Practical Campbell Essay: The Mythology of Archetypes

Date of Publication: March 6, 2006

Author: Stephen Gerringer

In this Practical Campbell essay, Stephen Gerringer (bodhi_bliss) ponders the presence of archetypes in myth, and what role these patterns might play in our own lives.

The concept of the archetype is central to Joseph Campbell’s understanding of mythology. Cross out every instance of “archetype,” “primordial images”, “mythic motifs,” “archetypal images,” “symbol,” and related terms that appear in his work, and we have major holes and unreadable books.

And yet pinning down an archetype is as easy as stapling your shadow to the wall. Like so many concepts associated with mythology and depth psychology, archetypes are quicksilver by nature – indeed, that shape-shifting quality is responsible for their effectiveness, and their allure.

What, then, does Campbell mean by the term? What role do archetypes play in myth and psychology? What is their source? Are archetypes gods, metaphors, or simply convenient designations? Or might they merely be insubstantial products of the imagination with little bearing on reality? Apart from the specialized vocabulary of literature, art, psychology, and myth, have archetypes any practical application in our lives today?

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