Archetypes & Psychology

Human beings love stories. Our earliest recorded history demonstrates that we are indeed,  story-telling creatures. We use stories to make sense of our lives, to build a cohesive identity, and to create a meaningful, purposeful existence.

Archetypes are the building blocks of the stories we tell ourselves about the world, each other, and ourselves. Identifying archetypes at play within life’s stories, can help us better understand this world and our personal life trajectories in order to gain insight on how to best repair broken plot lines and move forward toward living a more fulfilling life.

In this section I explain what archetypes are, I then look at how archetypes are related to psychology and the relevance between archetypes, psychology and astrology, and finally I look at how the Lilith archetype fits into this discussion.

What are Archetypes?

Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) is a well known mythologist and writer who wrote about archetypes and the ways in which they continuously re-appear in myth and human experience. He observed that  throughout mythic stories worldwide, both new and old, the same types of narratives, themes, characters, and symbolism would be repeated again and again with a different cultural disguise (or “mask” as he would call it).

He is likely most well-known for his development and analysis of the archetypal hero’s journey. It goes something like this: Hero-to-be is living in his status-quo ordinary world when he receives a call to adventure – an invitation or a challenge. Before he starts on his journey, he receives some sort of special assistance or advice to protect and guide him on his journey. The hero leaves his ordinary life and plunges into a world full of challenges, temptations, great suffering and crisis. At some point (the climax of the story) the hero faces his greatest challenge which almost does him in… but! He gets back up and perseveres in order to obtain his goal. He overcomes his challenges and returns to his ‘ordinary world’, no longer the same person – he is now transformed into a wise and resilient hero who can help others. 

How many times have you seen this narrative played out in myths, fiction, movies, and even in your own life? Joseph Campbell would argue that every example of this story may be dressed up and disguised in the cultural clothing relevant to its context, but that they all can be traced back to an original pattern – the archetype of the hero’s journey.

The dictionary definition describes an archetype as “the original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based; a model or first form; prototype.” Campbell would argue that the many particular examples of the hero’s journey are variants of the same basic structure and sequence.

This is a great 4-minute video by TED-Ed that clearly illustrates Joseph’s Campbell’s archetypal hero’s journey: 

There are archetypal narratives and themes (e.g., good vs. evil), but there are also archetypal characters. Psychologist Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) believed that there were 12 primary archetypal characters that played out in the stories of our lives, for example.  These included: The Explorer; The Rebel; The Lover; The Creator; The Sage, etc. These basic templates may be layered and dressed up in the subtleties of our culture and context (and there maybe more than one archetype at play within a person’s personality and behavior), but Jung would argue that the manifestations of these archetypes retain their original essence and motivations.

For some great examples of how various archetypes show up in the entertainment industry (e.g. films, TV shows) and within different myths and philosophies, check out this amazing PDF overview of archetypes.

So if archetypes appear as universal and timeless symbols and themes across cultures and throughout history, where do the archetypes first originate from? And how can we intentionally access and work with these archetypes and symbols in productive ways?

Cue Carl Jung and the unconscious collective…

What do Archetypes have to do with Psychology? 

Carl Jung put forward the idea of a collective unconscious. He described this realm in the psyche as something that human beings are not consciously aware of, but that we all have access to; like an innate library of human instincts and archetypes that everyone gets a library card to upon the moment of their birth. So by claiming that each human inherits this latent and hidden layer of archetypes within their psyche, Jung brought the world of archetypes into the world of psychology.

Jung began his career as an admirer of Freud’s psychoanalytic approach, which argues that a person’s behavior is strongly influenced by unconscious thoughts and motivations acquired through forgotten and repressed early childhood experiences (usually sexual in nature). According to psychoanalytic approaches, it is through making this unconscious material conscious (through dream analysis, free association, etc.), that a patient could then gain insight into their behavior and create change in their life. Jung was deeply influenced by Freud and the idea of the unconscious mind influencing our behavior, but eventually had a falling out with Freud and veered away from psychoanalysis.

Jung founded ‘analytical psychology’ (also referred to as ‘Jungian analysis’), which is somewhat similar, but distinctly different from psychoanalysis, primarily because of Jung’s hypothesis about the collective unconscious; a reservoir of archetypal templates and motivations that extends far beyond Freudian early childhood experiences. However, Jung maintained Freudian theories within his analytical psychology by labeling forgotten childhood experiences, the ‘personal unconscious‘ – a layer that is sandwiched between the conscious thinking mind, and the collective unconscious. Both psychoanalysis and analytical psychology are included together under the umbrella term ‘depth psychology‘, because they both focus on the ‘human unconscious’ within their therapeutic approaches.

According to Jung, this wealth of archetypes within the collective unconscious can be accessed and navigated in order to help us grow, expand, and develop as human beings, and to support us in living a meaningful, balanced life (i.e., through the process of individuation and self-actualization). Whether you buy the idea of a literal collective unconscious or not, I believe there is a case to be made for the value of evoking archetypes within the realm of psychology. As I mentioned in the introduction, identifying archetypes at play within life’s stories, can help us better understand this world and our personal life trajectories in order to gain insight on how to best repair broken plot lines and move forward toward living a more fulfilling, more authentic life.

I want to mention one other relevant psychologist here – James Hillman (1926 – 2011). He studied at the C.G. Jung Institute and actually went on to become the school’s director after graduation. He founded archetypal psychology, which differs from Jung’s analytical psychology in the way that it priorities the journey of the soul, or psyche, rather than the ego’s development. Instead of individuation and self-actualization being the aim of human development, Hillman focuses on ‘soul-making’ through working with archetypes present in the imagination, fantasies, myths and metaphors.

Soul, is an ambiguous word with many associations. We speak of soulmates, immortal souls, soulful music, but how might we define soul? I have only just begun to dig into Hillman’s work so I am no expert, but in a general sense I think of soul as being the deepest, purest, immortal, spiritual essence of a human being; the part of ourselves that is most in touch with our personal and collective unconscious. Therefore, ‘soul-making’, as opposed to ego individuation, suggests a deeper, more internal and profound, rather than externally focused, process of development.

Michael J. Meade is an author and mythologist who has collaborated with James Hillman in the past, and they share similar views about the soul and the power of myth. He writes:

“One of the open secrets of life on earth is that the answer to life’s burning question has been inscribed in one’s soul all along. The soul is a kind of ancient vessel that holds the exact knowledge we seek and need to find our way in life. Each life is a pilgrimage intended to arrive at the centre of the pilgrim’s soul. From that vantage point, the issue is not whether we were able to choose the right god or the only way to live righteously; such notions fail to recognize the inborn intimacy each soul already has with the divine.” – Michael Meade

In our busy, hectic world, how do we access and tap into our soul’s wisdom? How do we learn to listen for the soul’s quiet voice in our lives? I believe that soul communicates through the body and the senses, emotions, art, symbolism, stories and archetypes. It is my belief that the soul does not reside in our brain’s frontal lobe – our rational conscious thinking brain. It does not respond well to logic, facts and practicalities. To listen to the soul, to speak to the soul, and to give the soul expression in our lives, we need to go beyond our traditional modes of communication.

What do Archetypes and Psychology have to do with Astrology?

In short, because astrology is an archetypal language of stories. Let me explain…

“Story is far older than the art and science of psychology, and will always be the elder in the equation no matter how much time passes. ” – Clarissa Estes (Jungian analyst)

I believe that delving into the metaphors of myths, of imaginative stories, is one powerful way we can make contact with the soul and our unconscious realms. Why? Because myths and metaphors activate our capacity to imagine and fantasize beyond our everyday existence. It creates a new space of possibility in our psyche where the soul’s voice can be heard. Clarissa Estes describes this in her beautiful, poetic way:

“Stories set the inner life into motion, and this is particularly important where the inner life is frightened, wedged, or cornered. Story greases the hoists and pulleys, it causes adrenaline to surge, shows us the way out, down, or up, and for our trouble, cuts for us fine wide doors in previously blank walls, openings that lead to the dreamland, that lead to love and learning, that lead us back to our own real lives as knowing wildish women.” 

“…it assists greatly if we understand stories as though we are inside them, rather than as though they are outside of us. We enter into a story through the door of inner hearing. The spoken story touches the auditory nerve, which runs across the floor of the skull into the brain stem just below the pons. There, the auditory impulses are relayed upward to consciousness or else, it is said, to the soul… depending on the attitude with which one listens. ” Clarissa Estes

Humans often to project and externalize archetypes because perhaps this helps us understand ourselves and our world better. Hitler for example, has become the ubiquitous projection of the archetype of pure evil. Sometimes we project an archetype so we do not have to address that energy within ourselves (e.g. “I cannot be truly evil, because Hitler was evil”), but externalizing and personifying archetypes can also help us learn how to embody certain characteristics. The Romans and Greeks externalized many archetypes as gods and goddesses who enacted their characteristics in myths; reflecting back to us both positive behavior to emulate, and negative behavior to avoid.

The most important celestial bodies in our solar system and beyond, are associated with myths – predominantly the stories of gods and goddesses found in ancient Greek and Roman mythology. For example, Mars is named after the Roman god of war and Venus is named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty. When interpreting a natal chart, many astrologers return to these myths to gain insight into certain planetary placements and their corresponding archetypes.

Carl Jung was fascinated by astrology and its associated archetypes. He observed:

“…the whole of mythology could be taken as a sort of projection of the collective unconscious. We can see this most clearly if we look at the heavenly constellations, whose originally chaotic forms are organized through the projection of images. This explains the influence of the stars as asserted by astrologers. These influences are nothing but unconscious, introspective perceptions of the collective unconscious.” – Carl Gustav Jung

One could say that within our natal chart these mythic archetypes enact their characteristics throughout our day-to-day lives. Interpreting an astrological natal or transit chart is a way of externalizing unconscious archetypes at play within us, so that we can work with them more effectively. 

Within archetypal astrology, planets are not simply static representations of personality traits, but they become active forces in our lives, each with their own motivations, needs and desires. Your astrological natal chart (a snapshot of the solar system at the time of your first breath) is like a theatre stage. According to astrology, the story and drama of your life is acted out upon this stage.

Astrology is thus a powerful tool for working with archetypes in our lives. An astrological natal chart can be utilized as if it were a mirror, blueprint, a map of a human soul. Therefore, astrology as an archetypal language is also a soul language.

Jung would sometimes refer to a patient’s astrological natal chart to gain further insight. For example, in a letter written to Hindu astrologer, B.V. Raman in 1947, Jung wrote:

“Since you want to know my opinion about astrology I can tell you that I’ve been interested in this particular activity of the human mind since more than 30 years. As I am a psychologist, I am chiefly interested in the particular light the horoscope [i.e., natal chart] sheds on certain complications in the character. In cases of difficult psychological diagnosis I usually get a horoscope in order to have a further point of view from an entirely different angle. I must say that I very often found that the astrological data elucidated certain points which I otherwise would have been unable to understand. From such experiences I formed the opinion that astrology is of particular interest to the psychologist, since it contains a sort of psychological experience which we call ‘projected’ – this means that we find the psychological facts as it were in the constellations.” (source)

Jung was criticized for his interest in astrology and his peers warned him that this could negatively impact his reputation as a scholar and psychologist.

Does astrology, as an archetypal and soul language, have a role to play within the realm of psychology? I can say that this is true for me within my own personal life. I have also met several psychologists who are avid astrology believers and students of astrology (although they don’t advertise this publicly), and there are many astrologers who practice what they call ‘astropsychology‘. They complement their astrology skills with training in counselling, social work, and psychology.

So how does the Lilith Archetype fit into the Psychological Framework you’ve Discussed Above?

I believe Clarissa Pinkola Estes, renown poet and Jungian analyst, has been the most effective at bringing the Lilith archetype to life in writing. First published in 1992, her book Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype sold over 2 million copies and spent two years on the New York Times Bestseller list. This is a testament to the powerful resonance of the Lilith archetype, or in Estes’ words – the Wild Woman archetype.

You can read more about my interpretation of the Lilith/wild woman archetype and where the archetype exists in your astrological chart in the About Lilith Rebellion section of this website, but here, I am going to rely on Estes again and use her work as an example of how to apply the Lilith/Wild Woman archetype in psychology and invoke her presence into our lives.

[**Please note, archetypes are often gendered and in astrology, most of the archetypal myths associated with celestial bodies are gendered. However, everyone, people of all gender identification, have the entire solar system represented in their chart. The Wild Woman archetype is a feminine energy that is available to everyone, regardless of gender, but descriptions of this energy are expressed as her/she/woman. Furthermore, it seems Estes worked primarily with women-identifying persons.**]

Estes describes her approach when working with clients:

“Sometimes I am asked to tell what I do in my consulting room to help women return to their wilding natures. I place substantial emphasis on clinical and developmental psychology, and I use the simplest and most accessible ingredient for healing – stories.”

“…Stories are medicine. I have been taken with stories since I heard my first. They have such power; they do not require that we do, be, or act anything – we need only listen. The remedies for repair or reclamation of any lost psychic drive are contained in stories. Stories engender the excitement, sadness, questions, longings, and understandings that spontaneously bring the archetype, in this case the Wild Woman, back to the surface. Stories are embedded with instructions which guide us about the complexities of life. Stories enable us to understand the need for and the ways to raise a submerged archetype.

“….To try to diagram [the Wild Woman], to draw boxes around her psychic life, would be contrary to her spirit. To know her is an ongoing process, a lifelong process, and that is why this work is an ongoing work, a lifelong work…”

“…We elicit the wildish Self through specific questions, and through examine tales, legends, and mythology. Most times we are able, over time, to find the guiding myth or fairy tale that contains all the instruction a woman needs for her current psychic development. These stories comprise a woman’s soul drama. It is like a play with stage instructions, characterization, and props.”

 – Clarissa Estes

 

The myth of Lilith, is a Wild Woman story, a story of running with the wolves. I believe Lilith, the Wild Woman archetype, has value for all genders. I believe we suffer, when this instinctual and powerful archetype is not activated in our lives, or is out of balance. I believe that a soulful embodiment of a healthy Wild Woman Lilith story can allow us to experience greater wholeness and freedom in life.

Astrology is an tool that you can use to point you in the direction of your personal Lilith story. Is Lilith healthy in your life? Is she balanced? Is she oppressed? Is she ignored? Astrology may hold a key to unlocking and activating this submerged archetype in your life.

Resources for further learning:

Online articles: 

Books: 

(Image credit: Hero’s journey, by User Slashme)

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