WHAT IS AN Archetype?

In recent postings we have been coming to see Brigid as an expression, an embodiment, of the Sacred feminine, an archetype of those energies, qualities that we associate with the womanly face of the divine. But what is an archetype and how might our relationship with one or more both enhance and enchant our lives? How might they also work with us and through us towards the healing of life around our suffering planet? Jean Houston’s luminous writings on Archetypes provide answers to both these questions.  

Jean Houston

THE NATURE OF ARCHETYPES

I have had hundreds of research subjects in altered states of consciousness and many thousands of participants in my seminars describe adventures of the soul so grand, so mythic, and yet so redolent of universal themes, that I can readily testify to the existence of a collective pool of myth and archetype residing in each human being as part of his or her natural equipment.

This joining of local life to great life is a central experience of what I call “sacred psychology.” It differs from ordinary psychology in that it provides ways of moving from outmoded existence to an amplified life that is at once more cherished and more cherishing. It requires that we undertake the extraordinary task of dying to our current, local selves and of being reborn to our eternal selves. When we descend into the forgotten knowings of earlier or deeper phases of our existence, we often find hidden potentials, the unfulfilled and unfinished seedings of what we still contain, which myth often disguises as secret helpers or mighty talismans.

Our ancestors saw them in the heavens, prayed to them as Mother Earth, Father Ocean, Sister Wind

Myths have such power because they are full of archetypes. Archetypes are many things–primal forms, codings of the deep unconscious, constellations of psychic energy, patterns of relationship. Our ancestors saw them in the heavens, prayed to them as Mother Earth, Father Ocean, Sister Wind. They were the great relatives from whom we derived, and they gave us not only our existence, but also prompted our stories, elicited our moral order. Later, they became personified in mythic characters and their stories–the contending brothers, the holy child, the search for the beloved, the heroic journey.

archetypes give us…the gossamer bridge that joins spirit with nature mind with body, and self with the… universe

As major organs of the psyche, archetypes give us our essential connections, and without them we would lose the gossamer bridge that joins spirit with nature, mind with body, and self with the metabody of the universe. Archetypes are organs of Essence, the cosmic blueprints of How It All Works.

Because they contain so much, archetypes bewilder analysis and perhaps can only be known by direct experience. Thus, in the journey of transformation, as we participate in these symbolic dramas, we actively engage in archetypal existence. For not only do we form a powerful sense of identity with the archetypal character, but this mythic being becomes an aspect of ourselves writ large, and symbolic happenings appear with undisguised relevance, not only for our own lives and problems, but for the remaking of society as well.

Working with myth and archetype, we discover that we are characters in the drama of the Anima Mundi, the Soul of the World. In this discovery we push the boundaries of our own human story and gain the courage to live mythically ourselves and to help heal our world.

A psychology with a mythic or sacred base demands that we have the courage both to release old toxicities and diminishments and to gain access to our inner storehouse of capacities and use them to prepare ourselves for the greater agenda–becoming an instrument through which the source may play its great music. Then, like the hero or heroine of myth, we may, regardless of our circumstances, become an inspiration for helping culture and consciousness move towards its next level of possibility.

this dream demands that we live out of our true essence

 At this we startle, we shake. The scope of this dream demands that we live out of our true essence, which is always too large for our local contracted consciousness to contain. I find that it requires many mythic adventures of the soul to reloom body and mind. But such is necessary if we are to return to everyday life with knowledge gained in the depths that can be put to use to redeem the “unread vision of the higher dream” inherent in both self and society.  

Archetypes are shared constructs. We might think of them as greater Presences, which stand behind and inform the personal images of many individuals.

such timeless beings ask…to be regrown

Sometimes the archetypes manifest in their archaic forms as gods or goddesses or as legendary heroes or heroines of earlier cultures, but always such timeless beings ask to be seen in new and fresh ways–they ask to be regrown. Whenever they move into our awareness, both personally and collectively, archetypes and the old and new stories that they bring with them announce a time of change and deepening. I deeply believe that such is happening all over the globe. Because I travel so much, I have occasion to witness firsthand the changing of the archetypes as society changes.

as we grow the “gods”, the “gods” grow us


The individuation of the numinous finds a new turn as people everywhere are learning to live their larger stories and tap into the necessary spiritual DNA to become archetypal. A Buddhist statement expresses wonderfully well what it means to live archetypally. In this state, one sees all beings as Buddha, hears all sounds as mantra, and knows all places as nirvana. To me this means that  moment has its magic, every action however small is stellar in its consequences (“stir a flower and bestir a star”), and each word that one speaks is creation.


The enhancement goes both ways, for as we grow the “gods”, the “gods” grow us.
How do we grow these so-called gods? Perhaps it is by pursuing a conscious partnership with an archetype or psychospiritual power that has the same kinds of qualities as ourselves, as Athena was the natural partner of Odysseus. In living and working with these mutual qualities as gracefully as one can, humans help to individuate and extend the essence of the archetype in the world. The archetypes do not need to be met as old dependencies. They need to be met as co-partners.

Image of the Goddess Athena by Susan Seddon Boulet

What I am calling “Athena” may be the emerging archetypal orchestrator of my own inner crew of selves. Thus I do not become the archetype; rather, I allow her a more central role in my psychic development. As I experience it, this is neither inflation nor possession; it is a partnership that instructs, guides, inspires, as well as shedding light on the meaning and message of hard times– though without making them go away.

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