Jungian Archetypes

Jungian archetypes

The concept of psychological archetypes [ahr-ki-tahyps] was advanced by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung [yoong], c. 1919. Jung described archetypes as highly developed elements of the collective unconscious (structures of the unconscious mind which are shared among beings of the same species) that can be seen repeated in story, art, myths, religions, and dreams. They are common motifs in human cultures such as ‘the mother,’ ‘the child,’ ‘the trickster,’ and ‘the flood,’ among others.

Carl Jung understood archetypes as universal, archaic patterns and images that derive from the collective unconscious and are the psychic counterpart of instinct. They are inherited potentials which are actualized when they enter consciousness as images or manifest in behavior on interaction with the outside world. They are autonomous and hidden forms which are transformed once they enter consciousness and are given particular expression by individuals and their cultures.

Jung treated the archetypes as psychological organs, analogous to physical ones in that both are morphological constructs that arose through evolution. Jung outlined five main archetypes: ‘The Self,’ the regulating center of the psyche and facilitator of individuation; ‘The Shadow,’ the opposite of the ego image, often containing qualities with which the ego does not identify, but which it possesses nonetheless; ‘The Anima,’ the feminine image in a man’s psyche, or ‘The Animus,’ the masculine image in a woman’s psyche; and ‘The Persona,’ the image we present to the world, usually protecting the Ego from negative images (like a mask), and considered another of ‘the subpersonalities, the complexes’.

Although archetypes can take on innumerable forms, there are a few particularly notable, recurring archetypal images: The Child, The Hero, The Martyr, The Great Mother, The Sage, The Damsel in distress, The Trickster, The Devil, The Scarecrow, The Mentor, and The Warrior. Jung also outlined what he called archetypes of transformation, which are situations, places, ways, and means that symbolize the transformation in question. These archetypes exist primarily as energy and are useful in organizational development, personal and organizational change management, and extensively used in place branding.

Jung developed an understanding of archetypes as being ‘ancient or archaic images that derive from the collective unconscious.’ These are different from instincts, as Jung understood instincts as being ‘an unconscious physical impulse toward actions and the archetype as the psychic counterpart.’ ‘The archetype is a tendency to form such representations of a motif – representations that can vary a great deal in detail without losing their basic pattern … They are indeed an instinctive trend.’ Thus, ‘the archetype of initiation is strongly activated to provide a meaningful transition … with a ‘rite of passage’ from one stage of life to the next’: such stages may include being parented, initiation, courtship, marriage, and preparation for death. Virtually alone among the depth psychologists of the 20th century, Jung rejected the tabula rasa theory of human psychological development, believing instead that evolutionary pressures have individual predestinations manifested in archetypes. For Jung, ‘the archetype is the introspectively recognizable form of a priori psychic orderedness.’ These images must be thought of as lacking in solid content, hence as unconscious. They only acquire solidity, influence, and eventual consciousness in the encounter with empirical facts.’

The archetypes form a dynamic substratum common to all humanity, upon the foundation of which each individual builds his own experience of life, developing a unique array of psychological characteristics. Thus, while archetypes themselves may be conceived as a relative few innate nebulous forms, from these may arise innumerable images, symbols and patterns of behavior. While the emerging images and forms are apprehended consciously, the archetypes which inform them are elementary structures which are unconscious and impossible to apprehend. Being unconscious, the existence of archetypes can only be deduced indirectly by examining behavior, images, art, myths, religions, dreams, etc. They are inherited potentials which are actualized when they enter consciousness as images or manifest in behavior on interaction with the outside world.

The intuition that there was more to the psyche than individual experience possibly began in Jung’s childhood. The very first dream he could remember was that of an underground phallic god. His researches in schizophrenia later supported his early intuition that universal psychic structures exist which underlie all human experience and behavior. Jung first referred to these as ‘primordial images’ — a term he borrowed from Jacob Burckhardt. Later in 1917 Jung called them ‘dominants of the collective unconscious.’ It was not until 1919 that he first used the term ‘archetypes’ in an essay titled ‘Instinct and the Unconscious.’ A main part of the chronology of Jung’s discovery of the archetypes is found in the ‘Redbook’ which he documented being in touch with the archetypes and collective unconsciousness which was released long after his death. Throughout Jung’s life, his examination into the archetypes increased, and this was noticeable throughout the changes within his style of writing in his books.

Jung being in touch with his unconscious since his middle age, discovered the archetypes when he began to see these figures in his dreams and within his daily life. However, it was not until his later life, when he began piecing them together through archetypes, that he came to understand what these dreams actually meant. These times were covered within the ‘Red Book,’ and the symbols that the archetypes represented and their origins in detail could be found within a ‘Man and His Symbols,’ in which he stated that the archetypes have always existed and will always exist as part of the collective unconscious. It is sometimes assumed that people are creating new archetypes, however they are not actually being created but discovered, and the number of archetypes in the world are limitless. Archetypes are found within dreams and within life itself. Finding new archetypes is a matter of searching deep within one’s self to discover them. The origins of the archetypal hypothesis date back to Plato. Jung himself compared archetypes to Platonic eidos: Plato’s ideas which were pure mental forms imprinted in the soul before born into the world. They were collective in the sense that they embodied the fundamental characteristics of a thing rather than its specific peculiarities. In fact many of Jung’s Ideas were prevalent in Athenian philosophy. The archetype theory can be seen as a psychological equivalent to the philosophical idea of forms.

An archetype is a well recognized idea in psychology and many outside of psychology know the term as well, but many people find the topic or the idea behind the archetypes confusing. The confusion about the archetypes can partly be attributed to Jung’s own evolving ideas about them in his writings and his interchangeable use of the term ‘archetype’ and ‘primordial image’; it may also be attributed to the fact that, given his belief that ‘archetypal symbols … are spontaneous and autonomous products of the unconscious,’ Jung was always intent ‘not to weaken the specific individual and cultural values of archetypes by leveling them out – i.e., by giving them a stereotyped, intellectually formulated meaning.’ Strictly speaking, archetypal figures such as the hero, the goddess and the wise man are not archetypes, but archetypal images which have crystallized out of the archetypes-as-such: as Jung put it, ‘definite mythological images of motifs … are nothing more than conscious representations; it would be absurd to assume that such variable representations could be inherited,’ as opposed to their deeper, instinctual sources – ‘the ‘archaic remnants’, which I call ‘archetypes’ or ‘primordial images.”

Jung described archetypal events: birth, death, separation from parents, initiation, marriage, the union of opposites etc.; archetypal figures: great mother, father, child, devil, God, wise old man, wise old woman, Apollo, trickster, hero – not to mention ‘Oedipus … the first archetype Freud discovered’ or ‘number … an archetype of order’; and archetypal motifs: the Apocalypse, the Deluge, the Creation, etc. Although the number of archetypes is limitless, there are a few particularly notable, recurring archetypal images, ‘the chief among them being’ (according to Jung) ‘the shadow, the Wise Old Man, the child (including the child hero), the mother … and her counterpart, the maiden, and lastly the anima in man and the animus in woman.’

The Self is the regulating center of the psyche and facilitator of individuation – the representative of ‘that wholeness which the introspective philosophy of all times and climes has characterized with an inexhaustible variety of symbols, names and concepts.’ It represents all that is unique within a human being. Although a person is a collection of all the archetypes and what they learn from the collective unconscious, the self is what makes that person an ‘I.’ The self cannot exist without the other archetypes and the other archetypes cannot exist without the self; Jung makes this very clear. The self is also the part which grows and changes as a person goes throughout life. The self can be summed up as the ideal form a person wishes to be. The Shadow represents the traits which lie deep within ourselves. The traits that are hidden from day to day life and are in some cases the opposite of the self is a simple way to state these traits. The shadow is a very important trait because for one to truly know themselves, one must know all their traits, including those which lie beneath the common, i.e., the shadow. If one chooses to know the shadow there is a chance they give in to its motivation.

The Anima is sometimes seen — e.g. by Campbell — as the feminine side within a man, but Jung did not fully intend this to be viewed in this way. The Anima is beyond generalization of society’s views and stereotypes. Anima represents what femininity truly represents it in all its mysteries. It is what allows a man to be in touch with a woman. The anima is commonly represented within dreams as a method to communicate with a person. It contains all female encounters with men to help the relationship between the two improve better. The Animus is similar to the anima except for the fact that the animus allows a female to understand and communicate with a man. Just like the anima, it is commonly represented in dreams of a woman to help them understand themselves and relationships with men. It can be known as part of the collective unconscious’ connection with all of the encounters of males with females, like the anima, to improve relationship with males and females. The Persona is to Jung a mere ‘functional complex … by no means identical to the individuality,’ the way we present to the world – a mask which protects the Ego from negative images, and which by post-Jungians is sometimes considered an ‘archetype … as a dynamic/structural component of the psyche.’ Some view this as the opposite of the shadow which is not entirely true, this is just the face that is put on for the world, not our deepest internal secrets and desires; that is the self.

However the precise relationships between images such as, for example, ‘the fish’ and its archetype were not adequately explained by Jung. Here the image of the fish is not strictly speaking an archetype. However the ‘archetype of the fish’ points to the ubiquitous existence of an innate ‘fish archetype’ which gives rise to the fish image. In clarifying the contentious statement that fish archetypes are universal, Anthony Stevens explains that the archetype-as-such is at once an innate predisposition to form such an image and a preparation to encounter and respond appropriately to the creature per se. This would explain the existence of snake and spider phobias, for example, in people living in urban environments where they have never encountered either creature. There are many examples such as the fish dealt with in ‘Man and His Symbols’ and how they tend to relate to people through measures such as dreams and little life instances. These archetypal figures can also be represented from the main archetypes such as the anima and the animus or archetypal thoughts such as the resurrection of a savior figure. For example almost every culture has a savior that has come back from heaven or the dead, or reincarnation is a main point of the belief. Jesus for example in the Christian texts and also Buddhists and Hindus have reincarnation as a principal part of their religion, these being principal parts of many religions.

Archetypes seek actualization within the context of an individual’s environment and determine the degree of individuation. Jung also used the terms ‘evocation’ and ‘constellation’ to explain the process of actualization. Thus for example, the mother archetype is actualized in the mind of the child by the evoking of innate anticipations of the maternal archetype when the child is in the proximity of a maternal figure who corresponds closely enough to its archetypal template. This mother archetype is built into the personal unconscious of the child as a mother complex. Complexes are functional units of the personal unconscious, in the same way that archetypes are units for the collective unconscious.

Jung proposed that the archetype had a dual nature: it exists both in the psyche and in the world at large. He called this non-psychic aspect of the archetype the ‘psychoid’ archetype. He illustrated this by drawing on the analogy of the electromagnetic spectrum. The part of the spectrum which is visible to us corresponds to the conscious aspects of the archetype. The invisible infra-red end of the spectrum corresponds to the unconscious biological aspects of the archetype that merges with its chemical and physical conditions. He suggested that not only do the archetypal structures govern the behavior of all living organisms, but that they were contiguous with structures controlling the behavior of inorganic matter as well. The archetype was not merely a psychic entity, but more fundamentally, a bridge to matter in general. Jung used the term ‘unus mundus’ to describe the unitary reality which he believed underlay all manifest phenomena. He conceived archetypes to be the mediators of the unus mundus, organizing not only ideas in the psyche, but also the fundamental principles of matter and energy in the physical world. It was this psychoid aspect of the archetype that so impressed Nobel laureate physicist Wolfgang Pauli. Embracing Jung’s concept, Pauli believed that the archetype provided a link between physical events and the mind of the scientist who studied them. In doing so he echoed the position adopted by German astronomer Johannes Kepler. Thus the archetypes which ordered our perceptions and ideas are themselves the product of an objective order which transcends both the human mind and the external world.

Although the term ‘archetype’ did not originate with Jung, its current use has largely been influenced by his conception of it. The idea of innate psychic structures, at one time a relative novelty in the humanities and sciences has now been widely adopted. Related concepts arguably include the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss, an advocate of structuralism in anthropology, the concept of ‘social instincts’ proposed by Charles Darwin, the ‘faculties’ of Henri Bergson and the ‘isomorphs’ of gestalt psychologist Wolfgang Kohler. In 1965 Noam Chomsky’s ideas of human language acquisition being based on an ‘innate acquisition device’ became known to the world. Melanie Klein’s idea of ‘unconscious phantasy’ is closely related to Jung’s archetype, as both are composed of image and affect and are a priori patternings of psyche whose contents are built from experience.

Archetypal pedagogy, a theory of education, was developed by Clifford Mayes. Mayes’ work also aims at promoting what he calls archetypal reflectivity in teachers; this is a means of encouraging teachers to examine and work with psychodynamic issues, images, and assumptions as those factors affect their pedagogical practices.

Archetypal psychology was developed by James Hillman in the second half of the 20th century. Hillman trained at the Jung Institute and was its Director after graduation. Archetypal psychology is in the Jungian tradition and most directly related to analytical psychology and psychodynamic theory, yet departs radically. Archetypal psychology relativizes and deliteralizes the ego and focuses on the psyche, or soul, itself and the archai, the deepest patterns of psychic functioning, ‘the fundamental fantasies that animate all life.’ Archetypal psychology is a polytheistic psychology, in that it attempts to recognize the myriad fantasies and myths gods, goddesses, demigods, mortals and animals—that shape and are shaped by our psychological lives. The ego is but one psychological fantasy within an assemblage of fantasies. The main influence on the development of archetypal psychology is Jung’s analytical psychology. It is strongly influenced by Classical Greek, Renaissance, and Romantic ideas and thought. Influential artists, poets, philosophers, alchemists, and psychologists include: Nietzsche, Henry Corbin, Keats, Shelley, Petrarch, and Paracelsus. Though all different in their theories and psychologies, they appear to be unified by their common concern for the psyche—the soul. Many archetypes have been used in treatment of psychological illnesses. Jung’s first research was done with schizophrenics. A current example is teaching young men or boys archetypes through using picture books to help with the development. In addition nurses treat patients through the use of archetypes. Archetype therapy offers a wide range of uses if applied correctly, and it is still being expanded in Jungian schools today. With the list of archetypes being endless the healing possibilities are vast.

Jun said, ‘It is only possible to live the fullest life when we are in harmony with these symbols; wisdom is a return to them.’ To this it can be taken to mean that when a person is able to come to peace with the archetypes that lay within them they are able to begin to live a more peaceful life. ‘[For the alchemists] they were seeds of light broadcast in the chaos…the seed plot of a world to come…One would have to conclude from these alchemical visions that the archetypes have about them a certain effulgence, or quasi-consciousness, and that numinosity entails luminosity.’ All the most powerful ideas in history go back to archetypes. This is particularly true of religious ideas, but the central concepts of science, philosophy, and ethics are no exception to this rule. In their present form they are variants of archetypal ideas created by consciously applying and adapting these ideas to reality. ‘For it is the function of consciousness, not only to recognize and assimilate the external world through the gateway of the senses, but to translate into visible reality the world within us.’ This could be taken to mean that the archetypes are what makes us, us. All of the beliefs and myths we have are all just part of the archetypes, nothing is new in the universe and everything has already existed and will continue to exist.

In his last text, ‘Man and His Symbols,’ Jung stressed that ‘since so many people have chosen to treat archetypes as if they were part of a mechanical system that can be learned by rote, it is essential to insist that they are not mere names or even philosophical concepts. They are pieces of life itself – images that are integrally connected to the individual by the bridge of the emotions.’ Jung states that they are not individual concepts of the world or individual pieces of the world we must come to know as separate things, but we must come to know the machine (archetypes) as a whole, not just as individuals. As a result, it was the importance of the experiential encounter with the archetype which Jung emphasized: ‘in psychology, where we speak of archetypes like the anima and animus, the wise man, the great mother, and so on … if they are mere images whose numinosity you have never experienced, it will be as if you were talking in a dream, for you will not know what you are talking about … their names mean very little, whereas the way they are related to you is all-important.’ This means that when one first encounters a new archetype, they do not always know what it means or how it will help in their life, but they must come to learn to accept it and understand it. In time, the answers will reveal themselves.

Lacan, in his ‘return to Freud,’ took issue with that aspect of ‘the thought of Jung, where the relation between the psychical world of the subject and reality are embodied under the term archetype.’ He argued that ‘Jungianism – in so far as it makes of the primitive modes of articulating the world something that survives, the kernel, he says, of the psyche itself – is necessarily accompanied by a repudiation of the term libido.’ Freud himself however had been well prepared to accept the existence of ‘a primitive kind of mental activity … [on] the single analogy – and it is an excellent one – of the far-reaching instinctive knowledge of animals’; and it was indeed on the basis of ‘what Freud called ‘archaic remnants’ – mental forms whose presence cannot be explained by anything in the individual’s own life … inherited shapes of the human mind’ that Jung had explicitly built his theory of archetypes. His specific and contrasting claim was that they were ‘not in any sense lifeless or meaningless ‘remnants.’ They still function, and they are especially valuable … just because of their ‘historical’ nature.’

More general criticism of the concept of archetypes can perhaps be placed in two broad categories. There are those who deny any possibility of inherited ideas as unscientific – a point met (at least to some degree) by Jung when he insisted that it was instead the inherited propensity to generate representations that made the archetypes ‘the unconscious organizers of our ideas.’ But those who could accept such inherited propensities still found ‘a basic ambiguity in Jung’s various descriptions of the collective unconscious. Sometimes he seems to regard the predisposition to experience certain images as understandable in terms of some genetic model … about the way human beings experience the world. But he is also at pains to emphasize the numinous quality of these experiences and there can be no doubt that he was attracted to the idea that the archetypes afford evidence of communion with some divine or world mind.’ Jung’s last statements on that subject remained however firmly agnostic. ‘Many people would agree with me if I stated flatly that such ideas are probably illusions … [but] the denial is as impossible to ‘prove’ as the assertion.’

A more technical objection derives from therapeutic practice, with the possibility arising that ‘an explanation of the archetypal situation … may lead to inflation, if it is not linked to specific and personal emotional experiences.’ Some would go further, arguing that because ‘in Jungian theory, the psychologist’s task is to lead others to see the timeless archetypal reality behind their personal psychological experiences … using abstract, archetypal forces to explain human psychology,’ the result must inevitably be ‘a psychology which downplays the significance of human relationships.’ The patient is thus brought to realize that ‘what I did then, what I felt then, is only the reflection of that great archetypal dream, or epic story … free of the individual pain of it,’ but at the price of individuality and human relationship, sacrificed for an unwillingness to ‘leave the safety of myth.’

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