There are three distinct hero/heroine archetypes which I’ve noted a lot in mythology, pop-culture, and “real-life.” They all seem to push the boundaries of human evolution—but each in their own unique way.
They are: Cuckoos, Masters, and Wanderers.
Simply put, Cuckoos are “born that way,” Masters are more or less “self-made,” and Wanderers usually have very little idea about what is going on:
Now, people (including their own families) might think the Cuckoo to be quite cuckoo in the most commonly-known sense of the word. But the genesis of this term for me is the practice of the cuckoo bird to hide one of their eggs in the nests of other birds. When the cuckoo chick is hatched, it might look like the others, but over time it becomes more and more obvious that the bird is different.
This is where the title of the book “The Midwich Cuckoos” comes from, which later became a movie (and its remake) called “Village of the Damned.” In that story, aliens knock unconscious an entire town and impregnate their women…years later, the really weird children start demonstrating psychic abilities and it’s clear they are otherworldly.
This archetype is pretty old and prevalent…it’s essentially the “switched at birth” baby story (Moses), the “God is my Daddy” story (Jesus, Hercules), the “strange visitor from another world raised by humans” story (Superman), the “magical child raised by wretched adopted parents” story (Harry Potter, Matilda). It can also be seen as a narrative about mutants as in the X-Men lore, or various other paranormal children.
Cuckoos are usually born with their spiritual gifts and mission, but immediately have it “buried” under a ton of societal norms. Their parents either hate their abilities outright and think it’s from “the devil” (Carrie White), or are told to hide them as to not attract attention (Superman, Jesus). Thus, the Cuckoo will tend to be almost too humble and nondescript in order not to stand out.
The challenge of the Cuckoos is to re-learn who they really are, and then make a decision to either retreat from mainstream humanity or use his or her abilities in a manner to assist them.
The Master is the “self-made” expert…the accomplished wizard, the Jedi Master, the Batman-like figure. The Magician from the tarot deck would most illustrate this archetype, and many in esotericism and pop-culture tend to be “Sorcerers Supreme.”
As such, characters like Doctor Strange, Obi Wan Kenobi and Hermione Granger are all Masters. They have all studied long and hard, using countless hours of discipline, to get where they are now. As opposed to the Cuckoo Superman, who was “born that way,” Batman has had to spend many years becoming a Master; that is one of the key factors for the occasional friction between them. Ditto for Willow Rosenberg, who acquired magical abilities, and Buffy Summers, who was “born that way.”
The most flamboyant spiritual types both in fiction and reality will also tend to be Masters rather than Cuckoos. So whereas Jesus was a Cuckoo, St. Paul was most definitely a Master. This leads into another common trait among Masters: the “enlightenment moment.” This is that point during their lives that will literally change them forever, perhaps affording them some sort of spiritual or divine power. The operational word here is Change; the Master is dedicated to changing into a more (presumably) advanced lifeform.
You can see, as mentioned before in the Superman vs. Batman example, that there is a built-in potential conflict between Cuckoos and Masters. The Cuckoo often introduces the radical new “gospel,” and the Master often codifies it and brings it into the mainstream; in the process, the Cuckoo’s teachings might be branded as “heretical” by the Master. The Master might ultimately resent the Cuckoo as being unworthy—the Cuckoo’s inborn, undisciplined abilities being deemed “dangerous” as opposed to the Master’s hard-won technique (and, in the case of something like Anakin Skywalker, maybe the Master is right).
The challenge of the Masters is not to go bugfuck crazy and begin to think they are the one-and-only God, as they might have the tendency to believe their own “press.”
While both Cuckoos and Masters will develop distinct narrative threads throughout their lives, Wanderers have let go of the thread (either purposefully or by accident) completely. This is the archetype of the Time-Traveler (Doctor Who), the astronaut (Dave Bowman in “2001”), the person trapped in a bardo-like state (as in “Jacob’s Ladder”), and the acid-tripper (pretty much most of the protagonists in Philip K. Dick novels).
Wanderers are not only lost in time and other dimensions, but even their very sense of reality and identity becomes in doubt. A common question a Wanderer might ask him- or herself is, “what’s going on…is this even real?” Wanderers may even get to the point where they become so cynical about their frequent, often out-of-control “trips” that they just sit back, crack open some whiskey, and enjoy the ride (as is the case with Rick from “Rick and Morty”).
To be a Wanderer is sort of a “late-stage” development in a human soul. If we look at the 3 archetypes discussed here in a continuum, the Cuckoo stage would be the “child” (born into a world they don’t understand), the Master is the “adult” (driven to a path of self-actualization as a result of earlier experiences as a Cuckoo), and the Wanderer represents “old age” (or: being an “old soul”).
At the Wanderer level, all the anxieties and questions and purposes of the first two stages seem to fall away, along with such concepts as linear time and a fixed identity. The Wanderer is finally seeing things “as they really are,” without the filter of a typical human brain to organize everything into neat little boxes. As such, the result ends up resembling more and more that of an LSD trip: boundaries blurring.
The challenge of the Wanderer is to choose between falling into a sort of resigned nihilism (“nothing matters because nothing is real anyway”), or to successfully swim with the current of the chaos and find meaning in the effort.
WHICH ARCHETYPE DO YOU IDENTIFY WITH?