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Tarot Archetypes 2

Allegory of Time unveiling Truth, by Jean François de Troy, 1733.
Allegory of Time unveiling Truth. Painting by Jean François de Troy, 1733. In the Tarot, time is represented by the card "Temperance".

Archetypes — the Themes of Myths

An allegory (like the painting above) is the artistic way of representing principles and ideas by persons and objects, much like the concept of archetypes. The strong link to myths is evident in both cases.

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Archetypes — the Prototypes in Myths

Myths have themes. They are stories dealing with specific subjects, the roots of which have been described on the previous webpage.

       But stories also have characters, and in the case of myths they are often representing much more than a single person doing this or that at a whim or from some basic human need. They are not just types, but archetypes.

       It’s a term from Ancient Greece, signifying what we would call a prototype, a model on which other things are based. It doesn't necessarily refer to characters in a play. Plato meant that behind the real world, there are ideal forms from which our world finds its shapes.

Jung's Archetypes

The use of the term archetype for myth and drama was made popular by the psychoanalyst C. G. Jung, who presented his application of it in 1919.

       He found patterns in folklore, myth, and art, from which he extracted several symbolical types, characters carrying certain meanings, which could be explained as different aspects of the human mentality.

       He claimed that these archetypes are the same through history and in every culture, almost as if included in the human genome. By studying the archetypes and their meanings, we can learn to understand ourselves.

Achilles. Sculpture by Innocenzo Fraccaroli, 1842.
Achilles, just as the fatal arrow strikes his heel, the only weakness of the great hero. Sculpture by Innocenzo Fraccaroli, 1842. In the Tarot deck, the warrior hero is represented by "The Chariot" as well as the Knights of the four suits.

       That can be questioned. The patterns he found might instead have been those of characters and roles necessary in drama, with which mankind has been occupied for thousands of years. Some of the archetypes are easily recognized from the recurring characters in drama history: the king, the mother, the sage, the hero, the villain, and so on.

       It’s a bit like the chicken or the egg, though. Jung would have claimed that the archetypes were there before the drama, which had to incorporate them in order to enthrall the audience. Indeed, drama as well as literature carried the insights of psychology long before the science of it was invented.

       An anthropologist might remind us that human life revolves around certain social roles, ever since we got this gargantuan brain of ours. There are mothers, fathers, and children. There are also leaders, advisors, priests, warriors, heroes and cowards, followers and agitators, artists, dreamers, wanderers, hunters, lovers, and so on and so forth. Each one of us has bits and pieces of it all.

Larger than Life

Anyway, the idea of the archetype is as interesting in psychology as it is in drama. Myth, it seems, is full of them, the larger than life characters proudly carrying their sharply chiseled traits. Those who really excel at their archetypes are usually called gods in the myths.

       If we extract the archetypes from a myth or a play, we see the plot more clearly and understand their actions better. We also become aware of the patterns by which life tends to repeat itself whenever and wherever.

       The human condition can be described through archetypes, which are necessities by which our actions and our sentiments are governed.

       For example, any child can find that the dependency of the mother may become a burden of which one needs to rid oneself, and the admiration of the father easily becomes a rivalry of sorts, maybe even contempt at length. It’s part of growing up.

The Virgin Mary with the Jesus child, by Ambrosius Benson, 16th century.
The Virgin Mary with the Jesus child, by Ambrosius Benson, 16th century. Neither the mother nor the child has a specific card in the Tarot deck, but they do figure in some of the images.

       That’s also the core of what Jung meant the archetypes to be: clues to self-realization.

       A leader is sort of the father of fathers, and the leader of leaders we call god, whether imagined or not. A hero is what we want to be, but we can't if the hero we look up to is constantly guarding our safety, doing the heroic deeds for us. An adversary angers us, but would we ever move an inch if not confronted by one? And no adversary is more persistent than the one each of us carries in our own mind. A lover is sweet, but never as sweet as when we are the reciprocal object of that love. And how easily love turns into the opposite!

       Indeed, there are patterns by which we live. As Shakespeare said:

All the world’s a stage
And all the men and women merely players
They have their exits and their entrances
And one man in his time plays many parts.

       We’re not allowed to read the whole script beforehand, although divination takes a crack at it. But we do well to get familiar with the characters, especially the one – or the ones – we ourselves must play.

Click to continue reading:


Tarot Archetypes

Myth Emerges

Archetypes — the Themes of Myths

Archetypes of the Tarot

List of Tarot card Archetypes

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The 64 hexagrams of the Chinese classic I Ching and what they mean in divination. Free online reading.

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Creation stories from around the world, and the ancient beliefs about the world and the gods as revealed by the myths.

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Your Health in Your Horoscope. Book by Stefan Stenudd.

Your Health in Your Horoscope

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Life Energy Encyclopedia

Qi, prana, spirit, pneuma, and many other life forces around the world explained and compared.

Archetypes of Mythology. Book by Stefan Stenudd.

Archetypes of Mythology

Jungian theories on myth and religion examined, from Carl G. Jung to Jordan B. Peterson.

Stefan Stenudd, Swedish author of fiction and non-fiction. Stefan Stenudd

About me

I'm a Swedish author. In addition to fiction, I've written books about the Tarot, Taoism, astrology and other metaphysical traditions. I'm also an historian of ideas, researching ancient mythology. Click the image to get to my personal website.