The archetype of the Hero slaying the dragon of inner and outer chaos
St George on Horseback, 1505, engraving, Albrecht Durer
Reading time: 15 mins
The four instinct / survival archetypes
The idea of archetypes is very useful as a metaphorical tool in relation to healing and clawing back some self-respect – indeed to understand all of the 31 suggestions we’ll eventually explore. This might be a long way round the block to arrive at self-respect, but bear with me, you’ll see how it all comes back to this quality by the end.
Firstly, what are archetypes?
The concept of archetypes goes back to Plato who called them “forms” which he believed were reflected in the material world. But the basic concept is probably as old as human evolution itself. This theory was further advanced to a considerable degree by the swiss psychologist Carl Jung who called the source of these accumulated blueprints archetypes which fuelled the little “I”s or “psychic complexes” within the human mind.
Archetypal images, iconography and literary themes are sourced from universal patterns or motifs which in turn, are accessed from what is known as the collective unconscious, and closely connected (if not the same) as the akashic records mentioned in theosophical and anthroposophical literature. Think of it like a psycho-spiritual reservoir of ancestral experience, containing both the darkness and light of collective wisdom spanning possibly hundreds of thousands of years of human interaction with social groups and the environment.
This accumulated energy has a direct connection to personal unconscious and has defined the content of mythologies, legends and fairy tales of global cultures. It is the soul’s software, if you will, and a source of great teaching. Archetypes are psychic blueprints of emotion and instinct that lie in the triune system of the brain (reptilian, limbic and neo-cortex) as a psychic and structural template to primordial nature. They have a positive and negative aspect, the latter known as “The Shadow” which has been discussed frequently throughout this blog. The idea is that through confronting and then integrating these dark elements which have been denied and locked away we can dissolve the negative impact which would otherwise surely have occurred.
They are dualistic in nature and operate according to the nature of the unconscious which economises and conserves energy whilst also remaining highly adaptable. New personal narratives containing these archetypes appeal to the its adaptive processses and lay down new neural pathways from intense learning carried out in the present and overlaying the now defunct patterns of the past. The personal reservoir of the unconscious has a creative, tailor-made version of archetypes which are a unique product of your own stored life experiences. Along side this personal source is the collective or universal unconscious. Our intention is like an upload to that resources which responds in kind offering an automatic download which we access through our dreams. The images, motifs and mythical themes are identical for all.
Archetypes are very powerful cornerstones of your inner world and should be treated with respect. Doing so amounts to fostering self-respect which further consolidates as receptivity to this inner language grows. Once you do that, you will be in the position to recognise certain archetypal patterns occurring in the world and in relation to your own development. How these archetypes manifest is through your actions in life. These are not just simple fantasies – they demand understanding, contemplation and action.
Once you begin to perceive your pain and challenges as opportunities to self-educate then these experiences can be viewed as lessons. Not in the sense of a finger-pointing judgement, but through simple experiences of learning what works and what doesn’t; what will lead you to a more positive self-concept. Through self-awareness we can graduate to higher states of being or remain in the same “class” until we do. The wild thing about archetypes is that the more we fall into their shadow sides by denying their inherent duality the closer we get to redressing the balance as the archetypes manifest in more and more dramatic ways in the outer world, forcing us to make a choice. When we make that choice to learn, then the archetype’s shadow becomes our ally.
There are a great many archetypes covering all of human experience. Some reckon on 12 fundamental archetypes and a further four core foci of energies which might be called our instinctual survival types that are common to all of us. These could be described as the anchors to our psycho-spiritual journey that guide us to awakening and liberation, or to chaos and destruction.
These four instinctual archetypes comprise:
- The Victim – Alerts you to when and how you might be letting yourself be victimised. It highlights your own tendency to be a victim through self-pity and in order to gain sympathy as a strategy to accrue energy. Learning how the victim dynamic operates is essential in regulating this archetypal energy so that it lives in balance within you. It teaches you how to handle fear and not become the perpetual victim. Blaming or envying others as well as feeling powerless are typical signs of the victim archetype’s shadow.
- The Saboteur – As you might imagine this archetype is about the various ways we self-sabotage ourselves and others. It highlights our lack of self-esteem and confidence and urges us to change. It’s one thing to be circumspect and cautious, but quite another to sell ourselves short at every turn due to core fear. Build up ambitious plans then sabotage them at the last moment because fear of success or failure is too much to handle? The same goes for relationships or committment in general. Fear determines the outcome which is often maintaining routine and predictability which equals safety and certainty. Yet, this inevitably place us in opposition to the flow of life which is never static.
- The Prostitute – Perhaps the most focused archetype in relation to self-respect derived from the core-needs and survival strategies of autonomy, attunement and Love-sexuality. Don’t take this as anything more than a very precise metaphor of energy. This is about anything that sells yourself short or you sell your integrity to the highest bidder of lowest expectation, thus allowing your creative power to be tapped or drained away. If this done consciously this is particularly egregious in terms of your essential sense of self. The prostitute archetype is back to your internal salesman negotiating the price of your energy. Is there proper exchange and a point of sale? Which is why it is so closely associated with integrity and self-respect. Essentially, do you sell ideology, objects or sex for the ever-increasing energy deficit but with diminishing returns? What does that mean? It means that your creativity and therefore your often hidden talents and gifts are sold down the river together with your morals and ethics in favour of Official Culture’s cheap thrills. This archetype helps us to regain our sense of self-respect and integrity.
- The Child – which includes intrinsic variants which are as follows:
Wounded – As mentioned previously in this series this is the most common almost clichéd archetype of “healing the inner child” fame. nevertheless, it is no less truthful. If you are emotionally, physically and sexually abused or neglected as a child this will affect the growth of your personality and what kind of adult you become. That is a wound by any basic standard. Memories are powerfully entwined betwixt body and mind. No true work can begin unless we heal this child. Once we do however, the child that you were at this time can offer enormous wisdom, compassion and creativity once released back into the psychic fold. The courage to forgive, release anger constructively and positive acceptance are the hallmarks of the wounded child archetype, the energy of which underpins all others. (see fig.1) The shadow side of this child locked in a loop feeds the archetype of victimhood, self-pity and blame. Due to a lack of inner resources, a petulant infantilism and natural narcissism of childhood rears up in youth and into adulthood. The entitlement and fragility of many millennials and generation Z may be due to this unresolved wound.
Orphan – Perhaps the most common archetype in fairy tales and folklore is that of the orphan. Independence, self-reliance and fortitude are some of the qualities that are asked of us when this aspect of the child is dominating in the unconscious. The early lack of a family anchor, divorce, familial fragmentation; literal foster care; a nomadic existence; absence of cultural or tribal traditions and immigration to other countries may initiate the orphan archetype. Fear of rejection, a sense of abandonment, guilt, issues of self-worth and identity are the shadow side of this energy focus. Group ideology, cliques, gangs and peer-groups of various kinds can take the place of genuine individuality.
The Child archetype
Nature – As you might imagine, this archetype expresses a love of flora and fauna; ecology, nature’s bounty and all things related. This is a life-long committment and passion as oppose to being part of constellation of influences. Often children with this dominant archetype at the centre of their development have some elemental quality of nature i.e. elfin, lunar or earthy etc. Such persons have often have a natural connection with animals, trees, plants and the outdoors in general. They can be practical or somewhat ethereal depending on the element symbolising their particular frequency resonance (fire, air, water, earth) which further defines their particular line of motivation and focus. The belief in nature spirits would also be activated in this archetype so too an interest in conservation or animal rights activism. The shadow side flips this on its head, leaning towards eco-fascism, militant veganism or covert abuse of animals and people under the guise of caring.
Magical/Innocent – This aspect of the child can likened to the lunar or solar influence that sees the world through innocence and magic. The sense of the sacred and beauty is seen in all things. This quality encourages never to forget that though there is great darkness in life there is also we-inspiring majesty and goodness. It’s a bit like the glass half full or half empty – on which will you choose to focus? Creative imagination and unlimited possibilities are found here, as is the optimistic faith in humanity. The shadow side of Magical Child is the opposite of those qualities listed above leading to cynicism, pessimism, oppression, passive-aggression and militant nihilism where nothing mysterious or magical can exist. Beauty becomes relegated to sensuality and sex as a cheap substitute and means to possess. In astrological terms this is akin to watery psychosis of Neptunian fantasy gone mad; dissociation and self-indulgent and self-serving dreams divorced from their spiritual groundings.
Puer/Puella Eternis (Eternal Boy/Girl) – This archetype has a similar quality to the one above, as it teaches us to enjoy life despite the hardships; to be young and open in mind, body and spirit. It is the Peter Pan in all of us waiting to be set free to soar the clouds and ride on the crest of the waves. The shadow energy reverses this joy and makes it enhance the ability to deny all in favour of that joy so that it becomes indulgence and immaturity. There is a resistance to responsibility and growing up. The spectre of adulthood is feared as a result. In women this manifests as extreme dependence with an emphasis on being taken care of financially and emotionally. In men it is the Little Boy Lost Syndrome i.e. looking for a mother to take care of him. If this energy wasn’t sufficiently released to take joy in life during childhood or to learn ways to take responsibility in the real world then it sets up individuals for dashed dreams, dissociation and infantilism in adulthood.
Dependent – This is the child without the dimensions of magic or exuberance of the Eternal boy/girl but an overwhelming neediness and dependency where no amount of attention is enough. It’s as though there is a huge hole in the child’s being and no amount of love or spiritual nourishment can fill it. Severe depression, anxiety and phobias often feature and tend to get worse until medication is administered or there is a breakdown. This is due to the essential grasping nature of the dependent child who is fixated on his own needs and cannot put himself in another’s place in order to empathise. This can metastasize into narcissism if left alone. This archetype lets us experience the full hunger of dependency and the lesson of growing one’s own independence as a prelude to greater growth and transformation.
Divine – This is one that is new to me so I’ll let Caroline Myss * take over here with her description of what the The Divine Child symbolises:
[This archetype] …is closely related to both the Innocent and Magical Child, but is distinguished from them by its redemptive mission. It is associated with innocence, purity, and redemption, god-like qualities that suggest that the Child enjoys a special union with the Divine itself. Few people are inclined to choose the Divine Child as their dominant Child archetype, however, because they have difficulty acknowledging that they could live continually in divine innocence. And yet, divinity is also a reference point of your inner spirit that you can turn to when you are in a conscious process of choice. You may also assume that anything divine cannot have a shadow aspect, but that’s not realistic. The shadow of this archetype manifests as an inability to defend itself against negative forces. Even the mythic gods and most spiritual masters — including Jesus, who is the template of the Divine Child for the Christian tradition — simultaneously expressed anger and divine strength when confronting those who claimed to represent heaven while manifesting injustice, arrogance, or other negative qualities (think of Jesus’ wrath at the money-changers in the Temple). Assess your involvement with this archetype by asking whether you see life through the eyes of a benevolent, trusting God/Goddess, or whether you tend to respond initially with fear of being hurt or with a desire to hurt others first. 
This simple diagram underscores how all four are intimately related as a triad of influence within the human psyche with the conditioning and inculcation of childhood programming at the centre. Once all three archetypes are acknowledged, their language learned (through dreams and life symbols) and knowledge gained this will assist in self-regulation and create a foundation for psychic order as opposed to dissolution and chaos.
Fig. 1 © infrakshun
The Four Archetypes, NARM core needs and survival strategies in relation to Childhood Adversity Experiences | This is the primary template where chronic stress and trauma can be seated. The Four Archetypes symbolise the psychic elements which take on these imbalances. Therein lies the opportunity to integrate the shadow aspects which gained prominence during disintegration and where we can choose the path of the hero and integration back to wholeness.
Remember in the previous post on healing your past, we explored the NeuroAffective Relational Model ™ (NARM) and its advanced role in healing developmental trauma, as well as the Childhood Adversity Experiences Study (ACE). Within this modality, five biologically core-based needs and five adapative survival styles were described. These can be transposed to these four archetypes which straddle all ten needs and survival strategies with issues drawn from the inflation of the fear instinct. Needs and survival strategies of Attunement, Trust and the struggle for Autonomy is particularly interesting in relation to this archetypal model. Each of these four archetypes is responsible for expressing their respective shadows within childhood and its eventual transformation from survival to a healthy core need and conscious approach to self-regulation. Or, the shadow overtakes entirely and becomes “demonic”, stopping at one of the stages during positive disintegration.
All these instinctual archetypes are like the pillars of the unconscious and their internal guidance system. When the child does not receive what s/he needs from parents and family then these psychic complexes will be distorted and thereby provide the lessons needed to better ourselves. Sometimes of course, this can seem like an extremely hard road to accept. (“Self-respect? I can barely look in at myself in the mirror or get up in the morning”). But this is our task if we wish to embody the overseeing archetype of the hero…Or else we choose the nemesis – the possession by fear and the connection to the dragon of chaos. Self-respect is then scorned by covertly or overtly loathing everyone who has the integrity that is longed for.
Archetypes are a very useful contribution to understanding ourselves. But a word of caution: any self-development tool can be taken too far so that you become so identified with it that everything becomes “archetypal” to the extent that symbolism and dreams become the dominant reality. Stay grounded and don’t fly off into the ether. Anger, produced from this conflict and channelled in the right way, contributes to that process.
Even if you find all this a bit hard to swallow, at the very least, they are extremely useful tools which can aid creative visualisation techniques, helping us get to know what kind of energy is operating and how best we can refine it. (Ways to access this inner teaching will be explored in no.25 “Record your dreams”).
Access anger and “Stand up Straight”
Everybody has the seeds of evil within them. It doesn’t take a whole lot to stimulate it either. When authoritarianism and tyranny begin to flourish, the momentum is kept alive by ordinary men and women who have been ponerized due to an insufficient psychological inoculation against institutionalised pathology. Essentially, by seeking truth in your life, you making yourself unpalatable to evil.
Letting go of guilt, blame, revenge that make up that bubbling anger or resentment always below the surface, may assist in ameliorating an essential naivety about the genesis of evil rather than esacping into denial and facilitating its dark expression. If you have difficulty with this fact please read this blog from top to bottom and cast an eye over our history of genocides and bloody carnage which was usually perpetrated by ordinary individuals like you and me.
Accessing anger and expressing it creatively can be the difference beween partaking in evil and managing it, as one would a ferocious dog on a chain. In time, it can be domesticated and trained to work as part of a team. By learning to heal, adopting a meditation and physical exercise regime this will resentment and frees up and regulate energy as a backdrop to more subtle work that will develop perspicacity and attention to our surroundings.
Do you suffer from anxiety, panic attacks or any number of phobias? Have you reached the point where you’ve suffered enough? Then you are bringing to life the warrior/hero and channelling that anger into constructive action against the irresolute army of archetypes and fragmented “I”s within. Instead of being a victim to these neuroses, spending all that energy surviving, you get right royally pissed off. This is how the archetypal King and Queen of your psyche are also activated since they are the higher, positive aspects of the emotional centres/chakras seeking integration; the representatives of a personality seeking service to the soul. Since the hero is in service to his kingdom and his liege/lineage of the ancestral past, you are honouring the best in your “bloodline” and asking for assistance in conquering inner demons.
If you are one of those who have been trodden on for most of your life and have allowed it to continue because that’s all you know, then acknowledging the capacity for great evil as well as great good develops the awareness that you have innate power which is potentially dangerous. Fear of chaos in one’s life and the perceived inability to manage it takes on a different hue because of the recognition of something of that chaos inside ourselves – something as terrible as any monster.
Jordan B. Peterson’ suggestions of “Standing up straight” and “tidying your room” appear simplistic but they go to the heart of what it means to encourage self-respect and much more. Awakening to one’s power to change things requires this acknowledgement and an agreement to exert discipline and structure. As he describes in 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, when a recognition of this dichotomy is forthcoming, fear decreases and resistance to oppression becomes a choice and thus a responsibility. This allows the emergence of self-respect – if we choose wisely. It is a definite tightrope that requires attention and tension because we begin to see there are two versions of ourselves which necessarily creates conflict.
Knowledge of that dark power that is as enticing as it is terrible, means that there could be equal or greater creative power if we give it the oxygen of intent and sufficient motivation. Without seeing these two diverging paths – one leading to destruction, disintegration or stasis, the other leading to a pragmatic positivity but also toward uncertainty – we remain in a cryogenic state of unfulfilled potential. This insight into our essential dark power gives us the will to choose a path for growth and what’s more, to know we have chosen the right direction. But standing at such a crossroads is lonely and desolate experience. Yet, as Peterson states:
They see that they have the ability to withstand, because they are terrible too. They see they can and must stand up, because they begin to understand how genuinely monstrous they will become, otherwise, feeding on their resentment, transforming it into the most destructive of wishes. To say it again: There is very little difference between the capacity for mayhem and destruction, integrated, and strength of character. This is one of the most difficult lessons of life. 
Peterson encourages us to see reality as it is but not succumb to the chaos that we are forced to confront. There is a difference between unconsciously being tossed about in this angry ocean of emotion and turmoil and effectively learning to swim in that tempest. “Maybe you are a loser. And maybe you’re not—but if you are, you don’t have to continue in that mode.” Perhaps this “collection of bad habits” that makes up your misery now, it doesn’t have to continue that way – you can change, given the right encouragement and the correct tools. If not, if you send out a signal that you are crumpled and defeated in posture and speech, then you will be assigned a place at the bottom of that “dominance hierarchy” be that in your neighbourhood, in your circle of friends or your job.
It will also make addiction to a thousand paths far more likely. Like our genetic inheritance, and the neuroplasticity of the brain – we can change. Don’t misunderstand his message as simplistic or parochial. Stand up with your shoulders back is literal but it is also a metaphor for deeper transformation:
Positive feedback loops, adding effect to effect, can spiral counterproductively in a negative direction, but can also work to get you ahead. That’s the other, far more optimistic lesson of Price’s law and the Pareto distribution: those who start to have will probably get more. Some of these upwardly moving loops can occur in your own private, subjective space. Alterations in body language offer an important example. If you are asked by a researcher to move your facial muscles, one at a time, into a position that would look sad to an observer, you will report feeling sadder. If you are asked to move the muscles one by one into a position that looks happy, you will report feeling happier. Emotion is partly bodily expression, and can be amplified (or dampened) by that expression. 
Some of the positive feedback loops instantiated by body language can occur beyond the private confines of subjective experience, in the social space you share with other people. If your posture is poor, for example—if you slump, shoulders forward and rounded, chest tucked in, head down, looking small, defeated and ineffectual (protected, in theory, against attack from behind)—then you will feel small, defeated and ineffectual. The reactions of others will amplify that … If you present yourself as defeated, then people will react to you as if you are losing. If you start to straighten up, then people will look at and treat you differently. You might object: the bottom is real. Being at the bottom is equally real. A mere transformation of posture is insufficient to change anything that fixed. If you’re in number ten position, then standing up straight and appearing dominant might only attract the attention of those who want, once again, to put you down. And fair enough. But standing up straight with your shoulders back is not something that is only physical, because you’re not only a body. You’re a spirit, so to speak—a psyche—as well. Standing up physically also implies and invokes and demands standing up metaphysically. Standing up means voluntarily accepting the burden of Being. Your nervous system responds in an entirely different manner when you face the demands of life voluntarily. You respond to a challenge, instead of bracing for a catastrophe. You see the gold the dragon hoards, instead of shrinking in terror from the all-too-real fact of the dragon. You step forward to take your place in the dominance hierarchy, and occupy your territory, manifesting your willingness to defend, expand and transform it. That can all occur practically or symbolically, as a physical or as a conceptual restructuring. 
He drives the point through that to voluntarily “stand up straight with your shoulders back is to accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open,” and by doing so one transforms “… the chaos of potential into the realities of habitable order.” It means accepting and adopting the burden of self-conscious vulnerability, and growing up by reclaiming childhood issues and integrating them into true adulthood. You become the mythical ark by building protection for yourself and thereby others. So:
Walk tall and gaze forthrightly ahead. Dare to be dangerous. Encourage the serotonin to flow plentifully through the neural pathways desperate for its calming influence. People, including yourself, will start to assume that you are competent and able (or at least they will not immediately conclude the reverse). Emboldened by the positive responses you are now receiving, you will begin to be less anxious. You will then find it easier to pay attention to the subtle social clues that people exchange when they are communicating. Your conversations will flow better, with fewer awkward pauses. This will make you more likely to meet people, interact with them, and impress them. Doing so will not only genuinely increase the probability that good things will happen to you—it will also make those good things feel better when they do happen. Thus strengthened and emboldened, you may choose to embrace Being, and work for its furtherance and improvement. Thus strengthened, you may be able to stand, even during the illness of a loved one, even during the death of a parent, and allow others to find strength alongside you when they would otherwise be overwhelmed with despair. Thus emboldened, you will embark on the voyage of your life, let your light shine, so to speak, on the heavenly hill, and pursue your rightful destiny. Then the meaning of your life may be sufficient to keep the corrupting influence of mortal despair at bay. Then you may be able to accept the terrible burden of the World, and find joy. Look for your inspiration to the victorious lobster, with its 350 million years of practical wisdom. Stand up straight, with your shoulders back. 
If we were to place as much energy into our self-belief as we do in the external beliefs we have appropriated to protect ourselves from pain, we would be on the road to finding a truer sense of self. So, except the burdens of being in the world even if you feel apart from your fellow man and woman. By accepting responsiblity to be your own teacher and to reject that which drains your energy and detracts from your principles, you will find self-respect and integrity will naturally bloom within. People will then recognise it and act accordingly.
This does not mean that you won’t be confronted with those who wish to poke holes in that integrity or worse – that’s a natural consequence of trudging up the stairscase toward an established order within. But if you do it right, with patience and persistance, that order will be unassailable, yet receptive to those who value the same.
Once we focus on that aim and initiate practical tools to that end, life will respond in kind.
* = Ordinarily, I wouldn’t include most individuals in the New Age Movement as it is infested with metaphysical distortions and cointelpro agents. However, I attended a lecture of Caroline Myss over twenty years ago and in retrospect, found her to be very grounded and aware of the pitfalls and problems occurring within that milieu at the time. While C.G. Jung is the probably the best source of such knowledge (with equal caveats) she has updated and expanded this knowledge in practical therapeutic ways which appear to work.
 Thanks to Caroline Myss for information and inspiration at www.myss.com/
 Peterson, Jordan B.. 12 Rules for Life: An Antitode To Chaos (pp. 26-28). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.