The Archetypes and mythology are intricately bound together for it is the stories that develop around an archetype that illuminate and shape the nature of the archetype. As patterns in “Being”, archetypes are not so much seen as recognized by our unconscious minds which have a superb pattern detection capacity. But a pattern needs to be expressed in order to be apprehended. Archetypes can be portrayed in art and often are focused in statues or idols but the major canvas for the expression of archetypes are the religious or heroic stories we call myths.
One way of thinking about myths is that they tell the story of archetypes in action. For instance the myth of Christmas is centred on the archetype of the divine child. It is the story how the divine child undergoes expectation, birth, adoration, endowment and overcomes potential danger. Other myths of divine child that tell of the birth of Buddha, Zoroaster and Krishna tell of how in each case, the particular “divine child’ undergoes similar processes. In turn this echoes how the divine child within each of us must survive and be honoured too if we are to keep our capacity for awe and wonder at the miracle of life. Later as a parent I try to guide my children through the same lessons. The myths then are archetypal instruction to the individual which educate our unconscious to recognise and navigate archetypal processess. They are much more than metaphors. They teach us about the experience of death and rebirth in our lives, what it means to have a sense of divine calling or vocation and how to balance the call to serve with our needs for personal fulfillment.
In this way archetypes are similar to fairy stories, which help children navigate the complexities of growing up in the world. Little red riding hood warns girls of the dangers of trusting “wolves in sheep’s clothing”; Hansel and Gretel teaches children that they can overcome difficulties even when parents are not there for them. What we should not do with fairy story or myth is to use them to moralise or to take them as literal history. Instead we must let myth be myth and allow this great heritage of human wisdom and experience guide our spiritual journey.