Archetypal and Narrative Intelligence Tools for 2016

By Carol S. Pearson

Most people have no idea that the stories inside our heads determine much of what we notice in the world or how we string our observations together to make meanings of them. This suggests that stories that are invisible to us define a good deal of what we experience, so we continue to live these stories as if they were reality when they are not, even when they make us miserable. Understanding this can help us listen to others who see situations differently than we do. We can recognize that their inner filter is making meaning of different facts, and constructing different narratives than ours is, so we can hold open the possibility that their narratives might be complementary to ours, not necessarily wrong.

If this were not enough, some of the stories we live are archetypal, and thus could provide us with a greater sense of meaning, mattering, and purpose if we were aware of them. Failing that, they can essentially run us, so that we engage in actions that are counterproductive for ourselves and others.


Archetypes are psychological patterns that are so basic to human cognition and behavior that they can be observed in all times and places. All the ways they have been expressed in the past or are being expressed now create a kind of energetic field that we connect with, consciously or not, when the archetype is active in us. C.G. Jung saw archetypes as existing in the collective unconscious, but their origin might also be in our DNA, offering the seeds of our human potential. If you are a Star Wars fan, you can think of them as elements of “the Force” in its light (conscious) and dark (unconscious) sides, since archetypes, lived consciously or unconsciously, infuse us with energy for action.


Many archetypes actually may arise from instincts inherited from our animal ancestors. For example, the Caregiver archetype is characteristic of mammals who nurse their young and who, when sick or old, will sacrifice themselves by moving to the perimeter of the herd, where they are picked off easily by predators. The Warrior archetype is derived from carnivores, which kill for food, or, more widely, from animals that become violent when they need to protect their territory, and The Ruler from alpha males and females who preside over hierarchical herds.


The archetypal stories I work with are ones that help us mature as human beings through consciously living their narratives. For example, the Caregiver archetype motivates us to care for our young and for others we love. As we evolve into ever more conscious beings, we are encouraged to become generous and compassionate toward others beyond our family or subgroup. Our individual and collective challenge today is to expand our concern to include all of humanity, for unless we do so, we will be unable to realize the dreams that inspire us—for example, to achieve peace on earth, environmental sustainability, and social justice.


We can see the unconscious primal undertow of the Caregiver in the impulse to martyr oneself for others, which is evidenced in suicide bombers or in less extreme form in so many women and men who give and give without caring for themselves, so they end up unnecessarily depleted and embittered. Christianity and many other religions teach us to love one another as we love ourselves, but this teaching often is perverted to mean “instead of ourselves.” The mythic story of the Greek goddess Demeter, which was the basis of the most honored rite in classical Greece, illustrates how even a goddess has to work that balance out so that she does not sacrifice what is most important to her as she shows love and concern for others.


Similarly, the Warrior, expressed in a healthy way, helps us develop boundaries and protect ourselves and those we care about. Its primal undertow is ruthless, coldblooded killing, which can even devolve into sadism. At the same time, the evolved Warrior helps us as individuals and as a society to have the courage and capacity to keep our own violent impulses in check. This requires fighting for the protection of the human spirit by withdrawing projection onto others and taking responsibility for becoming peaceful, loving, competent, and courageous. The dark form of the Ruler is found in the demagogue, who manipulates people, appealing to their darker impulses to gain control, while its more evolved form can be seen in the transformational leader, who brings out the best in all concerned to realize an inspiring and needed vision.


Narrative intelligence can help us become aware of the archetypal stories we are living, as well as their temptations and potential gifts. Choosing to live the archetype’s more positive narratives also assists in the awakening of our inner hero and heroine. Joseph Campbell defined the heroic task as bringing new life into a dying culture, defeating Holdfast the Dragon. Holdfast keeps us locked into anachronistic forms of the archetypes and related ways of living their stories.[1] Heroes and heroines release the archetype’s more positive potential.


Psychoanalyst James Hillman suggested that many of our symptoms and, potentially, mental illnesses come from positive archetypes trying to get our attention. He thus advocated a kind of homeopathic psychotherapy by which the right dose of the archetype provides us with its wisdom and gifts, while not taking us over.


The very act of noticing the archetypes within us reinforces a separate sense of identity, so that we do not confuse who we are with an archetype. Even when one archetype is essential to our vocational calling or to what most fulfills us in life more generally, a series of archetypes can arise in us over time that enable us to gain human wholeness and to handle the many diverse challenges of adult life.[2] This inner balance further serves as a deterrent to archetypal possession. My blogs this year will promote the development of the narrative intelligence that can help you become conscious of archetypal stories in and around you and be empowered by their strengths, while remaining true to who you are as you grow into the person you want to be.


I would love to hear back from you, especially with answers to these questions:

  • Have you ever discovered that the story you told yourself about a situation was not how others saw it? What was that like for you? How might you, or did you, use that information to gain a more objective perspective about it?


  • Have you ever felt as if some impulse took you over and you did something so unlike yourself that, in retrospect, it seemed that it was not really you, or at least not like the you that you know? In retrospect, what might that “other you” have to teach you in its evolved form?


  • Is there an archetype that particularly empowers you in your vocation and/or in what otherwise most fulfills you? Are there other archetypes you live that are essential allies, without which you would not have the balance you need to succeed? If so, you might draw an image of your inner psychological wheel with your most core archetype at the center and supportive ones as the spokes (naming or picturing each, in any way that feels natural to you).

[1] Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

[2] James Hillman’s Revisioning Psychology and my books The Hero Within and Awakening the Heroes Within.

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Comment by Carol S. Pearson on October 1, 2016 at 3:07pm

I appreciate the many wonderful comments here.  No need for me to add anything other than that, except I particularly appreciate the additional examples of narrative intelligence and its importance and also of the way that stories foster community and synchronous occurrences. 

Comment by Carol S. Pearson on February 2, 2016 at 6:21pm

Thanks, Evan, for linking what I said with what Jung proved with empirical analysis.  I'm seeing what we get from our animal ancestors more and more and appreciating that much of our energy comes from this, and that the archetypes can also help us learn to live into becoming more fully human.


Comment by Evan Hanks on February 1, 2016 at 11:57am

"Many archetypes actually may arise from instincts inherited from our animal ancestors."


I say (in complete agreement with you) that you are very respectfully self-effacing, and your humility is appreciated. I know you know this, but I just wanted to accentuate for the benefit of your readers that Jung demonstrated empirically that archetypes are the images of instinct -- as you demonstrate in your well-written article -- as also Jung's description of the subjective factor.

Thanks -- good read.

Comment by Dorene Mahoney on January 15, 2016 at 1:59pm

Thanks for your post, Carol. I am most intrigued by your first question about how the same facts generate vastly different stories in different listeners. The first time I became aware of this phenomenon was in the O.J. Simpson trial. As one who watched every day of the trial with great interest--and who believed him obviously guilty of killing his wife--I was gape-mouthed at news images of whole communities cheering the innocent verdict in the streets. I listened intently as people declared that it had been just as obvious to them that he was innocent and they were so glad that justice had been served. How could we have looked at the same evidence and arrived at wholly different conclusions?

Today, I see this in the very divisive political discourse. I am very liberal, but I watch Fox News to help me understand the other side of issues, such as the nuclear agreement and gun rights. I listen to really smart people, and I can't grasp how they can possibly see things this way. Amazing!

Comment by Eva Rider on January 14, 2016 at 5:38pm

Thank you for this very rich and provocative blog post, Carol and for your courageous response, Amy. Many of us on the Alliance are introverts and it can be a challenge to put ourselves and our creations out in the world. I find that I often feel as though I must take a deep breath and dive and as Amy recounts wait for the reply. It is often a challenge to arise from the depths and allow oneself to be seen. For myself the archetype of Persephone represents my soul journey on so many levels including Astrologically with Pluto eclipsing my natal Sun. It has been part of a life path for me to learn how to reverse this and allow the Sun to illuminate Pluto and to learn to use Pluto as a cloak of Invisibility that I can don and remove at will, somewhat like Harry Potter's cloak. It seems that we encounter the Archetypal forces in youth we are overwhelmed by them, not having the ego strength to integrate the energy. Over time, perhaps, part of the journey of the destiny is to learn how to hold both sides of the Archetype and to lean into the positive as we make it conscious.

Fascinating discussion and thank you for the thread...I am inspired to dive deep.

Comment by Carol S. Pearson on January 14, 2016 at 2:25pm

Hi, Amy, this just came in when I was about to go off-line.  Your comments is so beautiful, inviting others into this numinous space that, my experience is, is connected to allowing the muse to speak through us and also noticing the images and narratives in our dreams and synchronous experiences.   That is my experience writing Persephone Rising as well.  I had to write it, had to talk about it.  I just learned through a friend of three others who are also called to writing about Persephone, and I also know of others as well.  Persephone, I've found, has been rising in me, as well as in the world around me--and mainly in a good way.  I say this as obsessions can be much less positive for people who have not center, no sense of themselves, and no awareness that archetypal energies are in us and help us grow, but they are not us.


Comment by Amy Katz on January 14, 2016 at 2:16pm

Hi Carol! Excellent article. You sum up some of these huge topics so clearly and succinctly! Thank you for these thought-provoking questions, too. My answer to the second one, "Have you ever felt as if some impulse took you over and you did something so unlike yourself that, in retrospect, it seemed that it was not really you" is YES! 

I only ended up finding out about the Depth Psychology Alliance, meeting Bonnie and connecting with so many amazing people this year, because of the answer to your question! This very strange impulse/compulsion overtook me about a year ago and has not left me. I call it, "Let Psyche Speak" which is the name of Russ Lockhart's book by the same name that seemed to be one of the influences that ignited this impulse. Perhaps I should more aptly call it, "Let Psyche Write". It began  shortly after embarking on a 9 month advanced Dream Tending Certification class last year. I found that when I experienced a compelling dream, synchronicity or had an epiphany, I HAD to share it with others, in writing, at very particular times, in what ever voice and style was naturally arising from the depths of me... which I began to perceive was also the depths of everyone. Now, I tend to be shy among strangers and sometimes get tongue-tied around those I don't know well. But, this didn't stop me. Nothing could stop me. I began writing poetry again, as well as tended dreams daily: my own and others. I began to witness the interconnectiveness between people and nature, even and especially online, in FB posts. When I noticed these things and wrote or dialogued about them with others,  I experienced a numinous, enchanted reality. Along with this was the obsessive notion that this had to be shared; that I had to help others re-enter it too. Every time I wrote I felt free, exhilarated, and in the flow of the universe. But afterward, the shy part of me freaked out at my open-ness and self-disclosure, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. I might have been tempted to stop... I often swore never to write again! But, extraordinary things began to happen: I happened! Doors opened; invitations came in: fabulous new friends and groups embraced me, and I them. I enrolled in graduate school at Pacifica. I found my way here. My client caseload doubled. And here I am now, writing again!  :) 

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