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Archetypes: Defined and Explained with Examples

Updated on March 11, 2015
Archetypes are shadowy, hard to recognize unless you know what you are looking at.
Archetypes are shadowy, hard to recognize unless you know what you are looking at. | Source

What are Archetypes?

After reading a couple of recent hubs, I thought there might be an audience for understanding archetypes, with a simple definition, an explanation, and a few examples.

You might not think you care what archetypes are unless you realize how important they are in our everyday lives. They are everywhere:

  • in our myths
  • in our fairytales
  • in our heroes
  • in our art
  • in our literature
  • in our music
  • and, yes, even in our movies

There are the same or similar archetypes in all cultures: Hindu, Norse, American Indian, Chinese, etc. Wherever you go, there they are. Most of us, however, don't recognize them even when our lives are being taken over by them.

So, now for the definition. What are archetypes? They are patterns of energy in the collective unconscious. Remember, my background is Jungian psychology, so my vocabulary will be mostly Jungian. We all have an individual unconscious, as well as a conscious, mind; but also we are all engulfed in what Jung calls the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious is to humans what the ocean is to fish. We all swim in it all the time, just as we breathe the air of our atmosphere here on earth and just as fish swim in the water. We are so immersed in it that we frequently don't know it is there. But it is, and in it are all the energy patterns that Life uses to move us along in our evolution. These energy patterns are called archetypes.


A young woman with a shadowy male figure.
A young woman with a shadowy male figure. | Source

What are some examples of archetypes?

There are far too many exmples of archetypes for me to include them all, but just to give you an idea, using the names of the Greek or Roman gods and goddesses: there is Zeus, the great patriarch; Hera, the jealous wife; Mars, the god of war; Hermes, the trickster, the messenger of the gods, and the one who brings us our dreams; Hades, god of the underworld; Demeter, the great mother, etc.

The example I want to use involves Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and beauty; Eros, her son and god of relationship; and Psyche, who loved Eros and eventually became his wife. This is as example that almost all humans can relate to because at one time or another we have all been engulfed in this triangle of archetypes. We call it "falling in love." Without going into the details of the story, which you can read in any book of Greek and Roman Mythology or in Robert Johnson's SHE, I simply want to point out that this is one of the energy patterns that Life uses to move us along in our evolution. How would we ever grow up, without falling in love and having our hearts broken? How could we possibly ever come to understand "the other" (what Jung calls the contra-sexual self) without being bound so tightly to the loved one that we sometimes cannot free ourselves, no matter how valiantly we struggle.

This is the drama (with a happy ending) that Psyche, half human and half deity, plays out in getting to know her love, Eros. It is the same drama that Shakespeare engages us in in his play "Romeo and Juliet,' (with not so happy an ending). The same archetypes are at work in every romantic movie we go to see; only the names (and a few of the details) are changed.

My version of Hermes, god of dreams and transitions.
My version of Hermes, god of dreams and transitions. | Source

So, how do archetypes affect our lives?

What's important about all this for our lives? Well, it seems to me, that if we are familiar with the energy patterns of the archetypes, which we can get by reading about them and discussing them with others, the better we will be able to handle the energy when it "strikes" us.

And strike is the pivotal word. When we are struck by one of these energy patterns, whether it is by falling in love as in Eros and Psyche or whether it is by Mars, the god of war, when we get angry, we are completely consumed for a time. We no longer know who we are as separate from the archetype. Ask anybody who is in the throes of the Aphrodite, Eros, Psyche energy. Or someone who strikes out in anger (Mars), killing those who might be in his path. Or Dionysus on one of his drunken sprees.

We are not ourselves when the archetype takes us over, as it does all of us many times in our lives. But if we survive it, if we live to tell the tale and make some sense of it, then we "integrate" (Jung's word) that energy into our lives then we have conscious access to it when we need it. It is by integrating as many of the archetypes as come our way, and often we have no choice which ones these are, that we become "whole" human beings. Integrating the god-like energy into the physical life in a human body, bringing the divine into the world is what we are here for. With a little understanding before hand, our struggles might be less daunting and more successful

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    • profile image

      Channery 2 years ago

      That's a smart answer to a difflcuit question.

    • sandrabusby profile image
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      Sandra Busby 4 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA

      Thanks for your visit, Sid, and your comments. Very much appreciated.

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 4 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thank you for this introduction to archetypes and their power. I work primarily with the 22 major arkana of the Tarot (from Jung's late work) to identify archetypes. I would add only that we can go beyond "handling" the arrival of an archetype to conscious cooperation.

      James Earl Jones is a great example. In his acting, he embodies Mars in a magnificent way. But instead of going to war and killing, he shows us the nature of war (and even of evil, as when he was the voice of Darth Vader) through drama, so we can make conscious choices about the energy of Mars in daily life and society.

    • Michele Rubatino profile image

      Michele Kaasen Rubatino 4 years ago from Seattle, WA

      It is fascinating that the personification of our body senses is so articulately documented, and consistent. But stopping the senses is much like stopping a rainstorm, or causing lightening to shoot from the sky, which is why I do not believe in freewill. The senses will always override the invisible, because the invisible wants it to be so, in that, it's undefeatable. In time, one can become aware of the patterns that never change, but deciding to not breath air is as effective for staying alive, as it is to blame air for it's most necessary existence to remain alive. Excellent article for those with interest in grasping that which does not change.

    • profile image

      markbennis 5 years ago

      Sorry for my late reply family life can be hectic LOL. Now I was considering what could be the best and first example for explaining Astrotheology? And I have to agree that my all time favorite and one of the best esoteric researchers there is has to be is Jordan Maxwell.

      Now in saying that I did remember he had a link on his website, a fascinating audio and one of the best actually, but it is not there anymore. So I have tried desperately to look for it but can’t find it. The only other example for the archetypes that are played out by our planets are more than halfway down on this hub, link: http://hub.me/ac91K

      That is the best I can come up with at this moment but if I stumble across that particular link again I will inbox you, now feel free to delete this comment if you wish, with regards to the link.

      Hope it is useful and you will probably find you are familiar with it anyway, regards Mark.

    • sandrabusby profile image
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      Sandra Busby 5 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA

      Astrotheology? How do I find out about that?

    • profile image

      markbennis 5 years ago

      I never fully understood the meaning of archetypes or even knew what they were until I read this hub. I have to say I do now and in saying that can resonate with what you have explained. I have also come to learn this concept down a different avenue of thought through Astrotheolgy, which is very similar in its conceptual teachings, great stuff!

    • sandrabusby profile image
      Author

      Sandra Busby 5 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA

      Thanks. One of the things about enjoying about hubpages is the interaction with other writer. Writing need no longer be such a solitary occupation.

    • SidKemp profile image

      Sid Kemp 5 years ago from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach)

      Thank you for introducing archetypes. And I'd never seen a video of Jung before! I've been working with archetypes for many years. Stories like The Lord of the Rings are full of them. You're inspiring me to write more!

    • sandrabusby profile image
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      Sandra Busby 5 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA

      Thanks, Lilleyth, we Jungians seem to gravitate towards each other no matter what the situation. I'm happy we've gotten connected.

    • Lilleyth profile image

      Suzanne Sheffield 5 years ago from Mid-Atlantic

      You've explained the subject in a fashion that is easy to grasp. Of course, he's an old friend of mine, always there poking me..."see there" he says, pointing to a coincidence. My Aunt was a psychologist, and her license plate read "Anima".

    • sandrabusby profile image
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      Sandra Busby 5 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA

      Thanks, Quirinus, now that we are following each other, we will stay in touch. I am planning so more writing about the psychological types soon, but at the moment, I'm having so much fun with my travel and fashion hubs, though you might not enjoy them as much. Then there's "Sophie and Solange." Anyway, I've visited your homepage and will be reading more of your hubs after Easter.

    • Quirinus profile image

      Queirdkus Ω Ibidem 5 years ago from Sitting on the Rug

      Thank you for the awesome hub, Sandra!

      I can't agree any better: you were able to present such a complex topic in a very tangible way and with a perspective that gives meaning to the difficult experiences we go through.

      I'm an avid fan of Jung and would like to learn a lot about his teachings in the light of practical applications, just like you did here. Will look forward to your Jungian hubs.

      Best,

      Quirinus

    • sandrabusby profile image
      Author

      Sandra Busby 5 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA

      Any time. Sandra Busby

    • AnnaCia profile image

      AnnaCia 5 years ago

      WOW. Thanks for explaining. I might have more questions later on.

    • sandrabusby profile image
      Author

      Sandra Busby 5 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA

      I think you have a very good understanding. The archetypes are "out there" in the collective unconscious. As we progress through our lives, we are magnetically drawn to first one then another to ground the energy in the physical world. So----everytime someone, like you, successfully lives through a difficult experience, that experience becomes easier for everybody. Sort of like the 100th monkey syndrome.

      And, for me, this knowledge has been a great help to me in times of difficulties. To know that I'm making it easier for the whole human race.

      You are certainly doing some difficult work of your own. The more consciously you do it, as for example writing about the loss of your baby girl, the more you are contributing to the evolution of the human race. Much love, Sandra Busby

    • AnnaCia profile image

      AnnaCia 5 years ago

      Let me make sure about some points; help me with this. So, can I say that archetypes have always existed but not created? We, as human beings, discover them by emerging our experiences into the archetypes. Heroes, wise man, mother, etc. are symbols or figures that are built in our unconscious. Does that mean that archetypes exist in our minds and around us but we give them their meaning? ufff! I really do not know if I made myself clear. I studied psychology theories and schools but there is always something missing in my understanding. Great hub.

    • sandrabusby profile image
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      Sandra Busby 5 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA

      Maybe I've found my forte, making complex things clear. You certainly have found yours. You are such a sensitive and insightful commenter. Thanks again. Sandra Busby

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      Sushmita 5 years ago from Kolkata, India

      Sandra, I would never have thought Hubs on such complex subjects could be put across with such clarity and made interesting too. Great hubs, I am so glad to have found you. Voted up beautiful and interesting.

    • sandrabusby profile image
      Author

      Sandra Busby 5 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA

      Thanks for the comment. I would like to write more on this topic if there is enough interest. We'll see. Sandra Busby

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Fascinating hub on a subject I had not given much thought to, but now that you mention it I can think of many examples in our lives today. Great job on this one!