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What are archetypes?

As mentioned in the previous page, archetypes are universal patterns of being that exist in everything and everyone around us — familiar examples that we encounter all of the time (whether in ourselves or in other people) include the bully archetype, the teacher archetype, the hero, the martyr, the artist, the victim, the child, the prostitute, the saboteur, etc. [1]  There are too many archetypes to name here (and they are arguably countless), but if we learn to identify the archetypes that we embody individually and if we learn to identify them in the world around us, we learn not only about ourselves, but also our profound purpose in life as unique members of our mysterious and grand Universe.   

The most influential teacher for me personally with regard to archetypes has been, and continues to be, Caroline Myss because she applies archetypal concepts to the evolution of the spirit, not just the mind or personality, and her methods of teaching are widely accessible and brilliantly articulated.   (For more information about Caroline’s programs, see http://myss.com.)

Under her tutelage for the last eight years, I have come to embrace that we make covenants with God to accept certain gifts and certain challenges to help us in life as we deal with challenges of faith and choice.  In order to do that more thoroughly, we accept unique combinations of archetypal patterns to help guide us through the earthly journey.  For instance, I have the hermit archetype, so I tend to be more introspective and less of an extrovert with most people; I avoid crowds at all costs; I adore time alone, and I covet space and privacy to feel balanced in my world.   Contrast the hermit with the networker archetype, who thrives on (and loves!) contact with as many people as possible in order to facilitate new relationships and the exchange of information through social interaction.  The networker says, “The more people in a room the better!!” and the hermit says, “Get me outta here!”   Both archetypes are rich with potential, and both will help the soul-bearer get to the same place (hopefully — if our choices in life are made with wisdom and discernment), but they represent unique “luggage,” if you will, that all of us carry with us in this life to help us in our individual journeys.  

Some people are born with physical challenges, some with socioeconomic challenges, some with riches beyond belief, but as Caroline and others like her teach, all of those earthly circumstances are something we individually agreed to “take on” when we made covenants with God to come here and to use those tools to learn about service to others, to learn about wisdom in higher choices, and to learn the consequences when we are unfaithful to our core self and our true identity.   Archetypes are just part of the toolbox we bring with us, and having a sense about which ones are at play in different circumstances adds a completely different context for life’s journey.   Regardless of which archetypes anyone has, though, several themes are ubiquitous to everyone – learning compassion, forgiveness, reverence, faith, power of choice, what it means to live a congruent life, etc.   We learn those lessons in different ways, depending on the archetypes/tools we agreed to be responsible for in this life, but all of them lead toward those central themes and lessons, whether through the martyr, warrior, teacher, athlete, virgin, artist, seeker, healer, goddess, shapeshifter, pioneer, judge, even vampire.

There are so many archetypes that it is impossible to list them all, and furthermore, within each one, there are subtle “flavors.”[2]  For instance, not every artist is the literal Picasso.  It can be someone who enjoys “fussing” around in her garden, or in her kitchen, or even in her office, in order to bring beauty and creative individuality to her surroundings.  Archetypes are not supposed to be literal – they are symbolic manifestations of God’s essence in each one of us.  A friend of mine has the virgin, and while she is not physically a virgin, everything about the way she looks at life is pure and unpolluted.   She agreed to come here to see life through that lens of purity and integrity (and to share that vision of the world with those around her), and she embodies the virgin with such beauty and such reverence and grace, that the rest of us who know her feel “less toxic” every time we are around her. 

The combinations are practically endless, but when we see life and circumstances through that lens, it is so much easier to have faith in the higher plan that we are all supposed to learn how to manage those manifestations of God with responsibility, and with a sacred sense of purpose, because they are essentially fragments of God’s perfection contained within us on this earthy journey until we leave this plane for the next.

Archetypes do not apply only to people; they can also apply to experiences and events.    As a native of New Orleans, I take particular interest in the events of Hurricane Katrina.  One might argue the storm (more appropriately its aftermath) was an entire culture’s experience with the exorcist archetype, both for better and for worse.  The uprising by the community in the rebuilding efforts and the resurgence of cultural pride and cultural determination to survive despite all odds, is a positive result.   So, too, are the improvements to the school system and the demand for more accountability among politicians, which has led to significant ethics reform and prosecution of long-time predators who used public office as a feeding trough.   On the flip side, the experience with the exorcist has prevented (even still) a large population of local people from being able to return because the local government was/has been slow in making decisions about long-term plans for the new footprint for the city and where efforts would/will be prioritized.  The point for purposes of Twilight, though, is that everything can be viewed through an archetypal lens if we are open to fluid interpretations and perspectives of the world around us.

When we see people and events through that lens, it becomes (thankfully) much easier to not take things so personally and to see the divinity in the messages we receive all day and every day.  Archetypes are no more than a language really, which facilitates contact between God and us until we can all speak the same fluent language when reunited again after the human experience (in whatever form or fashion that takes within your personal theology).   And for our individual archetypes, they can be thought of as frequencies on the radio — I have this frequency, someone else has a different frequency, but we all have channels that work on the cosmic radio, and we are all able to hear guidance through those archetypes if we are open to them.  Some people are prophets, some people are teachers, some people are martyrs, etc., but we are all special, and we all have our cadre of tools to teach us about compassion and service. 

Life often does not make sense (even to vampires and wolves), but our purpose in life is to keep learning, keep moving forward, keep focused on faith, and at the same time, maintain compassion for everyone (literally everyone) to be of service along the way.  Bella and her story-mates are brilliant reminders of these principles, and even though they are fictional characters in a story Stephenie Meyer wrote based on a dream, they still have archetypes, and their experiences still reflect archetypal themes.   The overall story is a worthy canvas for this perspective, and there are rich brush strokes in every character.   I hope you enjoy exploring the Twilight archetypes as much as I have!

Before proceeding to the pages for the individual characters and the overall archetypal themes in the Twilight series as a whole, it might help to explore the use of the words  “Fate and Destiny” next, as they will be used throughout the rest of this site — http://twilightsagaarchetypes.com/fate-and-destiny/


[1] Swiss psychologist Carl Jung pioneered the study of archetypes in the particular context of analytical psychology in the early 1900’s.  For a tiny glimpse of Carl Jung’s remarkable contributions, you can start with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Jung and then expand your research from there because the possibilities are endless (as were the important implications of his work).  While many people have expanded Jung’s original work significantly over the years, Joseph Campbell is perhaps the most notable. Campbell was an extraordinary American mythologist, philosopher and spiritual teacher.   For more information about Joseph Campbell for readers completely unfamiliar with his work and important legacy, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Campbell.  As with Jung, there are many wonderful books, articles and essays by (and about) Campbell, but as a new “archetypist,” you should feel comfortable starting humbly, proceeding from there wherever your initial research leads you!

 [2] For those interested in an extensive (and completely modern) catalog of archetypes, please refer to Caroline Myss’ book entitled Sacred Contracts, which includes a thorough gallery of hundreds of examples.  Caroline’s materials and other great resources are available on her website — http://myss.com.

4 Responses to “Intro to Archetypes”

  1. Sue Schwass says:

    Hi Jennie,
    Just a comment about this section-When you speak of archetypal patterns to help guide us through the earthly journey, I think it may be important to note that once we arrive on earth we have essentially forgotten our agreements. It also might help to mention that everyone has twelve archetype and we all share victim, prostitute, child, sabatouer. When you talk about the many archetypes it is easy to understand because you give examples of characteristics and symbolic manifestations of each one.
    I love that you mention the individual as well as the global archetypal patterns. This gives us a framework to understand what is happening in the world of Forks but also our world.
    Wonderful work!

    • Welcome, Sue!! I hope to encourage people to explore archetypes regardless of their familiarity or experience with this concept, so I was a little hesitant to go into too much detail in the original post. Your comment is greatly appreciated, though, because it offers a wonderful launching pad to take this discussion deeper.

      As you noted, Caroline Myss teaches that we all have twelve “natal” archetypes, or twelve that we are born with, which we agreed to accept before incarnating into this world. We are stripped of our conscious memory of those “sacred contracts,” as Caroline refers to them, because if we remembered them, we would be denied the opportunity to learn faith. (We can only learn TRUE faith when we learn to surrender to God’s mysteries, despite our many fears and despite the absence of the many rational explanations that our egos always want in life.)

      Four of the twelve archetypes that we are born with are “survival” archetypes — as you mentioned, they are the child, the victim, the saboteur and the prostitute.

      The child teaches us how to take care of ourselves and how to be self-sufficient so that we learn to love people without needing them in co-dependent and unhealthy ways. When the child archetype manifests as the shadow child (shadow meaning the aspects of struggle or unhealthy manifestation), we act like – well – children. For some of us, that means we act like literal brats (we all throw tantrums from time to time), or we become paralyzed by a fear of being unable to care for ourselves. There are many versions of the child archetype manifesting as the healthy child with strong self-esteem, and just as many versions of the shadow child manifesting as not-so-pretty childlike behavior and fears. The point, though, is that every single archetype has both a light side and a shadow side, and both sides are divine teachers to give us opportunities to learn to manage our spirits.

      The victim archetype teaches us what it feels like to be preyed upon, or bullied, or beaten down, or whatever form “victimized” takes in our world, whether it is financially, physically, emotionally, etc. The light aspect of the victim teaches us to stand up for ourselves and to learn to be our OWN protector, rather than cowering in the corner and feeling like other people (or circumstances) have taken away our power. The shadow victim remains powerless and/or helpless (though “helpless” is an illusion, because we always have a choice, as we will discuss in more detail later when we study the Twilight archetypes elsewhere on this site).

      The prostitute archetype teaches us to manage our soul’s integrity through lessons of what we are willing to negotiate or compromise for the sake of comfort or security, whether financial, emotional, etc. Staying in an abusive marriage for the sake of having a roof over our head is an example of our “dance” with the prostitute archetype. So, too, is staying in a job that sucks the life out of us in exchange for a big paycheck. Paying the bills is important, and so is survival security, but there is a difference between choosing to stay in a situation because we are HONEST about our prostitute archetype (and therefore it does not “cost” us anything emotionally or spiritually), versus pretending that we are not engaging the prostitute and turning a blind eye to the negotiations we agree to accept every day. The shadow prostitute makes excuses for his/her lifestyle and choices, but the empowered prostitute “owns” his/her decisions and refuses to give away his/her power in any particular dynamic and circumstance. Again, like the child and the victim, the prostitute is one of the survival archetypes, and it teaches us to develop self-esteem and to take back our power so that we engage ourselves and our world without fear and with soul-integrity.

      The saboteur archetype teaches us to have soul-stamina, to see things through to the finish, and to have devotion for our spiritual journey no matter how difficult or unappealing it may be from time to time. The shadow saboteur directs our attention when we know we should not order French fries and we do it anyway because we have had a hard day and we think we “deserve” a treat. The shadow saboteur gives us permission to stay in bed when we know we should get up and exercise because we can start our fitness program “tomorrow.” The shadow saboteur tells us that great idea we had last week – the one we got all fired up about and decided to pursue as a new career path – is stupid and impractical and will only subject us to ridicule from our friends. (Can’t we ALL relate to one, or all, of those precise examples in some form or fashion?!) Examples of the saboteur are literally endless, but the light aspect of the saboteur teaches us what it feels like to follow through, to say YES to our higher choices and to feel GOOD about making progress without regard for what our ego wants (including those French fries).

      The child, victim, prostitute, and saboteur are the four survival archetypes that we all share, but we also have eight other archetypes that we individually manifest in unique combinations to complement our tapestry as a whole. I have the addict archetype, you may have the priest; I have the artist archetype, you may have the martyr. I have the teacher archetype, you may have the engineer. We are all born with unique combinations to round out our core twelve archetypes, and they are all equally positive, equally valuable, and equally worthy as teachers and guides once we learn to recognize them and once we learn to work with their full range of talents and gifts.

      Thanks again for your comment. I welcome any other questions or feedback since we’ve covered a lot of territory in a small amount of space :)

  2. Gwen Yarbrough says:

    Hello Jennie…Kim O’Neil just emailed me about this link and I can’t stop reading it!! It is fascinating and so well written that is easy to read and understand….
    Thank you for sharing this gift of “knowledge”! I was not at all understanding of what a archetype was until now….

    Thank You …with Love and Gratitude
    Gwen Yarbrough

    • Dear Gwen,

      Your feedback is so incredibly kind — I’m truly touched and humbled by your post — thank you!!! Kim is also kind to have shared my site with her readers and clients, so a big shout-out to her, too!

      It means a lot to me that you found the site easy to read. I know the subjects covered here are anything but straightforward, so I’m sure some of the pages are less clear than others. Please feel free to ask questions (even if by e-mail if you don’t want to make public posts — several other people have done that, and I welcome the dialogue in any form that people find comfortable).

      Thanks again for your note, and I hope you continue exploring archetypes in your own world. This is a language well worth the time and effort, and it’s much easier (not easy, but eas-ier) navigating life and awareness when guidance doesn’t seem quite so far away.
      All my love — Jennie

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