Working with the Archetypes to Gain Greater Awareness of Self and Soul

In several of my recent posts, I have noted that working with dreams or deep imagery is an especially powerful gateway to self and soul because the images and symbols in our dreams are something of a personalized “map” that can guide us to self-discovery, personal growth, healing and integration.  To make the job of working with these images and symbols a little easier – or, if not easier, more impactful, it is useful to understand some of the most prevalent archetypes that often show up in dreams and deep imagery work.

The word archetype, generally defined as “original pattern from which copies are made”, first came into common use in English in the 1540s.  The root words are archein, which means “original or old”; and typos, which means “pattern, model or type”.

In Jungian psychology, archetypes are viewed as highly developed elements of the collective unconscious. Being unconscious, they are often deduced indirectly by examining behavior, images, art, myths, religions, or dreams. Carl Jung saw archetypes as universal patterns and images that are the psychic counterpart of instinct.  Importantly, he believed that universal, mythic characters or archetypes reside within the unconscious of all people – these are truly universal motifs that can inform self-discovery.  It is therefore useful to know which archetypes are most active in one-self and others, especially loved ones, friends and co-workers, in order to gain personal insight into behaviors and motivations.  For the purposes of the work we do at Soul Quest Canada, an awareness of archetypes is useful to: (i) dive deeper into personality (the characteristic patterns of behavior that Ego engages in); and crucially (ii) to connect with the terrain of soul, that shadowy interior landscape that pulses with life beneath the layers of the personality. Although there are many different archetypes, here are a few that we focus on in our Wild Conversations stream (based on Bill Plotkin’s seminal book, Wild Mind: A Field Guide to the Human Psyche):

Facets of Self (Wholeness):

  • Elder/Healer
  • Sage/Trickster
  • Wild Man/Woman
  • Magician

Subpersonalities (Fragmented Parts):

  • Caretaker
  • Puer/Puella
  • Orphan
  • Hero

In working with archetypal images it is useful to consider the ways in which the image is saying something about us. Learning about our subpersonalities and how to manage them, is a vital component of working with archetypes. These are formed from wounding experiences, often in our youth or childhood, and their primary purpose is to keep us safe – essential in childhood, but a barrier to mature growth later in life.  When our Ego operates from the perspective of a subpersonality, we are taken out of our Wholeness.  For example, the Caretaker archetype is active in those who meet the needs of others; however, such “caring” behavior is often driven by the need to satisfy the Ego, such as to keep the caretaker safe from abandonment.  As long as we (our Egos) function from the Caretaker archetype, we experience a superficial acceptance with or by another that provides little fulfillment, where we feel needed for what we do, not for who we are.  Alternatively, when we function from the archetypes more closely aligned with the facets of Self, we can achieve greater well-being and meaning in life.  If we can connect with the Elder archetype, for instance, we can engage ourselves, others, and the systems to which we belong with compassion and wisdom – and our motivation is not to satisfy the Ego, but rather, to provide leadership and care in the world.

Uncovering and fostering the facets of Self is necessary for us to actively heal our wounds, create the conditions in which we can better open the gateway to soul and, ultimately, contribute to society as mature adults. Working with the archetypes is a powerful ways of doing this work.

Soul Quest Canada’s upcoming Wild Conversations programs on Vancouver Island (May 6) and in Edmonton (May 27) offer an opportunity for Self-healing and wholeness practices, as well as working with the archetypes.



Written by Rob Abbott

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