Since Carl Jung first popularized the idea of psychological archetypes around 1919, various authors have sought to interpret and expand on the idea. Thus far, my favorite of these is Carol S. Pearson. I discovered her fantastic book – Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes to Help us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World – only a few months ago, but her ideas have already had a big impact.
For those who are unfamiliar with the term “archetype,” let me step back for a moment to define it. An archetype is a universally understood concept, image, or figure. It will appear in some form in every culture, and has some meaning (whether positive for negative) to every person.
Pearson focuses on several key archetypes: the Innocent, Orphan, Warrior, Caregiver, Seeker, Lover, Destroyer, Creator, Rule, Magician, Sage, and Fool. I love that she identifies only twelve. It feels like a large enough number to cover the wide range of the human experience, but small enough that I can keep track of them all. You certainly could find additional archetypes that do not fit into her framework, but I truly believe that most of them could be considered as subcategories within one of her twelve.
Pearson organizes her twelve archetypes into a framework outlining the typical journey through life, which is a nice touch. I particularly like when she associates a different pair of archetypes with each of six life stages, and asks you to think about which one was dominant at the time for yourself and how that might have influenced you. It’s thought provoking stuff. But I also found it to be a trifle bit limiting. While she acknowledges that fact that different archetypes than those specific to your life stage can be active that slips through the textual cracks sometimes, leading to the sense that the archetypes are a tower of bricks, each one of which must be placed on top of the correct other, rather than a box full of crayons, any one of which is available at any time. I don’t think this was her intention, but it does come across that way sometimes.
Pearson emphasizes the fact that every one of those archetypes is available to us, even though only a handful may be active in our lives at any given time. She advises us to be careful not to limit ourselves to those that are easiest for us, however, as all twelve are necessary to experience everything that life has to offer. It can be easy to slip into the trap of identifying with only a few and ignoring the rest, but to so would be limiting. You may have a favorite color, but that’s no excuse not to use every crayon in the box, at least some of time!
Awakening the Heroes Within is fascinating, but not a light read. It will make you think and it will force you to reflect upon your life. This is invaluable, but be forewarned before you pick up this book – it will cause you to confront things that you did not necessarily want to acknowledge about yourself. This knowledge is beneficial, but not always fun.
For me, reading the chapter on the Warrior was particularly difficult, and particularly eye opening. It has led me to embark upon a journey to access and aid my inner warrior, which I will share with you all once it is completed! But I have faith that, while it may not be an easy task, it will be immeasurably worthwhile.
For those of us who have struggled with depression, this sort of self-reflection is very important. Sometimes this means confronting the ways in which we have been holding ourselves back. It may not be fun, but the more we understand ourselves, the more we can do about it in order to build the richest, most meaningful life possible.
* * * * *
I have drawn on this book somewhat for my upcoming program, Playing in the Light. Of the six archetypes we will be working with there, two are direct from this book, and one is deeply inspired by it. (Note: I did mean what I said above about any archetype being able to fit within her set of twelve, assuming that you allow sub-types. The other three from my program fall into that category). Speaking of which, there are only two weeks left to register!