Do you ever feel like you are a completely different person from one week to the next? This is actually a completely normal experience, and is due to the influence of archetypes. Archetypes are universal patterns of energy that live in all of us that influence our lives in subtle yet powerful ways.
What are archetypes?
If I asked you what a Hero is, what comes to mind? Do you think of someone like Odysseus from Homer’s Odyssey? Or someone like Nelson Mandela? Superman? A friend who overcame a serious illness? Yourself?
What if I asked you about a Trickster? Would you think about Anansi the spider from African folklore? The Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland? Wile E. Coyote? That kid in high school who was voted “Class Clown”? Yourself?
Throughout human history, certain characters such as these have emerged that appear again and again across time and culture. These characters express personalities and represent experiences that are universally felt. They are essential patterns of energy that live in all of us and are known as archetypes. We can see them in our dreams, mythology, literature, art, religious icons, and most importantly, we can see them in ourselves.
As human beings, we often think about ourselves as individuals – I am a single person, with a single identity. But if we move beyond this singular point of view, we find that inside each of us lives a whole cast of characters. We are made up of archetypes, and they are what connect us to the greater human experience.
Archetypes are universal because they exist in the “collective unconscious” – the deepest part of our minds that contains inherited memories common to all of humankind. It’s like a universal memory bank that we are all tapped into, whether we realize it or not. In fact, we live most of our lives completely unaware of the influence of this collective unconscious, but the material contained here exerts a subtle yet powerful pressure on us, shaping our thoughts, beliefs, behaviors, and desires. In essence, who we are is molded by, and expressed through, these archetypes living in our unconscious.
What can we learn from archetypes?
Archetypes are a way for us to understand what is going on in our minds and the minds around us. We can use our understanding of them for deep spiritual growth and to create the most powerful version of ourselves. Here are a few of the benefits of working with archetypes.
They help us understand our emotions better.
Archetypes and emotions are connected. When you experience an emotion, it is expressive of an archetype. Heroes are brave. Tricksters are playful. Healers are caring. Teachers are respected. When we feel an emotion, we are not just experiencing a chemical signal within a current moment, but we are living out a story that is much deeper than our own lives. This story creates a richness in our lives that is beyond us. For example, when we feel the Warrior archetype rising up in us, we can know that we are holding hands with all the other Warriors that have come before us, and participating in that shared experience.
They help us find perspective.
When we’re so focused on the minutiae of our current moment, we can easily feel full of confusion, uncertainty, and doubt, and not know why. It’s like looking at a few puzzle pieces on the table and saying, “I don’t know what the picture is supposed to be.” Only when you fit them into place with the rest of the puzzle do those pieces make sense.
Likewise, when we put ourselves in a larger context of the collective experience and see those minutiae as representative of a larger pattern that is stored in our ancestral memory, we can begin to make sense of our situation, and direction may appear effortlessly.
For example, you may not understand why you keep saying “yes” to things you don’t want to do at work. When you look at a bigger picture and recognize it as coming from the Hero archetype, you can decide if this situation truly calls for Hero energy or not.
Do you truly believe in the mission and cause of those projects? Do you truly believe you’re the only person that can do it? If so, then you can reinforce yourself with the collective experience of the Hero and continue on with it, knowing that you are supported by a universal energy that is bigger than those undesirable tasks.
But if not, you can recognize that the Hero archetype is not the energy that is called for in this moment and change your direction accordingly. You could choose to tap into a different archetypal energy that fits the situation better, perhaps the Teacher archetype who shows others how to do things, so you don’t have to do it all.
They can help us develop capabilities we never knew we had.
How often have you approached a situation feeling unprepared, fearful, or uncomfortable? How often have you wished you were someone else, thinking, “They would know what to do in this situation, but I sure don’t!”
Remember that archetypes are universal patterns that live in all of us – we all have the ability to tap into Hero energy, Lover energy, Healer energy, or any other energy we might want to. We each have some patterns that we can access more easily, and other patterns that may feel very difficult to access, but when we understand the essence of an archetype, we can learn to regain access to their power, and amplify their influence in our lives.
It's akin to acting as a character in a play – that character has a personality written into the script, and all you have to do is follow their lead. Likewise, it’s easier to see the qualities that we want to have in an archetype first, and integrate them into ourselves, rather than trying to create them from scratch on our own.
When we get good at this, we can intentionally call upon a desired archetype that we want to embody as we face a certain situation. Archetypes can help us dynamically shift our energy in order to create flow, rather than resistance.
We can use them to find balance.
All archetypes have a shadow side. The shadow side is essentially the natural powers of the archetype running unchecked and out-of-balance. For the Hero archetype, this could mean that their Hero energy turns towards bullying, or that they hide their energy as a coward. For the Mother archetype, this could mean giving so much energy to others that they have no energy for themselves, or that they deny their caring energy, resulting in neglect.
The shadow side of an archetype isn’t necessarily “bad,” it’s more just a sign that calls us back in to balance. When we recognize a shadow archetype in us, it’s time for us to ask why it is appearing, and what we need to do to find a healthier expression of that energy.
In short, archetypes give us a framework for meaning. They simultaneously ground us in the past, present, and future, and help us understand ourselves in the universal context.
The Archetypes of the Moon Cycle
For women, the study of archetypes fits perfectly with moon cycle awareness because each of the four phases of our moon cycles has its own archetypal energy. Even if you no longer have a moon cycle, these energies are still alive in you!
As women, it’s so valuable for us to understand these four major archetypes, because they help us to understand our human experience, find strength and wisdom within ourselves, and to maintain balance in our lives. Since archetypes can be nuanced, everyone’s specific interpretation of an archetype (including the name they use for them) will be individual to that person, but the overarching patterns will be similar. Below is a basic summary of the four archetypes that correspond with our moon cycles. As you begin to observe each of these archetypes within yourself, you will develop your own unique understanding of them, which may be different than what is presented here. As always, follow and trust your own experience.
She represents our Inner Spring (follicular phase) and the Waxing Moon.
She represents our Inner Summer (ovulation) and the Full Moon.
The Wild Woman-Enchantress
She represents our Inner Autumn (pre-menstruum) and the Waning Moon.
Holding the tension
The Wise Woman-Crone
She represents our Inner Winter (menstruation) and the New Moon.
Over the next couple months, I will be posting about these four archetypes, and how we can begin to recognize them, call upon them, and embody them in our lives, while also taking care to learn from their shadows.