Archetypes Guide: Their Meaning and Significance
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 10 min read


  1. What are archetypes?
  2. How archetypes shape culture and storytelling
  3. Exploration of the Hero archetype
  4. Exploration of the Maiden archetype
  5. Exploration of the Wise Old Man archetype
  6. Exploration of the Trickster archetype
  7. Exploration of the Devouring Mother archetype
  8. Exploration of the Great Mother archetype
  9. Exploration of the Shadow archetype
  10. How to use archetypes in your own work

Have you ever noticed how certain characters seem to pop up over and over again in stories from different cultures and time periods? These are known as archetypes, and they carry deep meanings that resonate with us on a subconscious level. Understanding archetypes can give us fresh insights into our own lives, the world around us, and even the stories we craft ourselves. So, let's get started on this fascinating journey into the world of archetypes.

What are archetypes?

Let's start with the basics. The definition of archetype, in its simplest form, is a typical example of a certain person or thing. They are recurring patterns of human behavior, symbolized by standard types of characters in movies or books. Swiss psychologist Carl Jung was the one who introduced the concept of archetypes into psychology. He believed that these patterns are universal and exist in what he called the collective unconscious of all people.

If you've ever heard of the Hero, the Trickster, or the Wise Old Man, then you've already encountered some archetypes. They're like the common threads that weave through all our stories, regardless of where or when they're told. They're more than just stock characters, though. Archetypes represent fundamental human themes—our dreams, our fears, our aspirations, and our struggles. Let's look at some of the most common ones:

  • The Hero: The brave figure who conquers challenges and saves the day.
  • The Maiden: The innocent, pure figure, often a source of inspiration for the Hero.
  • The Wise Old Man: The figure of wisdom and guidance, often helping the Hero on their journey.
  • The Trickster: The mischievous character who disrupts the status quo and brings about change.
  • The Devouring Mother: The overbearing or controlling figure, often posing a challenge for the Hero.
  • The Great Mother: The nurturing, comforting figure, often providing support and care.
  • The Shadow: The embodiment of the darker aspects of the self, representing our fears and repressed desires.

These are just a few examples, and there are many more archetypes out there. Each one carries its own set of associated meanings and emotions, helping us to connect with the stories in which they appear. So, next time you're watching a movie, reading a book, or even observing the people around you, why not try to spot some archetypes? You might be surprised at what you find.

How archetypes shape culture and storytelling

Now that we've grasped the definition of archetype, let's delve into the significant roles they play in our culture and storytelling. Here's the thing—you might not realize it, but archetypes have a profound impact on how we interpret and engage with stories.

Think about it. When you see a character in a movie that fits the Hero archetype, you instantly understand something crucial about them. You know they're going to face and overcome challenges. You expect them to demonstrate courage and resilience. This immediate recognition is all thanks to the power of archetypes.

Archetypes are like shortcuts to understanding. They tap into our collective unconscious—those shared ideas and concepts that Jung talked about. Because of this, they can transcend cultural and linguistic barriers, making stories more universally relatable.

Ever wondered why fairy tales are so enduring? It's because they're packed full of archetypes. The innocent Maiden, the wicked Witch, the heroic Prince—they're all archetypes that speak to us on a deep, instinctual level.

But it's not just fairy tales. From Hollywood blockbusters to classic novels, from ancient myths to modern-day sitcoms, archetypes are everywhere. They give stories depth, resonance, and universal appeal.

So, whether you're a writer, a reader, or just a lover of stories, understanding archetypes can enrich your experience. It can help you see the deeper meanings behind the characters and narratives you encounter, making every story a richer, more rewarding journey.

Exploration of the Hero archetype

If you're familiar with the definition of archetype, then you probably already have an idea of what the Hero archetype is all about. Right off the bat, we often think of characters like Harry Potter, Superman, or Katniss Everdeen.

The Hero archetype isn't just about being strong or brave, though these qualities often come into play. It's about a character who rises to the occasion, faces adversity head-on, and comes out victorious—often changing or saving their world in the process.

But what's truly fascinating about the Hero archetype is its ubiquity. From the ancient epic of Gilgamesh to the latest Marvel movie, the Hero archetype is a staple of storytelling across cultures and millennia. This longevity speaks volumes about the power and appeal of this archetype.

At their core, Hero archetypes embody our human desire to overcome obstacles, to prove ourselves, and to make a difference. They represent our ideal selves—the people we aspire to be in our most courageous, resilient, and selfless moments.

Remember, a Hero doesn't always wear a cape or wield a magical weapon. Sometimes, the most inspiring Heroes are those who exhibit extraordinary courage in the face of everyday challenges—like Scout Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird" or Auggie Pullman in "Wonder."

So, the next time you encounter a Hero in a story, take a moment to appreciate the depths of this archetype. It's more than just an action-packed adventure—it's a reflection of our shared human experience.

Exploration of the Maiden archetype

While the Hero archetype might seem more exciting, there's a unique charm to the Maiden archetype, don't you think? If you're searching for the definition of archetype, you'll find that the Maiden is often defined as a figure of innocence, purity, and unexplored potential.

When we talk about the Maiden, we're not just talking about young, unmarried women. Instead, the Maiden represents a phase of life. It's a stage of innocence, growth, and potential, irrespective of gender.

Characters like Alice from "Alice in Wonderland", Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz", or Lucy from "The Chronicles of Narnia" are perfect examples. They embody curiosity, naivety, and a sense of wonder that often sets them on a path of adventure and self-discovery.

The Maiden archetype is not about being weak or passive. On the contrary, Maidens often show remarkable resilience and resourcefulness. They may start their journey unaware of the world's complexities, but their experiences expose them to life's realities and help them grow.

Maidens often symbolize new beginnings or the promise of a fresh start. They inspire us to look at the world with fresh eyes, to embrace the unknown, and to learn from our experiences. So, the next time you come across a Maiden in a story, remember to celebrate the potential they represent.

Exploration of the Wise Old Man archetype

When discussing the definition of archetype, we can't skip the Wise Old Man. This character is a true staple in storytelling. Do characters like Gandalf from "Lord of the Rings", Albus Dumbledore from "Harry Potter", or Rafiki from "The Lion King" ring a bell? Well, they are all classic examples of the Wise Old Man archetype.

The Wise Old Man is often a mentor or guide, offering wisdom, support, and sometimes, tough love to the hero. Their wisdom is hard-earned, usually from a lifetime of experiences. This archetype represents knowledge, insight, and often, a path to self-discovery and growth for the other characters.

But don't let the name fool you. The Wise Old Man isn't always a man, or even old. It's the wisdom, guidance, and mentorship that define this archetype, not the age or gender. Think of characters like Mrs. Potts from "Beauty and the Beast" or Glinda the Good Witch from "The Wizard of Oz".

The Wise Old Man archetype is a reminder to us all about the value of wisdom and the importance of mentors in our lives. Who knows, maybe you have a Wise Old Man figure in your life, guiding you towards your own personal journey of growth and discovery.

Exploration of the Trickster archetype

As we continue our journey through the fascinating world of archetypes, let's shift our focus to the Trickster archetype. This character often brings a certain level of mischief and unpredictability to the plot, and plays a crucial role in adding a twist to the story.

When you think about the definition of archetype, the Trickster might not be the first one that comes to mind, but it's a character that can truly make a story unforgettable. Think of Puck from "A Midsummer Night's Dream", Loki from the "Thor" movies, or even Bugs Bunny from Looney Tunes. They are all Tricksters who use their wits and cunning to challenge the status quo and stir up trouble.

The Trickster is not just about causing chaos though. They also often bring about change and transformation, pushing characters out of their comfort zones and forcing them to adapt and grow. So, while they might be a bit of a nuisance, they serve a very important purpose.

Interestingly, the Trickster can also be seen as a symbol of resistance against authority and a champion of individuality. They encourage us to question norms, think outside the box, and not be afraid to be different. So next time you encounter a Trickster, remember, there's often more to them than meets the eye!

Exploration of the Devouring Mother archetype

After sifting through the playful and rebellious nature of the Trickster, let's take a step into the darker side of the archetype spectrum—the Devouring Mother. When we talk about the definition of archetype, this character often doesn't get as much attention, but it holds a profound significance in storytelling.

The Devouring Mother is, in essence, a distorted version of the nurturing mother figure. Instead of supporting growth and independence, this archetype tends to stifle and control. The Devouring Mother can be spotted in characters like Mother Gothel from "Tangled", who manipulates and controls her 'daughter' Rapunzel to serve her own needs.

Often, this archetype manifests as a character who is overly protective, hinder the protagonist's growth, and attempts to keep them dependent. This control often stems from a place of fear or a need for dominance. The Devouring Mother may be hard to deal with, but it's important to remember that she often symbolizes a character's struggle with dependence and the need to break free.

While the Devouring Mother might be a challenging character to face, she plays a crucial role in the hero's journey. After all, overcoming obstacles is what makes a story worth telling, right? So, next time you come across this archetype in a story, remember the valuable lessons of independence and growth that they represent.

Exploration of the Great Mother archetype

Let's switch gears and look at a more positive aspect of motherhood in the world of archetypes—the Great Mother. If we consider the definition of archetype as a recurring symbol in literature, the Great Mother is an embodiment of nurturing, warmth, and protection.

The Great Mother is the one who offers the hero comfort and safety, often at a crucial point in their journey. When you think of Molly Weasley from the "Harry Potter" series, you're thinking of the Great Mother archetype. She's the one who wraps you in a warm hug and tells you everything's going to be alright—even when you're in the midst of fighting dark wizards.

This archetype is a symbol of abundance and fertility, often associated with nature and the cycle of life. The Great Mother provides emotional and spiritual nourishment to those around her. She is the one who helps the hero to heal and gather strength for the trials ahead.

However, the Great Mother isn't just about kindness and warmth. This archetype also represents the power and fierceness of a mother's love. Think about it—would you want to cross Molly Weasley when she's defending her kids? Probably not. That's the Great Mother for you, a comforting presence and a powerful force to be reckoned with.

Exploration of the Shadow archetype

Next on our list, we have one of the most intriguing archetypes—the Shadow. In the simplest terms, the Shadow is the dark side of our personality. It represents the parts of ourselves we often hide or deny—the fears, the insecurities, the negative traits. But the Shadow isn't just about darkness or evil; it's also about the potential for growth and transformation.

If we look at the definition of archetype as a universal pattern of behavior, the Shadow is something we all have to confront at some point in our life. It's that nagging voice in the back of our head that says we're not good enough or that we're going to fail. It's the part of us that holds us back, that keeps us from reaching our full potential.

Take, for example, the character of Darth Vader from "Star Wars". He is the embodiment of the Shadow archetype. His journey from Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader is a journey into darkness, into his own Shadow. But it's also a journey of transformation and redemption.

So, the next time you're feeling stuck or afraid, remember the Shadow archetype. It's not just about the darkness within us; it's also about the potential for growth and transformation. And who knows? You might just find your own 'Darth Vader' moment and use it as a stepping stone to become the best version of yourself.

How to use archetypes in your own work

Now that we've journeyed through the world of archetypes, you might be wondering how you can use this understanding in your own work. Whether you're shaping characters in a novel, developing a brand, or even understanding your own personal growth, archetypes can be a powerful tool to add depth and resonance.

Consider the definition of archetype as a universally understood symbol or term. Using these universal symbols can make your work more relatable to your audience. For example, if you're writing a story, think about the roles your characters play. Are they the Hero, striving for a goal? The Wise Old Man, providing guidance? Or perhaps they're the Shadow, representing challenges and growth?

When we think about brands, they too can embody archetypes. Apple, for instance, is often seen as the Creator archetype, constantly pushing the boundaries of innovation. On the other hand, a brand like Nike embodies the Hero archetype, encouraging its customers to "Just Do It" and conquer their challenges.

Even in our personal lives, understanding these archetypes can help us make sense of our behaviors and motivations. Are you playing the Maiden, waiting for something to happen, or the Hero, taking control of your destiny?

Remember, archetypes are not restrictive labels, but guiding lights. They can help you understand the patterns in your work, in your brand, or even in your life. So why not embrace the power of archetypes? It might just give your work the depth and resonance that sets it apart.

If you enjoyed learning about archetypes and their significance, you might also be interested in exploring how these concepts can be applied to your creative work. Check out the workshop 'Composing Complex Illustrations using Basic Shapes' by Juliet Schreckinger. This workshop will guide you through the process of creating intricate illustrations by incorporating archetypal elements and basic shapes, ultimately enhancing the depth and meaning of your artwork.