Archetypes as a Metaphor for a Life-Cycle  


This page presents some material on human archetypes that has been adapted from mythology and literature by other authors (notably the neopagan tradition and women's human potential movements) assigning archetypes to parts of a person's life.

"Masculine" Archetypes

For men, the archetypes I use are very close to those (of the same names) described by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette in their books King, Warrior, Magician, Lover; The King Within, The Warrior Within, etc. (see their site [9] for the theory behind these teachings.)

Masculine Initation

It is common for cultures to define, practice or observe various types of initiation for the transition from immaturity to maturity. Although the details differ widely there are a few common elements:

This exposes him to the archetypes all at once and in full power. Although he gains access to them all at once, he does not personally have all of them in equal quantity and his life journey involves acquiring the archetypal abilities in whatever order comes to pass, ultimately (hopefully) posessing all in abundance and balance.

A Masculine Life-Journey

Often stories of a "hero's journey" will involve a succession of archetypal personalities manifesting themselves when needed to address challenges that come up during the character's journey. An example of this is the "Four Enemies of the Man of Knowledge" wisdom that is delivered in pieces during the far larger journal-like The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Casteneda[6]. Don Juan describes four "enemies" encountered by a man on his way to gaining life-fulfillment. Each requires one or more skills to defeat, which correspond to mature balanced adult masculine archetypes. If undefeated, each enemy will cause the man to fall into a shadow behaviour (described by Casteneda, but not shown here):

enemy defeated by archetype(s)
fear defiance (bravery) Warrior, Lover
clarity critical skepticism of self Magician
power prudence King
old age perseverence King

The Four Task Archetypes Described as Masculine

Following is a brief description of the four archetypes used by Moore and Gillette. They place a masculine interpretation on the task side of the four aspects of human ability and behavior. These are discussed extensively in their books, consult their site [9] for more details.

The Warrior

The Warrior is that part of the mature masculine who overcomes the physical challenges in life. He gives his best, does not quit, and often makes great personal sacrifices, subjugating his needs for the greater good. He is not afraid to die for what he believes in. He fights with honor, and never out of anger.

The Lover

The Lover, is that part of the mature masculine who overcomes the emotional challenges in life. He has intuition and the artist's creative impulse; he is empathetic, compassionate and passionate. He is not afraid to tell the truth, even in defiance of the Warrior and the King. He goes deep and will not quit on a man in need until they get what they need.

The Magician

The Magician is that part of a mature masculine who overcomes the intellectual challenges in life. The creativity of the inventor; inspiration; seeking answers to that burning question, and assimilating wisdom — these are his skills. He is not afraid to be wrong, he questions everything and knows that there is always more to learn from the men around him.

The King

The King is that part of the mature masculine who manifests spiritual or integrative qualities. (By "integrative" I mean the application of the abilities and skills of the other archetypes in situations that cannot be handled by just one of them). The King brings the Courage of the Warrior, the Passion of the Lover, and the Wisdom of the Magician to the everything in his world. All energy flows from the King, he is the Source. When his life is in balance, his kingdom — the world — prospers. When he is out of balance the world suffers.

"Feminine" Archetypes

The Maiden, Mother, and Crone are three aspects of the "Triple Goddess". The Triple Goddess is a Wicca (neopagan) god with multiple forms or personaliies, in ways similar to the Egyptian Isis and the Hebrew Elohim prior to the doctrine of the 2nd commandment. The Triple Goddess is has been adapted in modern pop psychology as a metaphor for a feminine life-cycle or personal life journey. It has a symbol that represents three phases of life by a waxing, full, and waning moon. Some authors also add the "Queen". The description given here is closest to the progression discussed by Donna Henes2 although mine are in a different order.

Feminine Maturation and Initiation Processes

The four feminine archetypes occur in a fairly pure form in the stories and rituals of pagan cultures, such as those that existed in Celtic Europe before the introduction of Christianity: There they are called the maiden, the queen, the mother and the crone.

Most cultures around the world and throughout history recognize four clearly identifiable physical changes in a woman's life. These four events are: adolescence, entry into marriage (wedding), first childbirth, and menopause. Connecting the four archetypal images with the four physical changes, and the four aspects of reality mentioned above, I see a clear correspondence:

name aspect of
Maiden physical adolescence
Queen spiritual wedding
Mother emotional (first) childbirth
Crone intellectual menopause

In most cultures, the four events (adolescence, beginning of marriage, childbirth and menopause) are observed with ceremonies or initiations of one kind or another. Unlike the boy, the girl is not brought out of the community of women and children when she becomes mature — she is already a part of the community of mature women. She has access to all the archetypes through the role models of other women around her — however she gains a special personal connection with the queen, mother and crone archetypes through her own personal marriage, childbirth and menopause respectively. This is quite distinct from the man's experience, which includes only one personal physical change.

The Maiden

The first archetype a woman gains deep access to complements the masculine Warrior archetype. The Warrior overcomes physical challenge. A man becomes a Warrior and is initated into the circle of men when he reaches adolescence. For the woman, this event comes at a similar age, when she is first able to conceive a child.

There are several physical challenges that arise at this time. First is the change in her body itself — a significant and perhaps unanticipated or even frightening physical change. She also has additional physical challenges, in warding off the physical advances of men, and in new adult tasks and roles that she will be asked to take on. She's grown up now.

Associated with this change, there is often a ritual celebration of fertility. Fertility in all its forms (people, the animals, crops and land on which they depend) is very important in ancient human culture. The newly adolescent young women often serves as the symbol of the spring, and of all that is new, beautiful, growing, reborn. All possibilities live in her. The new woman is now manifesting the Maiden archetype. (This "Maiden" is distinct from a "maid" or "handmaiden", and represents all revered aspects of young women — in mythology the purest forms of this archetype are much like the Virgin Mary before the Immaculate Conception.)

Concomitant with her new physical challenges is a newfound physical power — she now gains the interest of the men, which is highly valued — by commanding the interest of men she can solicit their physical help and support. It allows her to begin evaluating men for her most important choice, and the next initiation of her life.

In mythology, the Maiden is exemplified by the Greek goddess of youth, Hebe.[7]

Wind Hughes describes shadow aspects of the Maiden in this way:

She can [...] dangerously [take] risks, becoming self destructive, holding a deaf ear to the inner voice of her own Wise Woman and to the wisdom of others. [...] She may be the dutiful daughter, her self worth linked to pleasing others in order to receive their approval. She has not developed a strong sense of self [...]. — Wind Hughes [7]

The Queen

In traditional societies the second archetype for the woman is the one complementing the King, which of course is the Queen. This name was identified by Moore and Gillette.

A woman becomes the Queen by marrying the King. The wedding day — the initation of the marriage — is her introduction into the archetype. This is the day that she receives the commitment of the man of her choice, and the blessing and support of her father and of the community. The commitment of a man is a very valuable thing; it gives her the security she needs to leave her father's house, and to leave her mother and become queen of her own new house.3

It is because of the involvement of her community that this day bears the closest analogy to the masculine initiation — it gives her the greatest experience of gaining new connection with all the other, older women in her community. But unlike men, who are brought out of the mother's house into the community of men — the woman on her wedding day is brought out of the house of her father into the house of her husband. This is a big physical change for her — even though there is no body change involved. There is also a surrounding cultural change, the rules of the house are likely to be different — and the emotional change of living with different people.

The shadows of the Queen, are described this way by Wind Hughes [7]:

The powerful queen can abuse her power and direct her knowledge and status for negative purposes, clinging to all she has achieved, becoming consumed with acquiring more and more power. [...] She may respond to her sense of personal, familial or social responsibilities by withdrawing and withholding. [...] She may feel drained, resentful and misdirect her anger [or] feel she has [nothing] to offer this stage of life. — Wind Hughes [7]

The Mother

The third archetype the woman enters into, complements the masculine Lover archetype. The epitome of empathetic, compassionate and nurturing feminine character is the Mother. Her entering into this archetype comes of course with her first childbirth.

The woman's experience is actually something men have a taste of, if they are a father. To fathers: consider the day you first learned she was pregnant, and the day your first child was born. The experience affected you in a way that you will never forget. Your priorities changed. In all likelihood the effect that this had on you was unanticipated and very powerful. It can be described as a new awakening of emotional aspects of character, the masculine Lover archetype. Of course, it is only a taste of what the woman experiences.

Unlike the man, the woman has probably been preparing for this since she started playing with dolls as a little girl. And the effect of new motherhood is much more powerful, for 3 reasons: She knows it's her child — unlike the father who might have some doubt; her body is involved — she's the one giving birth; and in all likelihood, for a time at least, she will be the one providing most of the nurturing to the new child.

In mythology, the Mother is exemplified by the Greek goddess of marriage and childbirth, Hera.[7]

The shadows of the Mother are described by Wind Hughes [7]:

[Because we] depend on the mother to nurture us and protect us, [...] she has the power to abuse and abandon us. She can control, criticize and reject the [maiden aspect]. [...] She may lose herself into the "other", and dissolve away, taking care of [others] while denying herself, becoming a martyr. — Wind Hughes [7]

The Crone

The fourth and final archetype the woman enters into, complements the Magician. The Magician embodies knowledge and wisdom. For women, the knowledge and wisdom to guide other women comes from personal experience, and this experience gains a new level when she has undergone the fourth and final physical change in her life — the change so big that women refer to it simply as "the change".

Along with the Maiden and Mother, the Crone is the third aspect of the "Triple Goddess". The Triple Goddess is a Wicca (neopagan) god with multiple forms or personaliies, in ways similar to the Egyptian Isis and the Hebrew Elohim prior to the doctrine of the 2nd commandment. The Triple Goddess is a metaphor for a woman's life-cycle, and has a symbol that represents three phases of life by a waxing, full, and waning moon.

A reviewer of Donna Henes' book [8] states:

The Crone is the ancient one, the wise one, the all-knowing, all-giving one who dispenses her knowledge with patience and largesse.2

According to Carol Christ,

The older woman or crone is, "The wise old woman, the woman who knows from experience what life is about, the woman whose closeness to her own death gives distance and perspective on the problems of life."1

A woman approaches this archetype at a time when her daughter is now old enough to be a mother, and she is no longer able to have new children. She hands over to her daughter and the other younger women, the role of bringing new children into the community. She becomes a part of the third generation — the generation of Crones — women with the wisdom that comes from having been through all of life's changes. She has had time to evaluate and assess all the decisions she made during her life, compared to the other women around her, and she can help pass on her insight from right or wrong decisions to younger women.

The Crone is looked to by all in the community, men and women alike, as a source of wisdom regarding relationships, family, community, and of course the personal affairs of women.

The shadows of the Crone are partly described by Wind Hughes:

She can be bitter if she did not complete actualization of the previous stages of life, making it difficult for her to let go of her youth, dreams, people and living in the body. She may isolate herself and may blame others for her misfortunes. Her rage can be fiery. Her sadness and pain deep. — Wind Hughes [7]

We can deduce more of the shadow nature (the co-dependent shadow Crone), by imagining how her power might be misguided. The Crone's job is described by Wind Hughes:

[...] Her responsibilities have moved into the arena of sharing the knowledge that she has acquired and she welcomes the invitation to share it. She returns the seed of vision back to the Maiden. [...] — Wind Hughes [7]

Combined with the bitterness or resentment mentioned earlier, but without the isolation, a co-dependent shadow Crone would provide incorrect or harmful guidance to the younger women and others in her community who seek her wisdom.

Men in the Woman's Life Journey

As the woman acquires her personal connection with the four feminine archetypes, the men in her life play the roles of the complementary masculine archetypes. For this reason, it is possible for a man to view his own life journey (or at least that part of his life that relates to the women in his life) as going through the same four transitions. In chronological order, the masculine archetypes he manifests are Warrior (courting the Maiden), King (marrying the Queen), Lover (father and partner/husband of the Mother) and Magician (providing wisdom to complement that of the Crone).

Shadows of the Feminine Archetypes

Here is a more complete description of the shadows of the Maiden, probably the most easily understood of the four feminine archetypes.

In the periodic table, the co-dependent shadow side of the Maiden is the self-destructive (number 31) and the isolated shadow side is cinders (number 27). "Cinders" is based on the character of Cinderella before the appearance of the Fairy Godmother. This is a woman who has isolated herself, both by rejecting the admiration of others and by not radiating or expressing her beauty to others. By contrast, the "self-destructive" depends on attention and adoration of others and attracts those who depend on her adoration.

The Maiden also embodies the physical aspects of a woman's contribution to the community, for example physical caretaking (as distinguished from emotional nurturing, which is part of the Mother). In this aspect the shadow archetypes of the maiden ar27 and ar31 end up being active and passive respectively, mainly out of compensation for the relationship dichotomy of isolated and co-dependent.

The co-dependent shadow Maiden uses all physical things, including her own beauty, to excess. A stereotypical example is a young woman in American culture who aspires to the less inhibited pop stars as role models; she does not say no to anything physical: smoking, drugs, tattoos, the most permissive available clothing, boys, food, and so on. The result can be similar to that of the masculine addict shadow — the distinction between the two lies in the psychological origins of the behaviour: the masculine addict archetype is at work when the behaviour comes from addiction to emotional pleasure; the feminine self-destructive archetype is at work when the behaviour comes from a co-dependent relationship with peers.

"Cinders" does not acknowledge her beauty, both internal and external. All women are beautiful regardless of what their step-sisters (or the modern advertising industry) seem to be trying to say. Without acknowledging her beauty she is inhibited in self-expression (for example, she would find it more difficult to love others). Another manifestation of this occurs when the young woman does not allow herself to be beautiful. This can happen when an austere and isolated life is chosen for hurtful (self-degrading) reasons.

Examples of both shadows of the Maiden are seen in the beginning of the story of Cinderella. The step-sisters and step-mother embody the "self-destructive" Maiden shadow by being relationship-obsessed and passive caretakers — expecting and even demanding that they be taken care of. In addition they also manifest some of the masculine qualities of the tyrant ar19 and the sadist ar22.

By contrast, Cinderella herself, relationship-isolated, can compensate only by doing all the caretaking. She is convinced by those around her, either that she is not beautiful, or does not deserve to express her beauty4 — and doing all the physical work. This can come from a futile attempt to satisfy the co-dependent and aggressive shadows around her, or from a misguided desire to compensate for her perceived lack of worth.


1 : From [5] (page 281) as cited by Viola Larson.

2 : Customer review of The Queen of Myself[8] on Amazon.

3 : leave her father's house... : This reflects a "female dispersal" practice, as opposed to "male dispersal". Not all human societies manifest female dispersal — however female dispersal dominates in almost all of the literature and mythology that I have used as the basis for these archetype descriptions.

4 : The details of plot and archetypal significance varies from one version of Cinderella to another; the story is thousands of years old.


[5] Carol Christ, "Why Women need the Goddess", in Womanspirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion, by Carol P, Christ and Judith Plaskow (Eds.), Harper & Row (San Francisco), 1979

[6] Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge ISBN 0671600419.

[7] Wind Hughes, Maiden, Mother, Queen and Crone, Sowell Magazine, 2000

[8] Donna Henes, The Queen of Myself, Monarch Press (NY), 2004, ISBN 0975890603.

[9] Robert Moore, PhD. Structures of the Self, web page. (First accessed October 2005)

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