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 certain
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 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.
T he goal of life is to realize the Self. The Self is an
To keep it from getting too mystical, think of it as a new center, a more balanced position, for your psyche. When you are young, you focus on the ego and worry about the trivialities of the persona. When you are older (assuming you have been developing as you should), you focus a little deeper, on the Self, and become closer to all people, all life, even the universe itself. The self-realized person is actually less selfish.
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.
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 weren't self-conscious.
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!
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.
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.
But Jung felt these expectations meant that we had developed only half
of our potential.
Men are still expected to be strong
and to ignore the emotional side of life. The Anima is the
female aspect present in the Collective Unconscious of men, and
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.
Women are still expected to be more
nurturant and less aggressive. The Animus is the male aspect
present in the Collective Unconscious of women. 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.
Together, they are refered to as syzygy.
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
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.
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.
Many archetypes 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 brother.
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
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.
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!