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Rulers, Sages and Jesters: the Twelve Character Archetypes

Updated on June 13, 2014

Facts About the Makers of the PMAI Test

Dr. Carol Pearson created the PMAI test with Dr. Hugh Marr. Pearson is currently the president of the Pacifica Graduate Institute, an institution that was endorsed by the famous mythologist Dr. Joseph Campbell. Campbell was an early supporter of Pacifica, and saw the institution as a means by which his legacy would carry on after his death. Campbell's personal archive is located at Pacifica. Initially I was skeptical of PMAI because I wasn't familiar with Dr. Pearson's work, but the fact that she is the president of the Pacifica Graduate Institute places her among the ranks of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell. If you enjoy the works of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, you will probably appreciate Dr. Carol Pearson's work as well.

Dr. Marr is a practicing psychologist who specializes in helping people with substance abuse problems. He is credited on all the materials and books about the PMAI system.

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PMAI: Not Just a Typical Facebook Quiz

Initially I was skeptical about the PMAI test because I was reminded of novelty Facebook quizzes, like the one that is supposed to help you find out which Star Wars Jedi/Sith you are. Typical dime-a-dozen personality tests that you find on the Internet ask a series of repetitive questions. At the end of the quiz, the information you provided is simply regurgitated in a new way. After I found out more about the PMAI system, though, I began to realize how useful and interesting it really is.

After I took the test and read about the different archetypes I came away with new insights into human psychology. Many of the descriptions of the various archetypes fit well with my understanding of various people I know. Writers in particular will find the 12 archetypes useful for coming up with realistic characters in stories. Another thing I liked about PMAI system is that it manages to maintain flexibility without resorting to vague statements that apply to almost everyone, like the ambiguous predictions contained inside of fortune cookies.

The PMAI system does not try to shove all the complexities of human personality into a neat pigeonhole. In the PMAI system, any given personality is an amalgamation of three or more dominant types, and even those dominant types can change over time. The three dominant character archetypes can combine in a myriad of interesting meaningful ways. I also liked how the Pearson system also takes the lowest scoring archetype into consideration. She calls it the "shadow archetype." In the PMAI system, a shadow archetype represents personality traits that an individual has difficulty expressing. Also, the shadow archetype can represent deep levels of an individual's personality that they may be attempting to repress.

The PMAI System and Psychology

If you are like me in that you find disturbed personality types to be particularly interesting, you may have found yourself collecting information about psychological case studies, flipping through the DSM IV or reading about famous serial killers for inspiration. For me, the problem with psychology texts is that they tend to couch personality descriptions in cumbersome, pedantic terms that begin to get boring after a while. Also, psychology in general tends to dwell on the negative or rare aspects of human personality. Understanding the psyche in terms of storytelling makes sense, because when we talk about ourselves what we are doing is largely weaving together a story.

If the most popular, classic written work of all time is any indication, then we are a species that is completely obsessed not with facts but with fantasy, metaphorical truths, the unknowable and the unknown.

The truth is that story we tell about ourselves is largely composed of half-truths and exaggerations. Both philosophy and psychology has revealed that logical fallacies and cognitive distortions cloud much of what we think we know. Even normal, mentally healthy individuals use fallacies to spin positive tales about themselves. Sports psychologists help athletes tell themselves stories called positive affirmations, which are effective in helping players succeed in athletic competitions.

So, in my view a complete evaluation of the human psyche should take into account not only facts and objective behavioral observations but also the fictitious stories we tell about ourselves and others. After all, our imagination doesn't always lead us astray-- sometimes creative thinking can help us understand the world around us and add meaning to our lives.

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Why Do the Personality Archetypes Continue to Appear In Fiction?

The twelve archetypes represent personality types that were probably crucial to the survival of the species. In my view, this is the main reason why these characters continue to reoccur-- because they are useful. Like cells in a living organism, all of the personality archetypes played important roles as humanity transitioned from hunter-gatherer lifestyles based around small tribes and began to organize into increasingly complex societies. It makes sense to think of the personality archetypes as musical notes that were necessary to play the song of human history. If you are able to play the role of each of the 12 archetypes successfully, almost any situation can be dealt with effectively.

On the other hand, each archetype is weak in some way. The mythic hero Gilgamesh, for example, is a perfect example of a Warrior personality archetype. Gilgamesh was apparently based on an actual ruler of the ancient city of Uruk. Uruk's strong walls and successful economy came to be because of the efforts of the real Gilgamesh.

In the myth, Gilgamesh eventually becomes a hero and vanquishes evil creatures that surround and threaten Uruk. He also harvests massive quantities of wood from a nearby forest. However, at the beginning of the story Gilgamesh is flawed. We find out that among other things, Gilgamesh has been abusing his right to have sex with any woman living in Uruk. As a result, many of the men in Uruk are upset with him.

A warrior is strong, but is still only one person. Upsetting the harmony within a social group will lead to problems down the line-- rebellion, chaos, etc. A warrior's inherent strength and ability to dominate becomes a problem when it causes disruption. A different type of character-- maybe a wise elder or a caring wife-- is needed to balance out a warrior's weaknesses and provide guidance. It's easy to see how a small tribe of humans living in ancient times would require all 12 types of personality types to emerge in order to maintain balance.

The same social aspects of social life that mattered in ancient times still apply today, when groups of people assemble to accomplish any type of goal. Some people are more adept at adopting certain archetypes than others. If the chemistry within a group isn't complete, internal problems may arise. Being flexible and fluent at adopting the ways of all the archetypes can help individuals succeed in modern society, which is becoming increasingly fluid and mobile. In the past, the amount of personalities that any given individual would be exposed to was fairly limited, but today people change social situations all the time when they relocate, switch careers or change jobs.

Become part of an ongoing discussion about archetypes on archetypesexplained.com

Please enjoy pictures below, which are related to the various archetypes.

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Mother Theresa
Mother Theresa | Source
Rick Grimes
Rick Grimes | Source
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The professional wrestler known as the Ultimate Warrior is an over-the-top example of the Warrior archetype
The professional wrestler known as the Ultimate Warrior is an over-the-top example of the Warrior archetype | Source
The engineer from the original Star Trek series is a good example of a handyman type of Caregiver.
The engineer from the original Star Trek series is a good example of a handyman type of Caregiver. | Source
Kathy Bates does an excellent job of portraying evil Caregiver Annie Wilkes in the film adaptation of Stephen King's Misery
Kathy Bates does an excellent job of portraying evil Caregiver Annie Wilkes in the film adaptation of Stephen King's Misery | Source
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Madonna
Madonna | Source
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The Punisher, an Archetypal Destroyer Hero
The Punisher, an Archetypal Destroyer Hero | Source
Niccolo Machiavelli
Niccolo Machiavelli | Source
Ben Franklin, Prolific Inventor and Archetypal Creator
Ben Franklin, Prolific Inventor and Archetypal Creator | Source
Victor Frankenstein and His Monster
Victor Frankenstein and His Monster | Source

What Is Your Favorite Character Archetype

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    • mercuryservices profile image
      Author

      Alex Munkachy 4 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

      Thanks! I have read the 48 Laws of Power and I liked it. I might do a hub on that and relate it back to the archetypes. Thanks for the feedback. Your articles are useful and address niche subjects. If you write a bunch more you will bring in lots of ad revenue.

    • Bishop55 profile image

      Rebecca 4 years ago from USA

      I really enjoyed reading this. I found myself identifying with many descriptions, and thought of people in my life about others. I've always loved reading about serial killers. Have you ever read The 48 Laws of Power or The Are of Seduction by Robert Green? I think you'd like them. I hope to buy Mastery soon. He's a fantastic writer. Nice job on this. I'm still trying to figure out how to write something interesting and even half as long.