Myths & Archetypes

Woman of Power




An archetype is a universal symbolic pattern. Examples of archetypal characters are the femme fatale, the trickster, the great mother and father, and the dying god. There are archetypal stories as well. Examples are stories of great floods, virgin births, creation, paradise, the underworld, and a final apocalypse. True to their universal nature, archetypal characters and stories appear again and again in myths across many diverse cultures.

Archetypal myths explain the nature of the world and life. Thus, many peoples have tales to explain the origins of places and objects: the city, the mountain, the temple, the tree and even the stone. Other archetypal myths serve to instruct. For example, the quest archetype is typically a journey where the hero or heroine must overcome their own faults and weaknesses in order to reemerge as a mature, productive member of their society.

While some aspects of these myths have remarkable similarities across cultures, others have peculiarities specific to that land. Sometimes it is possible to trace the inheritance of a part of a myth as it is passed from culture to culture. Here we look at four types of myths and how they show up in cultures across the world.

Arthur in Avalon

Arthur in Avalon by Sir Edward Burne Jones (1881-1898). Museo de Arte, Ponce, Puerto Rico