Archery isn’t popular, it’s an Archetype!

In a 2013 press release, USA Archery cited a 105% membership increase from 2011 – 2013. In that same period, they also noted huge increases in tournament participation, and demand for instructor certification. USA Archery and other organizations are quick to suggest the increase is a direct result of the prevalance of archery heroines and heros in movies and television. This is only part of the reason; archery isn’t just popular, it’s an Archetype!

The term “archetype” has its origins in ancient Greek. The root words are archein, which means original or old, and typos, which means pattern, model or type. The combined meaning is an “original pattern.” A synonym is prototype.

mother & child

The psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung, used the concept of archetype in his theory of the human psyche. He believed that universal models, archetypes, reside within the collective unconscious (as opposed to the personal unconscious) of people the world over. Archetypes are universal; everyone inherits the same basic archetypal images. Common examples include birth, rebirth, death, power, magic, the hero, the child, the trickster, God, the demon, the wise old man, the earth mother, the giant, many natural objects like trees, the sun, the moon, wind, rivers, fire, animals, and many human-made objects such as rings and weapons. There are as many archetypes as there are typical situations in life. Endless repetion has engraved these experiences into our psyches (Hall and Nordby).

cave painting 2

Representations or versions of these common archetypes appear in cave drawings, myths, legends, literature and other forms of recorded history. Every infant throughout the world inherits a mother archetype. This preformed image is then developed into a definite image by the actual mother’s appearance, behavior and experiences the baby has with her. Archetypes are not fully developed pictures in the mind like memory experiences. Instead, think of them more like a (photographic) negative that has to be devloped by experience (Hall and Nordby).

We can have no idea of how, or indeed why the principle of shooting with a bow was first discovered and then used. There are plenty of speculations and assumptions untouched by either fact or, indeed, artifact, for little survives to provide us with concrete evidence. Much of the controversy over the Lars Andersen videos has to do with his unsupported assertions about archery history based on his assumptions about what a few paintings “prove.” However, evidence for bow usage is suggested in early rock drawings. These show animals driven toward a group of archers who are busily engaged in their culling; and what seems plausible is that by the late Stone Age, a simple bow for this purpose had emerged in common use around the globe (Soar). It shouldn’t be hard to hypothesize that many of our archetypes were established by our human ancestors’ experiences in the Prehistoric & Stone Age times.

vintage photo 1

Archery experienced a “golden age” in the United States that started sometime in the 1950’s through the 1970’s. Archery returned as an Olympic event in 1972. You can trace the beginning of many of the outdoor archery clubs and ranges to about this time (Camera). Many if not all of the archers I know who were involved in the sport during the 50’s through the 70’s liken archery’s current popularity to what they call “bubbles” of interest throughout the years that coincided with specific media events during that time; during that period you can count the number of such events on one hand, maybe two. They talk about it as if they’ve seen it before, as if this too is a bubble that will pass.


So yes, the prevalance of archery heroes and heroines in the popular media has a lot to do with the popularity of archery. It seems like every action movie that comes out has an archer. There are numerous TV shows that feature archers. Archery is promininent in video games. The Summer Olympics are approaching. But it’s not just the popular media that is helping the archetypal image to develop. Social media is also playing a big part. Popular hunters, recreational archers, and Olympic archers update their followers daily (sometimes hourly!) about their activities. For better or worse, you can look up anything you want to know about archery on YouTube and other video media channels. Just multiply the handful of media events that sparked “bubbles of interest” during the Golden Age times a million and you’ll understand why Archery isn’t just popular; the archery archetype is being brought to the forefront of our psyches like it never has before – it is here to stay.

Cited References

A Primer of Jungian Psychology. Calvin S. Hall and Vernon J. Nordby (1999)

The Crooked Stick; A History of the Longbow. Hugh D. H. Soar (2004)

Shooting the Stickbow; A Practical Approach to Classical Archery. Anthony Camera (2008)


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