The Four Core Archetypes – Everybody’s Got ‘Em

There are four archetypal patterns that are common to everyone.  Caroline Myss refers to them as the Survival Archetypes because they are so often engaged when we feel threatened or fearful. These archetypes influence how we respond to challenge, how we make choices especially when we are afraid of something or someone.  We don’t go a day without one or all of these archetypal patterns at play in our lives which is one of the many reasons why it’s so important to understand them and their primary purpose.

It’s long been my belief that if you only examine a few archetypes in your life, these four will be the most helpful.

In Myss’s book Sacred Contracts she refers to the four as The Child, The Victim, The Saboteur and The Prostitute and you will see these archetypes referred to in many articles throughout the site. Below I’ve translated these four into The Head (Saboteur) , The Heart (Prostitute) , The Body (Victim) and The Soul (The Child) and mapped them to elements as well as additional archetypal characters that come into play.   Popular characters from films have been added to further illustrate how these archetypes play out in life as well as art.

The Soul

Integration – Embodiment

Responsibility, Innocence, Authority

Child / Adult / Sovereign

Element:  Earth

The most easily recognizable archetype is the Child.  We all had a childhood and experience of being young and all the joys and difficulties that entails.  Of the 4 core archetypes the Child has many distinct versions. More details on the many types of Child archetypes are here.  The essence of this archetype is a trajectory of growth and how we navigate a life that has both opportunities and challenges.  Eight or Eighty we are all still capable of playing wild and free, throwing tantrums, hiding from grown-ups (authority), believing that anything can happen or just being silly for the sake of doing so.  It’s a guide to moving from dependency to interdependency with others, being responsible for yourself and working with the consequences of our choices in life.  The Child is the guardian of innocence but also self-awareness and self-compassion.  Carrie from Sex in the City is a prime example of the Child archetype in a grown-up world.  She can see the world as bright and hopeful while openly examining her own choices and foibles.  Like Carrie, Harry Potter navigates learning who he is and what he is capable of during the joys and dangers of his story.  Both characters struggle with responsibility, self doubt and what it’s like to grow through it all.  The path of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz is covered in more detail here.

The Body

Influence: Personal power, Self-esteem, Boundaries

Archetypes: Victim, Warrior

Element:  Fire

To live is to experience things that are difficult where we are wounded one way or another.  From our very DNA we are set up to feel fear and react.  You could say this archetype is the character of fight or flight.  It’s also a pattern where decisions are made about our personal safety and learn from the past.

The negative traits of the Victim are self-evident. But when properly recognized, it can be a tremendous aid in letting us know when we are in danger of letting ourselves be victimized, often through passivity but also through rash or inappropriate actions. It can also help us to see our own tendency to victimize others for personal gain. In its shadow aspect, the Victim shows us that we may like to play the Victim at times because of the positive feedback we get in the form of sympathy or pity. Our goal is always to learn how to recognize these inappropriate attitudes in ourselves or others, and to act accordingly.

I use the example of Samantha from Sex in the City for the Victim/Warrior archetypes in action.  She face forward strong in her approach to life much like a Warrior, but she gets tripped up when it comes to intimacy and the necessary vulnerability it required.  Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter series is often an example of the “why me?” part of the Victim but it’s rarely long before he summons his courage and faces a challenge.  He’s also one of the most approachable characters in the series.  We see his struggles and like him all the more for how he deals with them.  This too is a way we can connect to each other through an archetype.  The Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz is discussed on more detail in this blog post.

The Head

Mind & Thought

Choice, Truth, Self-Esteem

Saboteur / Alchemist

Element:  Air

The mind as it pertains to rational thought and reasoning. The core archetype here is often called the Saboteur as it pertains to a dis-empowered state and Alchemist as it pertains to the empowered state.   The Saboteur is often the Inner Critic with a running dialogue that picks things to pieces (hence the sabotaging…).  The Alchemist side of things represents an expert at identifying and understanding the illusions that the Saboteur concocts and seeing the possibilities in situations.  The ancient Alchemists where focused on changing lead to gold and the symbolic Alchemist can see the gold in the leaden situations.

The Saboteur archetype is made up of the fears and issues related to low self-esteem that cause you to make choices in life that block your own empowerment and success. As with the Victim and Prostitute, you need to face this powerful archetype that we all possess and make it an ally. When you do, you will find that it calls your attention to situations in which you are in danger of being sabotaged, or of sabotaging yourself. Once you are comfortable with the Saboteur, you learn to hear and heed these warnings, saving yourself untold grief from making the same mistakes over and over. Ignore it, and the shadow Saboteur will manifest in the form of self-destructive behavior or the desire to undermine others.

The Saboteur can also show up as the inner critic bent on mucking up the works – why? – usually it’s out of fear.  Do you ever find yourself examining something or someone to the nth degree in order to find fault sabotaging it in the process?  Say “bon jour to le saboteur!”  In my experience this is the slipperiest archetype to work with because we can use it to help get clear on a situation but end up over the edge by pulling it to bits.  I reference Miranda from Sex In The City as an example of this archetype.  She can be fantastic at being overly rational/critical and putting the kibosh on an idea or relationship and by turns be the character that clears away the crap to get to the truth (see “He’s Just Not That Into You” episode). Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series is often an example of both the Saboteur for her way of insisting on her own very “thinky” way of dealing with things.  This isn’t always a bad thing but it blocks out other avenues of managing a situation.  She can also be a ‘know it all’ which is a way of putting aside other people’s perspectives.  On the positive side she often uses her mind to help prevent bad outcomes and see a way forward when no one else does.  I go into more detail on the Scarecrow from Wizard of Oz as Saboteur in this article.

The Heart

Emotions, Faith, Negotiation, Integrity, Self-Worth

Lover / Prostitute

Element:  Water

The Prostitute archetype engages lessons in integrity and the sale or negotiation of one’s integrity or spirit due to fears of physical and financial survival or for financial gain. This archetype activates the aspects of the unconscious that are related to seduction and control, whereby you are as capable of buying a controlling interest in another person as you are in selling your own power. Prostitution should also be understood as the selling of your talents, ideas, and any other expression of the self–or the selling-out of them. This archetype is universal and its core learning relates to the need to birth and refine self-esteem and self-respect.

Articles about the Core Archetypes

Dating Survival Guides Part 4: Check Yo Self

Ever get super annoyed about a date's habit of eating loudly, or feel uncomfortable because they have a super hot ex?  It can be oh so easy to extrapolate small things into relationship-stopping catastrophes even when other aspects of the situation are great.  When...

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The Sun – At Play With The Child

 Subscribe in iTunes Here Comes the Sun! After the dark debacle of the stage represented by the Moon card, the nineteenth card of the Major Arcana shares its rays of light on the Archetypal Tarot Podcast.  Inside the protective walls of a golden kingdom, two children...

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Dating Survival Guides Part 3: Safety vs. Strength

If dating seems like an ordeal, you are not alone.  I've heard many versions of  "I'm not dating because it sucks"  from all sorts of people; gay, straight, men and women of all ages.  I've expressed that sentiment myself more than a few times, but I also know that it...

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Dating Survival Guides Part 2: You Are Enough

They say to always lead with your strength. I'm going to lead with one of my weaknesses - sometimes I feel like I'm not enough. Not smart enough, pretty enough, rich enough, thin enough etc. Basically, take any positive quality and put 'not' in front and 'enough'...

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Let's consider for a moment that we all have a container in our psyche that holds the entire history of our being wounded: betrayal, abandonment, shame - the whole painful enchilada.  This same container also holds the story of our healing: past, present and future....

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Three Archetypes of Awesome

Little things can mean a lot. Let's say you're having a crappy day and you're at the store when the cashier pulls out a coupon that saves you a dollar. This gives you a boost and you walk out the door in a better mood.  Maybe you don't honk at the numbskull ahead of...

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Part of us is grouchy and lives in Florida

Understanding archetypes goes much deeper than a chat about a movie and beyond the confines of a psychology textbook.  An archetype is not just a pattern "out there" in theory but it is a recurring set of experiences that unfold through the course of a human life....

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Summertime and the Child Archetype

It's summertime here in the northern hemisphere and it seems our Child archetypes are clamoring to go out and play.  I remember as a child, summer was about being outside and hanging out doing whatever we fancied at the time.   For most of us, childhood was the only...

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Prostitute Finds Faith in You

The term Prostitute doesn't typically come up in polite conversation. It does however in popular culture, usually  in it's slang form, "ho". In fact "ho" is used quite liberally and casually in music, movies and by kids talking on the bus. So what is all this "Ho"...

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Survival Archetypes and “The Wizard of Oz”

The film "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" provides a prime example of the hero's journey of each of the four core (or survival) archetypes: the Child, the Victim, the Prostitute, and the Saboteur.   This film is an archetypal treasure trove, but for brevity's sake I will...

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The Child Archetype

Simply said, we all have had a childhood and a part of us remains a child throughout our lives.  Eight or Eighty we are all still capable of playing wild and free, throwing tantrums, hiding from grown-ups (authority), believing that anything can happen or just being...

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