The hero archetype is one of the most recognizable archetypes in literature, film, television and video games. It seems that any compelling story has a hero of some flavor that is easy to name.
Here are twenty real-life and fictional hero archetype examples: Superman, King Arthur, Joan of Arc, Luke Skywalker, Rocky, Hercules, Spiderman, Harry Potter, Wonder Woman, Wolverine, Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), Neo (The Matrix), Rosa Parks, Frodo, Daniel LaRusso (Karate Kid), William Wallace (Braveheart), Dorothy Gale (Wizard of Oz), Moses, Robin Hood, Amelia Earhart. Please note that this random smattering is no indication of value, ranking or merit of each example. I’m merely trying to touch on someone you recognize.
Do you know what makes these people and characters heroes or heroines? To make the hero an archetype, we must be able to identify universal patterns of behavior and story, which we can!
The Archetypal Hero’s Remarkable Birth
The hero archetype by definition has unusual circumstances surrounding his/her birth. Immaculate conception, birth from the foam of the sea or the blood clot of a buffalo, or emergence from the mother’s heart are examples of the mysterious stories surrounding the hero’s birth. (SOURCE: SideEffectsOfXarelto.org) Often the hero is born under a prophesy of the coming of the savior. The hero or heroine may also be born into an opulent or privileged family or be of esteemed ancestry, but they may not know it.
If you are considering if you have the hero archetype, how do you reconcile this piece of a hero’s mythology with your own history? If your family tells wild tales of the storm that raged the night you were born or the colossal labor your mother went through to have you, this can be considered a remarkable birth.
If everyone is counting on you to be the first college graduate, lawyer or doctor of the family, this can be a reflection of the idea of you as the savior. If you feel you were born to greatness, but can’t find the reason for this, you may very well have the hero archetype as part of your make-up. Remember, if the hero is one of your natal archetypes, the legends surrounding the archetypal hero should relate to your life symbolically.
The Estranged or Abandoned Hero
In the stories, the hero archetype may be estranged from his family at birth as in the story of Moses or he may lose his family in an accident like Luke Skywalker. The heroine may deliberately leave her family out of distaste for their values or out of necessity. If you’ve “left home” no matter what the age, this could be connected to the archetypal hero patterning.
The hero archetype and abandoned child archetype have a lot in common, so if this is the only part of the hero you identify with, look instead to the abandoned child. It is possible, however, to have both archetypes.
The archetypal hero typically has a strained, or even shattered, relationship with his or her father. The journey or quest he or she embarks on often helps the hero or heroine reconcile or heal from this wounding.
The Hero’s Journey
I speak at length about the stages and process of the hero’s journey in a three-part series of articles. When considering if the hero archetype as one of your own archetypes, be sure to familiarize yourself with the stages of the hero’s journey and relate those back to the seemingly insurmountable quests you’ve endeavored to accomplish in your life. I will touch on a few key aspects below, but for more in depth information…
Supernatural Guide for the Hero
At the beginning of the hero’s journey, he or she encounters a supernatural guide. Merlin helped Arthur, Obi-Wan tutored Luke Skywalker, and the Good Witch of the West advised Dorothy. I pull this important piece out of the hero’s journey because it is a key element to search for in your personal history when considering the hero archetype for yourself.
Have you had the assistance of one or more gifted teachers, gurus, or guides of this world or another? Has a loved one come from the other side to visit in a dream and show you the way? Has someone with uncanny wisdom been there at just the right time? You don’t have to know an actual witch or a wizard to have the hero archetype, but you do have to know what it’s like to get help that is supernatural from an especially gifted mentor.
The Archetypal Hero’s Special Weapon
Very often the hero or heroine receives a special weapon that only he or she can wield. The weapon is a symbol, a metaphor, for a unique talent or gift. If you feel like you are especially gifted at one thing or another and that you can use it to overcome great adversity on behalf of others, you may well be in the realm of the hero. Aphrodite’s special weapon was her beauty. She disarmed many with it. Whereas, Athena had the weapon of great strategic ability, continually outsmarting her adversaries. Beatrice Prior in Divergent has the ability to be many personalities at once which eventually breaks the oppressive social caste system she lives in.
The “Hero Complex”
When acting within the archetypal hero, we are at risk of falling into the shadow known as the “hero complex”. The larger than life mythology of the hero can lead those with the hero archetype to become self-involved and over-inflated. Someone with a hero complex will unconsciously create crises so that he has an opportunity to swoop in and be the hero. The hero archetype compels us to act as a lone ranger, refuse help, and ignore the benefits of teamwork. When out of balance, the selfless nature of the hero can also cause us to overdo the need to triumph at the cost of our own health and wellbeing
Light Aspects of the Hero Archetype
The hero puts the needs of others, whether it is one person or many, before his or her own needs. For the good of others, the hero archetype may submit him or herself to extreme physical danger or crippling emotional trauma showing an admirable selflessness. The hero displays unwavering bravery in situations where most people wouldn’t. His or her moral integrity is proven out in the end even if the hero’s honor was in question at the beginning of the adventure. The hero’s actions and character in the face of great adversity inspire others to rise above their own trials.
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About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch
Stacey L. L. Couch is a Spiritual Director who teaches about archetypes and symbolism. Her speciality is working with soul pioneers - those of you who are making it up as you go along the spiritual path. She works with beginner and life-long spiritual seekers. Through working with Stacey, lost seekers find their way home and professional spiritual guides receive mentorship. Stacey empowers people with the ability to explore their purpose and calling. Wisdom found in story, mysticism, and nature provide guidance and healing in her work. She is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey.