Understanding how archetypes in mythology relate to human behaviour is a valuable resource for self-development. Esoteric symbolism reveals how the body-mind connection works.
Yet, for the most part, the psychological and biological components of ancient mythology are overlooked.
As a matter of fact, had it not been for psychologists such as Herbert Silberer, James Hillman, Marie-Lousie von Franz, Otto Rank, Edward Edinger, Erich Neumann, Israel Regardie and, most notably, Carl Jung among others, the archetypes in mythology may have been swept aside altogether.
One has to wonder why the connection between archetypes in mythology has gone under the radar in the field of psychology. Well, it isn’t taught at University, for a start. Given it is acknowledged the Greek philosophers made an important contribution to the progress of psychology, it’s a grave error to ignore their associations with esoteric symbolism.
Plato’s Forms would later be coined archetypes. Aristotle dealt with the active mind in De Anima, Heraclitus described people’s ability to reason as logos and Pythagoras intertwined religion, science and philosophy to show how body and mind correspond with natural laws.
Greek philosophers, and the legends penned by poets, were inspired by the myths of earlier cultures. A common theme is the evolution of psychological development and thus human life. What’s more, the wise men of yore understood how energy is transformed by thoughts, emotions and actions.
When you peel back the esoteric symbolism the underscore the archetypes in mythology, it’s clear to see how the chaotic adventures of heroes and the meddling of the gods describe the psychological and behavioural maturation we all have to experience in order to evolve our inner world.
Do you want to see an example?
A Brief Introduction to the Myth of Cadmus and Harmonia
If you’re not already familiar with the myth of Cadmus and Harmonia, here’s a brief rundown:
Cadmus was a Phoenician Prince, son of King Agenor. Before establishing Budva in the Adriatic Sea, the original Greek myth explains how Cadmus founded Thebes – a powerful city in ancient Greece (not to be mistaken for the Thebes of Egypt).
The story of Cadmus and Harmonia actually begins with Europa, a beautiful princess who is abducted by Zeus. Europa is the sister of Cadmus who is sent out by their father to find her.
Rather than aimlessly roaming in search of his sister, Cadmus heads to mainland Greece to seek advice from the Oracle of Delphi at the Temple of Apollo. The Pythia tells him to forget about the wishes of his father and build his own city.
The Oracle also tells Cadmus to follow a white cow with a half-moon-shaped pattern on its flank. The place in which the cow comes to rest is where he should build his new city.
Cadmus locates the cow in nearby Phocis and follows it to Boeotia. Before he begins the building work, Cadmus wishes to sacrifice the cow to the goddess Athena. In order to perform the ceremony, he sends his men to fetch sacred water from a nearby spring.
The spring is sacred to Ares and is guarded by a serpent-dragon, the son of the War God. The Ismenian Dragon kills Cadmus’ entire army of men. Seeking revenge, Cadmus stuns the beast with a rock and drives a lance through its head.
Cadmus then has to pay eight years of service to Ares as penance for killing his son. During that time, Athena instructs Cadmus to take the teeth from the dragon and sow them into the ground, from which a small army of men emerge.
However, Cadmus is fearful and confused and hurls a rock towards the men. An irrational fight breaks out. When the melee is over, only five men are left standing. These five men help Cadmus to build Thebes.
After the new city is built, Cadmus is offered the goddess Harmonia as a bride – the daughter of Ares and Aphrodite. However, their dynasty is fraught with trouble due to a necklace crafted by Hephaestus and presented to Harmonia on her wedding day.
Conflict and rebellion in Thebes force Cadmus and Harmonia to leave the city. Travelling in a wooden cart drawn by Oxen, the couple eventually arrives on the coast of the Adriatic and establish a new city, Bouthoe. Today the city is called Budva in Montenegro.
So, let’s unpack the symbolism. In this three-part series, I will show you how to decipher archetypes in mythology.
The Symbolic Meaning of Cadmus
We’ll start with Cadmus to kick off. The central character in myth is essentially you – or more precisely the conscious mind.
All the other characters, including the gods, are aspects of human nature. They can appear as an aspect of the ego, a subconscious program, or unconscious energies. The latter is typically symbolised by gods or magical creatures.
In esoteric symbolism, a prince represents awakening consciousness. When the prince is the central character, which is often the case, the quest myth is about the character’s potential to develop awakening consciousness and integrate it into the conscious mind.
When that happens, a prince becomes a King. Kings are the ruler archetypes in mythology and relate to the conscious mind – the part of your mind that (mostly) decides what you do. In respect of self-development, your decision-making self has to determine whether to listen to the ego or the self.
Looking at this concept from a self-development point of view, awakening consciousness (the prince) tries to make itself known to your conscious awareness. It does this in a variety of ways, and often for many years, but, upon ‘self-realisation’ ultimately become the new subconscious program.
The result is you improve your personality and avoid conflict the repressed consciousness was causing. Thus you enjoy a richer quality of life.
The Anima and Animus Archetypes in Mythology
The attributes of masculine and feminine principles are much easier to ascertain once you become familiar with the attributes of the archetypes. In our Essential Self-Development Program, we provide you with a chart that makes it even easier.
Greek mythology describes how Cadmus and his brothers are despatched by their father to find their sister Europa and return her home safely.
Europa, however, has been adducted by Zeus and whisked away to Crete; yet another beautiful maiden the insatiable god falls in love with.
Historians speculate, the search for Europa “may well reflect the historical colonisation of the Mediterranean by the Phoenicians from 1200 to 800 BCE.”
From a psychological point of view, Europa represents the feminine principle. For a man, Europa is the anima. For women, Europa represents female instincts that have been oppressed by the patriarchal Ouroborus (energy belonging to the masculine principle).
“For woman, invasion by the patriarchal uroboros corresponds to an intoxicating experience of being overwhelmed, of being seized and taken by a “ravishing penetrator” whom she does not experience personally in relation to and projected onto a concrete man, but rather as an anonymous, transpersonal numen.” ~ Erich Neumann, Fear of the Feminine
In both men and women, the search for Europa signifies the quest to connect with and understand your inner world of feeling. The feeling qualities of our hero are awakened by his marriage to Harmonia.
So let’s go with the psychological POV rather than the historical perspective. You will learn more about life by taking the archetypes in mythology approach.
Having said that, a brief glimpse into history helps to set up how the Cadmus myth and helped me overcome my current plight. In order to connect with the inner world of feelings, it is necessary to overcome the subconscious programs that dominate the mind.
My personal self-development goal is to overcome the remnants of a father complex planted by the patriarchal society we live in.
Archetypes in Mythology: The Father Complex
We live in a world dominated by the masculine principle; power, assertiveness, courage, leadership, independence, and strength.
People with wealth and power are winners in the patriarchal philosophy. There is no denying that wealth and power are admirable (or should be) admirable qualities.
However, the masculine principle has sadly seeped into the fabric of our society in its negative aspects; aggression, violence, frustration, anger and oppression.
As I mentioned earlier, the initial stage of enlightenment presented in the Cadmus myth is to overcome the father complex on a psychological level.
A father complex is not only installed by your biological father (or male caregiver), but also the oppression of patriarchal societies. The West is a patriarchal society.
On a collective level, the values of the patriarchal system we live in also creates a collective father complex. This has been the case since the feminine principle was all but stripped out of society with the rise in the influence of male gods as the dominant archetypes in mythology.
Female goddesses were completely pushed out of the Trinity with the introduction of a monotheistic (male) god. It wasn’t until 2014 that Pope Francis restored Mother Mary to the Holy Trinity.
The patriarchy has a total hold on western countries today. People with wealth, power and status are held in greater regard than people that have the matriarchal qualities of the caregiver archetype; compassion, caring, and good intentions.
There is no room for feeling qualities in modern man. Subsequently, men are emotionally incapacitated and women are knocked out of kilter with overwhelming emotions that serve as self-preservation. Subsequently, the ego gets out of hand.
“And that’s the point; not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weak ones.” ~ Jill Lepore
In mythology, we find the emancipation of the feminine principle represented by the matriarchal “virgin” that is overpowered by a god or seduced in the form of a golden shower, a cloud, lightning, or some form an animal such as a bull, goat or horse.
The ancient Greeks had not entirely turned their back on the feminine principle, but it is clear by how they present archetypes in mythology that they understood the effects. They showed on a number of occasions how the feeling side of mankind is raped.
Fast-forward to the present day. The transfer of wealth and power to people that already have the most power and wealth is becoming blatantly obvious. If you don’t feel raped you haven’t realised that you’ve been shafted.
Answer this: How many statesmen and powerful families do you know with a genuine interest in making the world a better place to live? Politicians rarely fulfil their promises.
If caring people existed in positions of authority, the world wouldn’t be in such a mess!
The irony is that we judge people we come into direct contact with in our personal lives the opposite way around. We admire caring people and feel inspired by people with inner strength.
This is how it should be!
We want to be friends with courageous types that show no fear (masculine principle) and that have high-quality attributes like patience, compassion and integrity (feminine principle).
But this only happens on a personal level. When it comes to the collective conscious, our views are skewed from our personal feelings by trusting governments and specialists to find the right solutions. [Granted this is not the case for awakened individuals].
Ask yourself this: who do you regard as the most valuable humans to society – people with power or people with a purpose?
People in power create fear. People with a purpose create solutions.
The qualities that make real humans honourable and valuable tend to be overlooked in the grand scheme of patriarchal societies. The quest for power, prestige and healthy pay packets is one of the great illusions of our time.
Cadmus represents the first stage of psychological development in overcoming the father complex. He is given a purpose; to build a new city of which he would become the leader. He would become King and thus be in charge of making his own decisions.
In other words, he can think for himself rather than accepting what he is told by an authority figure, represented by the King archetype in mythology.
For many of us, finding our own purpose and controlling our own life means breaking free from the chains of patriarchal society. For some people, it also involves breaking away from the chains of their parents. How many people follow the footsteps of their parents or go into careers their parents what them to.
But we have to liberate our minds first. Unless one becomes an ascetic, there is no physical escape. To liberate the mind, we have to look within and find the missing aspects of our personality that are buried in the unconscious.
“Most people, however, do not approach the unconscious voluntarily. They only become aware of the unconscious when they get into trouble with it. We, modern people, are so out of touch with the in the world that we encountered mostly through psychological distress.” ~ Robert Johnson, Inner Wisdom
Moreover, the socio-political system is designed to control how you think and act. The ego is bound by the rules of society and programmed to preserve the world you think you know.
The ego’s primary role is survival and thus responds to subconscious programs. However, many of our subconscious programs are limiting beliefs, false truths, negative attitudes, judgemental opinions and neuroticism.
In esoteric symbolism, subconscious programs that present obstacles in your life are represented by monsters, demons, devils, trolls and dragons etc.
When repressed emotions are ignored and left to run riot, the energies become more wild, destructive and problematic. They become demons – the devil’s army.
This is why a lot of symbolists accuse the ‘elitist cabal’ of corporations, politicians, powerful families, bankers, Hollywood film studios, media owners, and the producers of pop videos of being devil worshippers.
In actual fact, the “Satanic” symbolism being used is to tempt your ego and nurture your role as a consumer. The devil leads us into temptation. Sound familiar?
The people with power over populations create an illusion of fear which becomes our subconscious programs. You are not served by watching TV, indulging in glossy magazines, following celebrity fashion and watching the news.
People in power view populations as consumers. TV, radio, and fashion etc is all marketing. We are groomed to perpetually seek self-gratification from the outer world at the expense of our personal development.
“The values of our patriarchal society, with its emphasis on power and acquisition…has been won at the expense of less tangible qualities – feeling and intuition, caring and nurturing, empathy and receptivity – the Dionysian qualities. We tend to devalue them because they do not show concrete rewards. Craving spiritual ecstasy, we mistakenly seek material fulfilment. We chase after a phantom, and when we catch it – in the form of more money, more food, more sex, more drugs, more drinks, more oblivion – we find that we have been chasing ephemeral happiness when we should have invited lasting joy.” ~ Robert Johnson, Ecstasy
In the myth of Cadmus and Harmonia, we are given an anecdote that provides us with a timeless antidote. By understanding the archetypes in mythology, you will be able to overcome the illusion of fear, find a purpose in life and develop a rich quality of feeling.
Let’s unpack this.
Cadmus Seeks Inspiration From The Pythia
As mentioned above, Cadmus goes in search of his sister, Europa. From a psychological point of view, this represents a man’s (or a woman’s) search for the feminine qualities he/she lost as a child.
For most western men, discovering the feeling quality is to be in tune with your emotions. There is more to the feminine principle than ‘getting in touch with your emotions’ but being able to talk about how you feel is a start.
Cadmus is not confident about finding his sister so seeks counsel from the Oracle of Delphi. Otherwise known as the Pythia, the Oracle is said to channel the spirit of Apollo – god of analytical thinking, insight and vision.
So in other words, Cadmus initially asks his logical, analytical mind how to find the split-off part of his consciousness that will enrich his feeling qualities. When you do this, you often have a spark of inspiration. This is what the Sun God Apollo represents.
Sometimes, thinking through problems logically will enable you to find the answer you are searching for. However, the logical, rational mind feeds off subconscious programs. In other words, the information that comes to you is already part of your past experiences.
In times like this, it is necessary to focus on your mind and not be persuaded by emotions. This is why the Greek writers never marry Apollo.
Whilst your feminine qualities will have been a lived experience in your earliest years, they were probably severed at an early age also and pushed down into the unconscious where they are harder to dig out.
This is another reason why we speak of subconscious programs and unconscious content as separate aspects of consciousness. Whilst they both relate to the personal unconscious, the subconscious is memories just below the surface of consciousness whilst unconscious content are the deep-lying energies that cause neurosis.
The symbolism associated with Apollo in relation to archetypal energy is important to note. From a positive perspective, Apollo is the Creator archetype in mythology and represents optimism and the far-sightedness of a visionary.
The negative aspects of the creator archetype dispose an individual to be critical, stubborn, emotionally unavailable, insensitive, quarrelsome, jealous, quick to anger and find it difficult to trust people – including yourself.
In the Cadmus myth, the Creator archetype becomes apparent upon hearing the advice the Oracle offers. The Pythia tells Cadmus: “Forget about the request of your father, find your own city.”
You cannot build a city without far-sightedness and optimism. You also need an analytical mind and inspiration.
The Oracle’s response is absolutely significant in unravelling the symbolism in the myth of Cadmus and Harmonia. If this point is overlooked, then you miss the entire psychological value the myth offers.
“Forget about the request of your father” is Sage advice. It means to ignore the programs in your subconscious (programs designed by patriarchal society) and listen to your intuition (unconscious content).
As touched upon earlier, it also means that Cadmus has to overcome the problem that his father has put him in. The hero cannot return home without this sister. Humans have to overcome their father complex to mature psychologically.
Psychological archetypes in mythology explain the unconscious. One of the favoured motifs to express the unconscious is the Mother Goddess, although the Mother Goddess represents many important attributes of the human psyche.
The reason for ‘The Mother’ goddess being associated with the unconscious is because mothers and the unconscious are the givers and providers of life. The unconscious is the womb of the Mother Goddess.
Other symbols that represent the unconscious are the earth and the sea. The earth and the sea also produce life and provides mankind with nourishment. Myth writers also portrayed the unconscious as an animal that nourishes the hero. A cow is a common motif.
Cadmus does not get the answer he is looking for from the Oracle but is given guidance – to follow a cow. So here we see the first stirring of the feminine principle; intuition, care and patience.
“The qualities associated with the mother archetype are maternal solicitude and sympathy; the magic authority of the female; the wisdom and spiritual exaltation that transcend reason; any helpful instinct or impulse; all that is benign, all that cherishes and sustains, that fosters growth and fertility.” ~ Carl Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious
Just so you know, the father motif in ancient mythology is symbolic of the conscious mind; the intellect or ego. The ego keeps you in your comfort bubble; survival mechanisms.
When you live inside your comfort bubble, you perform habitual actions that are driven by subconscious programs.
Therefore, you need to distinguish between which thoughts are surfacing from subconscious programs, which are coming from the unconscious mind and which voice is the decision-maker, in order to overcome habitual programs.
The negative symptoms of the creator archetype that Cadmus has to develop are born from low self-esteem. The cause is generally due to a lack of emotional support from your biological father or male caregiver.
In psychology, these attributes are associated with a person that is possessed by a father complex – someone that reacts to situations instinctively in response to the first thought that comes into their head.
This is a program.
When you are possessed by a father complex, your quality of feeling and understanding is limited, or numb. The general response will be an attribute associated with negative behaviour.
For instance, individuals programmed with the negative qualities of the creator archetype are quarrelsome, jealous, self-involved prima-donnas. They do not have a peaceful existence.
Without a connection to the inner world, the Creator archetype seeks gratification from the outer world; relationships, belonging, praise, possessions etc.
When you desire gratification from the outer world, you will always be striving because the moments of pleasure are fleeting.
When your focus is only on the outer world rather than your inner world, you will not experience harmony. The search for praise and recognition is the Father complex.
Here we see the negative aspect of the goddess, Aphrodite.
Understanding archetypes in mythology is a powerful tool that helps you to determine which unconscious energies are trying to break through into your conscious thinking. Master Mind Content has developed a healing program that shows you how to recognise archetypal energies and adjust your thoughts, actions and emotions accordingly. With these tools, you will be able to release repressed consciousness, develop your personality and upgrade your subconscious programs with energies that deliver a better quality experience of life.