Archetypal Consciousness – Carl Jung
The contents of
the collective unconscious are called archetypes. Jung
also called them dominants, imago’s, mythological or primordial
images, and a few other names, but archetypes seems to have won
out over these. An archetype is an unlearned tendency to
experience things in a certain way.
has no form of its own, but it acts as an “organizing principle”
on the things we see or do. It works the way that instincts work
in Freud’s theory: At first, the baby just wants something to
eat, without knowing what it wants. It has a rather indefinite
yearning which, nevertheless, can be satisfied by some things
and not by others. Later, with experience, the child begins to
yearn for something more specific when it is hungry — a bottle,
a cookie, a broiled lobster, a slice of New York style pizza.
is like a black hole in space: You only know its there by how it
draws matter and light to itself.
The mother archetype
archetype is a particularly good example. All of our
ancestors had mothers. We have evolved in an environment that
included a mother or mother-substitute. We would never have
survived without our connection with a nurturing-one during our
times as helpless infants. It stands to reason that we are
“built” in a way that reflects that evolutionary environment: We
come into this world ready to want mother, to seek her, to
recognize her, to deal with her.
So the mother
archetype is our built-in ability to recognize a certain
relationship, that of “mothering.” Jung says that this is rather
abstract, and we are likely to project the archetype out into
the world and onto a particular person, usually our own mothers.
Even when an archetype doesn’t have a particular real person
available, we tend to personify the archetype, that is, turn it
into a mythological “story-book” character. This character
symbolizes the archetype.
archetype is symbolized by the primordial mother or “earth
mother” of mythology, by Eve and Mary in western traditions, and
by less personal symbols such as the church, the nation, a
forest, or the ocean. According to Jung, someone whose own
mother failed to satisfy the demands of the archetype may well
be one that spends his or her life seeking comfort in the
church, or in identification with “the motherland,” or in
meditating upon the figure of Mary, or in a life at sea.
understand that these archetypes are not really biological
things, like Freud’s instincts. They are more spiritual demands.
For example, if you dreamt about long things, Freud might
suggest these things represent the phallus and ultimately sex.
But Jung might have a very different interpretation. Even
dreaming quite specifically about a penis might not have much to
do with some unfulfilled need for sex.
It is curious
that in primitive societies, phallic symbols do not usually
refer to sex at all. They usually symbolize mana, or
spiritual power. These symbols would be displayed on occasions
when the spirits are being called upon to increase the yield of
corn, or fish, or to heal someone. The connection between the
penis and strength, between semen and seed, between
fertilization and fertility are understood by most cultures.
Sex and the
life instincts in general are, of course, represented somewhere
in Jung’s system. They are a part of an archetype called the
shadow. It derives from our prehuman, animal past, when our
concerns were limited to survival and reproduction, and when we
It is the “dark
side” of the ego, and the evil that we are capable of is often
stored there. Actually, the shadow is amoral — neither good nor
bad, just like animals. An animal is capable of tender care for
its young and vicious killing for food, but it doesn’t choose to
do either. It just does what it does. It is “innocent.” But from
our human perspective, the animal world looks rather brutal,
inhuman, so the shadow becomes something of a garbage can for
the parts of ourselves that we can’t quite admit to.
Symbols of the
shadow include the snake (as in the garden of Eden), the dragon,
monsters, and demons. It often guards the entrance to a cave or
a pool of water, which is the collective unconscious. Next time
you dream about wrestling with the devil, it may only be
yourself you are wrestling with!
represents your public image. The word is, obviously,
related to the word person and personality, and comes from a
Latin word for mask. So the persona is the mask you put on
before you show yourself to the outside world. Although it
begins as an archetype, by the time we are finished realizing
it, it is the part of us most distant from the collective
At its best, it
is just the “good impression” we all wish to present as we fill
the roles society requires of us. But, of course, it can also be
the “false impression” we use to manipulate people’s opinions
and behaviors. And, at its worst, it can be mistaken, even by
ourselves, for our true nature: Sometimes we believe we really
are what we pretend to be!
Anima and animus
A part of our
persona is the role of male or female we must play. For most
people that role is determined by their physical gender. But
Jung, like Freud and Adler and others, felt that we are all
really bisexual in nature. When we begin our lives as fetuses,
we have undifferentiated sex organs that only gradually, under
the influence of hormones, become male or female. Likewise, when
we begin our social lives as infants, we are neither male nor
female in the social sense. Almost immediately — as soon as
those pink or blue booties go on — we come under the influence
of society, which gradually molds us into men and women.
societies, the expectations placed on men and women differ,
usually based on our different roles in reproduction, but often
involving many details that are purely traditional. In our
society today, we still have many remnants of these traditional
expectations. Women are still expected to be more nurturant and
less aggressive; men are still expected to be strong and to
ignore the emotional side of life. But Jung felt these
expectations meant that we had developed only half of our
is the female aspect present in the collective unconscious
of men, and the animus is the male aspect present in the
collective unconscious of women. Together, they are refered to
as syzygy. The anima may be personified as a young girl,
very spontaneous and intuitive, or as a witch, or as the earth
mother. It is likely to be associated with deep emotionality and
the force of life itself. The animus may be personified as a
wise old man, a sorcerer, or often a number of males, and tends
to be logical, often rationalistic, even argumentative.
The anima or
animus is the archetype through which you communicate with the
collective unconscious generally, and it is important to get
into touch with it. It is also the archetype that is responsible
for much of our love life: We are, as an ancient Greek myth
suggests, always looking for our other half, the half that the
Gods took from us, in members of the opposite sex. When we fall
in love at first sight, then we have found someone that “fills”
our anima or animus archetype particularly well!
Jung said that
there is no fixed number of archetypes which we could simply
list and memorize. They overlap and easily melt into each other
as needed, and their logic is not the usual kind. But here are
some he mentions:
their are other family archetypes. Obviously, there is father,
who is often symbolized by a guide or an authority figure. There
is also the archetype family, which represents the idea
of blood relationship and ties that run deeper than those based
on conscious reasons.
There is also
the child, represented in mythology and art by children,
infants most especially, as well as other small creatures. The
Christ child celebrated at Christmas is a manifestation of the
child archetype, and represents the future, becoming, rebirth,
and salvation. Curiously, Christmas falls during the winter
solstice, which in northern primitive cultures also represents
the future and rebirth. People used to light bonfires and
perform ceremonies to encourage the sun’s return to them. The
child archetype often blends with other archetypes to form the
child-god, or the child-hero.
are story characters. The hero is one of the main ones.
He is the mana personality and the defeater of evil dragons.
Basically, he represents the ego — we do tend to identify with
the hero of the story — and is often engaged in fighting the
shadow, in the form of dragons and other monsters. The hero is,
however, often dumb as a post. He is, after all, ignorant of the
ways of the collective unconscious. Luke Skywalker, in the
Star Wars films, is the perfect example of a hero.
The hero is
often out to rescue the maiden. She represents purity,
innocence, and, in all likelihood, naivete. In the beginning of
the Star Wars story, Princess Leia is the maiden. But, as
the story progresses, she becomes the anima, discovering the
powers of the force — the collective unconscious — and
becoming an equal partner with Luke, who turns out to be her
The hero is
guided by the wise old man. He is a form of the animus,
and reveals to the hero the nature of the collective
unconscious. In Star Wars, he is played by Obi Wan Kenobi
and, later, Yoda. Notice that they teach Luke about the force
and, as Luke matures, they die and become a part of him.
You might be
curious as to the archetype represented by Darth Vader, the
“dark father.” He is the shadow and the master of the dark side
of the force. He also turns out to be Luke and Leia’s father.
When he dies, he becomes one of the wise old men.
There is also
an animal archetype, representing humanity’s
relationships with the animal world. The hero’s faithful horse
would be an example. Snakes are often symbolic of the animal
archetype, and are thought to be particularly wise. Animals,
after all, are more in touch with their natures than we are.
Perhaps loyal little robots and reliable old spaceships — the
Falcon– are also symbols of animal.
And there is
the trickster, often represented by a clown or a
magician. The trickster’s role is to hamper the hero’s progress
and to generally make trouble. In Norse mythology, many of the
gods’ adventures originate in some trick or another played on
their majesties by the half-god Loki.
There are other
archetypes that are a little more difficult to talk about. One
is the original man, represented in western religion by
Adam. Another is the God archetype, representing our need
to comprehend the universe, to give a meaning to all that
happens, to see it all as having some purpose and direction.
hermaphrodite, both male and female, represents the union of
opposites, an important idea in Jung’s theory. In some religious
art, Jesus is presented as a rather feminine man. Likewise, in
China, the character Kuan Yin began as a male saint (the
bodhisattva Avalokiteshwara), but was portrayed in such a
feminine manner that he is more often thought of as the female
goddess of compassion!
important archetype of all is the self. The self is the
ultimate unity of the personality and is symbolized by the
circle, the cross, and the mandala figures that Jung was
fond of painting. A mandala is a drawing that is used in
meditation because it tends to draw your focus back to the
center, and it can be as simple as a geometric figure or as
complicated as a stained glass window. The personifications that
best represent self are Christ and Buddha.”
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