Maps of the Soul

I don’t trust the Zodiac. The Tarot isn’t too different from a Rorschach test. Even less metaphysical personality systems like the Myers-Briggs test and the Enneagram fail to impress me.

All these systems promise to give a map of the most complicated regions of the universe we know of: the human mind. More poetically: the human soul. For various reasons, each falls short. But there’s one framework that’s garnered my trust.

In the ‘90s, Jungian psychologists Robert L. Moore and Douglas Gillette wanted to understand the so-called crisis of masculinity. They wanted to know why so many men seem to act like boys? Their diagnosis was that in modern society there’s been a deterioration of initiatory practices meant to shepherd a boy into healthy masculinity. Based on the work of Carl Jung, they identified what they believed to be the four archetypes, or primal kinds, of mature masculinity: the King, Warrior, Magician, and Lover.

These archetypes, they argued, are present within every man, but not every man embodies them fully or in a healthy way. The four corresponding boyhood archetypes must be transcended, ideally with guidance during initiatory practices. After boyhood, though, the trials continue. The shadow poles of each mature archetype must be appropriately integrated. The shadow King may be a tyrannical father or boss, the shadow Magician a manipulator, the shadow Warrior an aggressive sadist or a masochistic workaholic, the shadow Lover a clingy boyfriend or Don Juan.

Moore and Gillette published a series of books describing the system during the mythopoetic men’s movement of the ‘80s and ‘90s, influencing groups like the ManKind Project (MKP) and other initiatory men’s groups and retreats that sought to offer a vision of strong and healthy masculinity.

Although these archetypes were developed with an eye toward men, they can (with some alteration) be adapted to serve as a general framework for healthy adulthood. Adapted descriptions of the four mature archetypes are as follows:

The Sovereign is the seat of inner authority. Like a good King or Queen, a person channeling the Sovereign energy gathers community around themselves, creates a sense of security, and helps others see their inherent worth. A Sovereign serves and protects their realm—be it their family, business, or community—and as a result it prospers.

The Warrior acts courageously and decisively. They have a transpersonal commitment to a cause larger than themselves—often in service of the Sovereign’s realm mentioned above. They are aware death is imminent and therefore engage fully and energetically in life. Not necessarily a war-maker, the warrior may be an artist, an activist, a businessperson, scientist, etc.; they destroy what needs to be destroyed so something fresh, more alive, may appear.

The Magician is a wise-man or wise-woman. They understand the hidden dynamics of the human psyche, and others come to them with their problems and pains. A master of transformation, a Magician holds space for others to grow and heal. They study and share their wisdom with others and feel at home in the mystery of the cosmos.

The Lover has an appetite for life. They love themselves fully and have no doubt of their own lovability. They similarly delight in others’ beauty. The Lover takes joy in existence and can weep at both beauty and tragedy. At the highest level they feel no separation from the object of their love, be it another person, an animal, nature, or all of creation.

Each of these archetypes is a shortcut: a single word or image that combines many complex ideas into a distinct way of moving through the world that’s as much felt as it is thought. We may walk into a room like a Queen or confront a difficult task with the nobility of a Warrior. We can intuitively channel these concepts to alter the way we hold our bodies, think, speak, and relate to others.

The map is not the territory, however. That is to say, a map of the psyche is not the same as the actual structure of the psyche. Yet as maps of the soul go, I’ve found this to be by far the most useful.

One reason for this practicality is the SWML framework has simplicity on its side. Dividing the human psyche into distinct “types” is a lot like carving a pie. You can cut it into four pieces, seven, twelve, twenty-four. The amount of pie remains the same with a greater or fewer number of slices to keep track of.

What’s more, unlike astrology, Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram, and similar systems, the SWML framework doesn’t try to pigeonhole a person’s multifaceted and constantly changing personality into singular boxes (i.e., a Gemini, an INFJ, or a type “2”). Rather, Moore and Gillette emphasize that every individual is always a mixture of four archetypes. It does not arbitrarily reduce a person to just one “type” but challenges us to integrate them all—something few other systems do.

This is not a perfect system, however, and I have my own critiques. Some of the details seem arbitrary (is the opposite of the boyhood Dreamer the Mama’s Boy?) or rooted in what feel like antiquated Freudian concepts. Some might—justifiably—take issue with whether a framework developed for men can be applied to women or non-binary individuals.

Goddesses in Everywoman: Powerful Archetypes in Women’s Lives by Jean Shinoda Bolen takes a similar approach but focuses on women’s archetypes—identifying seven. Others attempt a direct female parallel to Moore and Gillette’s framework, proposing Queen, Mother, Wise-Woman, Lover. (Though equating the archetypes of Mother and Warrior may or may not make sense, depending who you ask.)

Ultimately, I’m less interested in who has the “right” map but which is most useful. Each personality system—astrology included—can be used for personal reflection and development. The SWML framework provides a clear vision of healthy maturity. It emphasizes humanity (Lover), wisdom (Magician), action (Warrior), and agency (Sovereign). Is it the real structure of the psyche? I’m not sure, but I encourage you to try it. I’ve found it works better for me than many other systems that attempt the same thing. And to quote Jung, “what’s real is what works.”


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2 thoughts on “Maps of the Soul”

  1. A good summary of the concepts. As a coach, I work with me to help them achieve a healthier understanding of masculinity in themselves, and I agree that what works is the most important thing.

    I also think things like astrology and tarot are basically useless. However, I find the other psych-profiling methods also useful. I don’t think they pigeon-hole people, as long as you take them as simply one ways of understanding. MB, for example, helps one understand strengths and weakness in their personal way of moving through the world. It can provide a clarity to some, particularly introverts, who previously felt like they were supposed to behave or think a certain way, which was not natural to them.

    I encourage people to examine themselves from many different points of view, not to simple subscribe to one. Like looking at a gemstone, you can only see some of the facets from any point of view, you need to move it and turn it to see them all, and only then can you form a fully understanding of it.

  2. Hello Charles, I’m glad you found the article a good summary of Moore and Gillette’s archetypes. Perhaps I don’t have enough experience with Myers-Briggs – or maybe I’ve been put off by it because I’ve seen it used in popular personality quizzes and casual discussions in an essentializing, “i am this. you are this,” sort of way. I’m not really opposed to the categories that each personality system identifies – what puts me off is the underlying implications: 1) that this designation is completely accurate (i’ve taken the same Myers-Brigg personality test multiple times and gotten different designations) but also 2) your category is stagnant and doesn’t allow for change over time, which doesn’t map onto the way people do and can transform.

    I do like that gemstone metaphor. I’ve used similar metaphor at some point in the past for a different topic entirely.


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