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Collective Unconscious & Archetypes

In order to understand Jung and analytical psychology we must comprehend the collective unconscious, as it was a primary cornerstone throughout his work. Jung differentiated between two forms of the unconsciousness.

The first was the personal unconscious which Jung described as:

lost memories, painful ideas that are repressed (i.e. forgotten on purpose), subliminal perceptions, . . . and finally, contents that are not yet ripe for consciousness.

(C.G. Jung. The Collected Works of C.G. Jung: Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, 66.)

These memories were unique unto each individual. While this portion of the unconscious was not under the direct control of the will, its memories were not completely lost. They appeared through dreams, fantasies, or moments of shock, when repressed memories were weakest.

Secondly, Jung ascribed to the existence of a collective unconscious, the part of an individual’s psyche shared by all of humanity. Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious stemmed from extensive observation of and interaction with primitive and modern societies.

After spending years working with clients, and monitoring African tribes and American Indians, Jung came to the realization that common symbols existed that were used in religious ceremonies, related through stories, and found in dreams irrelevant of cultural environment. Jung determined that this universality of similar images in dreams and mythology was difficult to explain unless there existed a collective source.

In The Secret of the Golden Flower, Jung stated that:

Just as the human body shows a common anatomy over and above all racial differences, so too, does the psyche possess a common substratum. I have called the latter the collective unconscious. As a common human heritage it transcends all differences of culture and consciousness and does not consist merely of contents capable of becoming conscious, but of latent dispositions toward identical reactions.

Thus the fact of the collective unconscious is simply the psychic expression of identity of brain-structure irrespective of all racial differences. By its means can be explained the analogy, going even as far as identity between various myth-themes and symbols, and the possibility of human understanding in general. The various lines of psychic development start from one common stock whose roots reach into the past.

Taken purely psychologically, it means that we have common instincts of ideation (imagination), and of action. All conscious imagination and action have grown out of these unconscious prototypes and remain bound up with them.

One can draw from this description that the collective unconscious is comprised of material shared by a whole group, nation or humanity. The material to which Jung spoke encompassed meaningful symbols often of a mythological origin and was represented in dreams as well as through instinctual behavior patterns (meaning uniform and regular actions without conscious motive).

These images contained power and energy in their ability to move us in thought and action, sometimes even against our conscious intentions. As such, they inspired us both creatively as a work of art or destructively as an outburst. In Jung’s view, the unconscious ” was not merely a cellar where man dumps his rubbish, but the source of consciousness and of the creative and destructive spirit of mankind.”

When these universal symbols appeared across different cultures, Jung called them archetypes or primordial images. Archetypal images and ideas are more than concepts or myths; the realm of archetypes covered a lot of ground throughout Jung’s writings and the meaning of this word could take on many forms.

For the purpose of simplicity however, this section will focus on their meaning within the context of how they applied directly to astrology and the collective unconscious. Jung viewed archetypes as basic contents of the human psyche.

In his Collected Works on the personal and collective unconscious, Jung stated:

There are present in every individual, besides his personal memories, the great “primordial” images, . . . the inherited possibilities of human imagination as it was from time immemorial. The fact of this inheritance explains the truly amazing phenomenon that certain motifs from myths and legends repeat themselves the world over in identical forms. It also explains why it is that our mental patients can reproduce exactly the same images and associations that are know to us from the old texts. . . .

. . . when fantasies are produced which no longer rest on personal memories, we have to do with the manifestations of a deeper layer of the unconscious where the primordial images common to humanity lie sleeping. I have called these images or motifs “archetypes,” also “dominants” of the unconscious. . . The primordial images are the most ancient and the most universal “thought-forms” of humanity. They are as much feelings as thoughts;

Jung believed these symbols attempted to point the way to further psychological development and health of the individual. He devoted much time to the development and research of archetypes, which he considered to affect human thought and behavior. The persona, shadow, anima and animus, old wise man, earth mother, and self (or mandala) were often identified by Jung as the most important archetypes in the growth of individuals.

Last updated on February 18, 2017 at 10:57 pm