What is an Archetype?

I’ve lived most of my life not even thinking about archetypes. I’d heard the word, sure. But it wasn’t really on my radar. Now, it is.

So, what is an archetype? I like this explanation from Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary.

Archetype comes from the Greek verb archein (“to begin” or “to rule”) and the noun typos (“type”). Archetype has specific uses in the fields of philosophy and psychology. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato, for example, believed that all things have ideal forms (aka archetypes) of which real things are merely shadows or copies. And in the psychology of C. G. Jung, archetype refers to an inherited idea or mode of thought that is present in the unconscious of the individual. In everyday prose, however, archetype is most commonly used to mean “a perfect example of something.”

Joseph Campbell’s Hero Journey (which the major arcana of tarot can be thought of as representing) is full of archetypes. Here is a great writeup of The Hero’s Journey and the archetypes found within, including character, situational, and setting archetypes. (Campbell was influenced by Carl Jung.)


I think of an archetype as a representation and, often, personification of a concept/idea. The tarot is full of them. For instance, the death card represents the end of something/rebirth of something new. I think of Gods and Goddesses that same way. They are often given their archetypal meaning when described—like Quan Yin, the goddess of compassion who sits on my bookshelf.

I want to explore archetypes in the future on this blog. (You’ll find them in the Gaia menu of this site.) I find them fascinating. I have always loved reading about the gods and goddesses of Greece, and now I am learning about some of the Celtic and Norse pagan ones. And, since I’m already particularly fond of Gaia as the archetype of the earth and nature, I plan on starting with her (she is also described on the Gaia overview page).

Stay tuned!

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