I had a conversation with a friend recently about the role of myth and archetypes in understanding culture and the lives of others. She was resistant to this lens, responding with “These aren’t myths, these are actual people with actual lives.” To her, it seemed that the labels robbed the people of their “realness.”
I realize the conversation would have benefited from first defining the terms, which I’ve come to understand differently than how the dominant culture views them.
“Myths”, rather than something that is “not true” are more accurately understood as the lens by which meaning can be brought to bear upon the shifting movements of the day to day — the patterns by which life can be rendered recognizable. Though the actors and locations may change, we have been “here” before.
Archetypes are the reoccurring personas, dwelling in the collective unconscious, that we may cycle through in each moment, day, and even lifetime. The Fool. The Warrior. The King.
What is more “real?” The specific ephemeral phenomena that is constantly in flux, each life a brief burst, like a firefly in the dark? Or are the patterns that persist more real, the reoccurring motifs and characters that return again and again?
I used to think that embodying an archetype is something we choose. But lately, I’ve been seeing things differently. Much like Elizabeth Gilbert’s articulation of “genius” as a quality not possessed by an artist, but something that may temporarily possess them, I believe an archetype is something that chooses us. Not to be confused with an unchanging identify, but rather a specific role for a specific duration of time.
Our part is whether we consciously accept this role as a gift, however temporary it may be. Rather than a loss of our individual uniqueness, the mythic lens ennobles are lives with enduring familiarity.
To be silly enough to play The Fool. To be fierce enough to call forth the Warrior. To be blessed enough to dance as cosmic Lovers… for a time.
May you treasure these visitations, should they come to inhabit your door. And if they never come again, may that still be plenty for you know deep in your bones, that this was enough.
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