21 January 2013

Review: Archetypes by Caroline Myss

I’ve always been interested in the way different personalities and types react to things in different ways, and I downloaded Archetypes: Who Are You? because I thought would provide a psychologically-based analysis of personality types (in a similar vein to the populist literature about the MBTI, for example), which would be useful for author friends in developing personalities, motivations and conflicts for their characters. And, I admit, there was a slight interest in wondering what archetype I might be, and what insight the author had to offer.

Well, for me, the book failed on both counts. The first quarter was background information that didn’t really make a lot of sense to me, as someone who hasn’t read any of Myss’s previous books or looked at her website. Archetypes then went into some detail about ten female archetypes (making it irrelevant to half the world’s population), and made fleeting references to other archetypes that weren’t explained, which was frustrating. She claimed that the purpose of the book was to answer the ultimate questions we all ask ourselves: Who am I? For what reason was I born? As a Christian, I believe this is a question of fundamental importance, but you are only going to find the answer within the pages of the Bible.

Myss’s archetypes are partially based in Jungian psychology but she has renamed some of the concepts. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that the basis of the Archetypes was based on new age thinking rather than any academic discipline. I was looking for technical awareness not cosmic intelligence (and it truly strikes me as odd that otherwise rational and intelligent people dismiss the notion of a creator God but are happy to embrace a “cosmic intelligence”).

Her choice of vocabulary is interesting, and perhaps gives the reader an insight into the author. She continually uses the word 'myth' to describe the stories and archetypes people ascribe to themselves. Yet one meaning of myth is a commonly held yet false belief. Is she saying that many of us hold false beliefs about ourselves? Or is she showing that her own beliefs, in the value and power of archetypes, are ultimately false beliefs?

As a Christian, I had a different interpretation to some of the material presented. For example, the author says:

“The lesson for the Spiritual Seeker is that truth will set you free… You were born knowing truth. Connecting with it starts with listening to your inner voice… But nothing can silence intuition forever because nothing can silence truth.”

I agree with these statements. We are born knowing the truth, and as a Christian, I now believe that truth is Jesus. The problem is, as a Christian, my intuition is telling me that while the basic facts of this book are sound, the underlying spiritual themes are not truth. And the author can't argue this. Either truth is relative (in which case we are both right) or truth is absolute (in which case Jesus is the Truth and this author is not, because Jesus said “I am the truth”. When Jesus says “the truth will set you free”, he was talking about himself and his teaching).

The author seems to have some misguided ideas about Christianity, illustrated in this quote: "We were taught that if we’re good and obey God, then nothing bad will happen to us because God is a just god who protects good people." If this is the god she was taught about, then can perhaps understand why she now appears to be a Buddhist. This is not the God of the Bible, although it is what many churches, ancient and modern, have preached.

However, Myss makes the valid point that “the name of this archetype is Spiritual Seeker, not Spiritual Finder. A Spiritual Seeker is, by definition, always looking for something more”. This is the basis for the entire self-help industry, and probably explains why I have an innate distrust of self-help, even in its Christian guises. Yet this is a self-help book. Go figure.

The quote that was laugh-out-loud funny from a self-help book was this:
“I rely on the guidance of my intuition, not on whichever self-help author I happen to be reading.”

So even the author doesn’t know why anyone should read this book. At the end, I'm still not sure what Archetypes is supposed to have achieved. Am I supposed to have on archetype or many? Can I change archetypes or do I need to embrace a 'true' archetype to 'find my destiny'? And what is the relevance of the list of additional archetypes at the end of the book? Even without the reservations outlined previously, I don't think I could categorise this book as great. It has some interesting ideas and could spark some great debates, but at the end of the day, it doesn't answer the fundamental question it started with: for what reason was I born? It tries to tell readers how to live based on their self-diagnosed archetype, but it doesn't answer why.

Overall, Archetypes was well-written and thought-provoking but ultimately unsatisfying. Thanks to Hay House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

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