What Are Archetypes in Mythology?

An archetype is a character, theme, situation or motif that represents a universal symbolic or shared pattern of human nature. Mythological archetypes can be found in characters such as the hero, the villain, the trickster and the mentor, as well as in thematic concepts such as quests, death and rebirth.

One of the most common character archetypes in myth is the hero. Examples of the hero archetype include Beowulf, King Arthur, Achilles, Jesus and Buddha. Hero archetypes are usually the product of a supernatural birth, and must undertake some great journey or quest during their lives in order to restore balance or harmony to the world. In general, hero archetypes must overcome a personal weakness, such as fear or doubt, resist some great temptation, or conquer a powerful enemy in order to complete their quest.

Another common character archetype in mythology is the mentor. An example of a mentor archetype is Gandalf in “Lord of the Rings.” Generally, a mentor’s role is to assist the hero in some way, such as through advice, training or protection against an enemy.

Mythological archetypes can also take the form of universal themes or concepts, such as death, rebirth, heaven, hell, creation and destruction.