The Four Archetypes of the Mature Masculine: The Boyhood Archetypes (Part II)

by Brett on September 13, 2011 · 32 comments

in A Man's Life, On Manhood

This is the third part of a series on the archetypes of mature masculinity based on the book King, Warrior, Magician, Lover by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend reading the introduction to the series first. Also, keep in mind that these posts are a little more esoteric than our normal fare, and are meant to be contemplated and thoughtfully reflected upon.

As you may remember, the boyhood archetypes are positive but immature energies that, with proper masculine guidance, develop into the archetypes of mature manhood. Last time we talked about two of the four boyhood archetypes–the Divine Child and the Precocious Child–suggested by Moore and Gillette. Today we’ll talk the other two–the Oedipal Child and the Hero.  Let’s just dive right into it.

The Oedipal Child

Did you initially recoil a little when you read the name of this archetype? It’s easy to read “Oedipal Child” and think “Oedipus Complex.” You know, Freud’s idea that boys have a repressed sexual desire for their mothers. Yuck, right? Well, hold on a sec.

True, Moore does argue that a boy’s yearning for “the nurturing, infinitely good, infinitely beautiful Mother,” is at the root of this archetype. But this longing is not for a boy’s actual mother, but rather for the feminine energy of the “Great Mother–the Goddess in her many forms in the myths and legends of many peoples and cultures.”

Okay, that probably doesn’t help very much either. This is one of those places where Moore and Gillette get a little too New Agey for me, and where their prose can put distance between their ideas and many modern men.

The way I think of the Oedipal Child archetype is to relate it to the philosophy of the Romantic period, which I really enjoy. Think Ralph Waldo Emerson. The Romantics explored their inner life, celebrating the power of imagination and intuition, seeking to feel and experience life deeply, and extolling the virtues of passion and free expression. They sought to tap into the energy that emanated from Mother Nature. The Oedipal Child  archetype also gives a boy the desire to forge relationships with others and the affection and warmth to nurture those relationships. Thus at the heart of this archetypes is the desire for connection–a connection with oneself, with the deeper forces of life, with nature, and with other people. In this way, the Oedipal Child archetype contains the seeds of a man’s spirituality.

See? It’s a good thing! At least when it’s nurtured into the mature Lover archetype by masculine energy. If it’s not–these shadows are the result:

The Shadows of the Oedipal Child

The Mama’s Boy. Instead of tapping into the positive feminine energy associated with “the Great Mother,” the Mama’s Boy fixates on the energy as embodied by his real mother (and other women); he is too connected to his mom.  Jung would argue that this shadow archetype takes control when there is no father, or a weak father in the home.

The Mama’s Boy shadow manifests itself in various ways. The most obvious is the boy (or man) who’s “tied to Mama’s apron strings.” He never wants to offend, hurt, or worry his mother. He lives to please dear old mom, even if that means putting her desires and wishes above his own. Nothing gives him more satisfaction than hearing his mom say, “That’s a good boy.”

Many men never break out from under the influence of the Mama’s Boy shadow. They always acquiesce to their mother’s wishes and put what mom wants ahead of what their wives want (and what they themselves want). These men never learn that man was made to leave his mother and father and cleave unto his wife only.

Other ways the Mama’s Boy shadow rears its ugly head in adult men is womanizing and excessive porn use. An overbearing desire for union with one’s mother and a failure to harness feminine energy in a healthy way will result in a man looking to fill that void and find that connection in mere mortal women. But of course mortal women can never fill that role as the Mother archetype. So a man under the power of the Mama’s Boy shadow moves from failed relationship to failed relationship or spends countless hours each week looking at porn in hopes that he’ll find a woman who’ll fulfill his need.

The Dreamer. The passive shadow of the Oedipal Child archetype is the Dreamer. Instead of seeking connection with others (especially with Mother), the Dreamer is aloof. While the positive Oedipal Child archetype fuels a boy’s spirituality, the Dreamer pushes this desire for other-worldliness to an extreme. He cuts himself off from human relationships because he would rather be alone with his thoughts. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with introspection and solitude, the boy under the influence of the Dreamer shadow too often has his head in the clouds and drifts away from reality. He spends too much time dreaming, and not enough time learning how to have relationships with other people, and thus developing the social skills needed to make his dreams comes true. He is stunted and unconnected.

Accessing the Oedipal Child Archetype as a Man

A man who has successfully integrated the Oedipal Child into his psyche understands the gentle part of being a gentleman. He can be warm, even “sweet” with others, and he can be introspective and spiritual while still keeping his feet on the ground. He isn’t afraid to tap into “feminine” energy, but he isn’t dominated by it either. He loves his mother,  and has learned much from her, but he is decidedly his own man.

The Hero

Think back to when you were a teenager. Remember that feeling of expanding independence? Little by little you started to rely less and less on your parents for your basic needs. You clamored for more freedoms and for your parents to get off your back.

Also, if you were like most teenage boys, you probably took part in activities (sometimes very risky activities) to test your mettle and your ability to overcome fear. You wanted to prove to your friends, and more importantly to yourself, that you were “man enough” to take on any challenge that came your way.

When I was in Vermont a few years ago, Kate and I went to this swimming hole in the woods. The water was cold and deep and was surrounded by sheer cliffs. It was perfect for cliff diving, but still pretty treacherous. While Kate and I swam, we watched a group of teenage boys dive from the highest point of the cliff into the water below. Every dive became more elaborate and dangerous.

Kate elbowed me and asked “So, are you going to jump?”


I was suddenly struck with the feeling of being old. I thought back to the time when I was a teenager camping in New Mexico with some friends. We found a lake with 40 foot sheer cliffs and spent the afternoon jumping, flipping, and diving into the deep water below. We pushed ourselves to do ever more daring jumps. We wanted to test ourselves. Now here I was 13 years later and I was content just swimming along the edge, watching these young men hurtle themselves into the air and plummet into the water.

That desire for independence we all had as young men and that almost reckless abandon those boys in Vermont had are manifestations of the Hero archetype.

The Hero archetype is unarguably the most common figure found in myths. Joseph Campbell detailed the use of the Hero archetype in his seminal work, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. In that book, Campbell describes an archetypal journey that all mythological heroes must take. Star Wars is a perfect example of the Hero’s Journey.  Luke Skywalker begins the story as a mere “farm boy” on the planet Tatooine. By the end of the first trilogy he has morphed into a Hero who saves the galaxy from evil.

While we’re accustomed to thinking of becoming a hero as the end-all of existence, Moore argues that the hero archetype is still an immature energy that must be further developed into the mature Warrior archetype. Unlike the mature Warrior who fights and battles for a cause bigger than himself, the immature Hero fights and battles mainly for himself. The Hero definitely has ideals–but these ideals are used for a self-serving purpose–to create an identity that facilitates the process of becoming his own man. When you were a teenager, you probably latched onto an identity like this–you were the super-liberal guy, or the super-Christian guy, or the non-comformist Goth guy, and so on. The Hero’s only goal is to win his personal independence, break free from the feminine influence of his mother, and enter fully into manhood. Moreover, while the mature Warrior knows his limitations, the Hero doesn’t have that sort of self-awareness which often results in physical or emotional ruin.

The Hero is usually the last of the boyhood archetypes to develop and is the peak of psychological development in boys. It is the last developmental stage before a boy transitions into manhood. According to Moore, this transformation from boy to man can only occur through the “death” of the Hero. Through initiation and rites of passage, the boy is symbolically killed only to be reborn as a man. Unfortunately, because many men in the  modern West lack a rite of passage into manhood, they remain psychologically stuck in adolescence.

The Shadows of the Hero Archetype

The Grandstander Bully. The young man under the influence of the Grandstander Bully demands respect from others and will unleash his wrath both physically and verbally if he doesn’t get it.  He has let the Hero’s sense of invulnerability mushroom into an arrogant and inflated sense of self. Thus the boy under the Bully shadow takes unnecessary and foolish risks, and his hubris oftentimes leads to his own destruction.

This shadow very often follows a boy into manhood. Do you know a grown man who suffers from intense road rage or blows up at the waitress who gets his order wrong? That’s the boyhood bully shadow at work. The man who is still haunted by this shadow believes he is superior to all others, and when his inflated sense of self is threatened–ie., when the world does not cater to his needs–he loses his temper and lashes out.

But underneath the Grandstander Bully’s posturing and false bravado lies an insecure coward, and he must fight to keep this fact hidden from everyone else. This insecurity makes the Grandstander Bully sensitive to any insinuation that he isn’t man enough, and so he lacks the confidence to incorporate any “feminine” energy into his life. This is the man who who scoffs at meditation or introspection as “sissy” stuff.

The Coward. The passive polar shadow of the Hero archetype is the Coward. Lacking the Hero’s courage, the boy under this shadow avoids confrontation; whether the conflict is physical or mental or moral, the Coward cannot stand up for himself. He is a conformist–a boy who always goes along with the crowd and does what others tell him to do. Even when fighting back is the right decision, he will walk away and rationalize his choice as the “manlier” thing to do.

But the boy possessed by the Coward cannot even convince himself of his own excuses, and he despises himself for his cowardice. He knows he is a doormat, and as people continue to walk over him, he gets angrier and angrier until he reaches a breaking point and lashes out in full Grandstander Bully fashion.  It would have been far better for this boy to handle conflict in a healthier way.

Accessing the Hero Archetype as a Man

I believe the hero archetype is the most difficult for a man to successfully integrate.

On the one hand, teenagers see things as black and white, and despise the wishy-washy convictions and play-it-safe attitude of adults. Teenage Brett would have been disappointed with adult Brett’s decision not to jump off the cliff.

On the other hand, adults shake their heads at the foolish risks young men take and laugh at the unrealistic idealism of young people, telling them they’ll change their mind once they see how the world “really is.”

The complete man must walk the line between these two camps. He must come to understand his own limitations and the true nature of the obstacles in his way;  otherwise, he cannot be effective in bringing about real change. At the same time, he cannot lose heart while pushing up against those challenges, and stumble into the kind of cynical apathy that makes seeking greatness seem an impossible task and an entirely worthless endeavor. He needs to be able to sometimes take youthful risks in order to achieve his goals. If a man can pilot his ship through this Charybdis and Scylla, he can become the heroic warrior.

The Four Archetypes of the Mature Masculine:
The Boyhood Archetypes – Part I
The Boyhood Archetypes – Part II
The Lover
The Warrior
The Magician
The King

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Adam September 13, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Thanks for this Brett. I’ve got to stop feeding the Mama’s Boy!

2 Robert Weedall September 13, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Just a minor question, but how many more of these are there going to be?

3 Taylor M. September 13, 2011 at 3:59 pm

The motherly archetype reminds me of the No More Mr. Nice Guy post you had previously. Placing the needs of the woman, in this case the Mother, before oneself is the epitome of the Nice Guy.

I look forward to the remaining posts in this series!

4 Robert Weedall September 13, 2011 at 4:09 pm

So why is it a noble thing to put the needs of society before oneself but not the need of a group of individuals?

5 Daren Redekopp September 13, 2011 at 4:20 pm

Transpose the hero archetype into Biblical vocabulary, and you have a man who “Fears the Lord.” That is, someone who is driven:
1. to face their fears by an inner conviction that there is something (namely, honoring God) which is more important than their own safety, and
2. to face their selfishness by an inner conviction that there is someone (namely, a just God) who will hold them accountable for their actions. Neither coward nor bully, the man who fears the Lord is a godly man––a hero.

6 CB September 13, 2011 at 5:51 pm

@ Robert Weedall:
To me, the main difference between what is noble and what is not in the case you’re refering to is not whose need you put before yourself but who you allow to choose whose needs you put before yourself. To borrow from Taylor, a Nice Guy is still a Nice guy whether he submits to his mother’s whims or society’s whims if he let’s them decide who is more important. In contrast, the Warrior and the Lover can choose to temporarily set aside their needs appropriately and then see to their needs at another time.
For example, a man allows his mother to choose his college and major because she’s paying for it. This man continues to be supported physically and emotionally by his mother for the rest of her life. When she is sick and nearing the end of her life, he never leaves her side and is there for her because her needs are greater. This is somewhat extreme but hopefully illustrates the point.
In contrast, another man who loves his mother chooses a path in life that his mother didn’t initially approve of. Later, when she is elderly and needs help, after he sees to his family, he spends time with her, helping around the house and talking with her. If he is unable because of distance or other obligations, he makes sure that arrangements are made for her in accordance with her wishes as much as possible.
Again these are imperfect examples, but I hope the point shows through. It’s not who you put before you that determines whether an action is noble. It’s who determines who is put before you that influences whether an action is noble.

7 Peregrine John September 13, 2011 at 5:54 pm

The Hero’s Journey is very well analyzed, examined and documented, nigh unto codified. I would be extremely interested to read anything like a similar discussion of the Warrior’s Journey.

8 Danny September 13, 2011 at 10:24 pm

I have had to work very hard to overcome the mama’s boy. thank goodness I was successful. I think this is becoming more and more of a problem as we see more and more mothers becoming “helicopter moms” hovering over their children’s every move overly worried about the safety of the child tot he point that the child never develops appropriate autonomy.

9 Brandon Moore September 13, 2011 at 11:12 pm

really enjoying this series. cant wait for the next one. well done

10 fue September 13, 2011 at 11:28 pm

i read about this theory about the absent of love and care from a mother to her son during this development stage, ceteris paribus, could possibility make the child gay, throughtout this stage, he could pretend to be woman just to fullfill the emptiness within and turns to be heterosexul or something.

11 Leif September 13, 2011 at 11:37 pm

Another good article. It can definitely be used as a mirror. Well, I fit the dreamer. Go to work, then go home.Occasionally go out with friends. Have no interest in dating or getting married. Recently started martial arts class, so we’ll see if I can stop “dreaming”

12 Tony September 14, 2011 at 7:07 am

Thanks for all your dedication and effort in guiding males through your articles and fantastic writing. Being a young adult on his personal and unique journey to manhood, I felt a great connection to this one article. Thanks again, Tony. – Keep up the great work.

13 Sumgai September 14, 2011 at 7:39 am

Hey I look at porn daily. I’m not attached to my mum’s apron strings, I’m just interested in other things than women (and porn’s just a way to get rid of the urge to get laid).

If I could self medicate I would. Alas there’s no real drug to suppress sexual tension.

14 Bryce September 14, 2011 at 10:04 am

While reading these, I can’t help but be reminded of Aristotle’s definition of virtue as the mean between extremes; and on a related subject, how the Latin word for virtue “virtus” comes from the word “vir” or man. For example, the Hero shows the virtue of courage; which is the balance between the Bully and the Coward shadow sides.

Perhaps the archetypes are another way to describe the cardinal virtues of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy…any thoughts?

15 Danny September 14, 2011 at 3:04 pm

@ Sumgai,
There is a drug to suppress sexual tension. It is called pornography and it is just as addictive and just as destructive as any other addiction.

16 Danny September 14, 2011 at 3:10 pm

@ Fue,
That’s an interesting theory. The more common one I have heard is that the mother is too enmeshed and almost uses the son as a replacement for an absent husband. The other part to this is the boy is extra connected to his mother because the father is emotionally or physically distant to the son. The theory is that because the boy clings to his mother and not his father he feels distanced from his own sex. He somehow feels he is different and has a difficult time connecting with other boys. He becomes fixated on the other boys trying to figure out why he is different than them. During puberty this fascination becomes sexualized. That’s the theory in a nutshell. A good explanation is given in the video found at

17 Eric September 14, 2011 at 5:10 pm

This made me buy the book. I think my transition into manhood has been suppressed for lack of a better word. I seem to have characteristics from all archetype all hiding from the shadows of their glorified characters. I do need some sort of help.

18 Weston September 15, 2011 at 12:36 pm

I’ve never understood the obsession with the concept of archetypes among so many of the men who write about men’s issues. I’ve never found them enlightening, educational or useful.

I’ve read so many postings like this that I now tend to just ignore articles talking about “archetypes”. I have the same reaction to articles about “thinking outside the box” and “new paradigms”.

19 Boysen Hodgson September 15, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Another great one Brett. Thank you.
And if you want to take a hero’s journey – and explore these archetypes in a community of men who are exploring them – The New Warrior Training Adventure is the exploration of the archetypes – especially the Warrior and Lover. The KWLM book is great – and the experience of being in community with other men is a whole different thing.

20 Sumgai September 16, 2011 at 9:01 am


Honestly I don’t know why I’m typing this. Maybe because it’s to justify myself. I have no idea at all, I just feel a vague sense of dissatisfaction at not explaining my stand.

Warning – rambling post ahead…

Now, I’m almost 30, I’ve never had a girlfriend in my life before. Probably it’s due to high visual standards as well as being a pussy – I don’t have much courage to ask a girl out.

And from what I see, this is what an average guy’s life is like, after graduation from college/university.
1. Find a job.
2. Get a girlfriend (or perhaps he already does).
3. Get married.
4. Have children, buy a house.
5. Stick in the same job for years, jumping to other jobs when opportunities present themselves.

That’s about it. Being married takes a lot out of a guy’s freedom to take risks. That’s why most people like stable jobs – they don’t want to worry that next month they’ll have to think of ways to drum up more business.

And if you get an opportunity to branch out into a promising career…but your wife and kids have to go hungry for a while? I doubt you’ll want to take the chance.

Plus having a relationship takes time. A guy has to invest a lot, otherwise the girl’s not going to be happy.

I am aware, of course that most successful people are married. Some may have had lots of support from their spouses while the couple was struggling. But I look at the ladies around me nowadays, and they prefer a guy with a stable job and money in the bank.

They don’t want their significant other to put in too much for their goal, not if it leads to both living in less than relative comfort.

Dare I take the risk of having a girlfriend? To have a bit of companionship and affection? No, not if I have to give up my goal.

And since I can’t give up my goal, I can’t have a girlfriend, I can’t have sex with a girl. I don’t intend to go for paid sex too.

That’s why I watch porn. It’s to relieve sexual urges, nothing more. I don’t watch it every hour. I don’t think of porn while working.

I just think there’s more to life than having a companion who might do it once/twice a week with you, that’s all.

21 Carl Monster September 16, 2011 at 1:21 pm

“ dreams no pain will kiss the brow”
I hate archtypes too, but why do they work so well?
Reading about the dreamer was like reading a painfully true analysis of where I’ve been most of my life.
Ouch, lol.

22 Jake September 16, 2011 at 1:38 pm


Why comment on articles when your ignoring them? Don’t waste the room on the page for your ill-favored comments that others could use for learning.


Your thinking is exactly why this website was started. Hopefully, some day you’ll get it.

23 Txm September 17, 2011 at 4:14 am

“The passive polar shadow of the Hero archetype is the Coward. Lacking the Hero’s courage, the boy under this shadow avoids confrontation; whether the conflict is physical or mental or moral, the Coward cannot stand up for himself. ”
“But the boy possessed by the Coward cannot even convince himself of his own excuses, and he despises himself for his cowardice. He knows he is a doormat, and as people continue to walk over him, he gets angrier and angrier until he reaches a breaking point and lashes out”

These words totally fit my character.
Most people i know respect me and think that i’m a manly person that doesnt get stumped on by anyone, but on the inside, i know i’m just a coward.
Always been super sensitive to people’s negative comments, always been cowardly hiding in the dark alone away from anyone because i was scared of them. I missed out some very important chances because of this, like a girl i totally loved to death but was too afraid to ask her out because she had a boyfriend (they broke up just a couple of months later).

I am so mad with rage right now. I am mad at society and all its lies and all of its unkindiness, but i am expecially mad at myself for having believed all of them.

Of course it goes without saying, all of this is going to change. I’m ready to endure all the pain of this world in order to regain my dignity and the time i’ve lost. Nothing will stop me.

24 KAYMAN September 17, 2011 at 2:15 pm

I have a question. what about the schizophrenic? is he a coward or a lost soul?i am schizophrenic,a virgin man due to religious beliefs and presently would be leaving christianity as a result of the hopelessness i see, to pursue a another life -or death. is my changing belief system due to cowardice or due to the hero’s desire to find a new course of life? my mail is, pls advice me.

25 Sumgai September 20, 2011 at 6:51 am


Thanks for the heads up. I apologize for taking so long to reply…

26 Corey September 20, 2011 at 1:37 pm

I’m enjoying this series. It isn’t everyday you come across something that makes you evaluate where you are with the shadows we all struggle with.

27 Martin S. September 20, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Such a great article, thank you.

28 Tom September 27, 2011 at 2:59 pm


The moments when you have the urge to watch porn are the moments where your inner creative spirit begs to be unleashed. You can go spill it away in front of a few shiny pixels, or you can go make something, and express yourself in ways you didn’t think possible. You’ve just got to be willing to take that risk.

29 Evan G October 4, 2011 at 9:48 pm

I really enjoyed this article. Yet I can’t help but comment on the whole cliff jumping scenario. I don’t necessarily agree with this at all. It’s important to live life and enjoy excitement whenever you can, otherwise you are only robbing yourselves of great life experiences and instead become a dull work-a-holic. While working towards your career to be the best you can be in your field of work is exceptionally important as a “Man”, there is absolutely no reason you could not have jumped off a cliff into the water. There was obviously little to no danger involved, it only required a little bit of courage. Now what separates a man from a boy is the ability to distinguish when his own ego begins to cloud his own judgement and make foolish couragious decisions putting his own wellbeing in danger. A better example, in my opinion, would have been to refer to a store being robbed. Scenario A) theif has a gun, multiple people’s lives are in danger. A “Hero” would put other people’s lives in danger attempting to disarm the theif at any opportunity available. A “Warrior” would recognize that actions like these may put people’s lives in danger, wait until the theif left the store, call the police and follow the subject as best he could informing authorities of his position, or, if possible, disarm the theif when nobody’s lives where in danger.

The point of this rebuttal is that it’s important to enjoy life. Don’t rob yourself of lifes great opportunities(not only business opportunities people!!!) because you are only on this planet once.

30 Tom October 5, 2011 at 11:31 pm

Nice Odyssey reference at the end there.

31 Fi October 6, 2011 at 12:01 am

I just wanted to give encouragement as a woman and say that I really appreciate this website, and thanks to all the men here who are working on their stuff to become more and more the men they were created to be.
We need our men to be men.

32 Luigi September 22, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Great post! I have been studying masculinity for a while, mainly studying David Deida´s stuff. I have been also “in the game” for a long time. I have had two relationships that didn´t work due to my desire to keep meeting women.

Somethimes I feel thats it gets tiring and its superficial to keep “meeting and banging” new women, I long for a deep and intimate relationship but on the other side I also starve for the “novelty and adventure”

I have felt somehow identified with “The Mama´s Boy”…I havent developed a loving and fulfilling relationship with my mother due to her narrow´s and extremely conservative views.

¿Do you think this somehow “love for the game” maybe a manifestation of this shadow archetype?

Thanks for the wonderful website and valuable content!

Love from Spain!

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