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Archetypes of Collective unconsciousness

/ 12 min read


A more or less superficial layer of the unconscious is undoubtedly personal. I call it the personal unconscious. But this personal unconscious rests upon a deeper layer, which does not derive from personal experience and is not a personal acquisition but is inborn. This deeper layer I call the collective unconscious

The contents of the collective unconscious, on the other hand, are known as archetypes

The term “archetype” occurs as early as Philo Judaeus,3 with reference to the Imago Dei (God-image) in man.

The term “archetype” occurs as early as Philo Judaeus,3 with reference to the Imago Dei (God-image) in man. It can also be found in Irenaeus, who says: “The creator of the world did not fashion these things directly from himself but copied them from archetypes outside himself.”4

Primitive man is not much interested in objective explanations of the obvious, but he has an imperative need—or rather, his unconscious psyche has an irresistible urge—to assimilate all outer sense experiences to inner, psychic events.

It is not enough for the primitive to see the sun rise and set; this external observation must at the same time be a psychic happening: the sun in its course must represent the fate of a god or hero who, in the last analysis, dwells nowhere except in the soul of man.

The projection is so fundamental that it has taken several thousand years of civilization to detach it in some measure from its outer object.

Primitive man impresses us so strongly with his subjectivity that we should really have guessed long ago that myths refer to something psychic.

Tribal lore is always sacred and dangerous.What is true of primitive lore is true in even higher degree of the ruling world religions. They contain a revealed knowledge that was originally hidden, and they set forth the secrets of the soul in glorious images.

Why is psychology the youngest of the empirical sciences? Why have we not long since discovered the unconscious and raised up its treasure-house of eternal images? Simply because we had a religious formula for everything psychic—and one that is far more beautiful and comprehensive than immediate experience

That people should succumb to these eternal images is entirely normal, in fact it is what these images are for.

They are meant to attract, to convince, to fascinate, and to overpower. They are created out of the primal stuff of revelation and reflect the ever-unique experience of divinity. That is why they always give man a premonition of the divine while at the same time safeguarding him from immediate experience of it.

We know from experience that the protective circle, the mandala, is the traditional antidote for chaotic states of mind.

Mankind has never lacked powerful images to lend magical aid against all the uncanny things that live in the depths of the psyche.

Always the figures of the unconscious were expressed in protecting and healing images and in this way were expelled from the psyche into cosmic space

The fact is that archetypal images are so packed with meaning in themselves that people never think of asking what they really do mean.

We all know how, in large things as in small, in general as well as in particular, piece after piece collapsed, and how the alarming poverty of symbols that is now the condition of our life came about

A house whose walls have been plucked away, exposed to all the winds of the world and to all dangers.

Is it becoming a problem today? Shall we be able to put on, like a new suit of clothes, ready-made symbols grown on foreign soil, saturated with foreign blood, spoken in a foreign tongue, nourished by a foreign culture, interwoven with foreign history, and so resemble a beggar who wraps himself in kingly raiment, a king who disguises himself as a beggar? No doubt this is possible. Or is there something in ourselves that commands us to go in for no mummeries, but perhaps even to sew our garment ourselves?

I am convinced that the growing impoverishment of symbols has a meaning

Anyone who has lost the historical symbols and cannot be satisfied with substitutes is certainly in a very difficult position today:

before him there yawns the void, and he turns away from it in horror.

Expound not understood!

But if he cannot get

along with these pedantic dogmatisms, he sees himself forced to be serious for once with his alleged trust in God, though it usually turns out that his fear of things going wrong if he did so is even more persuasive. This fear is far from unjustified, for where God is closest the danger seems greatest. It is dangerous to avow spiritual poverty, for the poor man has desires, and whoever has desires calls down some fatality on himself. A Swiss proverb puts it drastically: “Behind every rich man stands a devil, and behind every poor man two.

When our natural inheritance has been dissipated, then the spirit too, as Heraclitus says, has descended from its fiery heights.

But when spirit becomes heavy it turns to water, and with Luciferian presumption the intellect usurps the seat where once the spirit was enthroned.

Therefore the way of the soul in search of its lost father—like Sophia seeking Bythos—leads to the water, to the dark mirror that reposes at its bottom. This water is no figure of speech, but a living symbol of the dark psyche. I can best illustrate this by a concrete example, one out of many:

A Protestant theologian often dreamed the same dream: He stood on a mountain slope with a deep valley below, and in it a dark lake. He knew in the dream that something had always prevented him from approaching the lake. This time he resolved to go to the water. As he approached the shore, everything grew dark and uncanny, and a gust of wind suddenly rushed over the face of the water. He was seized by a panic fear, and awoke.

Man’s descent to the water is needed in order to evoke the miracle of its coming to life

But the breath of the spirit rushing over the dark water is uncanny, like everything whose cause we do not know— since it is not ourselves. It hints at an unseen presence, a numen to which neither human expectations nor the machinations of the will have given life. It lives of itself, and a shudder runs through the man who thought that “spirit” was merely what he believes, what he makes himself, what is said in books, or what people talk about. But when it happens spontaneously it is a spookish thing, and primitive fear seizes the naïve mind.

In the Gnostic hymn to the soul,24 the son is sent forth by his parents to seek the pearl that fell from the King’s crown. It lies at the bottom of a deep well, guarded by a dragon, in the land of the Egyptians —that land of fleshpots and drunkenness with all its material and spiritual riches.

Water is the commonest symbol for the unconscious.

The lake in the valley is the unconscious, which lies, as it were, underneath consciousness, so that it is often referred to as the “subconscious,” usually with the pejorative connotation of an inferior consciousness.

The descent into the depths always seems to precede the ascent

Here again the dreamer, thirsting for the shining heights, had first to descend into the dark depths, and this proves to be the indispensable condition for climbing any higher. The prudent man avoids the danger lurking in these depths, but he also throws away the good which a bold but imprudent venture might bring.

the conscious mind, which knows “spirit” only as something to be found in the heights. “Spirit” always seems to come from above, while from below comes everything that is sordid and worthless. For people who think in this way, spirit means highest freedom, a soaring over the depths, deliverance from the prison of the chthonic world

The unconscious is the psyche that

reaches down from the daylight of mentally and morally lucid consciousness into the nervous system that for ages has been known as the “sympathetic.” This does not govern perception and muscular activity like the cerebrospinal system, and thus control the environment; but, though functioning without sense-organs, it maintains the balance of life and, through the mysterious paths of sympathetic excitation, not only gives us knowledge of the innermost life of other beings but also has an inner effect upon them

The unconscious is commonly regarded as a sort of incapsulated fragment of our most personal and intimate life—something like what the Bible calls the “heart” and considers the source of all evil thoughts. In the chambers of the heart dwell the wicked blood-spirits, swift anger and sensual weakness. This is how the unconscious looks when seen from the conscious side. But consciousness appears to be essentially an affair of the cerebrum, which sees everything separately and in isolation, and therefore sees the unconscious in this way too, regarding it outright as my unconscious.

This confrontation is the first test of courage on the inner way, a test sufficient to frighten off most people, for the meeting with ourselves belongs to the more unpleasant things that can be avoided so long as we can project everything negative into the environment.

. The shadow is a living part of the personality and therefore wants to live with it in some form. It cannot be argued out of existence or rationalized into harmlessness.

The meeting with oneself is, at first, the meeting with one’s own shadow. The shadow is a tight passage, a narrow door, whose painful constriction no one is spared who goes down to the deep well. But one must learn to know oneself in order to know who one is. For what comes after the door is, surprisingly enough, a boundless expanse full of unprecedented uncertainty

This was the purpose of rite and dogma; they were dams and walls to keep back the dangers of the unconscious, the “perils of the soul.”

Today we call the gods “factors,” which comes from facere, ‘to make.

he nixie is an even more instinctive version of a magical

feminine being whom I call the anima. She can also be a siren, melusina (mermaid),29 wood-nymph, Grace, or Erlking’s daughter, or a lamia or succubus, who infatuates young men and sucks the life out of them.

ather, the psyche has attained its present complexity by a series of acts of introjection. Its complexity has increased in proportion to the despiritualization of nature. An alluring nixie from the dim bygone is today called an “erotic fantasy,” and she may complicate our psychic life in a most painful way

With the archetype of the anima we enter the realm of the gods, or rather, the realm that metaphysics has reserved for itself. Everything the anima touches becomes numinous—unconditional, dangerous, taboo, magical. She is the serpent in the paradise of the harmless man with good resolutions and still better intentions. She affords the most convincing reasons for not prying into the unconscious, an occupation that would break down our moral inhibitions and unleash forces that had better been left unconscious and undisturbed. As usual, there is something in what the anima says; for life in itself is not good only, it is also bad. Because the anima wants life, she wants both good and bad.

If the encounter with the shadow is the “apprentice-piece” in the individual’s development, then that with the anima is the “masterpiece.”

It is just the most? unexpected, the most terrifyingly chaotic things which reveal a deeper meaning. And the more this meaning is recognized, the more the anima loses her impetuous and compulsive character.

. When you come to think about it, nothing has any meaning, for when there was nobody to think, there was nobody to interpret what happened. Interpretations are only for those who don’t understand; it is only the things we don’t understand that have any meaning. Man woke up in a world he did not understand, and that is why he tries to interpret it.

Only when all props and crutches are broken, and no cover from the rear offers even the slightest hope of security, does it become possible for us to experience an archetype that up till then had lain hidden behind the meaningful nonsense played out by the anima. This is the archetype of meaning, just as the anima is the archetype of life itself

Ultimately they are all founded on primordial archetypal forms whose concreteness dates from a time when consciousness did not think, but only perceived.

“Thoughts” were

objects of inner perception, not thought at all, but sensed as external phenomena—seen or heard, so to speak. Thought was essentially revelation, not invented but forced upon us or bringing conviction through its immediacy and actuality. Thinking of this kind precedes the primitive ego-consciousness, and the latter is more its object than its subject

the old king is the ruling symbol that wants to go to its eternal rest, and in the very place where similar “dominants” lie buried. His choice falls, fittingly enough, on the grave of anima, who lies in the death trance of a Sleeping Beauty so long as the king is alive—that is, so long as a valid principle (Prince or princeps) regulates and expresses life. But when the king draws to his end,38 she comes to life again and changes into a black horse, which in Plato’s parable stands for the unruliness of the passions. Anyone who follows this horse comes into the desert, into a wild land remote from men—an image of spiritual and moral isolation. But there lie the keys of paradise.

In all cases of dissociation it is therefore necessary to

integrate the unconscious into consciousness. This is a synthetic process which I have termed the “individuation process.

complex psychology consists on the one hand in making as fully conscious as possible the constellated unconscious contents, and on the other hand in synthetizing them with consciousness through the act of recognition.