You, too, have at least one Hero. If not, you long for one. You may not be in the market for your own personal comic-book figure come to life, but the idea of having someone to rely on who gallops in to save the day—psychologically, if not literally—is right up there on most people's list of necessities for a happy and secure life. We all share this need for Heroes in some way because it is built into our emotional DNA. What we call human nature is also our archetypal nature. Certain qualities and characteristics are inherently human: caring for others, protection of the young, loyalty, the ability to love, the need to safeguard home and family. And all these innately human qualities are represented by archetypes, by these universal, impersonal patterns of influence that reside in the collective unconscious—in the psyche of the species, as it were, that we share with every other human being.

Consider the archetype of the Perfect Mom. You don't need to meet the woman I'm speaking about to flesh out an idea of her in your imagination. The words Perfect Mom pack a powerful punch, especially in our society. The instant someone tells you that a woman is a Perfect Mom, you immediately picture a great cook with a charming, well-ordered home, who helps her kids with their homework, attends all their sporting events, listens to their problems, hosts sleepovers with their friends—and bakes brownies. Even if the words Perfect Mom bring up painful associations with a not-so-perfect upbringing, you still have the projection of the ideal Mother figure firmly planted in your psyche.

So how do those words—Hero and Perfect Mom—communicate so much visual, emotional, intellectual, and mythic information to us? They carry the power they do because they are archetypes, psychic power patterns in the unconscious mind. Although archetypes are collective symbols that everyone in the culture shares, they can also speak to us individually, as personal archetypal patterns that are the foundation of our beliefs, drives, motivations, and actions, organizing and energizing all our relationships in life. Archetypes are the power images we identify with as children. The Athlete or the Artist or the Actor or the Princess represents a complex of stories and myths that we somehow imagine happening in our own life. As we grow up, we continue to pattern our lives around these images, unconsciously living our archetypes.