The imagery and power of the Tarot is based in the archetypes, which are Universal Truths expressed in symbolic and condensed form. Archetypes influence the human psyche on varying levels of consciousness and unconsciousness. Depth Psychologist Carl Jung is best known for his research into the influence of the Collective Unconscious (or Archetypal Realm) on human thinking, behaviour, and in dreams. Dream interpretation is an important aspect of Jungian psychotherapy.
Particular universal qualities are observable in archetypes and these can be applied to the human experience. Motherhood is an archetypal role that all humans experience, thus the importance of the Mother takes on mythic proportions.
Archetypal roles have been expressed for millennia in the worship of gods and goddesses, in the telling of stories, and in the initiation of humans into the great Mysteries of life. The gods, goddesses and heroes of all cultures; the saints of Christianity; the sages of the Far East; and, the prophets of the Jews are archetypal representations. Gods are personifications of psychological or spiritual states, making them acceptable to humans where abstract principles would be alienating.
Archetypal roles fundamental to human life are the Maiden, Mother, and Crone; and, Warrior, Father and Sage or Tyrant. They constantly manifest in history, novels, movies and even the scientific interpretation of the animal and plant kingdoms. Traditional cultures have observed that the Earth is our Mother and the Universe a Goddess, for life emerges from the mother’s body and she provides nourishment for her offspring. She is a lover to the Sky Father and a goddess to her children. She is strong, yet also tender and the source of bounteous gifts. Her expression varies from culture to culture but is profound in its spiritual implications. Generally speaking, modern society denies the archetypal importance of the Mother – the mystery of fertilisation and birth can be replaced by medical manipulation and her role has become secondary in importance to earning money.
In modern society, the archetypal realm has become unconscious and unseen. We are, for the most part, spiritually ignorant. Principles and patterns based in Universal Truth have become distorted – we are emotionally immature, ethics are of less importance than assets, families and human relationships are fractured, and people are broken by hurt at the meaninglessness of a seemingly chaotic world. Whereas older cultures have turned to their gods and mythologies for insight and inspiration, modern society looks to public figures and politicians who are human in their limitation, yet archetypal in what is expected of them. Napoleon and the Dalai Lama; Elizabeth I and Marilyn Monroe – to name a few – are humans overshadowed by archetypal projection. The mythic power they channel intensifies their strength as well as their potential for self-destruction. Marilyn Monroe continues to fascinate people many years after her death since she fulfils the role of “sex goddess” – a modern projection of the Greco-Roman goddess Aphrodite-Venus.
Conscious or not, archetypes are a powerhouse of energy and information. They can be tapped into at will since they are like computer programmes providing a structure for our personal work. The roles we unconsciously choose to play out in our lives result from individual background and conditioning and are magnified by the corresponding archetypal energies. They provide “back-up programmes” thousands of years old, adding collective to individual experience. If, for example, we play the role of the archetypal victim, we willingly dwell in a consciousness level that will perpetuate the experience of being downtrodden. The struggle will be our own as well as that of all the victims of the past, present and future.
The power of the archetypes can be used for our personal growth, fulfilment and joy. When archetypal patterns are made conscious by deliberately seeking them for learning – through the Tarot or otherwise – we empower ourselves and experience profound understanding of our place in the Universe.