As Summer Segues into Fall...
I want to talk about archetypes.
Recurring character types and relationships are a part of fairy tales, myths, and many modern books. Basically, an archetype is an ancient pattern of personality that is part of the shared heritage of the human race.
Jung believed in the concept of a Collective Unconscious. Fairy tales and myths are like the dreams of an entire culture, springing from that Collective. It is not accidental there are relatively few archetypal patterns. It is also not accidental that archetypes have been amazingly constant throughout all times and cultures, occurring in the dreams and personalities of individuals as well as in the mythic imagination of the entire world.
Let’s look at a few of the more common archetypes and the psychological and dramatic functions they serve in storytelling. Keep in mind stories are a crucible for our own lives. We live in challenging times. Some of us are adapting better than others. While heroes are the “stars” of the show. All the other supporting archetypes are just as critical. I couldn’t build my stories without them.
The “base” archetypes are hero, mentor, threshold guardian, herald, shapeshifter, shadow, ally, and trickster. Today, we’ll look at the first four. I’ll pick up the last four next time.
In a very broad brush sense, heroes represent the ego. Most stories begin with heroes who are all ego. In the hero’s search for identity and wholeness, he/she must integrate all parts of their inner landscape to become Self. Along the way, the hero finds teachers, guides, demons, gods, mates, servants, scapegoats, masters, seducers, betrayers and allies. All the villains, tricksters, lovers, friends and foes of the Hero can be found within ourselves.
An important element of the journey is incorporation of Shadow. Shadow represents our darker side, the parts we wish we didn’t have and spend a whole lot of energy trying to hide. (More on Shadow below, as it’s actually an Archetype in its own right.)
Audience identification, growth, action, sacrifice, confrontation with death. Out of all of these, sacrifice is crucial. It is the hero’s willingness to give up something of value up to and including his own life, on behalf of an idea or the common good. Heroes are symbols of the soul in transformation and of the journey each person makes through life. It’s why they’re so easy to identify with.
Mentors represent the Self, the god within us, the aspect of personality that is connected with what is wise, noble and godlike. Mentor figures stand for the hero’s highest aspirations. Mentors are often former heroes passing on life’s knowledge and wisdom.
Teaching, gift giving (but gifts must be earned), conscience (inner mentor), planting information that will be useful later, sexual initiation, and invention.
Psychological Function (Neuroses):
Threshold guardians represent the ordinary obstacles we all face in the world around us like bad weather, bad luck, prejudice and oppression. On a deeper level, they stand for our internal demons: emotional scars, vices, dependencies and self-imposed limitations.
Testing the hero. When heroes confront a Threshold Guardian, they must solve a puzzle, or pass a test. One of the most common ways of dealing with guardians is to pretend to be them by borrowing a uniform and sneaking into the Inmost Cave thus disguised. Learning to deal with Threshold Guardians is one of the major tests of the Hero’s Journey.
Heralds announce the need for change. The call can come from a dream, a book, a person, or just about anywhere.
They provide motivation, offer the hero a challenge and get the story rolling. They alert the hero that change and adventure are coming.
Think about these four archetypes and how they relate to your life. Have there been changes because of the pandemic. What are they and how are you coping? Can you utilize some of this information about archetypes to ease the tough spots?
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