The contents of the collective unconscious are called
archetypes. Jung also called them dominants, imagos, 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
The archetype 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:
The archetype is like a black hole in space: You
only know its there by how it draws matter and light to itself.
the mother archetype
The mother 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.
The mother 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.
You must 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
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 weren't self-conscious.
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
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!
The persona 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 unconscious.
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
In all 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 potential.
The anima 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:
Besides mother, 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.
The child archetype often blends with other archetypes to form the child-god,
or the child-hero.
The hero is one of the main archetypes. He is the mana personality
and the defeater of evil. Basically, he represents the ego and is often
engaged in fighting the shadow.
maiden - who represents purity, innocence, and, in all likelihood,
The wise old man - is a form of the animus,
and reveals to the nature of the collective unconscious.
The "dark father" is the shadow and the
master of the dark side.
There is also the 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.
The trickster is often represented by a
clown or a magician. The trickster's role is to hamper the hero's progress
and to generally make trouble.
Other archetypes that are 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.
The 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.
The most 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, two people who many believe
achieved perfection. But Jung felt that perfection of the personality
is only truly achieved in death.