Goddess Archetypes

A warning: This blog post is a tangent, sharing insights from my current exploration into feminist writing.  If this type of information is not of interest to you, I’ll be back to more “retirement transition – life journey” stuff soon.  But a number of folks expressed interest in hearing about this topic, so I’m taking a risk and sharing some of the thinking it’s inspired.

So what is an archetype? An archetype is a recurring symbol that represents universal patterns/behaviors of human nature, recognized over generations and across cultures, and considered to be part of the inherited collective unconscious.  Archetypes are different than stereotypes, which tend to be based on specific gender, culture, class, or occupation.  One of the specific examples to show the difference is: A stereotype is assuming all women are maternal. There is however a maternal archetype, which depicts what behaviors ensue when that archetype is present (example, desire for children, nurturing of others, not wanting children to leave nest, etc.).

An individual will have some archetype(s) dominant, some latent, some completely inactive, and possibly some even repressed; the range and dominance of archetypes makes up their personality profile.   All archetypes have both positive and negative aspects (positive often referred to as strengths, negatives often referred to as shadows) in their patterns/behaviors.  Understanding your own dominant and latent archetypes can also help you understand the internal motivations for your external behaviors.

Why understand archetypes?  A few reasons:

  • There is psychological belief that an archetype within can be dormant, either because it’s been repressed in childhood (family or societal expectations) or just that it has not been fully activated to date.   Activating/empowering an inner dormant archetype can bring stronger life satisfaction/meaning.
  • Better understanding the negative aspects of my own archetype(s) can help me manage them better, and be happier with myself.  And reminding myself of the strengths I do have can help with self-acceptance.
  • When I understand that I do not have a specific archetype active in my own profile, it allows me to stop doing “Compare & Despair” (feeling I am “not enough”) when I see it active in someone else.  I can then just admire the other person’s archetypal strengths.  This also helps with not feeling good enough based on societal archetypal expectations.

I’ve explored archetypes previously (years ago), using the Carol Pearson 12 archetype model (link here if interested in these archetypes), which leans towards non-gender descriptions. More recently, as part of my feminist writings exploration, I’ve been reading about goddess archetypes in writings by Jean Shinoda Bolen, MD.  Stories (myths, fairy tales, great movies) that last for generations usually personify archetypes.  So looking back towards the goddess myths is a great way to explore feminine specific archetypes

A few of the goddesses that have sparked my interest so far:

  • Metis is a goddess I was not familiar with.  She is one of the “crone goddesses” and an archetype that might be activated as one gets older.  Metis is about practical wisdom and becoming a Wise Counselor.  Her behaviors/patterns (strengths) are the ability to intellectually grasp situations by seeing patterns in research/data and act wisely/skillfully for mutually satisfying outcomes.  A younger Metis might have felt that her contributions/ideas were ignored or made insignificant by male politics/patriarchal culture.  She might have hit-the-glass ceiling, been underpaid for her work, or realized that loyalty was not mutual (downsized).   Ways to activate the wise woman Metis more strongly within are to create stronger affiliations with women (consider joining a women’s circle), to lose allegiance to hierarchy and patriarchal values, to look inward for approval and validation, and to work on passing on what you know (life experiences/ mastery).
  • Athena is an interesting goddess because her behaviors and strengths are not usually associated with women.  Athena is an outward-focused strategist, pragmatic & practical, clear thinking & tactical, and an achievement-focused planner (perceive, plan, act).  She is the “daughter of the patriarchy”; at ease with male competitors, she learned to play/win in a man’s world and often upholds the patriarchal values.  An Athena will often become too involved in work to have an outside life; intently focused on career, she will have an arrested emotional development (no creation of intimate relationships or soul-satisfying hobbies).  Continued growth for an Athena archetype is to develop a connection to the feminine within (compassion, nurturing) and create routines and schedule activities (classes, cultural events, the reading) she wants to do or the projects she probably has materials for. She needs to learn to do things for the love of it and allow time for introspection (for example, try meditation).
  • Hestia was interesting archetype to me because it epitomizes a good friend. Hestia is the Goddess of the Hearth, a true home-maker (not housewife, but home-maker).  She stands for the sacred fire, a source of light/illumination and warmth, the still point center of the psyche.  Words that come to mind with Hestia are solitude, sanctuary, safety/security, and silence.  Hestia has an inward focus and a meditative wisdom; she is true introvert and prefers her own company.  She is not ego striving, not worried about how she “looks” to others (physical appearance or activity engaged in), and has no angst from being/doing things solo.  She does what has meaning to her, living in the present moment.  She is one-in-herself.

I’m continuing to explore the Goddesses, trying to identity which ones are active or dormant within and acknowledging which will never “be me”.  More to come on Artemis, Hera, Demeter, and Persephone for sure!  But if you know me from my writing, you know I’m very much an Athena and hoping to activate more Metis.

Do you recognize yourself (or someone close to you) in any of these Goddesses?

Picture Credit: nothing to do with goddesses… fun during a Road Rally – a top down sunny Florida January day!

11 thoughts on “Goddess Archetypes

  1. So interesting, Pat. I can see all three of the archetypes that you described to one degree or another in myself…and in what I know about you from your writings. I look forward to learning more.

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    1. I started with these three as I did have the highest resonance with them. As I’ve read and thought more (see next weeks blog for more descriptions), I’m actually leaning towards a Athena/Persephone duality. I also think we can tap into the other archetype behaviors if we desire to. I’m working on “so what”, what do I do with these new insights?

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  2. Of those you’ve shared I think I’m a cross between Hestia and Athena. I don’t know much about goddesses I’m afraid and understand the concept of archetypes but often wonder if people do fit firmly in them given how different we can be and the nature / nurture thing – shaped by our upbringing and circumstances and the fact that stuff further impacts our thinking and behaviour as we continue to grow and evolve as people…

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    1. The proponents of archetypes believe that one archetype or possibly two are dominant in a personality. All probably exist within and yes, you can tap into the others, as life evolves. And yes, nurture (family/culture) can either encourage or suppress the behaviors. As I’ve looked at them all (more in next weeks post), I am pretty confident I’m an Athena/Persephone duality, which is a conundrum as one is an active achiever and one is non-active accommodator. I’m now trying to figure out “so what” – what do I do with this new set of insights?

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  3. I do know of some of the works relating to these women and qualities but I admit my interest is not there. However, I love reading about your exploration and I LOVE that photo from the car!! Thank you for sharing your post with us for Life This Week Link Up at Denyse Whelan Blogs. I hope to see you back next Monday. Denyse.

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    1. Denyse, I recognize that this topic and a few more I’m planning are probably not everyone’s cup of tea. I did have a few readers encourage me to post some of my current “rabbit hole” insights. Hopefully I won’t turn people away!

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  4. I love this post! Is there a link to a source that defines and talks about feminine archetypes or is the best reference one of Jean Bolen’s books? Which would you recommend as a first introduction but one which delves into the use/over use of the characteristics.

    I love your continued exploration in learning about yourself and the world around you. I have the same goal for my “third age” and really appreciate your posts.

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    1. I’ve read three of Jean Shinoda Bolen’s books now and I would recommend starting with one of her older ones – Goddesses in Everywoman. I think it gives a better description of the 7 main feminine archetypes with examples of how to recognize the behaviors (positive and negative) and some guidance on growth. Then, if you feel a resonance with Artemis, read that one. If not, second would be Goddesses in Older Women. The next one I’m considering to read is her Gods in Everyman actually! But I have a number of other books on the shelf first.

      In future posts, I will try and recommend books in the post. (thanks for that nudge of an idea) I am planning a few more posts as I am definitely down a rabbit hole. Goddesses archetypes was a tangent on the feminist writings I’m reading.

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  5. This is way out of my league Pat – but I can see why it interests you – those first two goddesses definitely embody a lot of your characteristics. I hope you enjoy exploring this and finding out some more of what lies within.

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    1. Leanne – I recognize that this topic will not be of interest to many. The ones I started with – yup, that’s probably why I wrote about them first as they were more relatable to me. This “rabbit hole” has been interesting and I have learned a couple of things about myself. Now it’s a challenge to get it into a few digestible blog posts!

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