Most of the human religious archetypes we have looked at so far have been focused on leadership. However behind all of those lies the foundational spiritual archetype of the disciple. The English word for disciple comes to us via the Latin discipulus meaning a learner. When we are in the throws of the disciple archetype we are at the feet of a teacher or master listening to their insights and imitating their way of life.
Human life is full of the need to follow others. We begin life totally dependent on the leadership and instruction of our parents to sustain our young lives and as we age we learn the need and advantage of belonging to a variety of tribes or human packs. All of these social groupings have leaders whether they be organizational leaders in the workplace or charismatic leaders in our personal lives.
When expressed in the spiritual sphere the disciple archetype tends to lead us to exhibit some of the following behaviours:
1. Living within the mythology. Disciples will adopt the meta-narrative of their chosen faith or teacher. This will tend to be all encompassing, especially at first. They will seek to see the world through the eyes of their spiritual community and learn to explain away any discrepancies between the mythology and the realities of everyday life.
2. Giving authority. Discipleship usually involves a transfer of authority from our ego to a religious figure or text. We allow religious leaders or ideas to “author” our lives – we mould ourselves to fit the expectations of significant others. Although this transfer of authority can have its dangers and often does in cults for the average believer the transfer of authority can be a healthy movement from following the dictates of the ego to following that of a disciplined collective.
3. Immersion in rituals. When we are in the throws of the disciple archetype we can become quite religious. The inner disciple argues that if a bit of religion is good thing a lot of religion will be better. So the disciple will often seek to pray for longer, sacrifice more and observe religious rituals more often. We are all familiar with ultra-orthodox Jewish young men who study Torah for 12 hours a day and wear the religious garb of medieval eastern Europe.
4. A division into us and them; holy and unholy. With a taking over of the disciple archetype often comes a dualism that divides the world into holy and unholy activities and people. The nature of those divisions vary from faith to faith and from culture to culture but may involve the wearing of religious garb that separates the disciple from others such as the burka or the strict following of dietary laws such as not eating meat. This separation usually extends to not associating too closely with those outside the faith – the heathen – except perhaps for the purposes of making them on of the spiritual insiders.