THE HEROES WITHIN
Archetypal psychology carries with it an approach to life that values the development of the individual soul. There are times when it is developmentally appropriate for people to be self-centered, materialistic, independent, or a warrior. We help people best by honoring the lessons they can gain from each state. Stories and folklore assist in our developmental tasks – using archetypal characters – by helping us make meaning of our lives.
These stories (Joseph Campbell uses the term “Myths”) reveal for us the attributes commonly seen as the good and beautiful; or the dangerous and destructive. According to Carl Jung archetypes are deep and abiding patterns in the human psyche that remain powerful and present over time, passed down through the generations through the “collective unconscious.” (Or our DNA?)
Using Carl Jung’s terminology, the ego is that part of the psyche that experiences separation. At first the young child feels little or no separation from the environment and especially none from the mother. It is only as the individual completes the task of strong ego development that his or her boundaries can expand and make way for the self. This includes the full conscious self, the personal unconscious and access to archetypal images emerging from the collective unconscious. The result is a renewed sense of wonder and oneness with the cosmos and a reclaiming and redefinition of magical thinking.
So what does the Hero’s Journey have to do with me?
Our Soul, I believe, has lessons to learn in this life. Carol Pearson wrote several amazing books which looks at twelve archetypes. These are not the only ones, but they are recognizable to most people. By learning to recognize the qualities of these archetypes throughout our varied life’s journeys, we can see where we may be stuck, and qualities to focus on so we can continue our personal growth. She groups them into three sets of four each.
The Ego relates to the preparation for the journey and includes: Innocent, Orphan, Warrior, and Caregiver.
The Soul (the unconscious) relates to the journey itself and includes: Seeker, Lover, Destroyer, and Creator.
The Self (individuation) relates to the return from the journey and includes: Ruler, Magician, Sage and Fool.
The following describes these archetypes – their respective tasks, virtues that can be attained, and where we go next. As you read them, ask yourself where you are now? Where have you been?
Every era has myths of a golden age or of a promised land where life has been or will be perfect. The promise of the Innocent is that life need not be hard. Within each of us, the Innocent is the spontaneous, trusting child that, while a bit dependent, has the optimism to take the journey. Their greatest strength is the trust and optimism that endears them to others and so gain help and support on their quest.
Goal Remain in safety
Dragon/Problem Deny it or seek rescue
Response to Task Fidelity, discernment
Gift/ Virtue Optimism, trust, hope, faith, simplicity
Pitfalls Naiveté, childish dependence, denial, obliviousness
Addictive Quality Denial
Shadow Side Evidenced in a capacity for denial so that you do not let yourself know what is really going on. You may be hurting yourself and others, but you will not acknowledge it. You may also be hurt, but you will repress that knowledge as well. Or, you believe what others say even when their perspective is directly counter to your own inner knowing.
We begin with the Innocent archetype. The world provides all that we need. Then the “fall” occurs and we are faced with a loss of innocence and the Orphan archetype comes into play.
The Orphan understands that everyone matters, just as they are. Down-home and unpretentious, it reveals a deep structure influenced by the wounded or orphaned child that expects very little from life, but that teaches us with empathy, realism, and street smarts. To fulfill their quest they must go through the agonies of the developmental stages they have missed. Their strength is the interdependence and pragmatic realism that they had to learn by being disillusioned.
Goal Regain safety
Fear Abandonment, Exploitation
Response to the Dragon/Problem Deny its existence, wishing for rescue.
Response to Task Overcome denial or identify with being a victim
Gift/ Virtue Interdependence, realism, resilience, empathy
Pitfalls wants caretakers and authorities to fix them
Addictive Quality Cynicism
Shadow Side The victim, who blames his or her incompetence, irresponsibility, or even predatory behavior, on others, and expects special treatment and exemption from life because he or she has been victimized or is fragile. When this Shadow of the positive Orphan is in control of our lives, we will attack even people who are trying to help us, harming them and ourselves simultaneously. Or, we may collapse and become dysfunctional (i.e. “You can’t expect anything from me. I’m so wounded/hurt/incompetent”)
When everything seems lost, the Warrior rides over the hill and saves the day.
Tough and courageous, this archetype helps us set and achieve goals, overcome obstacles, and persist in difficult times, although it also tends to see others as enemies and to think in either-or terms. The Warrior is relatively simple in their thought patterns; seeking simply to win whatever confronts them, including the dragons that live inside the mind and their underlying fear of weakness.
Their challenge is to bring meaning to what they do, perhaps choosing their battles wisely, which they do using courage and the warrior’s discipline.
Dragon/Problem Stay/confront it
Response to Task Fight only for what really matters
Gift/ Virtue Courage, discipline, determination, skill
Pitfalls Fear of impotence leading to ruthlessness, arrogance
Addictive Quality Stoicism
Shadow Side The villain, who uses Warrior skills for personal gain without thought of morality, ethics, or the good of the whole group. It is also active in our lives any time we feel compelled to compromise our principles in order to compete, win, or get our own way. (For example, the shadow Warrior is rampant in the business world today.) It is also seen in a tendency to be continually embattled, so that one perceives virtually everything that happens as a slight, a threat, or a challenge to be confronted.
As the Warrior discovers his/her competence and power, the Caregiver emerges, moved by compassion, generosity, and selflessness to help others.
The inner Caregiver offers aid to those in need. Caregivers first seek to help others, which they do with compassion and generosity.
Goal Help others
Dragon/Problem Take care of it or those it harms
Response to Task Give without maiming self or others
Gift/ Virtue Compassion, generosity, nurturance, community
Pitfalls Martyrdom, enabling others, codependence, guilt-tripping
Addictive Quality Rescuing
Shadow Side Confirms itself in all manipulative or devouring behaviors, in which the individual uses caretaking to control or smother others. It is also found in codependence, a compulsive need to take care of or rescue others.
When fulfillment is not achieved with Caretaking, our journey takes us into the unknown exploration of the Seeker.
The Seeker leaves the known to discover and explore the unknown. This inner rugged individual braves loneliness and isolation to seek out new paths. Often oppositional, this iconoclastic archetype helps us discover our uniqueness, our perspectives, and our callings. Seekers are looking for something that will improve their life in some way, but in doing so may not realize that they have much already inside themselves. They embrace learning and are ambitious in their quest and often avoid the encumbrance of support from others. Needing to ‘do it themselves’, they keep moving until they find their goal and their true self.
Goal Search for better life
Dragon/Problem Flee from it
Response to Task Be true to deeper self
Gift/ Virtue Autonomy, ambition, identity, expanded possibilities
Pitfalls Inability to commit, chronic disappointment, alienation, and loneliness
Addictive Quality Self-centeredness
Shadow Side: The Perfectionist, always striving to measure up to an impossible goal or to find the “right” solution. We see this in people whose main life activity is self-improvement, one self-improvement course to another, yet never feeling ready to commit to accomplishing anything.
When fulfillment is not achieved through self understanding, our journey begins to look Outward, to the relationship of the Lover.
The Lover archetype governs all kinds of love—from parental love, to friendship, to spiritual love—but we know it best in romance. Although it can bring all sorts of heartache and drama, it helps us experience pleasure, achieve intimacy, make commitments, and follow our bliss. The Lover seeks the bliss of true love – of the divine couple. They often show the passion that they seek in a relationship in their energy and commitment to gaining the reciprocal love of another.
Fear Loss of love
Dragon/Problem Love it
Response to Task Follow your bliss
Gift/ Virtue Passion, commitment, enthusiasm, sensual pleasure
Pitfalls Objectifying others, romance/sex addictions, out of control sexuality
Addictive Quality Intimacy problems
Shadow Side Includes the sirens (luring others from their quests), seducers (using love for conquest), sex or relationship addicts (feeling addicted to love), and anyone who is unable to say no when passion descends, or is totally destroyed when a lover leaves.
When disillusionment is realized by the Lover, our journey takes us into the chaotic lands of the Destroyer.
The Destroyer embodies repressed rage about structures that no longer serve life even when these structures still are supported by society or by our conscious choices. Although this archetype can be ruthless, it weeds the garden in ways that allow for new growth. The Destroyer is a paradoxical character whose destructiveness reflects the death drive and an inner fear of annihilation. Their quest is to change, to let go of whatever force drives them and return to balance, finding the life drive that will sustain them.
Dragon/Problem Allow dragon to slay it
Response to Task Let go
Gift/ Virtue Humility, metamorphosis, revolution, capacity to let go
Pitfalls Doing harm to self/others, out of control anger, terrorist tactics
Addictive Quality Self-destructiveness
Addiction Suicide/self-destructive habits
Shadow Side Includes all self-destructive behaviors—addictions, compulsions, or activities that undermine intimacy, career success, or self-esteem—and all behaviors—such as emotional or physical abuse, murder, rape—that have destructive effects on others.
Once we have learned the lesson of letting go from the destroyer, we reach outward even more, seeking meaning through a New identity
The Creator archetype fosters all imaginative endeavors, from the highest art to the smallest innovation in lifestyle or work. Adverse to stasis, it can cause us to overload our lives with constant new projects; yet, properly channeled, it helps us express ourselves in beautiful ways. Creators, fearing that all is an illusion, seek to prove reality outside of their minds. A critical part of their quest is in finding and accepting themselves, discovering their true identity in relation to the external world.
Dragon/Problem Claims it as part of the self
Response to Task Self-creation, self-acceptance
Gift/ Virtue Creativity, vision, individuality, aesthetics, imagination, skill, vocation
Pitfalls Self-indulgence, poverty, creating messes, prima-donna behaviors
Addictive Quality Obsessiveness
Shadow Side Shows itself to be obsessive, creating so that so many possibilities are being imagined that none can be acted upon fully. We can fill our emptiness with yet another inessential project, challenge, or new thing to do. One variety of this is workaholism, in which we can always think of just one more thing to do. Creators, fearing that all is an illusion, seek to prove reality outside of their minds. A critical part of their quest is in finding and accepting themselves, discovering their true identity in relation to the external world.
Once we have discovered our uniqueness amongst others, we are ready to face life as it is and seek to make the best of our circumstances.
The Ruler archetype inspires us to take responsibility for our own lives, in our fields of endeavor, and in the society at large. The Ruler’s quest is to create order and structure and hence an effective society in which the subjects of the Ruler can live productive and relatively happy lives.
Dragon/Problem Find its constructive uses
Response to Task Take full responsibility for your life
Gift/ Virtue Responsibility, control, sovereignty, system savvy
Pitfalls Rigidity, controlling behaviors, attitude of entitlement, elitism
Addictive Quality High control needs
Shadow Side The ogre tyrant, insisting on his or her own way and banishing creative elements of the kingdom (or the psyche) to gain control at any price. This is the King or Queen who indulges in self-righteous rages and yells, “Off with his head.” Often people act this way when they are in positions of authority (like parenting) but do not yet know how to handle the attendant responsibility. This also includes people who are motivated by a strong sense to control.
When we learn that Ruling does not bring fulfillment, we are ready to enter the wonders of the Magician.
The Magician archetype searches out the fundamental laws of science and/or metaphysics to understand how to transform situations, influence people, and make visions into realities. Perhaps their ultimate goal is to transform themselves, achieving a higher plane of existence.
Fear Evil sorcery
Dragon/Problem Transform it
Response to Task Align self with cosmos
Gift/ Virtue Personal power, transformative, catalytic, healing power
Pitfalls Manipulation of others, disconnection with reality, cultist guru-like
Addictive Quality Dishonesty (image/illusion)
Addiction Power/hallucinogenic drugs, marijuana
Shadow Side The evil sorcerer, transforming better into lesser options. We engage in such evil sorcery anytime we belittle another, or ourselves or lessen options and possibilities, resulting in diminished self-esteem. The shadow Magician is also the part of us capable of making others and ourselves ill through negative thoughts and actions.
Satiated by our experience of power, we seek to combine our life’s experiences into an understandable state of wisdom.
The Sage archetype seeks the truths that will set us free by helping us become wise, to see the world and ourselves objectively, and to course-correct based on objective analyses of the results of our actions and choices. The Sage is a seeker after truth and enlightenment
Dragon/Problem Transcend it
Response to Task Attain enlightenment
Gift/ Virtue Wisdom, nonattachment, knowledge, skepticism
Pitfalls Being overly critical, pomposity, impracticality, lacking of feeling/empathy
Addictive Quality Judgmentalism
Addiction Being right/tranquilizers
Shadow Side The unfeeling judge—cold, rational, heartless, dogmatic, often pompous—evaluating us or others and saying we (or they) are not good enough or are not doing it right.
The goal of the Fool/Jester is perhaps the wisest goal of all, which is just to enjoy life as it is, with all its paradoxes and dilemmas. What causes most dread in the Fool/Jester is a lack of stimulation and being ‘not alive’. They must seek to ‘be’, perhaps as the Sage, but may not understand this.
Dragon/Problem Play tricks on it
Response to Task Trust in the process
Gift/ Virtue Freedom, humor, life lived in the moment, exuberant joy
Pitfalls Debauchery, irresponsibility, sloth, cruel jokes, con, artistry.
Addictive Quality Inebriation
Shadow Side A glutton, sloth, or lecher wholly defined by the lusts and urges of the body without any sense of dignity or self-control.