the archetypes: addict, magical child, hedonist

a magical child from brazilthe following is an excerpt from carolyn myss’ fascinating “gallery of archetypes”. most of us can recognize ourselves in one or more of these archetypes, or typical ways of being in the world. in her descriptions, carolyn myss tells us about the positive as well as the shadow (some would call them negative) aspects of these archetypes. what i really like about this gallery is that she also mentions movies, books, and other places where we might find these archetypes, for example the archetype of the “magical child” in alice in wonderland, or the archetype of the “hedonist” in babette’s feast.

below are a few of these archetypes as carolyn myss relates them – the addict who gains strength from breaking self destructive patterns; the magical child who can see beauty in all things; even in the face of horror and depression; and the hedonist, who celebrates sacred ecstasy.

the addict
every one of us is touched by the addict archetype. besides the usual suspects–drugs, alcohol, food, and sex–one can be addicted to work, sports, television, exercise, computer games, spiritual practice, negative attitudes, and the kinds of thrills that bring on adrenaline rushes. in its positive aspect, this archetype helps you recognize when an outside substance, habit, relationship, or any expression of life has more authority over your will power than does your inner spirit. confronting addiction and breaking the hold that a pattern or substance has on you can impart great strength to your psyche. discovering the empowerment that comes with perseverance has a life-long impact.

in evaluating your connection to the addict, review how many of your life’s challenges concern an external substance or a consistent, domineering pattern of trying to maintain order in your life.

films: jack lemmon and lee remick in days of wine and roses (alcohol); ben stiller in permanent midnight (heroin); dom de luise in fatso (food); claire bloom in the chapman report (sex);

drama: a long day’s journey into night (morphine) by eugene o’neill

fiction: basketball diaries (heroin) by jim carroll; under the volcano (mescal) by malcolm lowry.

religion/myth: soma (vedic god of intoxication, as well as the intoxicating drink itself and the plant from which it is made); tantalus (a son of zeus and king of sipylos in greece, he was invited to share the food of the gods but abused the honor and was punished by being “tantalized” for all eternity by food and drink he could not reach).

the magical/innocent child
the magical child represents the part of us that is both enchanted and enchanting to others. it sees the potential for sacred beauty in all things, exemplified by tiny tim in dickens’s a christmas carol, and by anne frank, who wrote in her diary that in spite of all the horror surrounding her, she still believed that humanity was basically good. her insights continue to inspire people to seek out the wondrous side of life, even in a crisis.

one might assume from the name that this archetype refers to only the delightful qualities of children, but as demonstrated by anne frank and tiny tim, it also embodies qualities of wisdom and courage in the face of difficult circumstances.

baudelaire wrote that “genius is childhood recaptured,” and in that sense the magical child is something of a genius too. the magical child is gifted with the power of imagination and the belief that everything is possible. the shadow energy of the magical child manifests, among others, as pessimism and depression,. they often emerge from an injured magical child whose dreams were “once upon a time” thought foolish by cynical adults. the shadow may also manifest as a belief that energy and action are not required, allowing one to retreat into fantasy.

films: drew barrymore in e.t.; margaret o’brien in meet me in st. louis; george du fresne in ma vie en rose; shirley temple in good ship lollipop.

fiction: the little prince by antoine de saint-exupéry; pippi longstocking by astrid lindgren; alice’s adventures in wonderland and through the looking-glass and what alice found there by lewis carroll.

religion/myth: merlin (in arthurian legend, the “child without a father” who was about to be sacrificed when he saved himself by displaying magic greater than the king’s sorcerers).

the hedonist
this archetype has an “appetite” for the pleasurable aspects of life, from good food and wine to sexuality and sensuality. as scientific research has shown, pleasure can improve our health and extend our lives and needs to be part of a balanced life. indulging the self is central to the psyche of this archetype, whether treating oneself to a health spa or learning the nuances of lovemaking. that the hedonist is generally thought of as someone who pursues extremes of self-indulgence is more a reflection of our puritan heritage than of the archetype itself. in positive terms, it inspires creative energy in the psyche to embrace the “good” things in life. it also challenges in a positive way the collective archetypal fear of being seduced and losing control in the physical world. the shadow hedonist may manifest as pursuing pleasure without regard for other people or one’s own good health.

the search for physical ecstasy parallels the search for spiritual transformation, a truth that is apparent in the dual identity of the famous greek icon of pleasure-seeking, dionysus (roman: bacchus). besides being a god of wine and fertility, dionysus also represents the goal of mystery religions, like those practiced at eleusis: ecstatic delivery from the mundane world through the physical or spiritual intoxication induced by secret rites. (see mystic.) the sacrament of soma (also a god of the vedic pantheon) played a similar role in ancient indian spirituality.

films: babbette’s feast; like water for chocolate; big night.

fiction: tom jones by henry fielding; the unbearable lightness of being by milan kundera; les liaisons dangereuses by p. choderlos delaclos.

religion/myth: oshun (yoruba goddess of love and pleasure who is generous and benign); bebhionn (irish patron goddess of pleasure); qadesh (western semitic fertility goddess and epitome of female sexuality and eroticism); bes (egyptian dwarf god originally associated with royalty and childbirth who became popular among the masses as a god of human pleasures of mirth, music, and dance).

for the full gallery, go here.

image by carf


  1. I certainly identify with the puer aeternus. The tone around “growing up” and “being responsible” always seems rather grim – rather than the engagement with life that is nourishing. My reaction to “growing up” and “being responsible” is along the lines of, “Yuck! Not gonna!” (See how grown up and responsible I am!

  2. With these kinds of lists I look for some bigger organising principle eg Awakening the Heroes Within. Otherwise I feel I’m floundering – and left wondering if it is just what occurred to the author of the list. E.g. in this list there is god/goddess, this seems to me more like another word for archetype than having to do with a particular archetype.

    Evan’s last blog post..The Time Has Come . . . to Launch

  3. These archetypal forces play a huge role in our lives. What a wonderfully creative way to get a different perspective on life situation’s. Caroline Myss has done an amazing amount of work and has definatley opened up some inspiring and creative doors for me. I love her idea of discovering our 12 main archetypes and laying them on the foundation or container of the 12 astrological houses…..and on it goes from there. The exploration is endless. I come up with perspectives and ideas that I would never have dreamt of. Pretty neat!. If anyone is in the Vancouver area who is interested in getting together to discuss this….or who are exploring their own archetypes and would like a “companion” please contact me through email. Thanks.

  4. this post makes me think of about fifty different things–it’s insipiring some further contemplation but here are a couple thoughts:

    on the magical child:
    i think pan’s labyrinth and coraline have elements of the magical child, both traumatic and powerful films for me; the shadow of retreating into fantasy resonates for me quite a bit, but also the potential transformative power she (or he, but it seems like a lot of example are with girls and I’m a she so that’s what I’m picturing for myself) has

    on the addict and hedonist: moving from the addict (or from feeding the addict, since I don’t believe it’s ever not a core part of me but then I’m very literally one since I’m a [sober] alcoholic); things like yoga practice that has an element of ecstatic spirituality (like trance dance and such) have been huge in nourishing the need that I have tended to look to addiction for instead–it seems like there’s an element of balancing out the addict with the hedonist archetype in that ecstatic sense maybe?; I’m also wondering about how decadence fits in–it’s what I’d say is in some of the examples under hedonism and also maybe part of addiction–maybe it’s where they intersect?; the image of tantalus struck me as also capturing the way end-stage addiction feels–when even at our most intoxicated/high it’s never enough–as if addiction actually contains what that myth conceives of as a sort of punishment for addiction. . .

    maybe the satyr and green man would also fit the hedonist archetype?
    thanks for this post–lots to reflect upon!

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