The 12 Archetypes
For thousands of years people gathered around a bonfire under the stars and told stories. And the key word here really is stars. Interestingly, early civilizations across the globe have similar myths that share identifiable characters. These narrative art-forms have always featured archetypes or characters built on a set of traits that are specific and distinguishable.
the oldest and most popular myth
Experts accept the hunter’s myth as the oldest and most popular myth across the globe. In fact, astronomers say global myths about ‘seven sisters’ stars may reach back 100,000 years. And much like the story of the great flood, it is deeply connected to the meaning we projected onto certain stars. If like me, you stumbled upon astrology because you wanted to become a better writer. Hi – Welcome!
In the northern sky in December is a beautiful cluster of stars known as the Pleiades, or the “seven sisters. In Greek mythology, the Pleiades were the seven daughters of the Titan Atlas. He was forced to hold up the sky for eternity, and was therefore unable to protect his daughters. To save the sisters from being raped by the hunter Orion, Zeus transformed them into stars. But the story says one sister fell in love with a mortal and went into hiding, which is why we only see six stars.
In many Australian Aboriginal cultures, the Pleiades are a group of young girls, and are often associated with sacred women’s ceremonies and stories. The Pleiades are also important as an element of Aboriginal calendars and astronomy, and for several groups their first rising at dawn marks the start of winter.
Close to the Seven Sisters in the sky is the constellation of Orion, which is often called “the saucepan” in Australia. In Greek mythology Orion is a hunter. This constellation is also often a hunter in Aboriginal cultures, or a group of lusty young men.
Some archetypal characters are well known like the hero and the villain, while others, such as the sage, are a lot more subtle and often escape the public’s attention. While some archetypes lend themselves most readily to protagonists or villains, it’s worth noting that any of these archetypes can apply to good, bad, major, or minor characters.
Jung is widely credited (and criticized) for the revival of the archetypes and its introduction to psychology. Of course, the modern science can only hope to one day comprehend the mind. But if you really wanted to attend a lesson on the human psyche, you should watch a play, visit an art gallery, or go to the nearest live music event. The arts are the best way into the human mind.
The arts are essentially the sum of the collective unconscious.
The classical version of the hero’s journey was known as an “epic,” often written in poetic form, like Homer’s Odyssey. The heroes and villains of today’s books and films may be based on the same heroic and villainous archetypes found in fairy tales, the novels of Charles Dickens, J.K. Rowling and of course J.R.R. Tolkien.
Joseph Campbell popularized the idea of character archetypes in literature, in addition to articulating the trope of “the hero’s journey and its various stages”. His book The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949), applied the ideas of thinkers like Sir James George Frazer and Carl Jung, combining them with his own to distill eight character archetypes found throughout the hero’s journey: Hero, Mentor, Ally, Herald, Trickster, Shapeshifter, Guardian and Shadow.
The hero’s journey
The hero’s journey can be boiled down to three essential stages:
- 1. The departure. The hero leaves the familiar world behind.
- 2. The initiation. The hero learns to navigate the unfamiliar world.
- 3. The return. The hero returns to the familiar world.
Campbell’s ideas resonated with Hollywood filmmakers, like George Lucas, who was vocal about crafting the arc of Star Wars’ Luke Skywalker around the story beats of the hero’s journey. This made Luke more of a “classical” character, since Campbell’s theory came out of extensive study of classical literature and theater.
What Is an Archetype?
An archetype is a collection of keywords, an emotion, character type, or event that is notably recurrent across the human experience. In the arts, an archetype creates an immediate sense of familiarity, allowing an audience member to relate to an event or character without having to necessarily ponder why they relate. Thanks to our instincts and life experiences, we’re able to recognize archetypes without any need for explanation.
12 Literary Archetypes to Use in Your Writing
1. The Lover
The romantic lead who’s guided by the heart.
- 1. Strengths: humanism, passion, conviction
- 2. Weaknesses: naivete, irrationality
- 3. Lover Archetype Examples: Romeo and Juliet (Romeo and Juliet), Noah Calhoun (The Notebook), Scarlett O’Hara (Gone With the Wind), Belle (Beauty and the Beast)
2. The Hero
The protagonist who rises to meet a challenge and saves the day.
- 1. Strengths: courage, perseverance, honor
- 2. Weaknesses: overconfidence, hubris
- 3. Hero Archetype Examples: Achilles (The Iliad), Luke Skywalker (Star Wars), Wonder Woman (Wonder Woman), Harry Potter (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)
3. The Magician
A powerful figure who has harnessed the ways of the universe to achieve key goals.
- 1. Strengths: omniscience, omnipotence, discipline
- 2. Weaknesses: corruptibility, arrogance
- 3. Magician Archetype Examples: Prospero (The Tempest), Gandalf (The Lord of the Rings), Morpheus (The Matrix), Darth Vader (Star Wars)
4. The Outlaw
The rebel who won’t abide by society’s demands.
- 1. Strengths: independent thinking, virtue, owes no favors
- 2. Weaknesses: self-involved, potentially criminal
- 3. Outlaw Archetype Examples: Han Solo (Star Wars), Dean Moriarty (On the Road), Humbert Humbert (Lolita), Batman (The Dark Knight)
5. The Explorer
A character naturally driven to push the boundaries of the status quo and explore the unknown.
- 1. Strengths: curious, driven, motivated by self-improvement
- 2. Weaknesses: restless, unreliable, never satisfied
- 3. Explorer Archetype Examples: Odysseus (The Odyssey), Sal Paradise (On the Road), Huckleberry Finn (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes)
6. The Sage
A wise figure with knowledge for those who inquire. The mother figure or mentor is often based on this archetype.
- 1. Strengths: wisdom, experience, insight
- 2. Weaknesses: cautious, hesitant to actually join the action
- 3. Famous sages: Athena (The Odyssey), Obi-Wan Kenobi (Star Wars), Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs), The Oracle (The Matrix)
7. The Innocent
A morally pure character, often a child, whose only intentions are good.
- 1. Strengths: morality, kindness, sincerity
- 2. Weaknesses: vulnerable, naive, rarely skilled
- 3. Innocent Archetype Examples: Tiny Tim (A Christmas Carol), Lennie Small (Of Mice and Men), Cio-Cio-san (Madame Butterfly), Buddy the Elf (Elf)
8. The Creator
A motivated visionary who creates art or structures during the narrative.
- 1. Strengths: creativity, willpower, conviction
- 2. Weaknesses: self-involvement, single-mindedness, lack of practical skills
- 3. Creator Archetype Examples: Zeus (The Iliad), Dr. Emmett Brown (Back to the Future), Dr. Moreau (The Island of Dr. Moreau), Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Frankenstein)
9. The Ruler
A character with legal or emotional power over others.
- 1. Strengths: omnipotence, status, resources
- 2. Weaknesses: aloofness, disliked by others, out of touch
- 3. Ruler Archetype Examples: Creon (Oedipus Rex), King Lear (King Lear), Aunt Sally (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), Tony Soprano (The Sopranos)
10. The Caregiver
A character who continually supports others and makes sacrifices on their behalf.
- 1. Strengths: honorable, selfless, loyal
- 2. Weaknesses: lacking personal ambition or leadership
- 3. Caregiver Archetype Examples: Dolly Oblonsky (Anna Karenina), Calpurnia (To Kill a Mockingbird), Samwell Tarly (The Game of Thrones series), Mary Poppins (Mary Poppins)
11. The Everyman
A relatable character who feels recognizable from daily life.
- 1. Strengths: grounded, salt-of-the-earth, relatable
- 2. Weaknesses: lacking special powers, often unprepared for what’s to come
- 3. Everyman Archetype Examples: Bilbo Baggins (The Hobbit), Leopold Bloom (Ulysses), Leslie Knope (Parks & Recreation), Winston Smith (1984)
12. The Jester
A funny character or trickster who provides comic relief, but may also speak important truths.
- 1. Strengths: funny, disarming, insightful
- 2. Weaknesses: can be obnoxious and superficial
- 3. Jester Archetype Examples: Sir John Falstaff (Henry V), King Lear’s Fool (King Lear), Frank and Estelle Costanza (Seinfeld), R2D2 and C-3PO (Star Wars)
What’s the Difference Between Archetypes, Stereotypes, Stock Characters, and Clichés?
Archetype – the original pattern or model from which copies are made; Stereotype – a preconceived and oversimplified idea of the characteristics which typify a person, situation, etc.; an attitude based on such a preconception, not always based on the truth.
Although there is overlap among archetypes, stereotypes, stock characters, and clichés, the words are not synonyms. As a general rule, common archetypes and stock characters provide guidelines for characterization, while stereotypes and clichés are negative labels, used to describe bad writing or shallow thinking.
- 1. A stereotype is an oversimplified notion or characterization, not entirely based on facts. Some stereotypes are negative (“the dumb blonde”), others are positive (“the innocent child”), but all are considered overly simplistic and undesirable in literature.
- 2. A cliché is an idea, event, or detail that’s used so repeatedly in literature or film that used that it becomes predictable and even boring. An example of a cliché might include the TV firefighter haunted by the memory of the one damsel in distress that he couldn’t save. An archetype, by contrast, does not imply predictability or intellectual laziness. Most of the time, it suggests that a character or situation will speak to a universal truth. Archetypes will by definition be familiar, but they aren’t so predictable that we already know what will happen in their story.
- 3. A stock character is somewhere between an archetype and a stereotype: a character who intentionally fits a narrow, predictable description. Well-selected stock characters (e.g., a wise old man or a puffed-up military officer) can serve as an effective foil for a main character, particularly in comedy, but they aren’t compelling as protagonists. Stock characters originate classic European tradition of commedia dell’arte, in which actors would wear masks and perform over-the-top versions of stock characters.
Jung’s (1947, 1948) ideas have not been as popular as Freud’s. This might be because he did not write for the layman and as such his ideas were not a greatly disseminated as Freud’s. It may also be because his ideas were a little more mystical and obscure, and less clearly explained.
On the whole modern psychology has not viewed Jung’s theory of archetypes kindly. Ernest Jones (Freud’s biographer) tells that Jung “descended into a pseudo-philosophy out of which he never emerged” and to many his ideas look more like New Age mystical speculation than a scientific contribution to psychology.
However, while Jung’s research into ancient myths and legends, his interest in astrology and fascination with Eastern religion can be seen in that light, it is also worth remembering that the images he was writing about have, as a matter of historical fact, exerted an enduring hold on the human mind.
Furthermore, Jung himself argues that the constant recurrence of symbols from mythology in personal therapy and in the fantasies of psychotics support the idea of an innate collective cultural residue. In line with evolutionary theory it may be that Jung’s archetypes reflect predispositions that once had survival value.
In 1933, during a seminar, Jung spoke about Tarot (according to Visions: Notes of the Seminar given in 1930—1934), and he stated that these cards are the predecessors of the sets we use to gamble, where red and black represent two opposites, and the division of four —spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs— also corresponds to the symbolism of individualization. They are psychological images, symbols we play with, in the same manner that the unconscious seems to play with its contents. They are combined in a certain way, and its different combinations correspond to a playful development of humankind’s history.
One of the greatest contributions Jung made to psychology was tracing the parallels between mental processes and alchemical processes that seek to transform (symbolically) matter into gold. It was in this same manner that the Swiss perceived the Tarot as an alchemical game:
Now in the Tarot there is a hermaphroditic figure called the diable [the Devil card]. That would be in alchemy the gold. In other words, such an attempt as the union of opposites appears to the Christian mentality as devilish, something evil which is not allowed, something belonging to black magic.”
If one wants to form a picture of the symbolic process, the series of pictures found in alchemy are good examples. . . . It also seems as if the set of pictures in the Tarot cards were distantly descended from the archetypes of transformation, a view that has been confirmed for me in a very enlightening lecture by professor [Rudolph] Bernoulli. The symbolic process is an experience in images and of images. Its development usually shows an enantiodromian* structure like the text of the I Ching, and so presents a rhythm of negative and positive, loss and gain, dark and light.
Jung proposed that human responses to archetypes are similar to instinctual responses in animals. One criticism of Jung is that there is no evidence that archetypes are biologically based or similar to animal instincts (Roesler, 2012).
Rather than being seen as purely biological, more recent research suggests that archetypes emerge directly from our experiences and are reflections of linguistic or cultural characteristics (Young-Eisendrath, 1995).
However, Jung’s work has also contributed to mainstream psychology in at least one significant respect. He was the first to distinguish the two major attitudes or orientations of personality – extroversion and introversion (Jung, 1923). He also identified four basic functions (thinking, feeling, sensing, and intuiting) which in a cross-classification yield eight pure personality types.
Psychologists like Hans Eysenck and Raymond Cattell have subsequently built upon this. As well as being a cultural icon for generations of psychology undergraduates Jung, therefore, put forward ideas which were important to the development of modern personality theory.
Jung vs Freud
Theory of the Libido –
Jung (1948) disagreed with Freud regarding the role of sexuality. He believed the libido was not just sexual energy, but instead generalized psychic energy.
For Jung, the purpose of psychic energy was to motivate the individual in a number of important ways, including spiritually, intellectually, and creatively. It was also an individual’s motivational source for seeking pleasure and reducing conflict
The Collective Unconscious
However, by far the most important difference between Jung and Freud is Jung’s notion of the collective (or transpersonal) unconscious. This is his most original and controversial contribution to personality theory.
The collective unconscious is a universal version of the personal unconscious, holding mental patterns, or memory traces, which are shared with other members of human species (Jung, 1928). These ancestral memories, which Jung called archetypes, are represented by universal themes in various cultures, as expressed through literature, art, and dreams.
‘The form of the world into which [a person] is born is already inborn in him, as a virtual image’ (Jung, 1953, p. 188).
According to Jung, the human mind has innate characteristics “imprinted” on it as a result of evolution. These universal predispositions stem from our ancestral past. Fear of the dark, or of snakes and spiders might be examples, and it is interesting that this idea has recently been revived in the theory of prepared conditioning (Seligman, 1971).
However, more important than isolated tendencies are those aspects of the collective unconscious that have developed into separate sub-systems of the personality. Jung (1947) called these ancestral memories and images archetypes.
That was certainly Jung’s belief and in his book “The Undiscovered Self” he argued that many of the problems of modern life are caused by “man’s progressive alienation from his instinctual foundation.” One aspect of this is his views on the significance of the anima and the animus.
Jung argues that these archetypes are products of the collective experience of men and women living together. However, in modern Western civilization men are discouraged from living their feminine side and women from expressing masculine tendencies. For Jung, the result was that the full psychological development both sexes was undermined.
Together with the prevailing patriarchal culture of Western civilization this has led to the devaluation of feminine qualities altogether, and the predominance of the persona (the mask) has elevated insincerity to a way of life which goes unquestioned by millions in their everyday life.
Jung, C. G. (1921). Psychological types. The collected works of CG Jung, Vol. 6 Bollingen Series XX.
Jung, C. G. (1923). On The Relation Of Analytical Psychology To Poetic Art 1. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 3(3), 213-231.
Jung, C. G. (1928). Contributions to analytical psychology. New York: Harcourt Brace
Jung, C. G. (1933). Modern man in search of his soul.
Jung, C. G. (1947). On the Nature of the Psyche. London: Ark Paperbacks.
Jung, C. G. (1948). The phenomenology of the spirit in fairy tales. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, 9(Part 1), 207-254.
Jung, C. G. (1953). Collected works. Vol. 12. Psychology and alchemy.
Roesler, C. (2012). Are archetypes transmitted more by culture than biology? Questions arising from conceptualizations of the archetype. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 57(2), 223-246.
Seligman, M. E. P. (1971). Preparedness and phobias. Behavior Therapy, 2(3), 307-20.
Young-Eisendrath, P. (1995). Struggling with jung: The value of uncertainty. Psychological Perspectives, 31(1), 46-54.
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