The Warrior & Hero Archetype

The Hero and The Warrior

Before you read on, consider this question: what cause, what thing, what set of values, would you be prepared to die for? Now – hold that thought for later.

We live in a time when people are generally uncomfortable with the Warrior form of masculine energy – and for some good reasons.

Women especially are uncomfortable with it, because they have often been the most direct victims of it in its shadow forms (wimping out on one side and rage, abuse, uncontrolled violence on the other).

Around the planet, warfare in our history has been so ignoble, brutal and appalling that aggressive energy itself is looked upon with deep suspicion and fear.

No surprise, perhaps, that this is the age in the West of the soft masculine; many men and women alike raise loud and hostile voices against Warrior energy. 

A man who does not harness his aggression at all picks a fight with everyone and about everything; his relationships fail; he is stunted in his personal development.

The man who reins in his aggression too much becomes the wimpish Nice Guy – his aggression turns into passive aggression.

He avoids confrontation and aggression even when confrontation and aggression are justified. He is too “polite” to go after what he wants, and he’s seething inside because of it.

And a man who has successfully integrated the Warrior archetype harnesses his aggression as the force that pushes him to compete to be the best and moves him ever forward towards his goals.

So the Warrior should not be identified with human rage in any simple way.

Quite the opposite, in fact. This is a primarily masculine energy form (though there are feminine Warrior myths and traditions too) which persists because the Warrior is a basic building block of masculine psychology, almost certainly rooted in our genes.

The Warrior is an instinctual energy form, and it is here to stay. And it pays to face it.

And we men all honour and respect the masculine Warrior archetype because it is so deep in our male genes. This respect, this knowledge of who we really are, lives on in our reverence for those who serve in the armed forces or our fascination with the heroic warrior in stories, legends and movies.

William Wallace from Braveheart and General Maximus from Gladiator embody the Warrior archetype. So do the men of Apocalypse Now, Platoon, Band Of Brothers, and more.

The list of films paying homage to the Warrior is endless. The epitome of this Archetype was perhaps the Japanese Samurai, of which more later.

So here’s the problem: society pushes boys and men to be sweet and sensitive, because something, someone (mother? father? society?) fears them becoming coldly stoic, abusive, and destructively angry.

But this fear of the Warrior archetype is not based on the Warrior energy in its full, healthy manifestation, but on the archetype’s shadows. For when Warrior energy goes wrong, the results are devastating.

The fact is, Warrior energy becomes destructive when it is not used in harmony with the other masculine archetypes and it is not directed by compassion, empathy, contemplation, and discipline.

So Warrior energy is not inherently  bad, but that raises the question: well, if a  man is fighting, what is he fighting for?

The answer lies in knowing your own purpose and mission. To put it simply, when you know what you are doing in the world, and why you are doing it, you will of course know what you are fighting for. And when you know what you are fighting for,  then you can use your  Warrior energy in all areas of your life.

Properly tapping into the Warrior’s energy provides a man with an unsurpassable power source which will fuel him to reach his goals, fight for worthy causes, achieve greatness, and leave a lasting legacy.

Warrior energy is indeed universally present in us men and in the civilizations we create, defend, and extend. It is a vital ingredient in our world-building and plays an important role in what we create and protect. It is responsible for the highest human virtues and the finest cultural achievements in all of humanity.

This is the purpose and reason for men’s emotional work:  to take the best qualities of the old Warrior and use those qualities in a different way.

When we examine the Warrior traditions closely, we can see how much they have accomplished in history. To take but one example, Moore and Gillette remind us how Native American men lived and died with the Warrior energy informing even the smallest of their acts.

They lived their lives nobly and with courage and with the capacity to endure great pain and hardship, defending their people against an overwhelming foe (the invading white people), and leaping into battle with the cry,  “Today is a good day to die!”

What is the Way of the Warrior? It is his path through life, made up from the characteristics he shows when he is in warrior mode. The Samurai lived their entire lives by a code of these values and qualities:

1 Aggressiveness is the primary Warrior characteristic. Aggressiveness is a stance toward life that arouses, energizes, and motivates. Proper aggressiveness, in the right circumstances – circumstances strategically advantageous to the goal at hand – is half the battle. But it must be controlled by other qualities…. (Photo credit: Copyright 2013 istockphoto/talymel)

2 He is discerning. The warrior knows when he has the force to defeat his opponent by conventional means and when he must adopt an unconventional strategy. He knows his own strength and skill. If he finds that a frontal assault will not work, he deflects his opponent’s assault, spots the weakness in his flank, then “leaps” into battle.

Here is a difference between the Warrior and the Hero. The man (or the boy) accessing the Hero does not know his limitations; he believes he is invulnerable. The warrior, however, has clarity about what he can do and realistically assesses his capacities and his limitations in any situation. Is it time for you to stop being a hero (except maybe in your sons’ and daughters’ eyes)?

3 He has purpose. Proper use of aggression presupposes that a man has goals that he’s striving towards in the first place. A man has to have a clear and definite purpose in life, or he will feel lost and restless, like he is drifting along instead of marching ahead. When was the last time you reviewed your life’s mission? Warrior, what is your mission in life?

4 He is mindful. Always alert and awake, ever vigilant, the warrior is never complacent. He is always watchful and observant. He plans ahead. And he knows death is inevitable. Indeed, his courage is rooted in the fact that he is not afraid to die. His visceral understanding of the inevitability of his death, sooner or later, means he can enter battle fearlessly. Today might really be a good time to die!

5 He is adaptable. He changes what he does according to the needs of circumstance. When he’s up against great odds, he bucks convention and uses his cleverness and his strategic intelligence to find creative ways to turn the tide in his favor. He is an efficientfighter.

6 He is a minimalist who strips away all that is not needed in his life and who does not indulge himself in luxuries and excess baggage; he carries only what he needs so he can be two steps ahead of the enemy.

7 He is decisive and can boldly make decisions. He doesn’t stand there shilly-shallying, wondering what to do, scared of choosing the wrong option. He is calm and cool under pressure. Once he makes a decision, he unhesitatingly moves on it because he does not live in regret. Perhaps his fearlessness and his training mean he alreadyinstinctively knows what to do.

8 He is skilful. He knows what needs to be done and how to do it. If he does not know, he finds out or asks someone who does.

9 He is loyal. While the Hero’s loyalty is really to himself, his self-esteem depending on impressing others, the Warrior’s loyalties are to something beyond and other than himself and his own concerns: a cause, a god, a people, a task, a nation – things larger than individuals. Serving this is his life purpose. And he does it by a set of ideals and principles which bring meaning to his life. So what cause would YOU be prepared to die for? And who do you serve?

10 He is disciplined. Of course; he has to be. He knows when to be aggressive and how much aggression is needed. He is the master of his energies, releasing them and pulling them back as he chooses. Hedecides the attitude he will take in a certain situation, instead of letting the situation dictate how he feels. Unlike the Hero he takes calculated risks, not unnecessary risks.

11 He is emotionally detached. Not all the time, no. But when he is in Warrior mode he must be emotionally detached from fear and doubt, from the intimidation of his enemy, and from the “shoulds” and demands put on him by friends and family. And he must be detached from anger, too.

Miyamoto Musashi, one of the greatest samurai swordsman of feudal Japan, approached his assailant – an enemy of the emperor. Unsheathing his sword, he inched toward his foe, ready for the brief but deadly encounter. Suddenly, the assailant spat in Musashi’s face. Composed, Musashi resheathed his sword, calmly turned and walked away. The moment spittle hit his face he felt rage. But the samurai never took a life while in the grip of rage. It was against their Bushido.

Bushido means “code of ethics.” The Samurai lived by such a code and many people still do. It delineates acceptable and unacceptable behaviours. It emphasizes what is valued most and prevents these values from extinguishing with time. It is a personal code of conduct, allowing individuals to survive, to thrive, to find meaning in their existence.

Switching off that emotional detachment when away from his mission represents a challenge for the Warrior. His inability to do so can result in one of the Warrior’s shadows showing up (see below).

12 He is Creatively Destructive

The Warrior can destroy, for sure. But in his fullness he only destroys in order to make room for something new and fresh and more alive. This is creative destruction, not simply destroying things for the sake of perverse satisfaction. It is the energy that replaces bad habits with better ones, and allows us to remove the people from our lives who bring us down so that we can surround ourselves with people who support us and share our values.

The Shadows Of The Warrior

The Sadist

Men in touch with the Warrior archetype have the ability to detach themselves from emotions and human relationships. But the Sadist can take over if a man is too detached from his feelings, for too long. He becomes a machine, devoid of humanity. He may be abusive, rude, even psychopathic to some degree (like the Nazi soldiers).

Those men under the influence of the Sadist shadow who are “married to their job” may find it hard to shift focus back home and find their place in their families again. Shifting from mission-mode to domestic-mode can be difficult: their mission, their job, is more important even than children, home and family.

So yes, the Sadist can be cruel, even to those most vulnerable. The sadist may even take pleasure in inflicting pain. His standards are high, both for himself and those around him.

For example, when a child comes home with a less than perfect grade, a father influenced by the Sadist may put him/her down and berate him/her mercilessly.

A man with positive Warrior energy honestly shows his disappointment and then offers to help his child study for the next exam. According to Moore, men possessed by the Sadist also tend to be workaholics. They’ll choose work over health and even family.

Some of this is down to insecurity. Like a boyhood Hero fighting impossible odds, working harder, faster, better gives the Sadist a sense of security.

After all, he’s in competition with other men to prove how good he is; cutting himself off from his feelings prevents him knowing the pain of not being good enough (for which he was no doubt shamed in his past, often by his father).

Unfeeling Warriors don’t know what they want out of life, and hard work distracts them from this fact. Unfortunately, once they do reach the top, they often feel empty, lost, and bitter. But many Sadists simply burn out before they even get there.

The Masochist

The Masochist is the passive shadow in Warrior archetype: it embodies a sense of being powerless.

A man in its grip is a push-over with no personal boundaries who lets others walk all over him. He may hate his job or the relationship he’s in and complain about it, but instead of quitting, cutting his losses and moving on, he digs in and tries harder to be who his boss or girlfriend wants him to be and takes even more abuse.

Because while he might complain about the pain, somehow he likes it – because it confirms who he believes he is.

Men under the Masochist’s influence tolerate inappropriate behaviour and rarely fight back or assert themselves. Then one day something, maybe a criticism from his wife, pushes him over the edge and he explodes with sadistic verbal and sometimes even physical abuse.

How to Access the Warrior Archetype

Many men today lack Warrior energy. They’ve been told all their lives that aggression is bad and they should just work on being be “nice guys”.

But if there’s anything the world needs today, it’s men in touch with the Warrior archetype. It’s the energy that propels men to dare greatly and to fight for a worthy cause. So what can we do to access this positive Warrior energy?

  • Watch movies about great warriors. They don’t necessarily have to be war movies. See a fantastic analysis of male archetypes in the movies at
  • Read biographies about great warriors.
  • Take up boxing or another martial art.
  • Do something that scares you.
  • Work on becoming more decisive.
  • Meditate. Especially on death.
  • Quit shoulding on yourself. The Warrior is able to detach himself from the opinions of others in order to carry out his mission.
  • Find your core values.
  • Have a plan and purpose for your life.
  • Boost your adaptability by strengthening your resilience.
  • Study and practice the skills necessary for completing your goals. Whether that’s marksmanship, computer programming, or being charismatic, become a master of your trade.
  • Find the principles that you’re loyal to.
  • Establish some non-negotiable, unalterable terms and live by them.
  • Strengthen your discipline by establishing habits and daily routines.
  • Adopt a minimalist philosophy.
  • Declutter your life.
  • Simplify your diet.
  • Get out of debt.

With thanks to Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette and

The Hero And The Hero’s Journey – Been There, Done That?

Mostly, we don’t fully understand the Hero archetype. Moore and Gillette explain what it is and why it exists in their book “King Warrior Magician Lover”.

The Hero, they say, is only an advanced form of Boy psychology – but it is the most advanced form, the peak of the masculine energies in the Boy, the best aspect of adolescent development. But it’s immature, and when carried over into adulthood as the predominant archetype of a man, it prevents him from achieving full mature masculinity.

One shadow aspect of the Hero is the Bully, the Grandstander, and looking at this can help us to understand why the Hero is such a double-edged sword: useful for a boy, not so useful for a mature man.

The Grandstander Bully

Think of an adolescent boy: so much of what he does is about impressing others. So much of what he does is about claiming his place in the world, his right to dominate others, his right to be superior.

Should he ever be challenged in this, watch the ensuing rageful displays! Those who “sniff out” the ego inflation of the boy may be met with vicious attacks and sometimes even physical abuse. One way of looking at these attacks against others is to see them as a way a boy (or an immature man) avoids recognizing his own underlying grandiosity and insecurity.

Men in whom the Hero archetype is predominant are not team players: they are loners, hotshot junior executives, salesmen, revolutionaries, bankers who care not for the system and play it (at our expense) for the sake of their own grandiosity. They are officer soldiers who risk their lives and the lives of their men to build their own reputation.

Think of Tom Cruise in Top Gun. (If you haven’t seen the film go take a look: you’ll learn a lot about boy psychology.) It’s really a movie about a boy becoming a man; the young fighter pilot played by Cruise listens to no one, tries to prove his worth by taking dangerous risks, by grandstanding.

Only when he causes the death of his friend and navigator, and goes through the grief of this experience, does he begin to mature. The difference between Cruise’s character and the more mature “Iceman” who wins the “Topgun” competition is the difference between the Hero and the mature Warrior.

But – that sense of invulnerability, of inflated importance, is essential to the Hero. He believes that he’s invulnerable, that he can fight the unbeatable foe and win….. and he needs to believe this so he can fight the unavoidable battles the world throws at him – all of which could be seen as aspects of his internal battles with himself.

Problems start, however, when he really does come up against an unbeatable foe. His sense of invulnerability, which is just part of the Grandstander Bully, leaves him under the influence of the Shadow Hero, and he is certain to shoot himself in the foot in the end.

The heroic General Patton, though immensely imaginative, creative, and inspiring to his troops, at least at times, sabotaged himself with his risk taking, his immature competition with the British General Montgomery, and his insightful, but boyishly brash remarks. Rather than being assigned a mission for which his true talent qualified him (to head the Allied invasion of Europe, for instance), he was sidelined precisely because he was a hero and not fully a warrior. (King Warrior Magician Lover, page 39.)

So what’s the driving force behind the Hero? Moore and Gillette think it’s about overcoming the feminine. The Hero is part of an immature boy psychology archetype still tied to Mother. But every boy has the driving need to overcome her, to break free of the feminine and find the masculine. Perhaps in essence this is every man’s hero’s journey?

[The Hero] is locked in mortal combat with the feminine, striving to conquer it and to assert his masculinity. In the medieval legends about heroes and damsels, we are seldom told what happens once the hero has slain the dragon and married the princess. We don’t hear what happened in their marriage, because the Hero, as an archetype, doesn’t know what to do with the Princess once he’s won her. He doesn’t know what to do when things return to normal. (Page 40.)

The biggest problem with the Hero is that he cannot acknowledge his own limitations. And that’s fine for a boy growing up: why should he? He needs to get a sense of his own potential, and grow into it. The problem, of course, is when that psychology is taken into adulthood.

Then, the sense of invulnerability that hangs around the shadow Hero specializes in tripping him up. One of its particular specialities is the Boy psychology’s denial of death, which is, when you think about it, the ultimate limitation on human life.

(Have you been around young men who’ve faced death and lived? There’s a depth of character to them which comes, I suspect, from the spiritual aspect of coming so close to death – and surviving. Maybe it’s the ultimate initiation into manhood.)

Our Western culture is extremely heroic: it’s about the conquest of Nature, an adolescent conquest where pollution and environmental catastrophe are the inevitable results of such an immature project. It’s about the conquest of illness, where medicine is the modern heroic discipline, working on the assumption that disease and even death itself can be eliminated.

This is a worldview that has serious difficulty facing human limitations, and, like a boy manifesting immature energy, will eventually be called to account in one way or another – even if the account is balanced by our own downfall. Even, perhaps, our own extinction. After all, the Hero has to die, right?

Maybe not. After all, comic book heroes never die. They just live to fight another day.

The other pole of the hero’s shadow is the Coward. A boy possessed by the spirit of the Coward will fail to stand up for himself, preferring to run away from physical and emotional challenges. He’s often bullied intellectually and emotionally, and when someone else is demanding or forceful, or transgresses his boundaries, he’ll usually cave in, and may run away. He’ll certainly feel like a doormat. Only when he’s had enough will he explode with a vicious or violent verbal and physical assault on his “enemy”.

What’s The Purpose Of The Hero?

According to Moore and Gillette, the Hero mobilizes the boy’s delicate ego structures to enable him to break with Mother (the feminine) at the end of boyhood and face the difficult tasks of life as a man.

Heroic energies call on all the masculine reserves the boy has to offer, enabling him to test himself against the difficult and hostile forces of the world.

In short, the Hero archetype enables the man to establish his own power against the overwhelming power of his unconscious (much of which, for men at least, is experienced as feminine, as Mother). Only through this process of separation can a boy ultimately turn into a mature man who can relate to others as a separate and distinct being in his full power.

Sadly, in our culture, the Hero is often denigrated. Indeed, ours is not an age that wants Heroes.

We see this in the way that anyone who tries to shine, who dares to stand above the crowd, is so often denigrated and dragged back down, ruthlessly attacked for no other reason than the fact that he dares to show heroic energy.

Moore and Gillette believed that only a massive display of heroic energy can now save us: for, as they say, “against enormous odds, the Hero picks up his sword and charges into the heart of the abyss, into the mouth of the dragon, into the castle under the power of an evil spell.”

The end of the Hero is always transformation. In metaphors and legends through the ages, this transformation has been into a godlike figure: there’s no better example than the transformation of Jesus through his resurrection and ascension.

Though that story may be a metaphor for us, there’s still something profound about the parallel between every man’s Hero’s journey on Earth, and the mature masculinity that comes out of that, eventually maturing into the sage like wisdom of an Elder… a true Elder, that is.

The “death” of the Hero is the death of boyhood, of Boy psychology. It is the birth of manhood and Man psychology. This, truly, is the purpose of the Hero’s journey.

A man who’s been through his Hero’s journey has encountered his limitations; he has met his own dark side, the part that is anything but a Hero. He has fought his demons, been scorched by them, and learned something about himself in the process. He has separated from his Mother, and perhaps knows the meaning of true humility.

A man who is still under the grip of the Hero will fall prey in some way to the negative energy of the Grandstander Bully or the Coward.

The former will walk over others with insensitivity and arrogance, and eventually he will self-destruct.

The other pole – the Coward – will lack the motivation to do anything, to achieve anything of significance. But, with appropriate levels of Hero energy, we will come up against our limitations, push ourselves to the limits of what we can be as boys, and then, when the time is right, we will be prepared for our initiation into manhood.