In this article, my aim is to demonstrate the abstraction of our cultural (archetypes) narrative from the human experience and vice versa. How our stories are reflections of our journey through life and how they are encoded into the structure of the psyche.
I will draw heavily on the concept of The Heroes Journey as put forward by Joseph Campbell in his 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I will also use Mythology, Religion and Jungian Psychology to demonstrate their consilience and relationship to our experiences as human beings.
A Bit about Stories, Facts, and News
As you know Narratives are stories, and stories are the only way we really communicate. If you think about it we really don’t communicate any knowledge of any kind any other way. Even facts are presented to you as a story. A story has a beginning, middle and end because there is a cause, an effect and an outcome. There is a disruption to the Harmony then the Chaos ensues, the Chaos is overcome and Harmony returns, this is the cycle of all things.
You can’t call a fact a fact until it is believable, and it is believable once you are satisfied that the cause lead to the effect and the outcome had the desired result of the return to a Harmonious state.
The News always tell you the story not just the data, Advertising sells us the Narrative that something is causing an undesired effect and that their product will be the solution. Rules often have to explained to clarify the cause of the undesired effect and relate how the rule solves it. We do this to the point of simplifying the Narrative down to just a symbol.
A Graphic Representation of the Story
The cause such as touching something symbolized by the hand. The effect of the touching such as the hand being on fire. And the solution of not touching and catching on fire is symbolized by a line through the image. No matter how simple the imagery we implicitly read a story from it.
The story behind an image may not be as clearly defined as the do not touch symbol. It may be a photograph an image that may ignite different Narratives in different people depending on their personal associations with the subject matter of the image. But nonetheless your mind is fundamentally programmed in Narrative.
Narratives are made out of characters and the characters are representations of Archetypes.
Archetypes are icons or symbols as characterizations and personifications. They are abstract representations of the attributes most associated with the character.
The Queen, the King and the Child Archetypes
The very first Archetype you ever encountered was Mother and the second was most likely Father.
It’s well established that our early relationships with our parents have deeply profound effects upon the entirety of our lives. What your parents are like, their ability, or lack of, to give you a balance of Good vs Bad experiences informs your basic perception of the Parent Archetypes.
An extension of the Mother and Father Archetypes are the King and the Queen. The Monarch Archetype is symbolic of the rule of power that a parent has over its children as a monarchy has over its subjects.
The Good And The Bad
There are always two versions of the Archetype, the Good, the Light, vs the Bad, the Dark. The positive Archetype is an embodiment or representative of Harmony or Order and the negative Archetype is that of Chaos. In the case of the Monarch those are the Evil Queen and the Tyrant King. Monarchs and Parents can either use their power for Good or they can use it for Bad. If we are lucky (for want of a better term) we have parents who mostly embody or play out the role of Good King and Good Queen.
If we are realistic and honest, we have probably seen our parents occasionally slip into the negative version of the Archetypes. That’s because they are human and fallible – a hard fact to understand as a child. But one we may come to terms with later.
So there is a Queen and a King and a Child. The Child as Archetype is as children are, immature, uninformed and filled with potential. Which is what the Child Archetype symbolizes at its heart, for children their as yet unrealized potential is potentially limitless.
Again you can split the Child Archetype into its positive and its negative versions or expressions. The Bad Child, the limitless potential for Bad, and the Good Child, the limitless potential for Good. If you are able to look back with some reasonable objectivity over your childhood, you should be able to identify times when you inhabited both these roles.
The Hero and the Villain Archetypes
The emergent of getting a bunch of characters together is the beginning of a story. So you begin in the story as a child and if that child has potential as we’ve established it does then he/she has the potential to be a Hero.
And that’s our aim in life. In whichever ways we choose we aim to succeed in our quest to overcome the villains in our way and make the world a better place for our community. It’s the role we most like to see ourselves in and the one we are most comfortable inhabiting. Whatever kind of person he/ she is, the main or central character in any story is typically called the Hero. And we have no choice but to play the central role in our own stories/ lives. So the negative version of the Hero is the Villain, the enemy that must be defeated.
To Be A Good Guy
To be a Good Guy you must defeat the Bad Guy, including the Villain that lurks in you. The Villain is as pivotal role as the Hero, there’s no story without the Villain, without some Chaos to overcome. All of us will have encountered countless Villains in our lives. And some of us will have encountered more Villainous Villains than others but we have all met The Bad Guy. We will be able to identify people and incidents that have played the role of Villains to our Heroes.
Sadly for some, the Villains in their lives are the Evil Queen and/ or the Tyrant King which of course makes that story deeply tragic. And life that much more challenging for the potential Hero. Again if we are able to be really honest with ourselves we can identify times in our own lives when we have played the Villain role. These experiences probably come with some uncomfortable and unsettling emotions of shame and guilt at our failure to maintain Heroism in these moments.
The Mentor, the Sidekick and the Zeppo Archetypes
The Hero rarely wins alone, he/she has a set of aids. These aids vary in competency and specialty, on the natural strengths of the Hero depends the nature of these aids as compensation for his/ her natural weaknesses.
The typical Hero is strong but not necessarily wise – the Hero needs a Mentor. Sometimes this is the positive Monarch or Parent Archetype. Often it is someone else, a teacher who takes special, parental like care of the development of the Hero. In myth and story these characters are often imbued with supernatural power. They are Wizards, sometimes Gods. They are always older than the Hero to represent their amalgamation of wisdom over time.
Playing Mentor To Others
I’m sure most of us can identify people who have played this role in our lives. And you can probably identify times when you have played this role yourself to others. Your experience of successfully playing Mentor was probably a positive one. You probably felt pride for the positive impact your wisdom had on the Hero you Mentored. In real life it is entirely possible to play Mentor to someone older than yourself. But symbolically you are inhabiting the role of a wiser and therefore are symbolically older. We prefer to be the Hero but we like to play Mentor.
The Hero more often than not gets a Sidekick too. The Sidekick offers unwavering support to the Hero and will follow him/ her into any quest. Again you, the Hero will have Sidekicks in your life. Close friends, and even our partners often play this role. We can find it rewarding to play Sidekick to them when their Hero quests are worthy of our support.
More On The Zeppo Archetypes
Frequently we find another character a sort of secondary Sidekick but not as effective, one who often causes as many problems as they help fix. The only name I’ve come across for this Archetype is Inferior/Aspirational but I’ve personally dubbed it The Zeppo.
I have stolen this from one of my favourite TV shows in an episode titled The Zeppo, the negative female Archetype of Bitch is berating the Inferior/Aspirational for being “the useless part of the group”.
“You’re Jimmy Olsen.” She tells him, “you’re the Zeppo”.
I’m not familiar myself but I believe this is a reference to The Mark’s Brothers comedy show. My conclusion being that Zeppo filled the role of the Inferior/Aspirational. So that’s why I will refer to this Archetype as the Zeppo.
Useless And Aspirational
Now “useless” may cover the Inferior part but what does the Aspirational mean? The episode The Zeppo concentrates on the Inferior/Aspirational character (making him the Hero of this episode). The characters of the usual main focus are busy on a life-and-death mission to save the world (again). And want to keep the Inferior/Aspirational out of the way. However, despite the accusations of the Bitch he finds himself on life or death mission of his own. And one that threatens the lives of his friends in the process. After the obligatory trial and error, he successfully wins his quest completely unknown to his friends who could have just as easily been killed by the lesser threat dealt with by the Inferior/Aspirational as by the much greater threat they defeated without him.
The next day when the Bitch tries her tactics on him again, he just smiles and walks away. Which of course takes all her power away. So that’s the paradoxical nature of the Zeppo, it can lead you both in and out of trouble. I’m sure you’ve had many people fill this role in your life. Sometimes the Sidekick will let you down and fall into the role of the Zeppo just as easily as you can find yourself there. Your natural weakness leads you into trouble but if you can overcome them you get yourself back out of it and into Hero mode again.
Chaos And Dread
I am certain you can identify this narrative panning out in your own experiences. At the beginning of this process we are made uncomfortable, thrown into the unknown, into Chaos, we can experience dread, panic and the desire to retreat.
When we face up to the challenge and we succeed in regaining Hero status, we experience elation, great pride and renewed self confidence.
Ego, Hero, And Jung
In the concepts that are based in Jung’s work, the Hero, the Parent, the Child and the Inferior/Aspirational Archetypes make up the Ego, with the Hero as the main driver and the others ranking below in the order I listed them. Having analyzed Mythology I have framed these as the comparative/ overlapping roles of Hero, Mentor, Sidekick and Zeppo. I used the Mentor because it is broader in its scope for parental type roles as opposed to Parents/ Monarch as in primary care givers.
Meaning that in myth, the Parent or Mentor is very often a secondary care giver. And of no biological relation to the Hero.
I chose the Sidekick in part because the Child is already represented in the story. In many ways we are always in a Child-like state before the Chaos arrives. And also because it again broadens the scope for the character as it appears in Mythology across the ages and is particularly notable in current culture.
As I explained I’ve used Zeppo as a replacement term for the Inferior/Aspirational.
The Fool, the Judge and the Victim Archetypes
The Mentor, the Sidekick and the Zeppo are all positive Archetypes, so let’s have a look at their opposites. The negative version of the Mentor is the Fool – this is lack of knowledge. No matter how much you know you don’t know everything and that means what you don’t know can hurt you.
No one likes to feel foolish – it’s an humiliating experience. I’m sure you’ll note many times your ignorance has led you into situations you couldn’t have foreseen. As well as times where others’ ignorance caused you to have Bad experiences.
The negative version of the Sidekick is the Critic or the Judge. This Archetype, instead of using its skill to help others as best it can, condemns them. We have all met this person. And again it is possible for people who usually embody other roles such as Sidekick, Mentor, or Good Monarch to play these roles too.
We are all guilty of allowing ourselves to fall into this role and it’s not a pleasant emotional experience. When we realize we have played the role of a negative Archetype we suffer from remorse and guilt over our deeds. Which is the impetus to seek the road back to Hero.
The Victim Archetypes
The negative version of the Zeppo is the Victim. This is what happens when we fail to avoid Chaos in any of its forms including the Villain, we become its Victim. This state is unpleasant and involves pain, the severity of which depends on the level of Chaos unleashed. And you always wind up the Victim in part because you didn’t know enough. Through your own Foolishness and Bad Judgements (unwittingly playing out the roles of Fool and Judge). No matter how the circumstances might be understandable or how malicious and malevolent the form that the Chaos took.
Again we can find many times in our lives when we have been the Victim and times when having played the Villain, we have made Victims of others and suffered the consequences having done that.
According to Jungian theory, these Archetypes live in the Shadow, the Unconscious. The dark to the light of the Conscious or Ego. It’s the place where the motivations that we are unaware of live. The origin of our manifestations of the negative Archetypes and the fears associated with that as well as our fear of external encounters with them.
The Call to Adventure
So, for the Child to become Hero he/she must separate from Mother and Father, from Kingdom and Homeland and begin the quest for Hero status. This happens in a variety of ways, sometimes with a Good King and Queen they have already begun Mentoring the Child in the types of quests they might take on and once an appropriate age is reached they go willingly to seek their fortune. This is often how it works out in real life.
However, in many stories the Call to Adventure is of a more sinister nature. A threat emerges, one that you the Hero must take on or else you and/ or all that you care about is in jeopardy. Sometimes the separation happens when the Hero is still the Child. Often meaning that the quest for this Hero is clear, to regain the Kingdom. Although they may take some time to be ready to take it on, they know what their mission will be from early on in life.
Surrogate Parent Archetypes
They will often have a surrogate Parent Archetype who will play the role of Mentor helping them prepare for their quest. Often the Call to Adventure comes prematurely whilst still in Childhood. This often is the death of the Parents thus incurring the required separation and impetus to answer the Call.
It is also symbolic of the fact that we are never prepared for the Chaos that spills forth – always in a Child state of having the potential to answer the Call to be a Hero. It is in being forced into the role of Victim that we find the Call to Adventure. Because it is in that negative experience that we need to seek a better one.
Harmony And Chaos
Prior to the Call, the Hero is in a state of Harmony – the world that they know where things work mostly as expected. If this is the world you live in, then this is the world you expect to continue living in. In your head you have a story about the way the world is and therefore the way it will be tomorrow.
When something in your world changes, it causes Chaos. It can be a little Chaos, the unexpected traffic jam on the way to work. Or, big Chaos such as the death of a loved one. The story was changed on you. You were going to get to work on time and have a good start to the day, now you won’t. You were expecting that person to be there, you had plans, you had this person, now you don’t.
The Narrative Is Broken
You’re in Chaos, you’re a Victim. You’re hurt, frustrated, angry and most of all you are confused. You can see this enemas when the social Narrative is broken down and Chaos ensues. People panic and start acting erratically, pulling the fabric of the society apart. And fragmenting in all directions as everyone seeks to solve the Chaos in whatever ways they can manage. Even if that’s just to get enough distance from it until they can come up with a better plan.
The social Narrative keeps everyone behaving in line, it tells people what to do. When the Narrative breaks the society breaks because no one knows what they should do anymore. The same thing happens to the individual when life changing levels of Chaos are experienced. We are expelled from the world we knew and into one we have never been before.
Welcome to the Underworld
Once the Hero has either accepted the Call to Adventure or been thrown into the role of Victim he/she has entered the Underworld, the land of Chaos and the unknown. It may be another world completely or it may be an unexplored part of current world. They must now face The Road of Trials, a series of obstacles that will test the Hero and his aides.
It is often in this stage that the Mentor or possibly other characters get killed off. The Mentor Archetype does not have to be living to still fulfil their role. Their lessons or lessons on how to learn lessons, their basic wisdom has already been imparted and therefore integrated into the Hero.
Either that or there are ways in which the Hero can still communicate with the Mentor through supernatural means or fictional technologies. This is symbolic of the fact that we can use our imaginations to communicate with people who are not physically there.
The Separation From The Mentor
Sometimes, the Mentor is not killed off. But is still separated physically from the Hero and he/ she will use these methods to communicate with the Mentor. The killing off, or separation from the Mentor is an echo of the separation from the Parents. This is because there is a large overlap in their roles. It’s symbolic of the fact that we must grow beyond our Mentors and Parents. And face at least some of the Trials alone.
It is in this stage that all the characters will be tested as a group and as individuals. Part of this test may even be a testing of the relationships between the characters. There may even be betrayal from the Zeppo or other characters if they are seduced by an offer of power from a Villain or other negative Archetype. The Trials are symbolic of the lessons we have to learn in life in order to overcome Chaos and it’s Villains. Once the Trials are over the Hero at least will come through the Road of Trials stronger and wiser. And better prepared for the Ordeal ahead.
In Jungian terms the Underworld is the Shadow, the Unconscious, unknown part of our personalities. And just as the real world must be conquered so must our internal minds. The Underworld is a metaphor for the unknown in ourselves as well as the unexplored physical world.
The Ordeal and the Sacrifice
The Ordeal is the End Game, the Boss Level, the Big Fight. It’s what the whole story has been leading us towards.
It’s when the Hero meets his ultimate Villain and is ready. It may be the same Villain who threw the Chaos and the Call to Adventure in the first place. It may be a Villain who bested you on the Road of Trials. Or, it may be the Centre of all Evil, the creator of all Villains.
Epic Battle Time
Depending on the story, this may even be amplified to an epic battle where entire armies of Good and Evil are pitted against each other. More characters may be lost at this stage. Including the Hero. This is the Sacrifice, it is symbolic of the self sacrifice it takes to be a Hero. The fact that in the process of facing our Villains we have to loose our inadequacies. And become “better” versions of ourselves in order to have the skill that it takes to defeat the Villain.
Thus, the old inadequate versions of ourselves are sacrificed so that a true Hero can emerge. This is the Phoenix, the life that springs from is own ashes. What is not good enough is burnt away leaving only that which cannot be destroyed. Many Sacrifices have already been made. Answering the Call in first place is a Sacrifice in itself. Many will have been made along the Road of Trials in order to get to the Ordeal. But the triumph of the Hero over the Villain makes everything worth it.
A Hero Dies
A story where the Hero dies is called a Tragedy. This is a reflection of the sad reality that sometimes the Chaos is too great for us to overcome. Usually, the Sacrifice of the Hero saves the day and even in his/ her death is triumphant. Often, when the Hero defeats the Villain and destroys him, the Villain is only seemingly destroyed only to be resurrected in future stories.
This is symbolic of the fact that you can’t ever get rid of Chaos. No matter how many of its Villains you manage to overcome.
The Return of the Hero
Sometimes the story ends here, but it’s not quite the end. Often, the Hero is rewarded in a variety of ways. The gratitude of the people he/ she has saved is lavished upon the Hero. They often win treasure or rescue a Princess by defeating the Villain or are offered these by a grateful Monarch.
The Hero is always humble (lessons of pride and greed have been learned by now if this is the end of the story) and will accept only that which fulfils his needs. This is symbolic of the rewards we gain at the end of our cycle through the story, when we overcome the Chaos and defeat the Villain we are rewarded with some Harmony, we get some of what we want and a good dose of what we need. A home, not just shelter but a place in the community born of respect, companionship and peace.
This is the return to the Homeland, to the Kingdom, to Harmony. To the known lands, where we are at peace, where the world is as we expect it to be. Even if the Hero settles in a different place to where they started it is still a Homeland through their Adventures they have conquered that place and made it known.
And that’s the end of that story, and the beginning of the next, for the only point of the story is to prepare you for the Chaos that’s coming, because there’s always more Chaos on its way.
And so the cycle and story begins again.
Animal and Other Archetypes
Many stories use animals instead of people as their characters and the same rules apply. The character embodies the attributes that are most associated with that animal.
Snakes and Wolves make excellent Villains. Owls are wise and make good Mentors. Donkeys are slow and stubborn but hard workers and so make good Zeppos. Bears are strong making them strong Heroes. Lions, as “Kings of the Jungle,” have long been associated with Monarch and Father, and so on.
Things are also imbued with symbolism and can therefore be associated with Archetype, the use of landscape, location and objects are all symbolic in stories.
High and Low Resolution Stories
High Resolution stories are epics. The Bible, Tolkin, and Harry Potter are good examples. They contain many stories within them, many cycles of Adventure culminating in epic, multi faceted Ordeals, these are the representations of a life, of all the times you lived through the Adventure.
It is a reflection of the complex interweaving of a multitude of stories and characters that make up a complete life cycle. The Epic tale is symbolic of the fact that Chaos will make you Victim over and over again and that you will have to play the Hero and overcome it every time that happens.
Low Resolution Stories
Low Resolution stories will miss and skip and condense characters and stages. Sometimes, all the Good characters are condensed into the Hero and all the Bad into the Villain. The Road of Trials will often be skipped and the Ordeal unfolds efficiently, and the Return will be summed up with “and they lived happily ever after”. It’s an oversimplification of reality. But a basic representation of it. These tactics are used to write children books which is one place you find this type of story used often.
Low Resolution stories don’t just exist for children, they also represent the lower levels of Chaos. You can go through a low level Hero’s journey many times in a day. Just getting up in the morning can be seen as accepting the Call and overcoming our daily challenges are all completions of Adventures on a micro scale.
Role Fluidity and Integration
As I have outlined we all constantly move in and out of many roles in our lives, as represented by the Archetypes. It is entirely possible to inhabit more than one simultaneously such as in different areas of your life. Like, being the Hero at work and the Villain at home. Or with different people, you will always be the Child to your Parents no matter how many children of your own you have to play Parent to.
We do this both consciously such as taking a on a Mentor role to a new employee. And unconsciously or subconsciously, we either slip into the negative Archetypes or rise to challenge, such as getting angry at criticism or comforting a distressed child. We see this reflected in the stories as our Hero goes through his/her journey and plays all the roles out for themselves.
As we go through our journeys and play out the Archetypal roles, we can learn to inhabit them at will. This includes the negative Archetypes. When we slip into these roles we are at the mercy of Chaos. But when we choose them, we harness their Chaos for a purpose. And we have control of the power of the Archetype instead of it having power over us. In stories, this is often represented as an item of power that is in the possession of the Villain that the Hero must retrieve and use to defeat the Villain. It may be a dark art. Or, a criminal skill that the Hero must master in order to fulfil his destiny and defeat the Villain.
Play The Roles for A Higher Purpose
What they have to do is learn to play the Victim, the Fool, the Judge and even the Villain for a higher purpose. Not their own agendas. Master those roles and they become like secret weapons. They seriously enhance both wisdom and skill. And it is mastering the Villain inside the Hero that will give him/ her the edge that they need to defeat the Villain in the Ordeal. We learn to do this as we go through our cycles of the Hero story. Although, few of us will gain full mastery over our negative Archetypes, we will learn a certain amount of control over them. Which will make us more balanced both internally and in our external lives.
Thus, we will suffer less consequence of the actions of our Fools, Judges and Villains and reap more rewards from them instead. We will suffer and perpetuate less Victimhood. This is represented by the Reward of a Harmonious life in the Homelands at the end of the stories.
As we have explored. the Underworld or Shadow is the place where the Hero is tested by the negative Archetypes both exterior and those within him/herself. The process of mastering the roles through the Hero’s Journey is what Jung called Shadow Integration. We have a natural associations of darkness being bad the light being good. This is fundamentally because we are day creatures. Darkness obscures things from our awareness that the light makes clear to us. So it is in our minds, as sure as night follows day, Chaos follows Harmony. And for Harmony to return, the Chaos must be faced.
So I have outlined the core Archetypes and the Monomyth of the Hero’s Journey. And how this is a reflection of the human experience.
I have shown you how our psyches are made of Archetypes. There is You the Hero, You the Mentor, You the Sidekick, You the Zeppo, You the Victim, You the Fool, You the Judge and You the Villain. And, collectively they make up You with different Archetypes manifesting themselves in different situations.
Relate It To Your Own Life
I am expecting that as you have read this that you have brought a variety of stories that are familiar to you to mind. And that you have thought over a variety of your life experiences in relation to different Archetypes. And parts of the Hero’s Journey which should have demonstrated how all Narrative is abstracted from the basic human struggle for survival. Or, how the basic human struggle for survival is encoded into all our Narratives. Be they Myth, Religious, Cultural, Therapeutic or our own personal Hero quests.
And that the purpose of this fundamental human behaviour is to serve as guidance and warning systems, a road map to life’s journey, to give as much assistance as possible in Navigating the inevitable Chaos that is to come. It is ancient and consistent wisdom that is passed on and repackaged into new stories that reflect and therefore serve the current culture.
To sum up the state the case,
- That the Hero’s Journey is the Monomyth of All Narratives,
- That it is an abstraction of Survival,
- That our minds are built out of this abstraction,
- That it is therefore true and ancient wisdom passed through storytelling.
Reference material for this article really is everything I ever read or heard or experienced. But to give a few core sources:
- Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, 1949.
- Mythos Audiobook, Heroes Audiobook, by Stephen Fry.
- Robert Greene, The Laws of Human Nature, 2018.
- Personality Hacker – https://personalityhacker.com/category/podcast/
- C.S. Joseph – https://www.youtube.com/c/CSJoseph
- The Jordan B Petersen Podcast
P.S. This is a guest post by Cat Sawyer. If you wish to email her directly then you can do so at cat.tank89 at gmail dot com.