What is an Archetype?



Archetypes are ideals, models, examples, paragons, originals, patterns, prototypes and samples. They are the amalgamation of characteristics and descriptors that help arrive at the quintessential definition of a person, place or thing. In literature there are situation, setting, symbolic and character archetypes. For example, if one were to say to you about a place, “I have found Nirvana!” you would somehow KNOW the place that person found was inherently wonderful and good despite never having been there or hearing any more details about that place. OR, someone says to you, “She is such a diva!” You would know that SHE had behaviors that one may or may not feel are positive but that definitely expressed her particular demands that things be just the way SHE liked as SHE is important and her needs must be met!

The term “archetypes” was introduced into modern culture by Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung in his 1919 essay entitled “Instinct and the Unconscious”. Archetypes can describe overall states:  the concert was a nightmare; the trip was like Armageddon; my chemo treatment was hell; being married is heaven; my children are angels or life is a journey. We use archetypal language every day, multiple times a day. It is not a new idea nor is it a mysterious concept. “She is a great mother” conjures up an image vastly different than “she is Freud’s definition of a terrible mother”. Yet, the adjective is not the archetype; the image the adjective creates IS the archetype. Archetypes are agreed upon collective definitions for universal concepts and experiences. They are images we all share and have in common. The ideal is imprinted in our subconscious mind, affected by our collective unconscious. The collective unconscious is “a level of unconscious shared with other members of the human species comprising latent memories from our ancestral and evolutionary past.” “Jung called these ancestral memories and images archetypes.”  https://www.simplypsychology.org/carl-jung.html.  Jung believed these archetypes are an ancestral inheritance, not something consciously learned or cultivated. 

Take for instance, the concept of MOTHER. Whether one had the best mother in the whole wide world, the worst mother in the known universe or was orphaned and did not have a mother to speak of, one can still relate to the concept of MOTHER; one can still tether a personal understanding to that concept and, more than likely, it will have things in common with others who define it uniquely for themselves as well. THAT is the nature of archetypes. They are universally defined across personally divergent experiences.

In the Sacred Contracts system developed by Caroline Myss, we are all born with 12 personal archetypes that drive our personality, feelings, beliefs, actions, and motivations. If we get to know our personal twelve we get a better handle on our Sacred Contract, or the Divine mission of our lives. Our Sacred Contract is our prearranged spiritual agreement that we make concerning the lessons we are willing to work at and learn in our lifetime. It involves other people, places, things, and experiences and relies upon our free will and choice in accepting or rejecting the challenges these all present. When we are aware of and conscious of our contract we empower ourselves to co-create with the Divine. When we are unaware of and work against our contract we disempower ourselves mightily. However, as Grace intervenes, we ALWAYS have the opportunity come our way again in order for us to do our work and progress, as we desire; however, we do NOT always welcome that Grace. 

Again, using this Sacred Contracts system, we are provided a tool with which to get to know ourselves. The process of casting a wheel chart of your archetypes according to this system is important work and can be done using Caroline’s book or with someone trained in her method. There is also important information on her website: https://www.myss.com.  We will discuss the four archetypes that Caroline suggests are our “survival” archetypes:  the Child, the Victim, the Prostitute and the Saboteur in a later post. 


“The collective unconscious consists of the sum of the instincts and their correlates, the archetypes. Just as everybody possesses instincts, so he also possesses a stock of archetypal images.”

Carl Jung

Mary Sutton