Archetypal Psychology: the Modern Hero's Journey


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Joseph Campbell once drew an analogy between a modern-day dream analyst and the ancient initiator/guide of souls. Within the framework of archetypal psychotherapy, analysts are magicians – adepts of the secret language of the unconscious. They have undertaken their own hero’s journey: forsaking everyday practicality to travel through the dark netherworld of the psyche, and then returning to share their insights and knowledge with fellow seekers.

For all their capability and expertise, however, these therapists are essentially facilitators; the true initiators, in these instances, are the patients’ dreams. Using their peculiar language, a mixture of the metaphoric and the personally evocative, dreams warn us of the pitfalls along the path to maturity and give us clues as to where our true treasures lie hidden. Delving into our dreams over time, we become acquainted with the drama of our soul life and its colorful cast of characters: the tricksters, sages, shape-shifters, talking beasts, witches, tyrants, kings, monsters and princesses. Out inner protagonists and villains become personified.

Within therapy sessions the patients engage in gestalt – active dialogue with figures from their dreams. This experience can’t be grasped by reading the lectures of Carl Jung or wrestling with the precepts of archetypal psychology intellectually. Like the hero’s adventure, it demands the full participation of body, mind and spirit. For the archetypes to touch us, and exert their influence over the course of our lives, we have to feel them. In mythology we see, as a recurring motif, the necessity of self-sacrifice. The spiritual path, likewise, requires humility and acquiescence to a Higher Power. But we do not have to abase ourselves in an attitude of subservience; we merely need to acknowledge that the inner world holds a store of wisdom beyond our ken. We would do well to listen to its messages, rather than heed the voice of ego that insists that we already know.

Those messages come through clearer the more we strive to be open and receptive. Our dreams can point to disturbing influences that cloud our clarity. Perhaps a man or woman we feel strongly drawn to actually resemble one of the Sirens of Greek myths, drawing us with bewitching songs into the deep waters of unconsciousness. We might be chasing faerie glamour and fool’s gold in the career/marriage/living situation we thought we so badly wanted. Our dreams will give voice to our inner dissatisfaction.

Our own commitment to the work initiates an inner shift; and, given time, the work itself will take over. We might find ourselves weeping over the ashes of our old lives, as shame, grief and anger are dislodged from myriad hiding places. But here the human psyche proves that it is its own best physician, for our dreams lead us down into dark caves only when we are ready to explore them. Our inner selves know just what symbols to use to provoke repressed memories, wounds…and joys, also. For over the course of our lives, following the death of childhood, we’ve gradually disowned not only our pain but also our inner strength. Healing isn’t about wallowing in our pain but rather moving through it to discover the wellspring of life, energy and happiness buried beneath.

Once we unearth this shimmering treasure – our own innate vitality – from the muck, we enrich and expand our lives and achieve deeper satisfaction and peace of mind. Soon we’ll be ready for the last stage of the adventure that enshrines the hero: to return to society and share the inner wealth, so that all may grow richer thereby.

Seth Mullins is an author residing in Eugene, OR. His twelve years’ experience with Archetypal Psychology inspired his novel “Song of an Untamed Land”, an epic adventure that revolves around the spiritual quest. Visit Seth at .


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