Tag Archive for: leadership

archetypal hero archetype

The Hero Archetype

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…

Read The Shamanic Journey & The Hero’s Journey Series

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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is shamanism a religion

Is Shamanism a Religion?

Is Shamanism a Religion?

Shamanism is experiencing a great resurgence. As everyone figures out how to pronounce shaman and shamanism (the first “a” is soft, like an “ah”), there are alternative terms adding to the confusion. “Shamanistic” and “shamanist” being primary contributors.

Given that people are still getting accustomed to the words, it is no surprise that few know how to categorize shamanism. The question of “is shamanism a religion?” is a worthy inquiry. 

Religion is typically seen as an organization of people that follow the teachings of a set spiritual tradition. Shamanism looks a lot like a religion because it is about spirituality. There are also strong shamanic traditions. But, is there enough organization to make it a religion?

Shamanism is involved with worship of the Divine, but the practices vary widely. It doesn’t have a written moral code like we see in religion, but shamanism does have a set of common beliefs. We’re used to seeing a head of a religion – the Pope being a primary example – so who is the leader of the shamans? There are local but not global figures. 

Religion is defined in the dictionary in these three ways:

  1. “The the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods
  2. A particular system of faith and worship
  3. A pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance”

Absence of a Shared Shaman God

Shamans do believe in a higher power or powers that orchestrate life on this planet and the movement of the heavens. So, strictly speaking, shamanism fits the definition of “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power.”

However, there is no unifying story about the nature of this power that ties all shamans together. Without the glue of a specific mythology, shamanic practitioners around the world don’t unite in a cohesive way like other religions.

There is worship of superhuman powers, but no agreement about what or who that power is. Consensus is missing. Whether or not consensus needs to be present to make shamanism a religion is up for debate.

Shamanism is different than traditional religions because there is no set God or pantheon of deities that every shaman believes in. Some shamans work with a single God, like in Christianity. Others relate to a collection of goddesses and gods, like in Hinduism and Paganism.

Western shamanic practitioners that have lost trust in Christianity leave the definitive God or gods altogether and simply speak of life force or “the universe”.

In addition, there is no collection of written works to refer to in shamanism. Shamans don’t have a Bible, Bhagavad Gita, Tao Te Ching, Quran, Tibetan Book of the Dead, Upanishads, Dhammapada, or Vedas to refer to.

This is a reflection of the locality of shamanism and how much it varies from place to place. As an earth-based practice, it adapts to the environment and people where it takes root. A shaman may adopt teachings from a spiritual text and incorporate those into their shamanic practice. This is a personal choice, not a collective one.

Shamanism Beliefs

Shamanism is a worldwide collection of people that have certain shared beliefs and world views. Here are the basics that unite shamans around the world going back as far as we know:

  • There is a physical reality AND a spiritual reality. Both exist at the same time.
  • The cosmos is made up of three worlds (lower, middle and upper) and connected by a central axis (such as a mountain or tree)
  • Spirit guides in human, animal, and other forms are real
  • We have the ability to travel to the spiritual realms via an altered state of consciousness known as the journey trance
  • Everything has a soul or is at least imbued with spiritual energy
  • All of life is interconnected and sacred
  • There is a higher power or powers that help coordinate the movement of the cosmos
  • There are cosmic laws that govern illness, healing, life, and death

As you can see, shared shamanic beliefs are about the big picture.

Variation in Shamanic Beliefs

The smaller, specific details vary widely. Shamanism is found on every continent around the world, and variations in the details depend on the country, culture, and individual. For example, some cultures believe that the three worlds have multiple worlds within them while others adhere to a simpler three world model.

There are many ways different shamanic cultures travel to the spirit world. Celtic shamans travel through a mist while Greek shamans use caves. Himalayan and Peruvian shamans travel via mountains and Norse shamans use rivers and oceans.

So when considering a “particular system of faith and worship” it is a matter of degree with shamanism. 

There is immense variation in shamanic practice. Because of this, we could easily make the case that shamanism doesn’t fit into the basket of “religion”. There is just not enough agreement on the details of both belief and ritual that bind the world-wide shamanic community together tightly enough.

There is no PARTICULAR system. In this way, it seems that shamanism fails to meet the definition of a religion.

Shamanism Religion for Lay People?

Traditionally, people who practiced shamanism held an esteemed and unique role in their communities as the tribe healer. The members of the community practiced a religion such as Buddhism, Hinduism, or Paganism. They went to their shaman for guidance and healing. 

I’d argue that more people today than ever before are accessing the wisdom and healing of shamanism directly via their own journey trances. This makes shamanism less of an elitist practice than it used to be. It’s now a spirituality available to anyone.

There is a collective identity in practicing shamanism. Many believe, including me, that laypeople can practice shamanism without needing to have a career as a shamanic practitioner. This opens the door to the possibility of shamanism as a religion because it has a wider application and following.

However, without centralized leadership and gathering places, shamanism still looks different than we expect religion to be. The leaders and communities are more localized than other organized world religions.

Pursuit of Supreme Importance

Then there is the last definition of religion: “a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance“. Shamanism most definitely carries that supreme importance for me. When I ask myself “Is shamanism a religion?” in this light, I can easily say it is for me.

I appreciate participating in a spiritual practice that doesn’t require I believe a set way. The freedom to mix and incorporate different spiritual and religious stories and teachings is what draws me to shamanism.

Shamanism provides a container, a conduit, for our relationship with the Divine. Rather than tell us about the nature of a higher power, shamanism allows us to experience The One directly. Rather than require I read a book or speak to a priest to learn about the Divine, I can engage in direct revelation. For me, this is of supreme importance.

Re-Evaluating Religion Itself

You can make the case for a shamanism religion or not.

You have the opportunity to choose.

As we re-evaluate our relationship to “religion” and what that word means, we can decide for ourselves if we want to fit shamanism into that mold or not.

For people who have been betrayed, disappointed, or wounded by organized religion, shamanism offers an alternative spiritual path. For them, embracing shamanism as a spiritual practice and leaving the term “religion” altogether brings safety and freedom.

For others, calling shamanism a religion and reclaiming the word “religion” in a revolutionary way is what is healing. Whether or not we call it a religion, I can say for certain that shamanism is a worldview, a healing modality, and a spiritual practice. 

Is shamanism a religion? I’d love to hear what you think! Post your thoughts in the comments below!


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Spirit Animals: WOLF the WITNESS

Wolf Symbolism

Wolf spirit animals embody a wide range of qualities in the human psyche. Just think of how many stories you’ve read and movies you’ve seen that have wolves or werewolves as characters.

Most obviously, wolf symbolism is about dismantling fears and not letting them control you. When wolves used to roam the habitat around our small towns, many people feared going out at night. Despite the myths, thank you Red Riding Hood, wolf is not a vicious man-eater. It is truly the stories in our heads about wolves that make them much more dangerous than they are. This is the case with other fears we own. They are illusions, blown out of proportion to prevent us from venturing out into the unknown.

Remember the saying, “we’ll feed you to the wolves”? This conjures up images of a ravenous pack tearing us to shreds. Over the centuries, there has been a projection onto wolf as being a malicious, mindless killing machine. Luckily, awareness about the incredibly complex and intelligent nature of wolves is expanding. We now understand their capacity for caring and nurturing young as well as the intricate, subtle communication that exists between them.

Wolf as a Witness

When we think of wolf we often think of him chasing down big prey with his pack. We picture him fighting with a pack mate over a carcass. We imagine him howling at the moon. We don’t usually think of wolf watching quietly in the background, but this is often what he does. Wolf is not born knowing how to behave or hunt. As a pup, he learns by watching and this habit carries over into the rest of his life. He will sniff out a situation before moving in. Wolf will lurk on the perimeter, watching, until he determines the best course of action.

Wolf spirit animal teaches us about the power of detachment. Many of you may have heard of the concept of being a witness in your life. This entails watching your life as if it were someone else’s. If you’ve studied your triggers you’ll know that being a witness means not being triggered by a situation. This doesn’t mean you don’t care or love or feel. It just means that you let go of trying to force a certain outcome. You let go of the need to be right. You stop trying to direct everything to serve your own needs. You stop distrusting others and trusting in the nature of the universe.

Forget the “Alpha”

How many of you are familiar with the term “alpha male” ? A scientist conducting studies on captive, unrelated wolves in the 1930’s and 1940’s developed our notions of pack structure. Many people are now aware that if you’re not an alpha, you’re a beta in the middle of the pack or, heaven forbid, an omega at the bottom. We’ve carried this term over into our own social structure. We see our scraping to get to the top as the natural order of things, and have used the analogy of the wolf pack to justify our behavior.

More recent research conducted on wild wolves has revealed something different. Packs are not dictated by a set of leaders who’ve fought their way to the top. Nor are they composed of a group of submissive followers, but instead packs are family groups that are run by the parents. This paper by renowned wolf researcher David Mech sure turns things on their head: http://www.wolf.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/267alphastatus_english.pdf.

Regardless of the true nature of pack social structure, we like to think of leadership as a static position. In reality, leadership in the natural world is a fluid notion that changes by the moment. Leadership seems to depend less on dominating another, and more on earning their following over and over again. The “submissive” member of the pack always has a choice whether to comply in the moment or not. Different leaders have different styles. Some are more quiet, others more gregarious. Leaders can be aloof or everyone’s best friend. We see this demonstrated in the wolf world and in our own.

If you have concerns over your role in a group and are tired of fighting for position, now is a good time to let go of the idea of the alpha. What qualities can you embody that will earn respect of others, and, even better, yourself? Part of being a witness is releasing concern over what other people think. What is your style of leadership? What do you look for in a leader? Wolf spirit animal offers you the opportunity to stop wasting your time thinking you weren’t born an alpha and start practicing the qualities you look for in a leader.

Wolf, The Guru

“At the beginning of the world, the Great Spirit sent the wolves out into the wilderness to measure the earth. They came back to the Great Mysterious One and told of what they had experienced and learned. Great Spirit said, ‘As you have named it, so it shall be.’ Wolves clearly interpret and impart the way to others.” – How to Find Your Spirit Animal by David Carson

“Because they wandered it was believed they knew everything.” – Animal Wisdom by Jessica Dawn Palmer

In many North American tribes, wolf spirit animal is the quintessential teacher. I go a step further an call wolf a “guru” because all great gurus are essentially great witnesses. Gurus are able to quietly watch their students struggle with tough questions and wrestle with uncomfortable truths. They have infinite patience, waiting for the student to come along at whatever pace they may. Gurus are willing to release the outcome and endure immense hardship without irritability. Gurus are also believed to know everything.

Teachers and gurus alike must be able to adapt their style of communication to match the student because not everyone learns the same way. Knowledge must come through different channels to be assimilated. Wolf has three ways of communicating: visual (body language), verbal, and scent.

Discerning Truth from Illusion

Gurus are incredibly good at discerning truth from illusion. To discern is to distinguish, separate and differentiate. My friend Margaret Burkesmith teaches that discernment is, “Sitting very close to something and allowing it to spontaneously reveal itself.”

Wolf has a superior sense of smell, and smell in religious symbology is linked with the skill of discernment. We don’t pass anything into our mouths without smelling it first just like we do not let any idea into our spiritual life without first discerning if it serves our path. Smell is likened to the ability to discern good from evil. Wolf spirit animal teaches us a great deal about the power of discernment.

The olfactory region of nasal cavity in wolf is 14 times that of humans and his nose is 1,000,000 times more sensitive to odor than humans. Wolf has somewhere around 280 million olfactory receptors. When a wolf stops to smell the marking of another wolf, he can tell how long ago that wolf was there, who exactly the wolf was, the gender of the wolf, and countless other things.

Now is a good time to pay attention to your own power of discernment. How much do you know, really, about what is going on in and around you? Can you take more time to sit with it and know more?

We so often picture gurus sitting cross-legged, in meditation for hours. They are allowing truth to reveal itself. Wolf spirit animal, our guru of the wild, watches quietly from a distance doing the same.


At Wolfwood Refuge in Ignacio, CO, I had the great fortune of meeting and interacting directly with wolves. Not only are wolves in the wild hunted and harassed due to misunderstanding, but wolves and wolf hybrids raised for domestication are continually discarded, mistreated and abused. Paula and Craig Watson offer these abandoned and mistreated animals a forever home where they have the chance to live outdoors in big enclosures with others of their kind. If you live nearby you can visit yourself. Anyone can donate to help out. http://www.wolfwoodrefuge.org



About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch

Stacey Couch shamanic practitionerStacey L. L. Couch, Certified Shamanic Practitioner, works as a publicist and journalist for Mother Nature and is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She empowers people with the ability to explore life’s big questions by calling on nature, story and synchronicity as a source for guidance and healing. With her deeply rooted experience in the field of shamanism and passion for working with wildlife and rescue animals, Stacey has a unique blend of rational and mystical perspective that makes the world of shamanism easily accessible to others. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey.

Projecting Emotions Shamanic Healing

Where Do We Project?

Judgements and projections show up frequently in our experience as humans, but there is a pattern of places they more frequently surface. Judgements occur most commonly around or about where there is an inequality of authority. The very first place we experience them is in the parent-child relationship. Here the parent has the power and the child struggles to exert their own. The parent can obviously be despised by their child when setting a rule, and the child can be resented by the parent for disobeying their requests.

One of my teachers saw most relationships we experience in adulthood as a continuation of the parent-child bond. She was extremely talented in finding the ways in which we can project our frustration or issues with our parents onto other relationships in our lives. She really felt this way when it came to the employee-boss association. In my work with her, she identified so many instances of me projecting my parents on her that eventually I had to walk away. It was too much and began to repel me from my current, adult bond with my parents.

Then came life’s test or, actually, two tests. I had a succession of two terrible bosses. Since I had walked away from the Freudian world view of my teacher, I gave myself free reign to project on to these people that were making my life and my co-workers lives miserable. It felt good to act out, spread gossip and generally hate these bosses. I loved that after the vigorous, over-examination of everything I did to have a place where I was free to be stinking mad.

To give myself credit I was not nasty full-time. I spend too much time in my own unconscious to stay well and be mean, but I allowed myself more license than my conscience would typically allow. It was liberating to not have to be polite all the time and, rather than being a victim as I had been previously, I was an empowered rebel. It turned out that I had to learn the Herculean task of sending love rather than hate to the first boss before that relationship could end and, as for the second, that ended as a result of me finding that my dream and reality no longer met in that position.

Fast forward a couple of years and now I find myself in an interesting situation. I adore who I work for and I am now in a position of authority subject to the unconscious projections of others. And, wow, did I take those on! I felt and heard all of their judgements and gossip coming my way. When my friends would criticize their own bosses I would feel that too. I hit a state of over-empathy with people in positions of power and out of my guilt for what I had done to my previous managers I let a most of it stick. Luckily, I have friends who know how to do extraction and I was able to clear the projections out of my field and start again with a clean slate.

So, what now? Having been on both sides of the coin in recent history I realize that I have a new paradigm in which to frame these relationships. This has little to do with our parents because they become just another place to project. Instead, it has everything to do with us. When we project onto others it is our unconscious pointing to what we need to shift. If we are mad about our bosses shutting us down we should be looking at where we are afraid to speak up and how to gain the courage to do so. If we feel like they are making our lives miserable it’s time to look at how we need to shift our perspective so we can be happy. Sometimes this means leaving the job and other times it means taking responsibility for our own experience. In the end, it’s up to us to decide.

(In this Photo: Like this drake mallard duck that decided to nap on my frozen pond this week, it’s important to remember that there is a time for self-reflection about where we project and a time to rest on a frozen reflection of who we are and just accept who is.)

horse leadership

On Leadership

I find it an interesting synchronicity that at this time in my life I find my perspective of leadership turned on its head. In the over 2 years I’ve known my mustang mare she has been the lead mare of her shifting herd of 15-18 mares. She has shouldered the role so gracefully that life in the pasture has been ordered but playfully choatic, friendly with a sound level of ownership. She rarely, if ever, exerts her power over the others and has been willing to let many a discretion slide. My mare is not a micro-manager or one to delegate tasks, she lets each horse fall into their natural role in the herd, and shares her time with each regardless of rank. She has continually demonstrated that leadership is not about brute force, shear power, or outright enchantment, all of which she has in excess, but about sound quiet confidence.

Now, in the last few months I’ve watched another, smaller but quicker, mustang throw the herd into a jumble and bully my mare out of her position. I’ve realized how desperately I’ve clung to Cherokee’s identity as a leader, and I’ve had to go through my own path of transformation to reframe our relationship.

Relationships are tricky, especially those we have with our animals. So frequently I see that an animal’s illness, spiritual, emotional, mental or physical, is strongly tied to the human’s circumstances. We regularly project our own stuff onto our furry friends. We commonly ask them to excuse our faults. We pursue a mirror of our strengths. This is the natural order of things. To be in relationship is to connect and share our energy, love, and life.

The problem arises when the bond we share becomes static. This stunts the growth and transformation that is primary to every living being’s path. When this happens with the humans in our lives we begin to either voice or hear a good deal of grumbling which, when not heeded, turns to outright defiance and the severing of ties. Our furry companions cannot explain to us what the problem is with language, so we start to see other symptoms. Misbehavior and noncompliance are the first signs. Physical illness or violence are the last stage.

In the case of my mare and myself, I saw immediately that the shift in her role and my strong reaction to it required a big adjustment. I could have chosen to wallow in pity and spend my hours wishing for her to regain face. Instead, I saw an opportunity. Here was my chance to direct all her freed time and energy into our work together. Since she didn’t have a herd to watch over all day, I could provide Cherokee with more play sessions to ponder and I could visit at odd times. The weather this winter has been awefully cold, but I bundled up and went out. She met me in the middle by adjusting to the strange environment of the indoor arena. We’ve had some absolutely outstanding days together and now more than ever we look forward to making contact in a new way.

Many times I’ve pursued a position of leadership in my herd of two, but never would I have wanted Cherokee to have to give up her own. I still don’t know for certain that she had to relinquish her role in her herd to accept me as her leader, but something tells me that the opportunity arose for her and she took it. Maybe she’s thinking the same of me?

Feel like evaluating your own relationship with your furry friend… Here are some great questions to get you going:

1. What roles do my animal and myself play in our relationship together?
2. How have these roles shifted over time?
3. What role(s) would I like to work towards in my relationship with my animal?
4. How might our relationship change if I shifted into those roles?
5. How can I honor who my animal is in their life apart from our relationship?