spontaneously recurring patterns. The “virtuous maiden” is a type, the “wise and gentle queen” is a type, the “courageous warrior” is a type, and the “puritan” is a type.
—ref Johnson, Robert A. (2009-10-14). Inner Work (p. 29). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Archetypes have names like the Hero, the Goddess, the Mystic, the Lover, the Sage, etc. They are universal, primordial images that have unique characteristics, persona expression, and domain of influence. Archetypes have distinctive themes that influence the thoughts and behavior of an individual.
Archetypes are transpersonal in nature (belonging to the collective unconscious) but personal in application and interaction—each individual has a personal experience of an archetype that is filtered through their mind’s thoughts, beliefs, and behavior.
Archetypes have their own persona—a collection of cultural attachments that characterize the archetype’s uniqueness; their behavior, role or purpose, and their power and prominence in the collective’s unconscious. The Fool archetype has one kind of persona and the Sage archetype has a different one. The Hero has certain characteristics like bravery and courage and the Mother archetype has different characteristics like nurturer and caregiver.
In people for example, both the Hero and the Mother archetypes could be active to prompt someone to act to protect or save their child. But, for Archetypes—while they may have attributes and traits shared and reflected in other archetypes—they are known primarily by what makes them distinctive and most uniquely different from other archetypes.
The King may share qualities of empathy and caring for those in his sphere of influence -his realm- with another archetype like the Mother archetype or the Hero or the Wise Woman or the Sage. However, the King is primarily known for the characteristics of Order and Blessing of the realm. Uniquely, the King archetype is concerned with creating and maintaining order which provides wellbeing and blessing of the people he has responsibility for and loves. For a person -a man- this would be his family, friends, the neighborhood he lives in—rippling outward from there.
Domain of Influence
Each archetype has their own domain of influence, interest, concern and purpose. The Magician or the Priest is concerned with the esoteric and spiritual domains while the King or the Sage is concerned with earthly domains pertaining to pragmatic life concerns. As with an archetype’s characteristics, there are areas of influence or concern shared in common with other archetypes, but each archetype will have their particular area of influence and concern that they are noted for, or specialize in.
One of the main characteristics of an archetype which helps define it, is its domain of influence—what it cares about, is focused on, and areas of life it stewards. For the Warrior archetype, its domain of influence primarily has to do with decisive assertive action -often martial- taken to protect others and itself. The Magician, or the Priest, archetypes’ domain of influence is the spirit realm or esoteric or subtle energy / alchemical subjects. Some archetypes have a domain of influence which is focused on sourcing and transferring knowledge and technology for the collective’s use or protection, bridging the esoteric and ideal with the exoteric and pragmatic. The Sage or Wise Woman/Man, is an example of an archetype who collects information and technology from spiritual resources which benefit people in an objective, material or practical way.
What do Archetypes Want?
Archetypes want relatedness—to share their messages, and to share their influence—outworking in people through an individual’s life experience.
For many people who are unconscious to archetypal influences, they go throughout their day not giving a thought to it—and they act out its influence unconsciously. However, for those who are awake to archetype influences, an awareness and conscious response to an archetype’s influence is possible.
Archetypes are easily pleased and appeased if listened to and considered. When consciously awake to archetypes’ influence, compliance with their message is optional—individuals can retain their autonomy and free will.
They are immortal, primordial constellations of the collective unconscious with transpersonal interests that affect individual people. The archetype’s interest is only that their message is received and considered.
By learning about and becoming aware of archetypes and their influence, humans are able to establish a beneficial relationship with them. Archetypes are a huge force of psychic power which is unstoppable. As human beings, the best we can do is learn to recognize when an archetype is active in our life and discern the message it is trying to impart and make informed, conscious choices instead of being unconsciously pushed around and maneuvered like a pawn on a chess board. Their influence is undeniable, however we can be much more equipped and informed to make better choices for better outcomes.
How do archetypes work?
Archetypes exist in the human collective unconscious—and as such are influenced by the collective’s evolution which shifts archetype character and definition as the collective changes. The current representation of an archetype is projected into the personal unconscious of an individual where it produces and activates motifs, symbols and emblems that influence thought, belief, and desire for the individual to act upon, producing behavior and choices which direct a person’s life course.
The condition of the collective unconscious has a lot to do with the quality and character of an archetype’s projection and influence. “Shadow” (unacknowledged, denied, or disconnected) PTSD-like trauma complexes in the collective psyche influence the quality and character of archetypes. Which in turn, influences the individual under its influence and their processing of the archetype’s message. Likewise, the individual’s shadow aspects will also affect the archetype’s influence and further color their thoughts and behaviors.
An archetype’s influence on someone happens primarily through the avenue of the person’s unconscious or subconscious, which “bubbles up” like a fountain made of images, thoughts, desires, fantasies or dreams. These have a strong influence on the person’s state of mind and their thinking—affecting their mood and their focus on achieving goals, ideals, or aspirations—motivating and propelling conscious thought and behavior.
For most people, most of the time, archetypes and their influence go mostly unseen and unnoticed. Archetypes exist in the unconscious shadow part of a person’s psyche, and they operate within and exert their influence through the subconscious thoughts that play in the background of the mind while exerting subtle influence on thought patterns, beliefs, and moods.
Archetypes are always working in the background—in the shadow, unconscious psyche of a person. Most people go along through life without noticing an archetype’s role or influence effecting them. Sometimes however, archetypes can unilaterally impose themselves on a person’s life experience when they have something important to contribute—which is often associated with issues of major life events, turns, or new discoveries.
Depending on which one is activated, and the collective’s unconscious state of being, an archetype’s message will consist of a personal application of a collective interest/concern. Each individual will have his/her own application of the message, tailored specifically for that individual. When an archetype has a message it wants to transmit, it becomes imperative that it be received —when they are ignored they will become surreptitiously insistent.
An archetype will begin trying to get your attention with signals or signs that it has something to say to you. This can take the form of subtle messages in reoccurring symbols, signs, or patterns of experience. If these subtle signs are not detected, it will use more direct attempts to “get through” to the conscious mind by intervening using intuition, visions, and most notably dreams. If these are not given due attention or consideration, even more demonstrative methods of getting attention will occur usually through spontaneous, events or synchronicities that are often disruptive—often unwelcomed surprises with consequences that suddenly appear—forcing one to pay attention.
When an individual consciously engages with archetypes and recognizes their signals and allows the archetype to transmit its message—an easier relationship and positive experience will often result.
To realize the influence of archetypes on our lives, we must discover the barely detectable messages conditioning the mind and mood. Conscious, purposeful attention and focus is needed to discover what is happening behind the scenes of a person’s life. Becoming more consciously aware of what you’re thinking and feeling is a start.
An archetypes influence is most profoundly felt through the prism of a person’s unresolved wounds and trauma.
Healing the unresolved wounds of trauma and abuse will make your life feel freer and more empowered. Working with archetypes becomes more transparent and collaborative when there are less lingering effects of unresolved and unreleased trauma or abuse.
When someone is unaware of archetypal influences, their unaware state makes them easily compelled by an archetype’s influence—moved like a puppet by its puppeteer. However, by using active imagination and consciously interacting with archetypes it’s possible to develop a greater understanding and awareness of their influence and nurture a collaborative, beneficial relationship that enhances life and enables a fuller experience, and a more conscious development of one’s potential.
How to Work with Archetypes
Working with archetypes is like working with a teacher or a coach or an advisor. Working with archetypes can provide personal insights that give us a chance to peer behind the curtain to understand what is going on behind the scenes in our life and make better informed choices. Archetypes have a type of wisdom and insight that comes from the collective unconscious and is fed by a depth and breadth of experience over time and from many cultures.
Archetypes are primordial patterns that project underlying formations of thoughts, beliefs, and feelings that land within us to motivate and drive conscious behavior. When we encounter the images or emblems of an archetype we feel the power that shapes the image. We feel that we have tapped into not only a symbolic type but also a huge power reservoir of the collective human unconscious. We can feel the archetype as a charge of energy. It feels as though it were outside us, something the conscious mind has to interact with, deal with.
—ref. Johnson, Robert A. (2009-10-14). Inner Work (p. 33). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
This is why vivid dreams, symbols, and metaphor effect us so much, and are so powerful. Noted Jungian therapist, Robert A. Johnson (“Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth” 1986) recommends using active imagination to communicate with archetypes and the metaphor and symbols that show up in our dreams.
How do we become aware of archetypes?
By taking notice of the symbols, signs, and metaphors showing up in our life, in dreams and in the repeated patterns of our experiences. Working with archetypes also opens us up to greater awareness about our own motivations—what “makes us tick,” which provides a better awareness of ourselves for making choices that best serve us and that provide the best outcome. Becoming more aware of an archetype’s influence on our motivations and desires which direct our thoughts, words and behavior makes us better prepared and informed in general and more able to handle specific challenges or circumstances.
Archetypes are there, working in the background automatically, and whether people realize it or not they are being affected. When we’re able to tune-in and investigate what their influence is doing, be aware of their presence, and even ask for more guidance, wisdom, or clarity of them, then we benefit much more.
Working with archetypes can also be a way to explore and understand our “shadow” aspects. Unless we address the issues and wounds that dwell just outside of conscious awareness we will continue to be ruled by them. While archetypes don’t cause or create our shadow aspects, they do belong to our personal “inner community” and are part of the prism that filters our actions and decisions.
It often happens that working with an archetype will expose an issue or wound that has gone undetected and unaddressed. Archetypes can be asked for guidance with how to heal and resolve these issues, as well as considered through their domain of influence how they would handle something at issue, or heal a wound.
How do archetypes help our personal growth and development?
One of the biggest ways archetypes can enhance a person’s life is around personal growth and character building. Archetypes provide a template for the ideal and the principles and characteristics that make up that ideal. From these we can assess ourselves and make adjustments—and learn, adapt, acquire new capabilities and perspectives through growth.
We learn and grow either by negative enforcement or positive aspiration. Negative enforcement is prevalent in society with social and legal consequences providing constraint and conforming to established boundaries, mores, and laws. Our culture primarily uses religion to promote positive aspirational, spiritual growth and transformation.
Working with archetypes can be another way to use positive aspiration for spiritual and personal growth and transformation. I coach people to create what I call “a space of possibility” that they can then step into and fill. If you would like some coaching to get you started in working with archetypes, contact me for a session.
Coaching in Working with Archetypes involves:
- Learning more about archetypes and what they represent
- Discovering their influence in your life and how to work with it
- Detecting when they are active in your psyche and what to do about it
- Learning how to listen to their message for you and how it can benefit you
- Establishing a relationship with them to provide ready access to their insight and wisdom
- Practicing ways to work with archetypes—consciously and through your subconscious for maximum effect
Contact me to arrange a free consultation session.
- Inner Work: Using Dreams & Active Imagination for Personal Growth — Robert A. Johnson
- Ego and Archetype — Edward F. Edinger
- Archetypal Dimensions of the Psyche — Marie-Louise von Franz
- King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine — Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette