The best books about archetypes

13 authors have picked their favorite books about archetypes and why they recommend each book.

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Women Who Run with the Wolves

By Clarissa Pinkola Estés,

Book cover of Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

This is not a novel, but an extraordinary exploration of fairy stories, their meaning and their psychological significance. Women who run with the Wolves is an amazing work of scholarship, though it’s sometimes simplistic, and takes some digesting. Clarissa Pinkora Estes is herself a fine storyteller. Each section begins with her retelling of a well-known fairy story, sparse, unadorned, and very powerful. She then writes about its meaning, referring to psychological conditions that are related to the story. She maintains that understanding the story helps us to understand ourselves, our motives and fears, our inhibitions, and how we might move forwards. Fascinating and thought-provoking book. 


Who am I?

Much of my writing is influenced by Fairy Stories. Sometimes I retell the stories in my own words, sometimes I create my own, and sometimes, as in Rose Doran Dreams, I weave them into the narrative so that they shape the central character in a way that affects or explains her development. There is a darkness about Fairy Stories that fascinates me, that gives psychological depth to a character or a narrative as I write. I am dizzy with the notion that Fairy Stories don’t belong to the teller or the writer, the listener or the reader; they transcend time and place. 


I wrote...

Rose Doran Dreams

By Berlie W. Doherty,

Book cover of Rose Doran Dreams

What is my book about?

As a child, Rose was fed fairy stories by her brother, and then her teacher. Her favourite was The Fisherman and His Wife, about the magic fish and the woman who rejects all that her wishes bring. But it is Rose who faces rejection, from her parents, her teacher, her lover the dancer, her stolen child, her husband. Her strange, exotic neighbour Paedic is a fantasist, and in their shared stories and dreams Rose finds a kind of fulfillment. As their stories become darker and more disturbing she begins to lose touch with reality.

The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

By C.G. Jung, Gerhard Adler (translator),

Book cover of The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

Jung proposed many fascinating ideas about the inner workings of the mind. His concept of the archetypes and of the collective unconscious are two of his best-known contributions, and both are intimately tied to his conceptualization of dreams. The idea that dreams not only emanate from our personal unconscious, but also from our collective unconscious (a deep stratum of the unconscious common to all humankind) and contain universal patterns, images, and dispositions, has helped countless people develop a deeper understanding of their dreams.

What’s more, this book exposes Jung’s view of dreaming as a wholesome, natural process that can give rise to creative—even transcendent—experiences featuring personal challenges, unmapped potentials, and elements of one’s personality. Not always the easiest of reads, but highly rewarding. 


Who am I?

Although I had many intriguing dreams during my childhood, including fantastic flying dreams, the idea of becoming a sleep scientist never crossed my mind. All that changed during my first year in college. It was then that I experienced an exceptionally long and vivid lucid dream that changed my life; it was because of this dream that I decided to become a dream researcher. Today, I’m a professor of psychology at the University of Montreal, director of the department’s Dream Research Laboratory, and have published over 100 scientific articles and book chapters on sleep and dreams. I don’t have as many flying dreams as I once did, but I do have a really cool job while awake. 


I wrote...

When Brains Dream: Exploring the Science and Mystery of Sleep

By Antonio Zadra, Robert Stickgold,

Book cover of When Brains Dream: Exploring the Science and Mystery of Sleep

What is my book about?

Questions on the origins and meaning of dreams are as old as humankind, and as confounding and exciting today as when nineteenth-century scientists first attempted to unravel them. Why do we dream? Do dreams hold psychological meaning or are they merely the reflection of random brain activity? What purpose do dreams serve?

When Brains Dream addresses these core questions about dreams while covering the most up-to-date science in the field. Co-written with my long-time friend and fellow sleep and dream researcher, Robert Stickgold, this book debunks common myths about dreams, reveals recent discoveries about the sleeping brain, explains the many ways in which dreams are psychologically and neurologically meaningful, and details how dreams can facilitate creativity and be a source of personal insight. Making an engaging case for why the human brain needs to dream When Brains Dream offers compelling answers to age-old questions about the mysteries of dreams.

Conscious Femininity

By Marion Woodman,

Book cover of Conscious Femininity

Marian Woodman has been my shero ever since I attended a workshop of hers. I recall sitting in the audience listening to her speak and blinking my eyes. How could it be that she could shape-shift from a coy flirtatious maiden, into a warm nurturing mother, and then moments later appear as a regal, confident, and sovereign queen and then a deeply wise crone? She clearly understood and embodied the full range of the conscious feminine in its various aspects.

Of her many books, this is the one I love the most because, in this collection of interviews with her, the passion of her speaking voice comes through the written word loud and clear. Her phrasing is so delicious, my tattered copy is underlined throughout.


Who am I?

I’m a clinical psychologist who has specialized in women’s issues and disordered eating for over thirty years. Born on the island of Guam, I was raised in a matriarchal and multicultural household where storytelling was a means of transmitting important concepts, traditions, and values, and was a way to experience meaningful and joyful connections with others. Because I was raised by strong women and my indigenous ancestors were Chamorro, a matrilineal culture that honored the motherline, I have always been interested in the archetypal feminine rooted in these stories, although I didn’t discover the term until I began to study psychology.


I wrote...

Eating in the Light of the Moon: How Women Can Transform Their Relationship with Food Through Myths, Metaphors, and Storytelling

By Anita Johnston,

Book cover of Eating in the Light of the Moon: How Women Can Transform Their Relationship with Food Through Myths, Metaphors, and Storytelling

What is my book about?

My book is about how the dismissal, denial, devaluation, and degradation of the feminine principle within our culture and within our psyches has contributed to the epidemic of women who struggle with negative body image and disordered eating. It uses fairytales and folktales from around the world and the archetypal feminine embedded in them to explain the deeper issues that underlie the struggle with food and body image.

Goddesses in Everywoman

By Jean Shinoda Bolen,

Book cover of Goddesses in Everywoman: Powerful Archetypes in Women's Lives

When I read this book, I felt much the way I did as a teenager when I discovered astrology and began to appreciate there were patterns of behavior found in humans that were reflected in the vastness of the cosmos -- and vice versa. Who would have thought that what I considered idiosyncratic tendencies within myself and others actually were a part of a much bigger pattern that had existed for millennia in the form of ancient goddesses? I was astounded to see the personalities of my sisters, friends, mother, aunties, as well as celebrities, accurately depicted by Greek goddesses. 

In this book, Shinoda-Bolen brings to life many dimensions of the archetypal feminine that get played out in our modern lives, our individual psyches, and in our relationships.


Who am I?

I’m a clinical psychologist who has specialized in women’s issues and disordered eating for over thirty years. Born on the island of Guam, I was raised in a matriarchal and multicultural household where storytelling was a means of transmitting important concepts, traditions, and values, and was a way to experience meaningful and joyful connections with others. Because I was raised by strong women and my indigenous ancestors were Chamorro, a matrilineal culture that honored the motherline, I have always been interested in the archetypal feminine rooted in these stories, although I didn’t discover the term until I began to study psychology.


I wrote...

Eating in the Light of the Moon: How Women Can Transform Their Relationship with Food Through Myths, Metaphors, and Storytelling

By Anita Johnston,

Book cover of Eating in the Light of the Moon: How Women Can Transform Their Relationship with Food Through Myths, Metaphors, and Storytelling

What is my book about?

My book is about how the dismissal, denial, devaluation, and degradation of the feminine principle within our culture and within our psyches has contributed to the epidemic of women who struggle with negative body image and disordered eating. It uses fairytales and folktales from around the world and the archetypal feminine embedded in them to explain the deeper issues that underlie the struggle with food and body image.

Let Us Dance! The Stumble And Whirl With The Beloved

By Chelan Harkin,

Book cover of Let Us Dance! The Stumble And Whirl With The Beloved

This young woman is profoundly wise beyond her years. In a style reminiscent of the poetry of the mystics Rumi and Hafiz from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Harkin gives voice to the deep feminine as she is emerging into modern consciousness. This is poetry to touch your heart and quicken your inner feminine. Full disclosure: I was honored to write the forward to this beautifully written book.


Who am I?

I’m a clinical psychologist who has specialized in women’s issues and disordered eating for over thirty years. Born on the island of Guam, I was raised in a matriarchal and multicultural household where storytelling was a means of transmitting important concepts, traditions, and values, and was a way to experience meaningful and joyful connections with others. Because I was raised by strong women and my indigenous ancestors were Chamorro, a matrilineal culture that honored the motherline, I have always been interested in the archetypal feminine rooted in these stories, although I didn’t discover the term until I began to study psychology.


I wrote...

Eating in the Light of the Moon: How Women Can Transform Their Relationship with Food Through Myths, Metaphors, and Storytelling

By Anita Johnston,

Book cover of Eating in the Light of the Moon: How Women Can Transform Their Relationship with Food Through Myths, Metaphors, and Storytelling

What is my book about?

My book is about how the dismissal, denial, devaluation, and degradation of the feminine principle within our culture and within our psyches has contributed to the epidemic of women who struggle with negative body image and disordered eating. It uses fairytales and folktales from around the world and the archetypal feminine embedded in them to explain the deeper issues that underlie the struggle with food and body image.

A Place Called Schugara

By Joe English,

Book cover of A Place Called Schugara

I write character-driven fiction and it is always the people and their relationships that most engage me in any story. I found the characters here complex, real, engaging, and, in some instances, foul specimens demonstrating that existence for survival alone is an inadequate way of life for any person. These are fully developed people, though they are mostly unusual individuals; archetypes rather than stereotypes. The people hooked me from the start. I cared what happened to these adventurers. I also cared that those who deserved retribution would receive it.


Who am I?

I’ve been reading for 69 years, writing fiction for 43 years. I’ve read many more than 10,000 books. In my own writing, I begin with characters I create from combinations of traits and personalities I’ve met in life. I get to know them as friends. I then put them into the setting I’ve devised and given them free rein to develop the story. I know the destination, but the route is left to them. This involves much re-writing once the story is down on paper, but allows me to experience the excitement, concern, fear, love, and delights felt by the characters as I write the tale.


I wrote...

An Excess Of ...

By Stuart Aken,

Book cover of An Excess Of ...

What is my book about?

Six strangers escape a shipwreck and land on a deserted tropical island, isolated and without any means of contact with the outside world. From very different cultures and backgrounds, they must bury their differences and learn to cooperate if they are to survive. But passions, beliefs, superstitions, and developing relationships create a corrosive, divisive atmosphere laced with potential violence. Who will live to return to a world made unrecognizable by Covid and climate change?

The Origins and History of Consciousness

By Erich Neumann,

Book cover of The Origins and History of Consciousness

Of seminal importance to an understanding of the world is the conception of a collective unconscious grounded in inheritable archetypes. These evolve: how could it be otherwise—everything in nature evolves. And that means that our consciousness, too, evolves. Its evolution is, in a sense, teleological: from the less conscious to the more consciousness. This is to say that the evolution of the archetypes permits the increasing distillation of consciousness from the vastness of the collective unconscious. I believe that language, which is indivisible from consciousness, did not begin to materialize until about 10,000 BC. I may have been virtually alone in this view, but computerized models of evolutionary linguists today suggest that the key to language capability may have been enfolded in our make-up from our earliest beginnings.


Who am I?

A certain idea kept cropping up in my reading, triggered perhaps by Richard Dawkins's conception in The Selfish Gene, of the “meme.” It seemed that the meme had a life of its own. Then I came across Richerson’s and Boyd’s Not by Genes Alone, and they laid it out: cultures evolve. And they evolve independently of the genes—free of genetic constraints in an idea or thought to contribute to its own survival. That is up to the multitude of people who happen to come across it. I now have a new book readying for publication: How Cognition, Language, Myth, and Culture Came Together To Make Us What We Are.


I wrote...

Carl Jung, Darwin of the Mind

By Thomas T. Lawson,

Book cover of Carl Jung, Darwin of the Mind

What is my book about?

Carl Jung, Darwin of the Mind is a review and an explanation of Jung's thought set in an evolutionary context. Jung explored the human psyche throughout his long life. His writings, of astonishing scope and depth, elaborate on imagery that can be found in rituals, myths, and fables worldwide as well as in the dreams, visions, and fantasies of his patients and himself. Jung pursued common threads of meaning to the point of becoming deeply versed in the esoterica of Eastern mysticism, Gnosticism, and alchemy. Taken collectively, Jung's works develop a coherent theory about how the psyche is constructed. The author demonstrates that Jung's concept of a collective unconscious structured by archetypes meshes well with accepted views of evolution and can be squared with the most rigorous science of today. 

SoulBlazing

By Lisa Haisha,

Book cover of SoulBlazing: Transform Your Imposters into Superpowers and Live a More Purposeful, Authentic Life

What I really liked about this book was how it helped me become a lot more self-aware about the incorrect stories I told about myself and how they have held me back. This book does a great job of helping the reader identify their "imposters," the areas in one's lives where we hold onto false beliefs about ourselves which keep us from being the best version of who we can be and achieve our goals and dreams. 


Who am I?

I have been motivated to be the best version of myself for as long as I can remember and that has included reading a ton of books, pushing my own limits on what I was capable of (Ironman triathlons and a cross-country bicycle ride), tapping into my own creativity as well as taking it to the next step and sharing what I have learned through my own books and TEDx presentation. I believe we have so much more inside of us than we realize and I love to share and see others reach their goals and dreams.  


I wrote...

Habits for Success: Inspired Ideas to Help You Soar (Habits of Successful People)

By G. Brian Benson,

Book cover of Habits for Success: Inspired Ideas to Help You Soar (Habits of Successful People)

What is my book about?

Habits for Success is the perfect blueprint to help you realize a life of progress, purpose, and fulfillment.

Successful habits for an authentic life. Habits for Success was written creatively, consciously, and with heart. Using his own growth process, triumphs, and hero’s journey, author G. Brian Benson weaves authenticity and vulnerability into his habits, ideas, and stories to entertain and inspire you. Increase your self-awareness and manifest your dreams. Habits for Success is written in layman's terms but with an incredible amount of depth, enabling you to reach new levels of understanding and growth. It is a wonderful mix of heart, informative ideas, and entertaining journey―a self-help book that doesn’t feel like one. The insights shared and the tools provided are tailored for life-long success.

What It Is Like to Go to War

By Karl Marlantes,

Book cover of What It Is Like to Go to War

The sheer number of times I cried in this book is absurd. Marlantes is a Vietnam veteran and Navy Cross recipient who chronicles his journey leaving Yale University to serve as a Marine lieutenant in Vietnam. Throughout, he chronicles the struggle to readjust to civilian society and intermingles religion, philosophy, and psychology while recounting some of his most harrowing tales of combat. If you’ve ever had a loved one or friend serve who came home different and wondered why or how you can help, this is the book to read. 


Who am I?

I’m a Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient who fought in both Afghanistan and Iraq. As I explored the ramifications of combat and struggled to reintegrate when I returned home, I often felt veterans’ memoirs teetered on the brink of “war porn” as opposed to the crushing devastation and fear men and women face on the battlefield. Seeking to rectify the misconceptions about the longest-running wars in U.S. history, I began writing about my experiences on medium.com and amassed over 40,000 followers (which turned into a book deal). This list of books below directly influenced my work and—I believe—are the gold standards for true war stories.


I wrote...

Where Cowards Go to Die

By Benjamin Sledge,

Book cover of Where Cowards Go to Die

What is my book about?

Stationed on a small base near Pakistan in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Benjamin Sledge returns home shattered after embracing the barbarity he witnessed around him. Haunted by his experiences, he begins an odyssey wrestling with mental health and purpose that drives him to volunteer for another tour in the deadliest city of the Iraq War—Ramadi.

In his memoir, Sledge vividly captures the reality of the men and women who learn to fight without remorse, love each other without restraint, and suffer the high cost of returning to a country that no longer feels like home.

The Seven Basic Plots

By Christopher Booker,

Book cover of The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories

This book is a masterwork of more than thirty years of research into why people tell stories. Booker breaks down literature into seven archetypal themes which occur across all types of stories. Using a wealth of examples ranging from ancient myths and folktales to plays and novels of great literature to the popular movies and TV soap operas of today, he demonstrates how these archetypal themes have remained constant over the generations. Not everyone will agree with Booker, but everyone will learn from him—about reading, writing, and understanding. This fascinating read provides writers with a new way to look at their own plotting and tap into the hero’s journey.


Who am I?

I’ve always wanted to write. It took years to get started, and after working in the library and information technology fields for over thirty-five years, I quit the day job routine in 2011 to write full time. I've learned two valuable lessons since I started writing which have been of immense help. The first is a quote from writer and activist Mary Heaton Vorse, who said, "The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair." The second is from novelist Rachel Basch, who told me that "the story has to move down, as well as forward." Both sound simple. Neither is.


I wrote...

Road of Bones

By James R. Benn,

Book cover of Road of Bones

What is my book about?

Billy Boyle is sent to the heart of the USSR to solve a double-murder at a critical turning point in the war in this latest installment of critically acclaimed James R. Benn's WWII mystery series.

It’s September 1944, and the US is poised to launch Operation Frantic, shuttle-bombing missions conducted by American aircraft based in Great Britain, southern Italy, and three Soviet airfields in Ukraine. Tensions are already high between the American and Russian allies when two intelligence agents—one Soviet, one American—are found dead at Poltava, one of the Ukrainian bases. Billy is brought in to investigate is paired, at the insistence of the Soviets, with a KGB agent who has his own political and personal agenda.

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