What is an Archetype?
An archetype is a principle characteristic that, as human beings, we experience within ourselves, encounter in others, or externally in the experience of life.
It was first used in English in the 1540’s and comes from the greek word arkhetupon through the latin translation of arkhetupos.
arkhe – “original”
typos – “model, pattern, mould.”
Formal Definition (according to wikipedia)
The concept of an archetype is found in areas relating to behaviour, modern psychological theory, and literary analysis. An archetype can be:
- a statement, pattern of behaviour, or prototype which other statements, patterns of behaviour, and objects copy or emulate;
- a Platonic philosophical idea referring to pure forms which embody the fundamental characteristics of a thing;
- a collectively-inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, that is universally present in individual psyches, as in Jungian psychology;
- or a constantly recurring symbol or motif in literature, painting, or mythology
Plato’s Theory of Forms
Taking the example of the form of beauty: many things can be beautiful; they possess a quality which we recognise as such, but our perception of beauty varies depending on the individual observing. Beauty then is a concept that we all understand even if what we recognise in the physical world does not quite match the concept or ‘form’.
Founder of analytical psychology, his work in psychiatry has shaped modern understanding of the human mind and our search for individuation. He developed the concept of archetypes as the language of the unconscious which with practice we can all learn to understand. His work was primarily in Dream Analysis.
As a jungian analyst, Robert A Johnson has written many books on the analysis of ancient myths including the books: We – understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love; and Inner Work: Using Dreams and Active Imagination for Personal Growth.
Another jungian analyst who has used his understanding of mythology and archetypes to help other writers develop their characters and stories. He developed the Mythic Journey Structure and draws heavily on Joseph Campbell’s work.
How can Archetypes be used in writing and why would we want to?
Taping into the unconscious world of symbols gives meaning and catharsis to reading a story. Readers read to find something deep within themselves that they don’t consciously already know. Symbology is particularly prevalent in Fantasy and Science Fiction Genres. Symbols are powerful and grip us though we may not know why or understand the symbol. Examples:
The Hero: Is a powerful symbol for being a character that is good who battles the forces of evil to restore harmony, justice and balance to the world. Examples are Hercules, D’artagnan, Superman.
The Hero’s Journey: Is a powerful story because if you take out the fantastical elements and replace the monsters with psychological elements, it is really detailing the inner battle we as humans fight throughout our lives with our waring thoughts, desires, and aspirations.
There are literally hundreds of archetypes, some of which are very similar, which means that you must chose the ones that mean something to you and work with those.
Here are a couple of references to look up if you’d like to learn more: