Exploring the topic of Archetypes, the following article aims to highlight how significant it is to recognise the roles played by archetypes around us, their influential capacity, and its variation across cultural groups with relevant examples drawn from intercultural and interfaith global narratives. Not only is this an elaboration of the archetypal theory proposed by Jung, but also is going one step further to explore evolutionary, learning, and cognition theories along with their applications in the world and their integration across cultures and age groups. A significant section of the paper focuses on the dual nature or the polarities that exist within archetypes with relevant examples drawn from daily lives and also popular culture. Their impact on the formation of cognitions, attitudes, and subsequently, behaviours of individuals is analysed along with their overlaps and the significance of time and type of exposure. Finally, the association with “The Hero’s Journey” is established using relevant examples from contemporary media.
What is an Archetype?
The concept of an archetype is one that can be applied in several aspects of life, ranging from literature, behaviour, objects, people, nations, animals, infrastructure, roles, etc. Put simply, it is a typical set of characteristics, patterns or behaviours exhibited by an entity that make it a model for others to match, emulate, or fit into (Holzinger et al., 2013). They are like blueprints or ideal templates (Jeffrey, 2020). Archetypes act as structures or stencils which encompass the idealistic essence and the characteristics of what a person, object, place, etc. It is the immediate involuntary image that comes to our minds when the entity has been mentioned. As soon as the word “father” is mentioned, the stereotypical image of a strong, rulemaking, hardworking, head of the family man comes to our minds. Often, they can be associated with certain genders, age, and even settings! The archetype of a philosopher, for example, can be represented by an old, white-haired man dressed in a suit, sitting in his wooden study and reading something. We are constantly exposed to several archetypes right from the moment of birth, upto that of death.
Certain archetypes could also have different aspects, like masculine and feminine traits. A mother, for example, is typically nurturing and caring, which make up of the feminine traits of the archetype. At the same time, however, a mother is also protective when it comes to her children, which is typically interpreted to be masculine in nature. Similarly, a hero comprises of conventional masculine traits like bravery and strength while simultaneously possessing more feminine traits like love and compassion. Every human being naturally possesses both masculine and feminine traits, which take the lime light based on the situation that they are put it. While it is undeniable that one of these sides might be dominant due to gender and cultural norms set by society, it is also true that the co-existence of these traits is what makes an individual whole and well rounded.
It is human tendency to associate a foreign piece of information presented to us with a pre-existing archetype in our mind. The perception of good and bad, fair and unfair, just and unjust are core values that form the absolute base of moral development and judgement which is essential for harmonious social functioning of a hierarchical human society. It is almost imperative to control the meaning of these adjectives, roles and functions in the impressionable minds of children especially, since their first exposure later on helps them to frame the definition of these and connect them to others as the scope of their linguistics and intellect expands with age and experience.
The media is often the key source of impression formation for today’s technologically driven society. Movies and their characters, like those in Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, and even animated films often are based on the realities of societies. Impressionable children or young adults who view these sources of media tend to immediately strike a connection between these fictional worlds and the real world. Thus, the often embody the characteristics and traits of these characters, who they have idolized. These specific movies aforementioned, have played a strong role in the conception and perception of leadership (Moxnes & Moxnes, 2016). The narratives displayed in contemporary popular culture, due to their staggering number of young viewers, can easily be declared one of the most influential sources of primary archetypal formation. They set the tone for societal structures, norm based social behaviours, roles, functions, stereotypes, tendencies of group processes, traditional dynamics, organisational narratives, familial and friendship dynamics, etc. These may even go on to shape the personality traits, attitudes, cognitions, and behaviours of these youngsters.
“All the most powerful ideas in history go back to archetypes” - Carl Jung
Personalisation of Archetypes: Schemas
What’s interesting about archetypes is the fact that they are not perceived in a similar fashion by all. Personal bias plays a huge role in archetypal perception, storage, retrieval and interpretation. An older brother would be understood by some individuals as overprotective, strict, and bully-like, while by others as compassionate, warm, and friendly. This concept of archetypal interpretation not being restricted to a uniform notion, but rather a spectrum of perceptions, is attributed to the kind of primary exposure an individual receives with regards to it. This intertwines into their schemas: a framework of thought organisation. This exposure solidifies the idea of that particular archetype following which, when an individual comes across an situation bearing similarities, their mental schemas help to retrieve the memory, and forms a relationship to the initial perception. This enables understanding and storage of this newfound information. Not only has it been established that the interpretation of archetypes varies across individuals based on their experiences and learnings, but it is also true that they play a significant role in the formation of an individual’s world view and their conscious, in totality.
Relevance of Archetypes around us
Archetypes, a concept predominantly studied by Carl Jung, commonly occur in the world around us in the forms of literature metaphors, paintings, psychological classification, or even commercial marketing. Some include settings (gardens symbolizing love, growth, and fertility), animals (dove symbolizing peace and unity), objects (lswords symbolizing power and courage), roles (mother symbolizing nurture, support, and care), or even nations (United States of America symbolizing wealth, development, and freedom). In fact, the relevance of the age-old concept of archetypes was re-established into the modern technological world through the integration of Carol Pearson’s classification of 12 archetypes into the branding and advertising industry. When brands associate themselves with a certain archetype, formally known as a brand identity, they are more likely to find customers who resonate with them, which translates into brand loyalty, and subsequently, profit. For example, the brand “Dove” fits in to the image of the “Innocent” brand, symbolising youth, purity, reliability, and simplicity (“The 12 Brand Archetypes”). They are not limited to the aforementioned categories; almost everything around us is archetypal! It is beyond human designations, infrastructure, or even adjectives. Archetypes also assist in defining and producing emotions (Jeffrey, 2020), which may help one to relate to a certain entity or scenario. When one thinks of a typical mother, emotions associated with love and care often come up, which could possibly be resonated with another person or object in their life, thus, providing a defined base and making it easy to classify.
Examples of Archetypes
Have you ever looked at one of your friends, or family members and thought that they remind you of a certain colour? Yellow, for example is associated with joy and warmth, thus, whenever one begins to picture a happy and kind friend in terms of a colour, yellow is likely to come to their mind! Similarly, across history and literature, archetypes have been used mostly as metaphors. When one visualises a “Lover”, they picture qualities of romanticism and compassion, much like the protagonists “Romeo”, from Romeo and Juliet, or “Elizabeth Bennet”, in Pride and Prejudice. Prince Charming, Batman, or Wonder Woman can be associated with a “Hero”, depicting strength, knowledge and bravery. Some other well-known examples are Hero, Lover, Sage, Child, Mother, Father, Mentor, Goddess, Devil, Magician, Trickster, Wise Owl, Innocent, Creator, Explorer, Outlaw, etc. (2021).
Archetypes are not just restricted to these. They could also include locations or events, like a scenario of war would represent animosity, death and cruelty, while heaven could represent peace and serenity. The bottom line is that archetypes are present all around it, whether it be a city, festival, role, designation, animal, adjective, infrastructure, nations, relationships, etc. They are simply a typical set of endowments possessed by the entity in question, which tend to form an idealistic template for other fragments of knowledge to build on progressively.
Source: 12 Major Personality Archetypes Diagram. (n.d.). Dreamstime.com. Retrieved August 13, 2022, fromhttps://thumbs.dreamstime.com/b/major-personality-archetypes-diagram-vector-illustration-96419300.jpg.
Archetypes, as explained by Jung
Drawing from Freudian principles of the structure of mind (introducing the Id, Ego, and Superego), Carl Jung formulated that in order to truly understand one’s mind and their unique way of thinking, we must observe the interaction of their inner self, or unconscious, with the external environment. How one makes sense of the external environment could, by a great deal, help make inferences about their individuality (Jung, 1968). The unconscious then drives the formation of archetypes. According to Jung, they are inherited, and innately projected, rather than acquired through observation, culture, or the environment. “The Anima”, for example, is an archetype highlighted by Jung which represents a feminine figure of attraction, infatuation and fantasy, like a mermaid. However, the interpretation of this could lie at both extremes: “the Goddess or the Witch” (1968), since the Anima is an object to which a man loses his rationality and could be fairly easily controlled. This kind of polarity that depicts their non-unidirectional nature.
Archetypes from an Evolutionary Perspective
As part of his theoretical rejection of the notion of Tabula Rasa (the belief that the human mind is a blank state at time of birth), Jung proposed that the information and knowledge of the world, acquired through both biological heritance and through evolutionary instincts, play a role in the formation of a collective subconscious of humans, and that the infinite archetypes around us are by-products of the same. These inherited dispositions of behaviour tend to dictate human behaviour in most circumstances. Evolutionary and survival instincts such as identifying and escaping threat, hunting for prey, care towards one’s specie members, etc., all collectively shape human behaviour. They are purely a manifestation of human motivations and values (Cherry, 2022). Not only do they shape human behaviour, but are also a major part of their personality. While evolutionary instincts may have some contribution to it, it is well established that the upbringing of the individual and their culture play a larger role. Due to this, it is understood that archetypes have an influence on the way an individual emotes and behaves.
FEATURES AND THE IMPACT OF ARCHETYPES
Dual Nature of Archetypes
Wherever there is light, there must be shadow. Not everything in the world is just viewed from one perspective; there is always the other side of the coin yet to be turned and discovered. There cannot be white without black, day without night or joy without sorrow. A holistic experience of the positives, the negatives and everything that comes in between, is what makes up the principle of gestalt. The full picture always provides more insight about an individual, rather than just a one-sided description. Archetypes, although a typical example of a particular entity, can vary between two extremes. Every positive archetype is paired with its negative polarity. A King, who represents power and authority, could be either positive or negative. A caring and thoughtful king brings prosperity to his people, while a cruel and selfish king could bring great losses to the kingdom and it’s people. Similarly, a Mother can be nurturing, but also abusive. This concept is especially studied in fields like literature and creative writing. Weiland describes that every passive archetype aspect is accompanied by an aggressive aspect, and that these complement each other to frame a whole picture of an individual, as goes the gestalt theory adding higher emphasis on the whole picture rather than its parts (2022).
The Hero, who is positively associated with strength and knowledge, could also turn into a “coward” or “bully” (the negative shadows), if they fail to mature or progress satisfactorily in a story (Weiland, 2022). Similarly, the behavioural manifestations of a student can either be hard working, dedicated and studious or slack off, lazy, distracted or unintelligent. One important point to ponder upon could be that an adjective could also be an archetype, however, it might not do the best job at accurately describing the entire picture. An adjective can certainly be an aspect of an individual’s personality, but can miss out on other aspects and thus, fails to give a complete picture. The typical college going student can be described perceived as intelligent and hardworking, but simultaneously, can also be a party animal, a socialite and a great friend! These archetypal aspects are not just limited to the extremities, but are often spread across a spectrum of two extreme polarities. They are not linear or binary.
Most words tend to have a definite meaning. When one visualises a magician, lover, roadside Romeo, etc., they automatically assume their characteristics to be in congruence to those of the typical stereotypes. A roadside Romeo, for example, would be assumed to be flirtatious, a pervert, eve teaser. The roles and functions of this is universal. However, there is much complexity to each archetype. Each archetype has different levels and dimensions to it. The intensity of the characteristics may vary. In fact, sometime, the characteristics itself can vary. They could be in striking contrast! A lover can be affectionate, passionate and caring, but there is a shadow associated with this too. On the contrary, he could also be dark, abusive, and torturous. Although different, this still does not take away from the fact that he is a lover. This is also another definition of being a lover. Against common occurrences, no singular definition can be used for most archetypes due to the sheer degrees of variations that exist within them. They can lay across a spectrum, even on two opposite poles, but still be considered to be the same definition.
The roles an individual plays is often decided based on their immediate surroundings without which, the role would be insignificant. A policemen cannot protect and guards without the presence of a criminal committing crimes, a mother cannot nurture and care without there being a child to care for, and a teacher cannot educate without children with a willingness to learn! In a lot of ways, the people and things around you define the archetypes assigned to you which shapes their sense of self. This sense of self can comprise multiple lessons drawn from times that you have played different roles. What makes an individual unique is the several combinations of roles they have played, lessons they have learned, traits they possess, and ultimately, the personality they have gathered through a culmination of all such experiences. This draws us back to the concept of gestalt yet again. This sum of rich experiences, rather than each one individually, shapes one’s nature and their behaviour. The development of self, personality, and largely even behaviour, is influenced by this gestalt narrative of life experiences.
There exists tremendous role disparity between the variety of definitions of a single archetype. A scientist can be a genius, hardworking and intelligent but he could also be crazy, evil, and impulsive. In fact, it is not necessary that the behaviour of a particular individual needs to stay true to a singular archetypal definition. The same scientist can be meticulous on one day and irrational on the other. This is the beauty of human behaviour; it is adaptive in nature. The manifestations of any archetype moulds itself in order to appropriately fit into situation presented. There is no definite set of characteristics that can be expected at all given times. In this sense, the understanding of archetypes certainly provides insight into human behaviour and personality development.
It has been previously established that it is highly likely that certain characteristics of these roles are spread across a spectrum, ranging from two extremes. We could embody these contrasting traits simultaneously, or even singularly based on the given situation. An individual tends to play different roles in your life; one of which is a designation role, and the other is a functional role. A designation role (here, is represented with a noun. For example, a friend) is what an archetype is titled to do. A functional role (the purpose, or its adverb), on the other hand, is more diverse. It contains the traditional roles specified for the designation, along with a variety of others.
Let us take the example of the “Best Friend”. The textbook designation roles of a best friend include being supportive during rough times, joining you to celebrate the times of success, being a good listener, offering companionship, etc. However, a best friend branches out from these designation limitations, and into the role of certain different archetypal designations. For example, a friend can be a father at times when they give you tough love to explain to you your mistakes, or they can be a mother when they defend you against the world and provide you comfort. These are some of the functional roles that a best friend may play. Similarly, a hero has traditional roles such as being helpful and kind, which are his designation roles. They also often embody themselves into the roles of a fighter who is courageous and strong or a scholar who is intelligent and curious, or even a lover! These roles transcend beyond the typical barriers of a designation, but rather adapt to the needs and demands of the given scenario. If looked at in this manner, the description and roles of each archetype is expandable, and not limited to any adjectives or behaviours.
Exposure to Archetypes: The Importance of Time, Intensity, and Duration
We as individuals are not only affected by the kind of archetypes around us, but also when they were exposed to us. The concept of critical period of learning is one that is heavily studied in the field of developmental psychology. It advocates that there exists a fixed and crucial time during the development of a child where they are the most likely to grasp and retain certain sets of knowledge and behaviours with the most accuracy and speed, as compared to other periods of time in their life (Nickerson, 2021). In the human species, this tends to be the early childhood, around the first to seven years. The most influential people in this critical period of the child’s development is usually the caretaking adult with whom there is the most significant interaction. In most cases, these adults happen to be the parents of the chid. During this period is when majority of archetypes are formed in the mind of the child based on the exposure to various situations, individuals, emotions, behaviours, and other experiences. The primary source of exposure that occurs tends to formulate the general outline or format, which then moulds the cognition of the child, and further, their world view is dictated by the culmination of these archetypes and the experiences associated with them. They affect personality development, and dictate their understanding and expression of self, along with their future behaviours.
The interaction of the child with their father and mother tends to form a prototype in their mind about how a parental figure must be. This idea is then generalised to the rest of the world. They tend to find parallels based on gender and assume same or similar behaviours to be exhibited in that gender, across all human beings. For example, the presence of a strong paternal figure with whom the child is submissive, fearful and always on edge may shape the attitude within the child that all men around the world are also strict, rigid and emotionally inexpressive. This may lead them to become overly attached to the mother, and subsequently all other female figures in their lives who provide them with a familiar sense of care, love, acceptance or emotional freedom, as provided by their mother. If not addressed, these behavioural paradigms may go on to take the shape of negative or toxic patterns like co-dependency or anxious attachment style in their adult life, and especially their romantic relationships. This projection of early exposure onto the world view throughout life may also contribute in the development of stereotypes and thus, may restrict the individual from exploring the world, new people and uncomfortable situations, hampering their growth.
Another unconventional application of this concept of projection of archetypes acquired during early childhood is in the field of criminal or forensic psychology as well. After compiling the psychological evaluation of several serial killers throughout history, a strong link has been found between their parental relationships and the projection of these into people and situations in their adult life, creating a distorted world view and feelings of hatred towards a specific kind of person or thing, especially in these cases, gender. By closely examining the case of the infamous 1970s American serial killer, Ed Kemper, or the Co-Ed killer, it has been found that due to his mother’s negligence, avoidance, and violence towards him, he went on to breed hatred for women. Due to the negligence of his mother, he also did not face any repercussions or punishment when he committed any “bad behaviour”. This lack of punishment developed into severe impulsivity, which later translated into violent murders and even necrophilia directed almost exclusively towards women.
Parallel is the case of Jerry Brudos or the “Lust Killer”, a 1960s American serial killer whose parents were from traditional religious backgrounds and forbidden him from engaging in any modern behaviour. As an act of rebellion towards his parents, Jerry Brudos went on to terrorise, murder and commit heinous crimes on women who wore sparkly, fancy high heels since they were a symbol or modernness, a concept that his parents had absolutely forbidden him from being exposed to. Both these cases, although along the same lines, have one point of sharp contrast. In the case of Ed Kemper, the over policing and strictness of the mother led to deviant behaviour while in the case of Jerry Brudos, the under exposure to certain behaviours and lifestyles led to him desiring them even more, resulting in the defiant and violent behaviour. This must divert our attention to two important points of relevance: Over Imposition and Under Exposure of Archetypes, and its consequence effects.
Any under exposure or over imposition of one archetype also tends to shape us as individuals. As we have previously established, there exists a jarring polarity within any archetype, including parental ones. A father can be a hard earner for the family and supportive but could also be irresponsible by not providing for the family, or be emotionally/physically abusive. A mother on the other hand is ideally nurturing and loving but could also turn out to be detached, avoidant or even be an alcoholic. These ideals often play a role in the social, cognitive, emotional, and behavioural development of the child and these are unconscious happenings, out of the realm of awareness of the individual experiencing it. They shape his world view and thus, dictate his actions. Thus, if the child has an absent father, he is likely to experience the lack of financial stability, emotional support, encouragement and be devoid of a disciplinarian which may shape him to become anxious about monetary values all the time, insecurely attached in relationships and even have a hard time in controlling his impulsivity and intrusive thoughts, leading to deviant behaviours, as in the case mentioned above. On the other hand, if a child is in constant care of his mother who is overly affectionate and supports the child in every decision that he makes, the child is likely to become dependent and weak-minded, especially in this adult life. This is due to the overexposure to certain archetypes. They are significant determiners of personalities, attitudes, behaviours, and cognitions, especially when it is the case of early contact. This also ensures whether we are successfully and contently playing the roles assigned to us in our adult lives and doing justice to these titles. A healthy adjustment, secured through an appropriate and balanced exposure to a variety of archetypes ensures congruity within roles and maintains the imposition of one role onto another, at an appropriate amount.
Archetypes and Behaviour
Certain archetypes that become embodied within us tend to form as layers of the unconscious, and begin to dictate out cognitive activity, which encompasses thoughts, emotions, and behaviour. A significant amount of cognitive activity is dictated by the collective unconscious. Let us examine this with the example a well prevalent issue in today’s world, bullying. It often happens that the “nerds”, “geeks”, or “book worms” of the class experience bullying by some of their relatively more troublesome classmates. One possible reason for this occurrence could be the feeling of inferiority experienced by these bullies, on an academic level. The infamous Darwinian evolutionary theory of survival of the fittest may come into picture here, unconsciously. It is an evolutionary disposition to want to defeat competitors and come out on top, which stems from the need to fight the same or even different species for limited resources during prehistoric human times. Although in modern times, the need for this competition has scaled down magnitudes in terms of its intensity, the evolutionary instinct remains intact. The bullies might form an archetype of the nerdy student to be someone who will defeat them, be praised by elders more often, be more successful in life, etc., which is a threat to them. Thus, as a defence mechanism, they may begin targeting the child. In order to curb such manifestation of undesired cognitive activity into behavioural paradigms, it is vital to understand these unconscious cognitions within oneself.
As a combination of evolutionary psychology, learning theories and culture become more well known to mould human behaviour, one begins to gain a deeper insight into the patterns that dominate their own behaviours. The initial and most crucial step in doing so, however, is identification through observation and introspection. Once the dominant archetypal behaviour is identified, there is scope for making modification to the same. Behavioural modification and correction, thus, could serve as an important application of the theories surrounding archetypes, especially the psychodynamic ones. Since they are biologically predisposed, they are easy to narrow down to. For example, when one imagines a villain, it is almost certain that they would be strikingly opposite to the protagonist, in terms of their beliefs and values, and that they would often have a devious side to them, despite the avatar they might seem to possess initially. Hence, behaviour becomes predictable (Jeffrey, 2020). This step of behaviour prediction succeeds the step of identification, which is subsequently followed by behavioural change, the ultimate desirable goal.
Furthermore, getting well versed in identification of an archetypal bias and behavioural pattern may assist one in obtaining insight on not just other individuals around them in order to deepen relationships, but also assists in self-discovery, gaining deeper understanding of one’s motives and desires, and eventually, may pave path to self-love or the highest possible form of achievable actualisation, through behavioural modifications and adjustments.
“If you know your archetypes – and not just yours, if you know how to perceive the world in archetypes, through archetypes – everything changes. Everything. Because you have two things: you can see through one eye which is impersonal, and through the other, which is personal. That’s the way the game is written down here” - Caroline Myss
ARCHETYPES AND CULTURE
Overlap of Concepts
It often so happens that there exists an overlap between the definitions, roles and descriptions of one archetype with another. There is always an overlap between masculine and feminine traits, or even maternal and paternal traits. Love, support and compassion are common traits shared by both mothers and fathers, as are the features of light and energy shared between two contrasting entities, the sun and the moon. The idea is to understand the balance between such overlaps and according to the principles of gestalt, view them as a whole. All these traits combined is what makes an individual holistic. A combination, and balance of masculine and feminine traits makes up for an idealistic individual.
Similarly, a leader is encouraging and understanding but is a strict about being meticulous and pushes you to your limits in order to bring out your highest potential. A culmination of such contrasting traits and overlaps also exists within each individual’s personality to some degrees, which makes the person complete. The Serpent guides wisdom and represents immortality and healing while at the same time being poisonous and possessing the ability to bite you, thus representing mortality and danger. It can be used both as a tool of wisdom, or a weapon, causing an overlap between the roles and designations assigned to a serpent archetype.
There often exist certain archetypes which are viewed differently, across different cultures. They are bound by customary beliefs, social norms, religious and social groups, etc. and are shared by a common set of people (Fuzzell, 2020). This is also what divides people in terms of their differences in understanding, interpreting and perceiving certain archetypes. While defining them, people from different cultures tend to relate it to the different cultural schemas that they have witnessed throughout their lives, which certainly, would not be coinciding with the ones shared by individuals of a different culture. However, to a large extent, there seems to be some kind of overlap between many cultural archetypes. Although the cultures across the world might be different in terms of their interpretations, majority of the ideologies shared tend to be along similar lines. Lord Jesus and Lord Krishna are both believed to be sons of gods who were conceived divinely and brought onto the earth to spread the same message of peace and love. They were both sought after by evil forces and predicted their deaths. Their teachings also are surprisingly similar. Krishna states that he is the origin of all sources of life and similarly, Jesus stresses that he is the bread of life (Das, 2018). In fact, the origin of birth stories of most gods also tends to be similar across cultures. They are born in turbulent times, unfavourable weather, heavy rainfall and under dangerous circumstances where they are wanted dead by their evil counterparts. How is it that these archetypes of the divine forces are congruent despite the many differences that exist between the two cultures?
This overlap of archetypal characters is common between cultures, another example of this is the character of Mary in Catholic culture and Meera in Indian culture. Mary, the virgin mother of Christ represents a symbol of purity, motherhood, holiness, and the peak of Christianity. She is a heavenly being who was raised to heaven by god due to her virtuous and sinless actions, and is given the title of the “Queen of Heaven”. Meera, on the other hand is a Hindu poetess and a dedicated devotee of lord Krishna. She represents fearlessness, disregard for unjust social and familial conventions, standing up for what is right, and sincere love and demotion towards Krishna, whose wife she assumed herself to be. She praised Krishna in her music, which was despised by her in-laws. However, she never backed away from her true love. Although unconventional, she is a symbol of love, beauty, divinity and spirituality. Both Meera and Mary are feminine divine archetypes sharing the common quality of love for Krishna and Jesus respectively. Here too, we can observe the overlap of ideals and characteristics across two cultures. These women both represent femininity in their respective religions, despite being such opposites! One is a pure virgin while the other is a passionate lover. However, there is the presence of both of these qualities, to some varying degree, in every woman! What one must truly focus on is finding an appropriate balance between the various characteristics, and embrace the fact that these spectra of traits exist within all of us and in fact, are attributed to making us whole and complete.
Goddess Parvati of the Hindu religion is almost identical to Aphrodite, a Greek goddess. They are both symbols of love, beauty, fertility, and sexuality. They are both married to gods and have given birth to their children, who themselves are prominent and powerful gods of their respective cultures. Similar is the case of Goddess Kaali and Enyo, who are both goddesses of war, destruction, and death. In this example as well, we can see the duality of characteristics between these goddesses. They protect, preserve, and are nurturing but also possess a more intense and dark side to them which is used to provide punishment and correct wrongdoings. The essence of both these goddesses is to instil the gratitude for life, maintain order and ensure that the evil is doomed. Fierceness and strength are their essential features. There can be thousands of more parallels drawn across various cultures around the world. It comes down to the fact that although people might be separated by regions, languages, norms, and social situations, there is an innate similarity across their beliefs and behaviours, a true overlap between cultural archetypes.
A HERO’S ARCHETYPAL JOURNEY
Who is a hero if not someone who is idealised for their courage and victory? The archetypal hero who is admired by all, often tends to have a culmination of rather strange and troublesome situations which mould their mindset, personalities and behaviours in order to finally turn them into the individual who is so inspirational. Their journeys are not always a linear line trending upwards; they contains several obstacles and introspective elements which ultimately leads them to the path of light.
A hero’s journey, as described by Campbell, contains several stages. The hero initially is encompassed in a circle of comfort. He is then faced with a conflict which forces him to step out of his zone of comfort and target the situation that he dreads, setting them on a path of adventure. Often, there is something big on the line: either a relationship or a goal of theirs. By exhibiting intelligence and courage, the hero carefully finds his way through the challenge when suddenly, an additional barrier comes along the way which could range from enemies to betrayals and tests. This marks the most difficult ordeal that needs to be faced by the hero and requires immense mental strength. After overcoming the greatest challenge, he is bestowed upon with the greatest reward. A hero also displays humility, maturity and regard for others. He applies his learned lesson towards the greater good for his community and emerges as a highly admirable and loved individual. This is often the typical archetypal journey of a hero that is portrayed in several literature and media adaptations of stories as well.
Source: Neil, C. (2020). How to find purpose and self belief: The Hero's Journey- Moving people to action. Connorneil.com. Retrieved August 13, 2022, fromhttps://i2.wp.com/conorneill.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/herojourneymyth.jpg?fit=640%2C718&ssl=1.
However, the transition between these stages of the archetypal journey of a hero are not smooth. There are often hurdles along the way where he is stuck in one particular role and is struggling to move over to the next one. There are dilemmas that have to be surpassed where a display of maturity and highest sense of morality is expected out of the hero. Possessing a certain balance between all the various roles that he plays in his life, while simultaneously tending to all his responsibilities is not a piece of cake. A hero is not someone to whom these traits come naturally to. In fact, it is quite the opposite. A hero is someone who is pulled out of their safety net and is put face to face with their greatest fears. The one who fights, grows and displays maturity is one that emerges victorious and is rewarded bountifully. A hero’s archetype contains dilemmas, responsibility, having something large at stake, being stuck in between roles, having trouble transitioning between roles, and having constant problems thrown at you, all while managing to keep their composure, maximise intelligence and willing to express bravery.
Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist character in the book and movie series titled “The Hunger Games”, goes through what is known as a typical journey of a hero archetype. She is initially placed in the comfort of her small town, among friends and family when suddenly, is forced to enter a battle arena, which she volunteers to enter in place of her sister. She is then faced with the greatest adventure of her life where she is left to fend for her life and compete with highly skilled killers. She takes a journey of discovering her skills, strengths, weaknesses, inner thoughts, true motives, face dilemmas and finally, emerge victorious. Throughout the process, she goes through a complete glow up by finding love, becoming the leader of a revolution and a symbol of nationwide rebellion. She goes through immense suffering but comes out of it with much growth and character development.
Similar is the case of Alice, in “Alice in Wonderland”, where she is initially living a comfortable life at home when somehow, she falls into a hole in the forest while chasing a bunny during her garden party. Through the hole is an unexpected world of Wonderland where Alice discovers her true mission in life: to end the reign of horror rules by the Red Queen. The journey is filled with new friendships and battles. Finally, she emerges victorious and re-enters her world as a changed person, having bettered the lives of the inhabitants of wonderland. Alice, an archetypic hero, follows the typical archetypal journey of a hero and is a symbol of compassion and courage. Not only did she fight her way through rough times, but she also helped the many others along the way, all while going through her own journey of personal growth. Even across cultures we are able to note some prominent heroes. Lord Ganesh, for example, is sent to defeat the all-powerful devil, Mooshak. Upon conquering his power and overthrowing his cruel rule, he emerges as a hero in the eyes of the entire village and its people. These parallels of the archetypic journey of a hero are made across most cultures and faiths across the world. They are role models, who we are encouraged to look upto and embody a few characteristics of.
By highlighting the two examples of these fictional heroes, we are able to view the dual nature of archetypes clearly. Katniss, although displaying boldness and compassion at most times, also went through her fair share of moments where she was fearful, hesitant and displayed rage and hatred for the enemies. These contrasting characteristics are what make her human; what make her complete. In fact, it was that hatred and rage towards the unjust capitol which she held that later went on to inspire other citizens of her nation to join her in the rebellion. It transformed into her strength. Alice, on the other hand, was a trustful and courteous young woman to all her family, friends, and the creatures of wonderland, which is what made her a symbol of love. At the same time, however, she was stern and cunning in the times that she needed to be, especially when it came to the plotting of overthrowing the Red Queen. The timely and varied display of the dual nature of a hero archetype is ironically, what makes them a hero in the first place.
At different times throughout their respective characters and storylines, Katniss and Alice played varied roles. Katniss was a loving sister, a loyal friend, a respectful mentee, and a brave soldier while Alice was an obedient daughter, a trustworthy friend, and an intelligent saviour of wonderland. The diverse roles played by these characters invoke a variety of their characteristics, positive, negative, and everything that lies in the spectrum between the poles. There are bound to be moments where the hero experiences moments of role disparity or unclearness. Katniss, for example, was uncomfortable to show her soldier like and rebellious behaviour to her sister, at first, who has always known her to be kind and compliant. However, finding the appropriate balance between these roles and consistently upholding that standard is another quality that contributes to heroism.
“Archetypes resemble the beds of rivers: dried up because the water has deserted them, though it may return at any time. An archetype is something like an old water course along which the water of life flawed for a time, digging a deep channel for itself. The longer it flowed, the deeper the channel, and the more likely it is that sooner or later the water will return” - Carl Jung
It can be inferred, through the various examples and cultural narratives mentioned, that the presence of archetypes is certainly felt all around us in the world, right from evolutionary times to today’s modern time; it is universally present across all cultures and dynamics. It has been established that the perception of archetypes is not universal, but is heavily determined by our initial exposure to it, which forms the framework to further interpret and form a referral structure, which helps to organise new experiences into the minds of the individual, consistent with their initially formed archetypal blueprint. Following a parallel theme, archetypes certainly cannot be singularly defined. The characteristics, attitudes, traits, and behaviours associated with each of them that lay across a spectrum with two polar extremes within which, it’s definition juggles, based on the given situation. Additionally, it is imperative to understand the importance of the kind of exposure to archetypes received by a child, since those are the ones that form the typical example based on which the child perceives the foreign situation.
Early exposure to certain qualities begins to shape the world view of the child, their expectations, attitudes, cognitions, and even their behaviours. In understanding the behavioural paradigms that exist within a child due to this early archetypal exposure, the psychodynamic theory relating to the unconscious proves to be relevant. It makes behavioural prediction also possible, to a large extent. Additionally, several archetypal overlaps have been observed across different cultures from ancient times, regardless of their inability to contact and replicate one another. Prominent characters, mythologies, stories, including the ones about prominent devotional and religious figures like Jesus and Krishna have been found to have parallels across cultures, which establishes an evolutionary or animalistic base for these archetypes. Finally, there has been an integration of all the aforementioned concepts in “A Hero’s Journey”, which is a typical, predictable archetypic route followed by a hero including those in current day contemporary popular cultures and media.
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This article on ' Archetypes and Hero's Journey' has been contributed by Kashish Srivastava who is studying B.A. Psychology from FLAME University, Pune
Kashish is a part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP), which is mentored by Anil Thomas.
Kashish is aspiring psychologist with the aim to make mental health resources more accessible, affordable, applicale and stigma free for individuals around the world, through the mode of research
GIRP is an initiative by (International Journal of Neurolinguistics & Gestalt Psychology) IJNGP and Umang Foundation Trust to encourage young adults across our globe to showcase their research skills in psychology and to present it in creative content expression.
Anil is an internationally certified NLP Master Practitioner and Gestalt Therapist. He has conducted NLP Training in Mumbai, and across 6 other countries. The NLP practitioner course is conducted twice every year. To get your NLP certification