Archetypal Characters Are “Action Patterns” for Your Life Story

Archetypal characters are the heros and villains of the stories you tell yourself and others about your life.

Hogenson (2009) says simply that archetypes are “action patterns” (p. 325).

beautiful crone older woman

Beautiful Crones

older woman feathers hat black gloves

Are Everywhere

beautiful older woman face

This gets to the heart of the therapeutic uses of archetypes.

This month, the Jungian Archetypes series topic is how character archetypes can be used for self-understanding.

To close a year of Archetypes of the Month, December reflects on croning rituals as a way to honor mature women's wisdom. Previously, the history of the crone image of the Triple Goddess was reviewed.

What Characters Do You Play in Your Life Story?

Life would be chaos if you did not organize your diverse and diffuse sensory experiences in some way.

Archetypal characters are one way that to create order out of our cognitive impressions.

We draw on the abundant characterizations found in the mass media representations around us. These, in turn, plumb the depths of human experience as it has been handed down in myths and perhaps in our very genes.

Knox (2004) reflects on research that compares archetypes to cognitive image schemas, or patterns for organizing our experience.

Making Everything Explicit Brings Wholeness

Knox writes, "The term archetype, used in the sense of the archetypal image, beautifully captures the sense of the accumulating and inter-weaving metaphorical extensions of the core gestalt" (p. 10).

It is this core gestalt -- a complete sense of meaning that we create out of incomplete impressions of reality -- that provides a stable definition of self-concept throughout our lives.

Writing from the perspective of an analyst, Knox suggests that the most important work with the client is bringing unconscious archetypal characters and stories into awareness.

He writes, "[S]o often we struggle for months or years with implicit awareness about a patient and then suddenly find the words to describe what we, and often the patient, already know. An implicit narrative can gradually become explicit" (p. 10).

Knox posits "that the full flowering of reflective function is the pinnacle of human psychic development" (p. 12).

The Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living, Socrates

We become aware of all that we have lived -- experiences, feelings, hopes and fears, disappointments and triumphs -- through reflection.

Conscious self-awareness of your life's many facets promotes becoming whole and all that you can be.

Knox explains that therapists teach patients to tell themselves new narratives: "A successful analytic narrative is one that can become meaningful to our patients so that they can take it over, use it for themselves and adapt it to establish their own sense of psychic causality, of the link between intra-psychic experiences and the external world" (p. 14). The archetypal characters that are the foundation of one’s self-concept are the foundation for what Knox calls "narrative competence, the ability to connect past and present experiences together into a meaningful story" (p. 15).

Nurse Uses Archetypal Characters for Healing Stories

Patrice Rancour (2008), oncology nurse, finds the stories patients tell themselves have utmost importance in the healing process.

She writes, "Jungian metaphors and archetypes also can be used to evoke powerful images that help survivors find depth of meaning in their suffering and enhance healing" (p. 939).

Nurses, she believes, can help patients recognize "'shadow' emotional experiences stemming from the recovery process." She advises patients to embrace wild roller coaster ride of emotions, develop compassion for others, and "to imagine newly emerging life purposes that far exceed their identification as survivors" (p. 935).

Survivors may experience a sense of abandonment by health-care professionals who played such an important role during an intense crisis in their lives.

They also may start to question the meaning of the illness for who they have become and are now. They need a new story of their lives and new archetypal characters to frame their self-concept.

Rancour fuses archetype theory with transitions theory. The latter posits that transitions are characterized by endings (letting go of old relationships and circumstances), a neutral zone, and new beginnings. Stories also bear witness to the survivor’s experience -- another value of storytelling.

Small Rituals and Autobiography Are Other Paths To Personal Meaning

Your life journey -- and mine -- includes allowing ourselves to fully feel and acknowledge pain. Small rituals may help create meaningful experiences from within life's chaos.

Rancour observes, "One survivor was helped by the suggestion to light a candle every time she was confronted with something new that overwhelmed her ability to cope" (p. 939).

All of us can use the templates of archetypal characters to create the autobiography of our lives.

The latter part of life is when we are most likely to have time to take stock and a wealth of experience from which to draw.

Writing Down Your Life As A Path to Wholeness

Roesler (2006) finds archetypes are useful for writing one’s autobiography.

He explains, "Identity is the construct which provides the person with a sense of continuity of being over time, which creates a sense of coherence so that the divergent experiences form an interconnected whole, and which gives meaning to one’s experiences and to life as a whole. All these aspects of identity: continuity, coherence and meaning, are created by putting one’s experiences in life into a life story, a narrative" (p. 575).

Like Rancour, he also finds that archetypal characters and stories bring meaning to the lives of the disabled and chronically ill.

On Becoming a Crone

In summary, we often hear a person say while telling a person anecdote that life was “like a movie.” Movies, however, draw on archetypal characters and mythic narratives to update these ancient themes.

It is not our life that is like the movie or book. It is the movie or book that has tapped some wellspring of human consciousness to create a semblance of transcendent reality.

Recognizing the archetypal characters who populate the story of your Self is a fundamental step toward creating meaning, even mythic meaning, and coherence of everyday experiences. Older women do not have many attractive or meaningful templates on which to base our experiences.

As we reach into the past to learn about the goddess tradition, we have time to decide how to embody the third face of the triple goddess, maiden-mother-crone.


Hogeson, G. B. (2009). Archetypes as action patterns. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 54, 325-337.

Knox, J. (2004). From archetypes to reflective function. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 49, 1-15.

Rancour, P. (2008).Using archetypes and transitions theory to help patients move from active treatment to survivorship. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing, 12, 935-940.

Roesler, C. (2006). A narratological methodology for identifying archetypal story patterns in autobiographical narratives. Journal of Analytical Psychology, 51, 574–586.

12 Months of Female Archetypes for You

Madonna statue mother archetype Candlemas ritual woman reading by candlelight rainbow photo
The Winter Mother
Mother Light
Hope & the Feminine
Mother Rain
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Dance & Spring SymbolsMother
Feminine Makeover
Value of Storytelling
The Truth Seeker
older woman in nature triple goddess maiden-mother-crone Beautiful crone Older woman meditating
Liminal Space & the In-Between
Crone Re-Emerges
Crone Character & Healing
Croning Ritual

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