The Archetypes

From Alberto Villoldo, Founder of the Four Winds Society


Each of the archetypal animals exudes a different flavor of energy. In the South serpent symbolizes knowledge, sexuality and healing. Perhaps the most universal archetype, serpent has always represented the healing power of nature. The staff of medicine, or caduceus, is formed by two serpents intertwined around a rod. In the East it is the coiled snake of the Kundalini energy.

Serpent represents the primeval connection to the feminine and thus is a symbol of fertility and sexuality. It symbolizes the essential life force that seeks union and creation. We can summon the creative principle by calling on the archetype of serpent. When I work with a client who has lost her passion for life, who has exhausted her energy and enthusiasm, I connect her with the energies of the South and send her home accompanied by the spirit of serpent. I know that this will rekindle her longing for life.


The animal of the West is jaguar. It renews and transforms the life of the rain forest. Where serpent represents the power of healing, which is gradual and incremental; jaguar stands for sudden transformation, fire and death. It might seem odd to us that the transforming force in the Universe is also associated with death. That which endured was always changing and renewing itself. That which remained unchanging perished. The Ancient Americans recognized that chaos and order, expansion and contraction, were the natural cycle of life.

We can transform our bodies so that they heal more rapidly and age more elegantly by embodying the forces represented by jaguar. I have grown to believe in the metaphor that we have nine lives, like cats. When we reach the end of one of these lifetimes (other people would call them stages or phases in one’s life), it is important to give the old self a decent burial, and then leap like a jaguar into who we are becoming. Otherwise, we can spend years patching and fixing an old self that we have outgrown.

When I work with a client in crisis, who may feel his life is beyond repair, I send him home with jaguar. Often my client thinks this is only a metaphor. I know that the life-and-death principle represented by the jaguar will assist him to allow those parts of himself that need to die to do so, as well as to regain hope and bring new balance from chaos.


In the North direction, hummingbird represents the courage required to embark on an epic journey. Hummingbirds migrate over the Atlantic, traveling every year from Brazil to Canada. When I work with a client who is embarking upon an epic life’s journey, I help her to connect with the energy of hummingbird. Once touched by the energies of this archetype, we are propelled on our own epic journey that eventually leads us back to our source, where our spirit was spawned.

The North energy helps us embark on great journey despite tremendous odds. When there is not enough time, money or know-how for what you are attempting, hummingbird can provide the courage and guidance necessary for success.


The East direction is represented by eagle and condor, who bring vision, clarity, and foresight. Eagle perceives the entire panorama of life without becoming bogged down in its details. The energies of eagle assist us in finding the guiding vision of our lives. The eyes of the condor see into the past and the future, helping to know where we come from, and who we are becoming.

Eagle allows us to rise above the mundane battles that occupy our lives and consume our energy and attention. Eagle gives us wings to soar above trivial day-to-day struggles into the high peaks close to Heaven. Eagle and condor represent the self-transcending principle in nature.


The final two directions - above and below, represent the masculine and feminine. The shaman summons it to preserve and perpetuate, while understanding that life is a delicate balance between the changing and the unchanging. The Inka believe that the soul has three parts. When people die, one part of their soul (the changing) returns to the Earth, to be reabsorbed into nature and become one with all life. Another part (their power and wisdom) returns to the sacred mountains, and a third part (the unchanging) returns to the Sun.

    * Earth is the receptive and nurturing principle. Its power is to mulch and renew. The summer leaves are turned back into rich soil. When saluting the Earth we acknowledge our relationship with all other life forms, from the trees to the fishes, the birds, and the stones. When saluting the Heavens we acknowledge our star brother and sisters, and we dedicate our healing effort to the Great Spirit, the Creator of all.