Embodying the Archetypes of Thrivability

Michelle Holliday
8 min readMar 9, 2018


[Excerpted from The Age of Thrivability: Vital Perspectives and Practices for a Better World]

As we explore the concept of thrivability and the practice of stewardship, it becomes clear that what we are really talking about is embodying all four of the living systems patterns in our work together [(1) divergent parts, (2) consistent yet responsive patterns of relationship, (3) convergent, emergent wholeness, (4) self-integrating, self-organizing life]. And that can be challenging to grasp. For example, what does it mean to act like a “divergent part”? Or a self-integrating property?

We may find helpful support for this in an unexpected place. I was fascinated to learn that the four living systems patterns are mirrored again in a set of archetypes discovered originally by psychologist Carl Jung and developed further and popularized in the 1990s by several authors (most notably Robert L. Moore and Douglas Gillette). According to Jung, these archetypal images are patterns of thought and behavior present in all cultures and all people across all of human history. Importantly, they do not represent personality types or personal roles. They are timeless “energies” that each of us is capable of bringing forth in different circumstances, though we may generally have more comfort with one than with the others. As with the living systems patterns, each of the archetypes is needed in any project team that hopes to generate new possibilities. Moreover, I find that they help unlock the deeper implications of the patterns, describing, in a way, how we live the patterns together.

The first archetype is the Warrior. It is the push for individual expression — for bringing forth our unique gifts, talents and inner truth — and it carries the energy of divergence. Decisive and action-oriented, it is the source of our fierceness, conviction and loyalty. It represents rationality and discipline and is the realm of skill and technology. Warrior energy is present when we are responsive, resourceful and prepared. Without reassurance that its divergence is protected, the Warrior resists the call of the other archetypes. And as much as it is the energy of divergence, fully developed Warrior energy is channeled in service of a cause larger than ourselves, guided by overarching ideals and principles.

The second archetypal image is the Magician (sometimes called the Weaver). As the energy of relationship, pattern and process, this is the alchemist of lore who weaves together unrelated things to create the conditions for emergent possibility. This archetype “sees the world from many different angles,” explains [my colleague] Michael Jones, “invit[ing] new possibilities in a spirit of generosity, detachment, perspective and novelty.” This is where we find specialized knowledge and an advisor’s ability to interpret complex situations, making them appear simple. We see the Magician present in skilful meeting facilitation or in one who connects ideas and people in the interest of insight, learning and innovation. It is present in the design of new organizing structures. And it is the realm of rites of passage and other meaningful patterns of life.

The third archetype is the Sovereign (sometimes called the King), representing wholeness, order, coherence, shared vision and purpose. This is not about any one person being the sovereign. It is about the urge to gather around a compelling cause — to be part of an unfolding heroic narrative. This archetype calls for invitation, rather than persuasion or coercion, and for discernment — “we are this, together, and not that.” It inspires a culture of generosity and recognition of gifts, a vital component of generativity. In these ways, Sovereign energy is associated with healing through making whole, as well as with creativity, fertility and leaving a lasting legacy. If you find yourself asking how the organization is walking its talk or imagining a bold vision of what is possible, you are expressing Sovereign energy.

The fourth and final archetype is the Enchanter (sometimes called the Lover), bringing in the animating and self-integrating spark of life through the energy of renewal, festival and transformative celebration. The root of the word “enchanter” means to sing into being. This energy is accessed through beauty, art, music, nature, play, dance and inspiration — the dominion of the Muses. Embodying the realm of emotion and sensuality, the presence of this energy makes us feel fully alive and filled with passion. In these ways, the Enchanter “connects us to the transcendent,” as Michael Jones puts it.

This energy can be strongly present in a person and, to some degree, it can be designed into a moment; but in my experience, it can also burst through when the other three energies are present — when each person is actively able to bring forward the best of themselves, when patterns of interaction are free-flowing and healthy, and when everyone is working together toward a meaningful shared purpose. Life flows through everyone in a river’s rush and work feels like play, like celebration, like something sacred, even.

As we acknowledge the potency of Jung’s archetypes, the work of stewardship can be seen as ensuring that all four of these energies are present in an appropriate mix and brought forth at useful times within a project or organization.

Practically speaking, thinking in terms of these archetypes can help us understand why people value different things within a project and why not everyone can always understand what we value. If I’m pushing for action while another member of the team wants to leave time for insight to emerge from a collective process, we can acknowledge that I’m likely operating from valuable Warrior energy and the other person is probably bringing useful Magician energy. We can rise above personalities and personal conflict, recognizing the validity and importance of each type of energy, asking which one is most needed at this moment and exploring whether there are ways to integrate both into the effort.

In the early-stages of a project I was involved in recently, this was played out with striking clarity. Four of us were considering whether to collaborate on a multi-day festival that would bring together visionary thinkers and do-ers from a very active global Facebook group. My Sovereign proposal was to orient the festival around a guiding theme: what does it mean to craft a city as a space for life? “We could even frame the flow of the experience according to the patterns of life,” I offered, “guiding people through experiences of their own divergence and the divergence of their projects, then relationship with each other, then experimenting with convergence. Beauty and inspiration would be woven throughout. And we could make those patterns explicit so they could be useful and supportive to people after the festival.”

“No, no, no,” said my Warrior colleague. “I’m tired of meaning-making. What I want is to be in action, to prototype and to identify which new business models are working best, for example, and which land ownership structures are most appropriate.”

“No, no, no,” said my Magician friend. “What I think is needed is space and time to be together in emergence. Let’s just see what happens when we bring all these people together physically within a thoughtfully hosted experience of deep connection, without the restriction of a guiding theme or conceptual framework.”

The fourth member of our group didn’t offer an opinion. Pure Enchanter that he was, he happily volunteered to bring his piano, poetry and inspiring stories, if invited.

I was fascinated at how clearly we were embodying all four of the archetypes, in turn. And I noticed how, even with awareness of this, it was difficult to come to a shared vision of how they might all be integrated — how they might enhance and not restrict each other.

In the end, my Magician friend won out and the event was a beautiful — “magical” — experience of deep connection among participants.

Our small group’s struggle highlights the challenge — and the learning practice — the steward must take on. Perhaps in some cases, the patterns must be introduced gradually, rather than all at once. Often, people need enough reassuring experiences of Warrior and Magician before they are able to trust the invitation of the Sovereign and Enchanter archetypes. And in other situations, the Sovereign invitation to wholeness may need to be refined and made more broadly resonant before it can be embraced, including ensuring it comes unfettered by any personal issues (something true for all the archetypes, in fact). These are the types of questions and choices the steward must discern.

Similarly, the steward’s challenge can be made more difficult by strong cultural biases toward one or more of the archetypes, and aversion toward others. In my experience, for example, Quebec culture strongly favors the Magician and Enchanter archetypes (no wonder it is the birthplace of Cirque du Soleil!) and is generally suspicious of Sovereign energy (which may be one reason it has the lowest level of entrepreneurship in Canada). And my experience working in various parts of the United States has shown me that Warrior energy is highly valued, while the others are considered optional add-ons at best or irrelevant distractions at worst.

In many circumstances, the Sovereign seems to be a particularly wounded archetype. Rightfully so, we’ve become suspicious of it, associating it with cult, religion, dictators and corrupt ego-driven leaders. Often enough, our Warrior energy fears loss of individual voice. And our Magician assumes lifeless bureaucracy and excessive control.

But without the invitation into wholeness and higher purpose that the Sovereign archetype offers, we struggle to get to full generativity — to creating a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Without deference to a Sovereign story or cause, for example, Warrior and Magician easily fall into conflict. The Warrior wants to get things done, while the Magician wants to create ample space and time for connection and emergence. The Warrior favors inner truth and inspiration, whereas the Magician is suspicious of individual motives and favors collective wisdom. It becomes challenging to integrate the two.

Digging more deeply into such predispositions, it can be helpful to note that the first two archetypes (Warrior and Magician) are instrumental, lending themselves to easy validity, particularly as we come out of an era dominated by rational thought alone. The final two archetypes (Sovereign and Enchanter) have less direct connection to the action, and yet they tend to bring transformative, rather than instrumental impact. Think of the power of Steve Jobs’ vision, for example, which included a rare emphasis on both heroic ambition and art and inspiration. He embodied both Sovereign and Enchanter, and those values continue to drive the success of Apple, even after his death.

In essence, this whole book is an entreaty on behalf of the transformative energies of Sovereign and Enchanter. It asks: how can we embrace a story of life and wholeness, recognizing that this can be supportive, rather than restrictive? And how can we welcome wonder, creativity and inspiration into our every experience? The sustainability and corporate social responsibility movements have been characterized by useful Warrior energy, appealing to each of us to do things differently. The social innovation movement has guided us in exploring new structures and methods for interacting, inviting us to do different things. But none of these has fully invited us to see differently. None has invited us into a story of healing, wholeness and inspiration. What is still needed is the transformative presence of both Sovereign and Enchanter. What is needed in the Age of Thrivability is skilful integration of all four archetypes.

[Read more at www.ageofthrivability.com.]



Michelle Holliday

Maven, Guide, Strategist, Speaker. Author of The Age of Thrivability: Vital Perspectives & Practices for a Better World. www.michelleholliday.com