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Why Ancient Archetypes Matter and How to Use Them

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Since I was a girl, I've been obsessed with myths and legends, the hero's journey and the fight between good and evil.

In college, I discovered Carl Jung and his work on both the collective unconscious and archetypes.

Recently, I dove back into learning more about archetypes because they play a huge role in our lives. They influence us in seen and unseen ways and I wanted clarity about which ones were influencing me and how I could both recognize and harness them.

This inspired me to read Caroline Myss' book, Sacred Contracts. In it, she shares that we all have 12 archetypes playing out in our lives. I think of them like guardians.

One of the things she claims, is that we ALL share four. Meaning that out of the 12 we all have, each of us has the exact same four, (the other eight could be any of a list of over a hundred.)

These four are: the child, the victim, the prostitute and the saboteur.

You may be wondering, what exactly is an archetype?

An archetype can be thought of as a prototype, a model or the original on which others things are built or influenced.

Carl Jung popularized the concept of archetype in his book, The Structure of the Psyche. He describes archetypes as being universal models of people, ways of being/acting (personality). He believed that these archetypes inhabit our dreams and, what he called, the collective unconscious.

Archetypes constitute the structure of the collective unconscious - they are psychic innate dispositions to experience and represent basic human behavior and situations. Thus mother-child relationship is governed by the mother archetype. Father-child - by the father archetype.

We all share this collective unconscious. Meaning that everyone, regardless of nationality, race, creed or ethnicity, tap into this universal energy and are influenced by the same archetypes.

Have you ever seen tarot cards?

Many of the symbols on them are archetypes. Think about: the king, queen, prince, princess, magician (sorcerer/wise woman), hermit, seeker (wanderer), lover, gambler, midas/miser, monk, mother, father, etc.

How do archetypes show up in your life?

What Jung advocated and people who read Tarot or are intuitive healers (like Caroline Myss) say, is that these guides influence our lives. They motivate and/or affect how we respond in situations.

As Myss says, "Archetypes are your energy guides to your highest potential."

This is why I wanted to understand them more.

Here's a description of the four we all share in detail:

1. Child

Of course we all share the child. Why? Because we've all been one. It's part of the human experience. According to Myss, there are different ways the child shows up.

  • Wounded, abandoned, neglected, orphaned, dependent - Is what happened to you as a child still playing a role in your life? Did it scar you? Are you still needy or expecting to be taken care of?
  • Innocent / magical /nature / divine - This is the purity of a child. How they see that anything is possible and are open to the magic of the world. When you can tap into this, you tap into the pure creativity available.

Our journey to health and adulthood is to overcome dependence and woundedness and move to independence, openness and channeling that creativity.

Moving beyond the wounded/abandoned child allows you to connect in a healthy way with your own innocence.

2. Victim

We all know what a victim is and have all felt like one in our lives. We feel like victims when we have no power or control. As we emerge into adulthood, we can shed the victim by creating healthy boundaries and by asserting our own power.

We do this by standing up for ourselves, speaking our truth, living our passion, etc. How you see yourself and your relationship with the victim archetype, is, according to Myss, a dive into self esteem.

3. Prostitute

I love how Myss describes this. Don't think about it how we normally define the word. Instead, think about it as the place or times you compromise your values or sell out.

A really easy way to see this is to tune in to the presidential primaries/election. What is a candidate willing to sacrifice (in terms of values or beliefs) for votes?

For the rest of us, the prostitute archetype comes into play when our basic survival is jeopardized. Makes sense, right?

The prostitute, according to Myss, is present to test our faith. For when we genuinely have faith, we are not for sale.

4. Saboteur

I cringed when I saw that I had this one. Ugh.

In the negative, it acts to disrupt plans, dreams, intentions. It is how we get in our own way. For me, it's about sometimes flaking out and not finishing things.

How does it show up for you?

In the positive, the sabotuer can be the impetus, the drive to push us forward, to help us listen to our own intuition.

Ultimately, the saboteur helps us see how we experience change in our lives and our willingness to deal with it.

Myss' book, Sacred Contracts, really opened my eyes to how these four work in my life. It also inspired me to dive in and determine what my other eight were and understand how they influence me.

I'm infinitely curious about life, how to live it and succeed. The more we move from the unconscious to the conscious, the more power we have to impact our lives positively and fulfill our deepest wished and desires.

Want to learn more? Here are some great sources for you about archetypes:

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