Carl G. Jung:
Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious
From the dawn of humanity we have lived in a world of symbolism. Our symbols explain the world around us, our relationships with each other and our relationship to the universe. These symbols, these essences of pure being, are the primordial qualities of the truly real. In Plato’s cave light casts shadows on a wall. The world that we know is merely a shadow. The reality behind the shadows is the eternal forms, the essences, the archetypes. Freud’s younger colleague, Carl Jung took Freud’s idea of the unconscious mind a step further. He conceived of a collective unconscious which consists of the eternal forms, and is the instinct and inheritance of all humanity. This collective unconscious provides us with our symbolism, our hope, our meaning, and our connection to the truly real. Some of the primary archetypes discussed by Jung are Shadow, Trickster, Anima, Animus, Great Mother, Wise Old Man, Child, Transformation, Mandala and individuation of Self.
Jung’s theory of personality involves three levels of consciousness. The first level of consciousness is the ego. The ego is the part of the psyche where all conscious thought occurs. The ego is the mediator for the whole psyche but is not the totality of the psyche. The personal unconscious consists of things in a person’s psyche that are not conscious but can come into consciousness. The personal unconscious consists of personal experiences. The collective unconscious consists of the part of the psyche that is never conscious and has no basis in experience. It is collective because it consists of the part of the unconscious that is not individual, but universal. This is the place of universal symbols and archetypes.
While John Locke said we do not come into the world with any inborn traits, Carl Jung disagrees. The collective unconscious according to Jung is an inborn instinct which all of humanity shares. “Personal unconscious rests upon a deeper layer, which does not derive from personal experience and is not a personal acquisition but is inborn. I call this the collective unconscious. I have chosen the term “collective” because this part of the unconscious is not individual but universal; in contrast to the personal psyche, it has contents and modes of behavior that are more or less the same everywhere and in all individuals. It is, in other words, identical in all men and thus constitutes a common psychic substrate of a suprapersonal nature which is present in every one of us.” Jung.
“Archetype is an explanatory paraphrase of the Platonic eidos (form).” Jung. Plato’s forms, or Ideas, are eternal and unchanging. Everything from a rock to a tree, to beauty and justice, has an eternal unchanging form that are reflected into the changeable world that we know. Forms are aspatial and atemporal. They do not exist in time and space. They are the perfect and primary realities of all representations. “Now if for us the will is the thing-in-itself, and the Idea is the immediate objectivity of the will at a definite grade, then we find Kant’s thing-in-itself and Plato’s Idea, for him the only “truly being” those two great and obscure paradoxes of the two greatest philosophers of the West-to be, not exactly identical, but yet very closely related.” Schopenhauer.
Jung’s concern was in the definition and expression of these archetypes. As a psychiatrist he was a thinker who was founded in the here and now of life and the study of the human psyche. He sought to understand the role these forms play in our consciousness. He had and inexhaustible knowledge of mythology and traveled the world in search of the connections of tribal and traditional lore. Through this study he found several prominent themes. In his book “The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious” he outlines his most important discoveries. These themes are: the shadow, the trickster, anima and animus, the great mother, the wise old man, rebirth or transformation, the child, and the mandala which is the center point of existence and the goal of the process of individuation of Self.
Archetypes express themselves through the unconscious as instinctive trends which create corresponding thought forms. The archetypes have their own energy and their own plan. In an individual psyche they can either produce meaningful symbolism or interfere with their characteristic desires and thought formations. They function like complexes which are transient to the personality and modify or obstruct the conscious psyche in negative ways. Personal complexes produce personal disposition. Social complexes create myths, religions, and philosophies that influence and characterize whole countries and eras in history. These social complexes are humanities explanation for the suffering of hunger, war, disease, and death.
The Shadow is the personal unconscious mind. Our persona is the face we project to the world but the shadow is what lies beneath. Confrontation with the shadow or personal unconscious is an uncomfortable experience because it shows us our own vulnerability and inadequacy. When confronted with the shadow we feel guilt and shame for the parts of ourselves that we keep hidden. The shadow is the part of the unconscious that is all of our repressed and forgotten issues. The confrontation with the shadow is our “battle for deliverance” and is a necessary step in the process of individuation. “The shadow is a tight passage, a narrow door, who’s painful constriction no one is spared who goes down the deep well.” Jung. Crossing the threshold of the doorway, one enters into the collective unconscious where one is the “the object of every subject, in complete reversal of my ordinary consciousness, where I am always the subject that has an object.” Jung. This is where one becomes one with the world.
The Trickster figure can be seen as the collective equivalent of the shadow. It is the primitive animalistic amoral nature of man. It hampers the progress of individuation and can be seen in myth as a clown or demonic figure. The trickster is the natural world of fate, where life is unfair, and things don’t work as we planned.
The anima and animus can be well expressed in the eastern concept of the yin yang. They are the female and male opposites that express themselves in the duality of physical representation. Freud, Jung, and Adler all believed that we are essentially bisexual in nature, having started life as an asexual fetus. For Jung societal expectations meant that we only develop half of our potential. The anima plays and important part in men and the animus plays and important part in women. They are they syzygy or divine couple and effect our relationships with the opposite sex throughout our lives. Men and women have a tendency to project the anima and animus qualities in themselves onto people of the opposite sex. Jung said that men can not separate the mother archetype from the anima, as woman can not separate animus from the father/wise old man.
The Anima is the female aspect present in every man. Jung pays special attention to the anima in several of his essays. He describes her as the magical feminine who is a siren, mermaid, wood-nymph, or a succubus who infatuates young men and sucks the life out of them. In her negative aspect she is dangerously, destructively beguiling. Animus means soul, or the living breath of man. It is life and it wants to be alive. Because the anima wants to live, she wants both good and bad; good and bad do not exist for soul. She is also a contradiction because she is at once chaotic but also reveals a sense of hidden plan and order. She is the male archetype of life and meaning. In her positive aspect she is man’s connection to the unconscious, and is the guide through the tight corridor of the Shadow.
The anima has four stages of development. The first stage is symbolized by the Eve figure, which represents purely instinctual and biological urges. The second stage is like Juliet and personified on a romantic aesthetic level but is still characterized by sexual elements. The third level is represented by someone like the Virgin Mary, who raises erotic love to the heights of spiritual devotion. The final stage is represented by a figure like the Mona Lisa who is wisdom transcending the most holy and most pure. In the process of individuation a man must not become a victim to his erotic fantasies or become compulsively attached to one actual woman. He must learn to take his fantasies and feelings seriously or will risk stagnating the process of individuation.
The anima transmutes into the Great Mother. In a sense she is the higher stages of development of the anima. The great mother is a primordial concept that is seen in every culture across time and space. She is Mary, Demeter, Isis, the Earth Mother Goddess of the pagans. She is the germinator of the seed of life which is our human inheritance. Each of us comes pre wired into the world with a need for mother having come directly from her. We cannot exist or live without her nurturance and support. “The archetype is often associated with things and places standing for fertility and fruitfulness: the cornucopia, a ploughed field, a garden.”
The animus is the male personification in women. He does not appear as erotic fantasy or mood but appears as “sacred conviction.” Animus means spirit or spirited. The spirit is a moving force in the same sense as the soul is. It is alive and enlivening. “It is the phenomena of rational thought, or of the intellect, including the will, memory, imagination, creative power, and aspirations motivated by ideals.” In his positive aspect he is a woman’s connection to the unconscious and Self through creative activity. In his negative aspect he is will interfere with others, is domineering, demanding, dogmatic, argumentative, and lets himself be taken in by second rate thinking, brutal, reckless, full of empty talk, and silent, obstinate, evil ideas.
The animus has four stages like that of the anima. The first stage is like Tarzan, the stage of instinctive physical power. The second stage is the romantic man of action, he is the Prince Charming figure. The third stage is a Dr. Phil like figure, who is a the bringer of the “word” and the sacred conviction, he is a clergyman or professor. At the fourth stage he is a Gandhi like figure and is the incarnation of meaning and connects a woman’s mind to the spiritual evolution of her age. Women must find the inner courage and broadmindedness to question the sacredness of her own convictions. Only then will she be able to take suggestions from the unconscious and progress in the process of individuation.
The animus also appears as the Wise Old Man. In a sense he is the higher phases of the development of the animus. He is Zeus, Moses, Merlin, Yoda, and Father Time. The wise old man manifests as the spiritual teacher. He often appears as a foreign guru, from a different time or place. He is a magician, professor, grandfather, or some other spiritual or moral authority. He may be a man or some kind of goblin or dwarf. The wise old man instructs people to “sleep on it”. He is clever, wise, and moral.
The Child archetype is the Christ child god/hero. The child is the innocent who begins the hero’s journey. The child is the possible future, and is the beginning of the individuation process. Individuation is the maturation process of the personality. The child is first abandoned because he must evolve toward independence. He is the rising sun of consciousness and has heroic invincibility. The child archetype symbolizes each of our inner child.
The child goes through a process of Rebirth or Transformation. He must leave behind his old ideas and attachments so that he can complete the individuation process. There are many ways to bring about transformation. It may be induced by ritual, by a spontaneous visionary experience, loss and regaining of the soul, by trauma, by enlargement of the personality, by identification with the group. The identification with the group transformation reminds me of my puppy dream in which I was transforming within the group of women while playing with my puppy/child. I was able to feel a sense of peace and oneness within the group of women. Jung calls identification with a group an easy and simple path to follow. Identification with a group can be seen in mass hysteria and mass hypnosis. But the feeling can not be regained after one leaves the group. Other types of transformation are identification with a cult hero, through magical procedures, transformation by technical means such as yoga, and there is natural transformation (individuation). Natural transformation is the process of death and rebirth. The child is abandoned and comes back home. This process gradually happens over a lifetime of listening to our inner Self and becoming closer to the soul/spirit.
The process of individuation is the coming to terms with the reality of the inner Self in contrast to one’s fate/Trickster. Most often the individuation process begins with a serious wounding of the personality. Trauma to the ego can jar a person into being forced to confront the shadow and there-by start the hero’s journey.
The mandala ,or magic circle, is the center and the final stage of the individuation process. For Plato the circle was an important eternal form. The circle is a perfect unity of oneness. Traditionally these mandalas are used to focus the concentration in meditative practice. Meditation has been used throughout the centuries to bring a person to a state of oneness where longing and desire are no longer a factor. Jung used mandala’s in his therapy to find the personified archetypes that were hampering the process of individuation and are shown within the circle and outside the center point. Within Jung’s mandalas the center point was the goal of each person. The final goal of the individuation process is the reach the quality of the Self or Great Man. The Great Man is represented in the figure of a circle divided by four or a stone. When the totality of the psyche comes into the light of the mediating ego, then all unconscious talents and abilities will be accessible. The Great Man is the emergence of each human’s individual genius and full potential.
1. Personality Theories, Carl Jung
Copyright 1997, 2006 C. George Boeree
2. Man and his Symbols edited by CG Jung
Doubleday and Company Inc. 1979
3. The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious
CG Jung, Princeton University Press, 1990
4. Theory of Forms
Copyright 2006, S. Marc Cohen
5. Memories Dreams, Reflections
CG Jung, Vintage books, 1989
6. The World as Will and Representation
Arthur Schopenhauer, Dover publications 1969