To understand what an archetype is I first want to explain the structure of the psyche, real simple. This is not hard science so it’s important to understand that when describing the psyche and any invisible structure beyond the five sense, we have to imagine and feel into them, holding the idea of the structure loosely.
The psyche is the entirely of your being beyond the physical form and it is made up of three main parts. Ego, personal shadow and collective shadow. Shadow can also be called subconscious or unconscious.
Ego is the aware you, the conscious self. All the thoughts, feelings, motivations and imaginings you are aware of happening within you is ego.
The personal shadow is a place where all you are unaware of lives. Thoughts, feelings, wounds, gifts, true self aspects all get submerged by ego (whether you are aware of the submerging or not) into the personal shadow and live there growing gnarlier over time. Growing gnarly is real. If you submerge anger it will grow into rage. If you submerge sorrow it will grow into despair. If you submerge your true self it may also grow gnarly in some fashion and turn into a dark personality. (I am using the adjectives dark and light as a metaphor describing actual light and voidness of light).
The dark personality is the personality void of light. Light is awareness, what ego can see. Without awareness and hiding in the personal shadow, a very free spirit true self may grow into a careless rebellious dark personality like Marla from Fight Club as an extreme example. Often the true self gets submerged into the shadow early in life and the dark personality it becomes seizes ego unconsciously and runs the control decks. More on this later.
The collective shadow is the transpersonal part of self. Beyond self. It is where all collective beings live as well as your ancestors. The collective beings are called Archetypes. They have no physical form. Spiritual guides, gods, goddesses, and angels are some versions of archetypes. The archetypes have a sentience and will of their own. They rise up from the collective shadow and express themselves through the personal shadow and ego. This is just how they roll.
The collective shadow is just as much a a part of you as the ego is a part of you. You are just as much a collective being as you are an individual being. To understand this think about how all of life on earth is symbiotic. Life feeds on life. Bacteria needs a host just like archetypes need ego to express their nature.
Jung referred to archetypes as collective instincts we inherit the moment we are born and he named his own pantheon of archetypes. The Mother archetype is the instinct to mother within all of us, for example. The only way ego can connect to the archetypal world is to name them and imagine them. Tarot names them, astrology names them, Jung named them, the many cultural pantheons of gods and goddesses named them. Ego names the unseen to understand the unseen.
An archetype, whether seen as a collective instinctual force or a sentient being, has a will of its own that rises up from the collective shadow and into the personal shadow where it acts like a magnet pulling aspects in the personal shadow around it’s gravitational force. You can see this like planets forming a galaxy around a central sun. The sun is the archetype and the planets are the various aspects in the personal shadow. This galaxy is what Jung called a complex because it is made up of shadowed self parts connecting with an archetype to influence the ego. When a self part connects to an archetype it is called “constellating”. This slightly shifts the metaphor to one a constellation instead of a galaxy but it works. Parts of self constellate with the archetypes to influence ego.
The best way to see ego is like a control deck. I think of the deck of the main ship in Star Trek. The controls are constantly being taken by different aspects. All day long. Might be the abandoned inner child constellates with the Venus archetype to influence ego to constantly seduce men to feel worthy and needs to keep having sex to feel loved and avoid feeling empty. Or it might be the shunned inner child constellates with the Fool archetype to influence ego to never abide by any authority and this person can never hold down a job without having a panic attack or feeling trapped. Two examples of how these constellations in the personal shadow can cause a lot of suffering. Can the constellations cause happiness? Yes, it works in all ways.
The psyche is a never ending kaleidoscope of inner aspects taking turns running the control deck. I always ask myself, who is manning the deck? It is always changing.
You can say that all the gods and goddesses from every pantheon, all the planets, stars, and asteroids in astrology, and all major arcana of the tarot any any divination system are archetypes. When understanding astrology know that we aren’t speaking of the actual planet in the sky that is Venus, for example. We are speaking of the spirit that occupies the planetary body. Not all archetypes can be connected to a physical body but some can such as the astrological archetypes because the spirit of planetary bodies are collective.
An archetype is a collective force versus an individual force. Though you could ponder that even the human being is an archetype as each psyche is made up of individual and collective aspects. Jung did say that ego is also an archetype. I have felt into this and fo me it feels true that the “I” witnessing being a me is the Oneness witnessing a kaleidoscope of archetypes constellating a human being named Michelle. If you can feel into this last sentence you know what I mean and if not, don’t try too hard to grasp it.
You can’t really learn this stuff mentally. It won’t work. You’ll just wind up spouting grandiose concepts. To engage with this knowledge you have to feel it. You have to merge with it. The universe is alive. Earth is alive. Everything is alive. Archetypes are living beings constantly connecting with ego and influencing your will, desires, thoughts and choices. You want to connect with these archetypes to learn about them.
To connect with the archetypes is to create rituals, journal, paint, dance, imagine, take journeys, and work with them creatively in any fashion that is most alive for you.
You can use any archetypal system too. Tarot, astrology, Jungian archetypes, etc. The ego names them but they have no names. When you work with the archetypes you begin to have control over them versus them controlling you. And by you, I mean ego, the conscious self. The archetypes are always possessing ego whether you are aware or not.
I will use myself as an example. When I was a young woman and still very unhealed and disconnected from my body, the high priestess archetype came up from the collective shadow.
Suddenly, I had psychic skills and was able to delve deeply into the personal and collective shadow to retrieve whatever information I needed. The high priestess is queen of the unconscious world of wisdom living beneath ego awareness. She never left me and is now the main archetype I work with on the daily. I connect to her as Isis and sometimes Danu or Quan Yin. But back then, when physical life in my body was filled with suffering, she took over. Ego escaped into her. I abandoned my physical life for a psychic life only.
This happens with highly sensitive types who have been through childhood trauma and connect to the high priestess or any spiritual archetype. If ego abandons the physical due to too much trauma and lives too much in the spiritual world through the archetypal possession of a spiritual archetype, imbalance ensues. Ego and body are equally important and needed as much as soul and the invisible realms often labeled as higher realms which implies more important. Not true. All dimensions and aspects of life are of equal value and importance.
The archetype doesn’t care what it’s doing to ego. It will grow and inflate and keep on expressing until ego says no and creates boundaries. You don’t have to be aware this is happening either. A very dark example of this would be a cult leader who thinks he is god incarnate. Actually, the hierophant archetype has taken over the cult leader’s ego without him realizing it and due to his childhood trauma (is there any cult leader that does not come from childhood trauma?) he escapes the ordinary human world and gets swallowed up by the archetype until he believes he is god.
That is an extreme example of the danger of archetypal possession. What happened with my archetypal possession is the high priestess became a sanctuary for me while I needed her to be. Eventually other archetypes rose up to help me incarnate fully into my body (mostly Saturn and Pluto) and the high priestess found her proper place at my round table. I call it my round table but call it anything, your particular crew of archetypes, ancestors and allies that are a part of your psyche and here to help you heal and grow.
I have been merging with the archetypes consciously for many years and it’s become just the way it is now. I find immense comfort in them and sometimes awe. For instance, If I need discipline, I work with Saturn. Or rather, when discipline needs me, Saturn rises. The constant question is, who is visiting me now and why?
The natal chart and tarot deck are my go-to maps to know who is working with me and why. I teach this work and use this work with clients as a depth therapist because of first using it for myself. When working with archetypes life gets easier, you don’t have to do all the work and you can become more fully actualized through them. When you call Saturn or when Saturn calls you, discipline gets easier and you can really engage with it in a new way…unless there’s a complex blocking flow. Healing the complexes essentially set the archetypes free within you. But that’s for another blog.