I have several favorite books I use as references, but this would be a pretty dry blog post if all I did was list them. In the interest of getting that part over with, two of my favorites are Celtic Traditions, Druids, Fairies and Wiccan Rituals by Sirona Knight and Women in Celtic Myth by Moyra Caldecott. I also draw from Scottish and Irish ghost stories. I have some really old books. Think the Scottish one was published in 1911 and the Irish in 1913. The language takes some getting used to. English has changed quite a bit over the last hundred years.
The thing about Celtic tradition is it’s rooted firmly in the British Iles. Think about Merlin’s story or, a couple of centuries later, the Wild Hunt. All people have their mythologies. Greek and Roman are probably the best known. I’ll sometimes pull material from them. A few of the stories have always drawn me, like Cassandra, for example. How awful to be bound to speak the truth and have no one believe you—ever.
I also like the Innana myth. Other than the Gilgamesh legend, it’s probably one of the very oldest stories known to man. Both Innana and Gilgamesh are Sumerian (think Egypt/Mesopotamia) in origin. The Gilgamesh tale is, essentially, retold in Arthurian times as Parsifal’s search for the Holy Grail. Then there’s the gamut of Norse myths with Odin and his son Thor in Valhalla. And let’s not forget Poseidon and all the Nereids in the sea.
One of the things about depth psychology is that a large part of the training ensures practitioners have a good grounding in mythologies from many nationalities. Marie Louise Von Franz, an accomplished psychoanalyst in her own right who spent her life with Jung (though not romantically), researched archetypes in fairy tales. She wrote several books detailing the outcomes of her research.
Okay, so what’s an archetype? There are twelve basic ones: King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, Fool, Orphan, Innocent, Caregiver, Seeker, Destroyer, Creator, Sage. All myths and stories feature one or more archetypal characters engaging in either a quest, a love affair gone bad, death and rebirth, a coming of age tale, developing love, loss in spite of everything, or growth/redemption (usually through pain and trials). There are often several threads in major tales. For example, Innana begins as a quest, moves through loss of everything and ends with redemption. From an archetypal point of view, Innana begins as a Queen, becomes a Seeker, then an Orphan and ends up a Sage. Carol Pearson wrote a great book if you’re interested in a primer on archetypes. It’s called Awakening the Heroes Within. There’s even a fun quiz in the back so you can see which archetypes are active in your own lives.
So, you have twelve “character types” and seven basic storylines. Someone once told me LOTR had all of them. I never bothered to count, but over the course of four books, I’m sure Tolkien could have managed that.
The first thing to do, if you’re a plan-ahead sort of writer (I’m not; a touch more on that later.) is to figure out what story you’re trying to tell. Then match it up to which archetypes you need to provide sympathetic protagonists and gritty antagonists. Most of this occurs on a subconscious level. I will say to you, though, that the stories that grab you, that stab knives into your soul and make you carry the protag in your thoughts for days, had archetypal characters in sync with the storyline. Not all characters can tell every story.
More on the plan ahead scenario. One of these days, I’ve promised myself to try the Snowflake method. But I haven’t done it yet. When I’m deep in a story, I’m living it with my characters. They come to me in dreams and at other times during the day. Because they tell me the story they want to live, I haven’t felt the need yet to do more in the way of pre-planning. Maybe someday I will. I had an experience recently where I resurrected my first novel. I kept the characters, but lopped lots of years off their ages to create a YA contemporary fantasy.
Maybe because I knew those characters so well, having written two novels and about 300,000 words featuring them, the new book fairly flew out my fingertips. Writing usually comes fairly easily to me, but I’ve never had an experience quite like this one where I turned out an 80,000 word book in five weeks. It held together, too, when I went back through it doing my obligatory search for loose plot threads and other jarring inconsistencies. The only thing I missed was using the wizards’ staffs more. So that got added in on the second run through. From an archetypal perspective, my protag is an Orphan. He’s forced into a quest (where he becomes a Seeker) and grows up along the way. Yes, I know that’s sort of a ho hum sounding tale. Except it’s not. You’ll just have to read it when it comes out. Remember, with only twelve character types and seven story lines, it’s tough to describe something you’ve written in truly unique verbiage.
I hope this was helpful. Questions about archetypes, fairy tales, Celtic (or other) mythologies are welcome.
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Storm Goddess Book Reviews & More:
Book One of the Transformation Series
By Ann Gimpel
What if your psychotherapist could really see into your soul? Picture all those secrets lying hidden, perhaps squirming a bit, just out of view. Would you invite your analyst to take a peek behind that gossamer curtain? Read your aura? Scry your future…?
Classically trained at the Jung Institute in Zurich, Doctor Lara McInnis has a special gift that helps her with her patients. Born with “the sight” she can read auras, while flirting with a somewhat elusive ability to foretell the future. Lara becomes alarmed when several of her patients—and a student or two—tell her about the same cataclysmic dream.
Reaching out to the Institute for answers, Lara’s paranormal ability sounds a sharp warning and she runs up hard against a dead end. Her search for assistance leads her to a Sidhe and ancient Celtic rituals blaze their way into her life. Complicating the picture is a deranged patient who’s been hell bent on destroying Lara ever since she tried to help his abused wife, a boyfriend with a long-buried secret and a society that’s crumbling to dust as shortages of everything from electricity to food escalate.
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Book Two of the Transformation Series
Born with the sight, Laura McInnis is ambivalent about her paranormal ability. Oh it’s useful enough some of the time with her psychotherapy patients. But mostly it’s an embarrassment and an inconvenience—especially when her visions drag her to other worlds. Or into Goblin dens. In spite of escalating violence, incipient food shortages and frequent power blackouts, Lara is still far too attached to the comfortable life she shares with her boyfriend, Trevor, a flight attendant who lost his job when aviation fuel got so expensive—and so scarce—his airline went out of business. Forced to seek assistance to hone her unusual abilities in Psyche’s Prophecy, Book I of this series, Lara is still quite the neophyte in terms of either summoning or bending her magic to do much of anything.
Reluctantly roped into channeling her unpredictable psychic talents to help a detective who saved her from a psychopathic killer, Lara soon finds herself stranded in the murky underbelly of a world inhabited by demons. The Sidhe offer hope, but they are so high-handed Lara stubbornly resists their suggestions. Riots, death on all sides, a mysterious accident and one particular demon targeting her, push Lara to make some hard decisions. When all seems lost, the Dreaming, nestled in the heart of Celtic magic, calls out to her.
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About the Author Ann Gimpel
Ann Gimpel is a clinical psychologist, with a Jungian bent. Avocations include mountaineering, skiing, wilderness photography and, of course, writing. A lifelong aficionado of the unusual, she began writing speculative fiction a few years ago. Since then her short fiction has appeared in a number of webzines and anthologies. Two novels, Psyche’s Prophecy, and its sequel, Psyche’s Search, have been published by Gypsy Shadow Publishing, a small press. A husband, grown children, grandchildren and three wolf hybrids round out her family.
@AnnGimpel (for Twitter)