The 3 Great Spiritual Archetypes: Cuckoos, Masters, and Wanderers

which archetype are you?

Dr. Stephen Strange: I’m not ready.
The Ancient One: No one ever is. We don’t get to choose our time.
–“Doctor Strange”

On your journey of spiritual development, you might find it helpful to have role-models—archetypes—to pattern yourself after. While the annals of “real-life” esotericism are filled with possible heroes & heroines to emulate, you could just as well take the pop-cultural route.

There are three distinct hero/heroine archetypes which seem to recur 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”
  • Wanderers “go with the Flow”

I. CUCKOOS

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“My father believed that if the world found out who I really was, they’d reject me…out of fear. I let my father die because I trusted him. Because he was convinced that I had to wait, that the world was not ready. What do you think?”
Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman, “Man of Steel”

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 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 by John Wyndham 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 children of these females start demonstrating psychic abilities and it’s clear they are otherworldly.

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from the film “Village of the Damned.” In an interesting bit of “Time Is A Flat Circle” casting, Christopher Reeve, who played the iconic cuckoo character Clark Kent in 1978’s “Superman,” is the adversary of the cuckoo children in this 1995 film.

This ancient archetype is essentially the “switched at birth” baby story of Jewish patriarch Moses, as well as the “God is my Daddy” story of Jesus, Hercules, and so many others. From there we get the “strange visitor from another world raised by humans” mythology of Superman, as well as the “magical child raised by wretched adopted parents” trope from the Harry Potter series, as well as Roald Dahl book/movie Matilda.

The cuckoo trope can also be seen as a narrative about mutants as in the X-Men lore, or various other paranormal children in pop-culture. A key element of most of these stories is a fear of their abilities by the “mundanes,” including their persecution. These are not figures “welcomed” by their immediate community.

“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.”
–Luke 4:24

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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).

And so here we have the essential challenge of many Cuckoos: an absolute shit self-esteem. 

They will often tend to be almost too humble and nondescript in order not to stand out. At the same time, some will build a resentment against a society who has rejected them…scaring themselves so much that they double-down on the humbleness, which then feeds back into the rejection and subsequent resentment.

So comes the spiritual “dividing line” between Cuckoos: either towards the darkness or the light.

II. MASTERS

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“It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.”
–Bruce Wayne

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 this tends to be the trope of the “Sorcerer Supreme.”

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.

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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.

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Doctor Strange’s “enlightenment moment,” in which he transforms from an ordinary mortal to a significantly more enlightened being.

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 someone like uber-Cuckoo Anakin Skywalker, perhaps the Master is right).

III. WANDERERS

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“As you know, Morty, I’ve got a lot of enemies in the universe that consider my genius a threat. Galactic terrorists, a few sub-galactic dictators, most of the entire intergalactic government. Wh-wherever you find people with heads up their asses, someone wants a piece of your grandpa. And a lot of versions of me on different timelines had the same problem. So a few thousand versions of me had the INGENIOUS IDEA OF BANDING TOGETHER like a herd of cattle or a school of fish, or…those people who answer questions on Yahoo! Answers.”
–Rick Sanchez, “The Adventures of Rick And Morty”

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.

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Dave Bowman “loses the thread” in “2001: A Space Odyssey” and ends up lost in space/time.

This is the archetype of the Time-Traveler (Doctor Who, Marty McFly), the astronaut (Dave Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey), the person trapped in a bardo-like state (as in the 1990 movie Jacob’s Ladder), and the stoner (Jeff Lebowski, the “real”/fictional Hunter S. Thompson, and many 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.

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“Maybe each human being lives in a unique world, a private world different from those inhabited and experienced by all other humans….If reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn’t we really be talking about plural realities? And if there are plural realities, are some more true (more real) than others? What about the world of a schizophrenic? Maybe it’s as real as our world. Maybe we cannot say that we are in touch with reality and he is not, but should instead say, His reality is so different from ours that he can’t explain his to us, and we can’t explain ours to him. The problem, then, is that if subjective worlds are experienced too differently, there occurs a breakdown in communication…and there is the real illness.”
Philip K. Dick

A common question a Wanderer might ask him- or herself (themselves, more likely) 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 Sanchez from The Adventures of Rick and Morty).

To be a Wanderer is sort of a “late-stage” development in an evolved human soul. If we look at the 3 archetypes discussed here in a continuum:

  • Cuckoo: the “Child” (born into a world they don’t understand).
  • Master: the “adult” (driven to a path of self-actualization as a result of earlier experiences as a Cuckoo)
  • Wanderer: represents “old age” (or: being an “old soul”).
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Many of Philip K. Dick’s protagonists, like Bob Arctor from “A Scanner Darkly,” are Wanderers.

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 Flow with the current of the chaos and find meaning in the effort.

Regardless…it is most likely that he/she/they will start all over again anyway:

WHICH ARCHETYPE DO YOU IDENTIFY WITH?