Understanding the Missionary Archetype

Written by on November 17, 2012 in On Archetypes

Understanding the Missionary Archetype

Do you feel called to perform some important mission in life? Have you always felt that you needed to do something important for mankind, for your community, or even for your family? Has this feeling permeated your whole life? If so, you may have the Missionary Archetype.

Origins of the Missionary

Where did the missionary come from? What are the origins? Most of us associate “missionary” with religion and there is a good reason for that. When we hear the word missionary the image most ready to appear is that of the traveling missionary to far distant lands who comes to preach the gospel to natives. Examples like John Wesley, David Livingstone and Amy Carmichael proselyted to other cultures and went to other lands to do so.  A proselyte is someone who has changed from one opinion to another. To be a missionary or proselytizer is to recruit others to a new idea or a different way of thinking. This concept is what the missionary archetype is all about. According to the dictionary definition a missionary is: A person strongly in favor of a program, set of principles, etc., who attempts to persuade or convert others. Also, one who attempts to persuade or convert others to a particular program, doctrine, or set of principles; a propagandist.  The Missionary Archetype is similar to the Revolutionary Archetype and the reader may recognize the similarities.

Everyone has a Mission

The Missionary Archetype represents the part of each of us that wonders what our mission in life is meant to be. We all have a personal mission but the Missionary Archetype feels the power of the calling and they MUST answer the call. The personal mission must be undertaken even if the Missionary never knows the value of their actions. While the Missionary archetype is in the Divine Family it is not exclusive to spiritual matters. While every has a mission to fulfill in life not everyone displays the light and shadow of this powerful archetype. I will include a large list of historical figures that represent the challenges and the joys of the Missionary Archetype.

Note: All the examples from history I have used in this article show both the shadow and the light aspects of this archetype.

The Shadow Missionary

Just as a reminder, the shadow aspect of all archetypes is only a lack of awareness about the force behind the archetype. Acting in the shadow only suggests that you are acting without conscious awareness therefore you are following a line of thought and behavior that feels completely natural but remains somewhat hidden from view and is distorted. If you have ever had the experience of recognizing a behavior in yourself that you always believed was good and suddenly seeing how it is not so good, or how you are using it for personal gain etc. then you have experienced the transforming power of the shadow. This contrast is what allows you to see yourself in a new way and with more clarity. The shadow is only the unconscious and once awareness about your behavior is achieved the shadow falls away and you have the power to choose. The dark night disappears when the sun rises without war or conflict. The light simply overcomes the darkness and the darkness surrenders to the light in complete harmony.

The Good News: A Better Way

The Shadow Missionary always has a how-to program. This program can be absolutely anything from how to educate, how to raise children, how to have spiritual salvation, how to take care of your body, how to eat right, how to save the planet, how to fight the war on drugs, how to eliminate pain and suffering, how to achieve spiritual enlightenment and the list goes on and on. The program is not so important as much as the behaviors in relation to the program. The Shadow Missionary is a propagandist, promoting and spreading their ideas without regard to the way they can trample on others in their efforts. They love to hand out information, flyers, direct people to websites and other sources to convince them of the error of their ways. Often they are the authors of the propaganda themselves writing blogs, books and articles to help spread the word and ultimately change things. The Shadow Missionary will sometimes make every personal ambition into a life mission in an attempt to satisfy the intrinsic need to fulfill a higher life purpose.

The Invader

The Shadow Missionary has a kind of raw zeal that is a compulsive power driving them to promote, persuade and convince others of what they KNOW is a better way. The Shadow Missionary is not particularly self-righteous in the classic sense. They feel that the focus is the mission and they are simply an instrument called to spread the “good news.”  They are very passionate in telling others how to be or what to do to improve their lives to such a degree that the person feels invaded by the Shadow Missionary. Unaware of the way they are pushing and invading the Shadow Missionary ends up alienating others from joining their cause.

The Shadow Missionary often displays false benevolence when confronting the ignoramus or the misinformed. While they think that they are humbly bringing improvements to a benighted world, the Shadow Missionary is actually doing it for self aggrandizement. Their superiority has been disguised as dedication and fortitude; disguised even from themselves. The Shadow Missionary feels completely justified in their motivation because they are not driven to convert others for money, or other obviously selfish impulses. They see what they are doing as merely offering an incentive for change and improvement without any personal gain for themselves. They really believe that their efforts are purely charitable and generous and cannot see how their ego is involved. The drive to push others to change causes them to ignore what they themselves need to change.

The Many Faces of Coercion

How does the Shadow Missionary sway others?  Ideally, persuasion and diplomacy are used to promote the how-to program but when these fail the Shadow Missionary must resort to darker or more devious means. When others cannot or will not accept the ideas or program of the Shadow Missionary they may feel the need to manipulate. Manipulation is not done intentionally but is a means to an end. The thinking is, if they can get the other person, the one they hope to convert, to see for themselves the value of their program by whatever means necessary then the Shadow Missionary has succeeded. How they manage to do this is less important than accomplishing it.

Fear tactics

The Shadow Missionary will often use fear tactics to draw converts into his or her way of thinking. For example, fear of your soul being lost in hell, fear that you will not be safe because your food is not organic, fear that you will be overrun by greedy corporations and governments, fear that you are killing the planet, fear that you are causing others to suffer, fear that you will be the victim of a crime, fear that you don’t have enough, know enough or are enough. All of these are examples of the way the Shadow Missionary uses fear to bring people around to the right way of thinking or behaving. The Shadow Missionary does not see this as a tactic because the fear has prompted them to make changes and they simply believe it will motivate others as well.

  • Example from history: Cotton Mather, a staunch Puritan was involved in the Salem witch trials of 1692. Mather promoted the fear that witches and devils had been loosed upon the world due to the colonists’ sinful ways. He very much believed it himself and his fears prompted him to support the trials that led to many deaths and imprisonments.  This kind of fear spread like a wildfire, reining in many folks that had begun to let go of some of the more rigid ways of Puritanism.

Inducing Shame

When fear is not enough to convert the unbeliever shame is a good alternative. Using words like “don’t you see how your actions are hurting others?” and “I would never do that because. . .” and “I don’t think you would do that if you knew. . .” other shaming types of phrases is an effective tool when the Shadow Missionary finds other methods inadequate. Not everyone is convinced to change by the same incitement and the Shadow Missionary must have an arsenal at their disposal for bringing in the unbelievers.

  • Example from history: Mao Zedong, leader of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and a master propagandist exploited Chinese cultural ideals of honor and respect. He effectively induced millions of people to cultural reforms through public shaming and humiliation. He literally shamed millions of people out of their identities, their achievements, talents and wealth all to bring about the ideal utopian society of absolute equality. People were so shamed and humiliated that suicide became the number one cause of death in China at the time.

The Lure of Reward

The old saying goes: You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar and the Shadow Missionary has mastered this approach. They want the whole world to know how wonderful their how-to program is and how it will benefit and change everyone’s life for the better.

“You will feel so much better if you try it!” Or “It has completely changed my life and I know it can change yours.” Here is another example of the lure of reward: “Don’t you want to be on the right side?” The Shadow Missionary is often either charming and easy going or forceful and convincing.

  • Example from history: Vladimir Lenin one of the leaders of the Russian Revolution used the lure of reward to attract a following. His slogan to the starving abused peasants of Russia was “Peace, Land and Bread.” This statement was made in 1917 during the Great War when the Russian people were fed up with the fighting and death, the class system promoted by the Tsars and pervasiveness of starvation. Instead of playing to their fears he used the lure of reward for converting the masses to communism. Of course, once in power he was a ruthless dictator.


Sometimes the Shadow Missionary will use trickery to accomplish their goals. They believe that if others understood what they understood then everyone would choose the right thing and do what was best. So the Shadow Missionary will sometimes trick the other person into experiencing for themselves the effectiveness of the Shadow Missionary’s program.

For example, you may be invited to dinner by your Shadow Missionary friend only to find out that it is an intervention to try to get you to stop smoking. If you see how much everyone loves you, you will quit (lure of the reward.) The experience might make you feel guilt as you compare yourself to all your non-smoking friends (inducing shame.) There is a stack of literature with frightening images of the damage smoking causes your lungs and body (fear tactics.) Silly you, you thought you were meeting a friend for a harmless dinner, (trickery.) There are times though, when nothing else seems to work, that the Shadow Missionary uses his or her last card: Force.

Force: The Last Resort

When the Shadow Missionary feels that a cause is so just and so important, they feel that force is required and justified to accomplish their goals. Force includes overt and covert control, deprivation, abuse and other strong-arm tactics. This shows up in only the most extreme forms of the Shadow Missionary or if they believe their cause is so important that they are willing to punish those who stand in their way. One example is the burning of abortion clinics causing harm and death as a means of protest against others causing harm and death. It is easy to recognize the contradiction, and this kind of contradiction is common among all the archetypal shadow behaviors.

  • Example from history: The Spanish Inquisition is a good example of this kind of force.  In Spain in the late 15th century and early 16th century in order to maintain the purity and orthodoxy of the Catholic Church priests were encouraged to question anyone who appeared to be against the Church in any way. It was also used to punish heresy which was seen as contaminating the Catholic ideals. Franciscan and Dominican friars and priests tortured and maimed those they questioned. Although not allowed to kill or shed blood they found various methods of cruelty to extract confessions and conversions. By far the most forceful of these were the Jesuit priests, also known as the Society of Jesus these militant type priests have been later called God’s Marines.

Maintaining A Reputation

It is very important to the Shadow Missionary that they maintain a spotless reputation. They care a great deal what others think of them and how they are perceived but only because they use their visibility, reputation and others’ perception of them for their missionary work converting others to their program or cause. They will often go to great lengths to maintain their reputation. Knowing that others trust them is very important to the Shadow Missionary and they wouldn’t want to let their followers down. The Shadow Missionary’s downfall would be the downfall of the mission itself. The Shadow Missionary craves praise, attention and support from others for their noble work.  Appreciation in the form of recognition and others’ successes, are proof that their mission is worthy.

Rigidity and Inflexibility

Being inflexible is one of the main points for the Shadow Missionary. Flexibility is considered counterproductive to their cause. The goal is to convert others to the proper way of thinking, acting etc. While they may appear to be seeking another point of view or hearing out someone’s ideology it is only a means to discredit the beliefs and ideas of the person they are trying to convert, to prove to the other person that they are incorrect and simply don’t know any better. This rigidity causes the Shadow Missionary to suffer from bouts of discouragement and hopelessness. They expend so much enthusiasm and energy to bring people a better way only to have others ignore, mock, disregard or trample on them and their efforts. But the Shadow Missionary does not easily give up and after a reprieve they will begin again with renewed vigor. Do not confuse the Shadow Missionary with a debater. They do not enjoy the debate unless they believe that at some point they can bring you around to their way of thinking. Going toe to toe with a Shadow Missionary is not a worthwhile effort.

The Ends Justify the Means

One of the major struggles for the Shadow Missionary is to know how far to go or when they have gone too far. There is a fine line between being able to convert others and have them follow along willingly and converting others through force or manipulation and in the hope that they new convert will realize their errors later. Ultimately though, the Shadow Missionary believes that the ends justify the means. This is because they become so focused on outer success that they begin to lose focus on what really matters. Typically the Missionary archetype is concerned with helping others, reforms and changes that improve lives and bring harmony and goodness to the world, but these ideals can become blurred in the background when the archetype is in the shadow. The Shadow Missionary becomes so fixated on the goal that they unintentionally hurt and alienate others, prevent reforms and bring conflict and suffering to those around them.

The Enlightened Missionary

Feeling called to help others or do some important work is the true motive of the Enlightened Missionary. This calling is a powerful force in their lives and is backed up with sufficient determination and zeal to accomplish it. The Enlightened Missionary has always felt that they are meant to do something important; that they need to make a meaningful contribution. The Missionary has, in many cases had a potent life experience that transforms this need into a calling. This is their own conversion. They have always felt a need to help others especially many, many people and this need is sharpened by the powerful experience and is then honed into purpose by overcoming personal challenges. This is the conversion that informs the Missionary about his or her life path and mission. Some types of potent life experiences can include, early childhood trauma, a near death experience, a debilitating illness or disease, an addiction that is overcome, a natural disaster, witnessing an accident or death, visiting a foreign country, rescuing another person from death, wartime experiences and many others. This powerful experience is like an opening that fills the person with a profound impulse to act on behalf of others or for some higher purpose.

  • Example from history: John Brown, born in 1800, was the son of a vehement abolitionist. While the influence of his father helped make Brown into a “dyed in the wool abolitionist” it was his experiences in 1812 during the war that served as a catalyst for his calling. He was staying with a landlord who owned a slave about John Brown’s age. The landlord took a liking to Brown but treated the slave cruelly. He even saw the landlord beat the slave boy with an iron shovel. Brown felt it was his mission to end slavery by starting a war and that he was”divinely appointed to bring American Slavery to a sudden and violent end.” He waged his war on slavery by initially preaching against it as a sin against God and then later by harboring fugitive slaves and giving them land. He attacked pro-slavery towns killing citizens and eventually raided a federal arsenal in Virginia at Harper’s Ferry. He as captured and put on trial and executed. At his trial he said these words, “. . . I believe to have interfered as I have done, . . . in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it be deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children, and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit: so let it be done.” To read a full bio on John Brown read John Brown: Road of an Abolitionist. It is obvious that John Brown felt called to a mission of ending slavery in America and represents an example of how the potent life experience helped influence him and promote anti-slavery fervor.

The Calling, Personal Conversion

The Enlightened Missionary’s primary motive for their work is not to convert others per se but to give others the opportunity to choose a different path or to be an example to others. The Enlightened Missionary has overcome his or her inclination to judge others, to manipulate and connive. They practice what they have preached and the calling to act is for them and not necessarily for others. They perform their acts with humility and respect for different opinions, never taking the credit for themselves. Having had their own conversion they understand that a conversion is highly personal in nature and no person can truly convert another person to a different way of thinking. They will redirect anyone that tries to offer them praise, because it has no value to them and often becomes a distraction from what really matters. This calling fills the Enlightened Missionary with a sense of purpose and rightness of action that sustains him or her throughout life. I would seem that all of the Enlightened Missionary’s early life experiences were preparing him or her for their personal mission and calling. Once the path has been found the Enlightened Missionary has incredible staying power and focus for continuing their mission no matter the odds, the obstacles and the resistance. They quietly fulfill their life’s mission without fanfare or accolades.

  • Example from history: Johnny Appleseed as John Chapman is most commonly known, spent his life as a kind of primitive missionary. He planted nurseries of apple orchards and left them in the care of others. He traveled all over the West planting orchards of apple trees, preaching the Gospel to both frontier families and the Natives Americans. He slept on the floors of friendly folks along the way in return for his sermons. He often slept outside, was barefoot much of the time and kept his cooking pot on his head. He refused to harm animals or insects and was a great lover of nature. Other archetypes Johnny Appleseed respresents are the Gardener and the Pioneer. This example shows the humility and quiet perseverance of the Missionary archetype.


The Enlightened Missionary is not discouraged by lack of success. And this is important because often this person will not see the fruits of their labors in their own lifetime. They promote and teach and speak their ideas because they must do so. They will often be met with resistance, sometimes fierce resistance and the Enlightened Missionary has the fortitude to see their project or mission through this resistance from others. They are not afraid to be the dissenting voice, the only one acting in a certain way. They believe so firmly in their cause that even when they are despairing they continue forward with stubborn determination. They are “a force to be reckoned with” when confronting resistance and will usually find success eventually. If not, they will die in the effort. While this seems extreme, the Enlightened Missionary is simply following the path the feel they were meant to follow.

  • Example from history: Susan B. Anthony spent her entire life devoted to women’s rights. She was unyielding in her position even when thrown in jail on one occasion for voting. She refused to pay the fines when she was released even though it made her a wanted woman for the rest of her life. She had no children or husband and championed woman’s right to vote as the most important of all the women’s causes. While some other suffragists believed that the right to vote was too extreme and felt it discredited the whole women’s movement Anthony would not be moved. She never wavered from this position and died only a few years before the 19th Amendment was passed giving women the right to vote.

Spreading the Word

The Enlightened Missionary will spread the word of their own mission without concern about what others think,  do, or say about them. They feel that it would be shameful to remain silent when it may be that others are simply unaware or have been misinformed. They must speak up when they feel so passionately about what they believe in. They will spread the word either by travel, such as traveling to countries to teach religious doctrine, or by promoting an idea or program to the community and helping it spread by word of mouth. They will write or promote the writings of others who support their cause. The Enlightened Missionary is convincing because they believe in their cause and their program so much that others are motivated to consider it and also because they are naturally charismatic and have good persuasive skills. They are not easily put off or persuaded themselves. Their zeal for spreading the word does much to help promote reform and changes.

  • Example from history: Thomas Paine was a fervent missionary for freedom and the rights of mankind. He wrote the books Common Sense and The Rights of Man which had a great impact on the American colonists and did much to support the American Revolution for independence. He wrote many pamphlets and books about his ideas. After the formation of the new United States Paine moved to France during the French Revolution to continue his mission of freethinking, pro-revolutionary ideas. He spoke loudly about his ideas and was often ostracized for it. He was convicted of seditious libel in France and  was eventually arrested and imprisoned. He lived a life of controversy and was faced constant threat from those who opposed his radical ideas.

The Sacrifice of Staying the Path

Sacrifice is sometimes necessary for the Enlightened Missionary to stay on the path. Their work comes before their personal safety. Those who have this archetype may find sacrifice to be part of the journey of the Missionary. Although it is not always necessary it is often a requirement. Their work is often unappreciated, unmerited and disrespected. This only fires the flames of the Enlightened Missionary’s zeal to stay the path. Others may perceive this type of sacrifice as extreme or holding onto their ideas with stubbornness. But it is this stubbornness and sacrifice of the Enlightened Missionary that leaves a lasting impression on future generations and is ultimately what causes others to pick up the torch after their death.

  • Example from history: Galileo was a scientist who made major contributions to the Scientific Revolution. He championed heliocentrism, the idea that planets revolve around the sun. This theory was met with resistance by the Pope and Galileo was charged and tried by the Roman Inquisition with heresy. He spent the rest of his life on house arrest for his writings and promotion of science.  His writings are still studied today.

Responding to the Call

The Enlightened Missionary is willing to take action. They are not philosophers or intellectuals simply satisfied to discuss and pontificate ideas and beliefs but they yearn to take action to bring about their ideas and see their mission bear fruit. When they see a need they don’t hesitate or wonder if it is the best thing to do but they jump right into action. Their natural abilities with people either to inspire or to persuade to action is pronounced. The Enlightened Missionary uses this skill for good and to keep others focused on the path. Their need to respond with action is an important part of the Enlightened Missionary. They understand that words without action are dead. Their success of the mission is based on their willingness to respond to the call.

  • Example from history: Clara Barton was working as a clerk in Washington D.C. when troops of wounded Union soldiers flooded the city. Clara quickly saw a need and responded without hesitation. She volunteered to bring food, medical supplies and simple comfort to the wounded men. She had found her calling and knew that she was most needed on the battlefields. She prodded government officials to give her a pass and she quickly set to work bringing supplies to the battlefields and often risking her own life to hold a dying man or pray with the sick on the field. When the war was over she spent her time writing letters to the families of missing soldiers. She offered to help find out what happened or in some cases find the missing person. She helped establish a national cemetery at Andersonville and helped identify the graves of 13,000 men who died there. Later during the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war she hear the call and responded with action. She founded the American Red Cross for volunteers at the age of sixty. She was a noted speaker and was good at rallying volunteers because of her great charisma. Her work has left a lasting legacy and a means for others to continue with her work.

The Formation of Groups

The Missionary will often form a kind of organization or group that keeps the mission alive and operating. Here are some examples of groups formed by people who felt passionate about helping others or promoting a cause:

  • The La Leche League, started by seven housewives and mothers.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous founded by Bill W. and Dr. Bob who suffered from alcoholism.
  • The American Red Cross founded by Clara Barton a volunteer program to help others. 
  •  The Sierra Club founded by John Muir to promote conservation of the natural world.

The value of the organization is that the ideas that the Missionary Archetype promotes can be furthered and enhanced by others who feel the same calling and can endure for much longer than one person’s life. Here are some different types of Missionary Archetypes. Maybe you relate to one of the examples given below.

Missionary Archetype Variants

  • The Motivational Speaker: Nick Vujicic
  • The Political Activist:  Mahatma Gandhi
  • The Environmentalist: Johnny Appleseed
  • The Evangelical: Billy Graham
  • The Feminist: Susan B. Anthony
  • The Business Reformer: Stephen Covey
  • The Social Justice Activist: Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • The Scientist: Charles Darwin
  • The Spiritualist: Marianne Williamson
  • The Teacher: Ram Dass
  • The Educator: Charlotte Mason
  • The Doctor: Albert Schweitzer:



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  1. Ruth Naylor says:

    Wow!! So much work! Thank you so much. I don’t think I have too many questions left. Now if I can get him to sit still long enough to read it and consider if he has it. Good job! Sorry it was so much work.

  2. Susanna says:

    I am always surprised how much I learn in the process of writing about archetypes. Thanks for suggesting it.

  3. aaa says:

    Hello! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading
    this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept talking about
    this. I will forward this post to him. Pretty sure he will have
    a good read. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I was “assigned” The Messiah in, but it was too overwhelming too associate with. This Missionary, however, makes complete sense.

    Thank you for putting so much effort into explore this archetype and creating a resource that is so thorough and comprehensive.

    I don’t think I would have know how to get a handle on, recognise, or work with my own “Messiah/Missionary” If I didn’t stumble across this article.

    You were, excuse the pun, God sent. Thank you so much!


  5. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I was “assigned” The Messiah in my tenth house, but it was too overwhelming too associate with. This Missionary, however, makes complete sense.

    Thank you for putting so much effort into explore this archetype and creating a resource that is so thorough and comprehensive.

    I don’t think I would have know how to get a handle on, recognise, or work with my own “Messiah/Missionary” If I didn’t stumble across this article.

    You were, excuse the pun, God sent. Thank you so much!


  6. Susanna says:

    Thank you so much for your comment! I always appreciate hearing from readers.

  7. Susanna says:

    Thank you Elizabeth! It is so encouraging to hear from readers! I am so glad you have a continued on your search to truly know yourself. That is the value of studying archetypes.