This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 11 table of contents.

Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

Jung said that, in addition to unconscious memories from an individual's past, there was a second, more universal source of unconscious information: the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious might be described as patterns that are in the unconscious because of evolution, rather than because of the individual's experience. Jung described the collective unconscious as "unconscious images of instincts themselves." This is one of Jung's most original contributions to psychology. Underneath the modern surface of the mind, he said, lurks the original primitive mentality of our ancestors, complete with vivid stories and symbols that have a natural appeal to us and seem to appear unbidden in our dreams and fantasies.

How is projection involved in the experience of archetypes?

The collective unconscious showed itself in patterns called archetypes, which are mostly symbols of common human social realities such as heroes, maidens, and babies. Jung wrote that archetypes were projection-making factors in the brain. To project is to see something in the outside world when its actual source is inside you. Jung believed that archetypes were instinctive patterns in the brain that led us to see certain patterns in the people and events around us.

What are some Jungian archetypes?

Below is a partial list of archetypes. Each is a pattern that existed in primitive times and can be found (in some recognizable variation) in the oral history, literature, or myth of every human culture.

A Sampling of Jungian Archetypes

Mother The nurturant, loving mother

Father The demanding and rewarding father

Baby The helpless infant

Man The strong, aggressive, rational male

Maiden The fair, unspoiled, intuitive female

God The Almighty, the guiding light

Devil The embodiment of evil

Wild Man The untamed primitive, hairy and dangerous

Trickster A mischievous figure who plays pranks

Boogie Man A monster which preys on reckless children

Anima The female which lurks within every male

Animus The male which lurks within every female

Shadow The evil, repressed parts of our own personalities

Mandala The circular symbol of self and consciousness,

usually with something holy in the middle

Hero The strong, capable man who saves and protects

Hag The old, deformed woman who casts spells or makes poisons

Wise Man The sage, usually with a long white beard

Why might the idea of archetypes be plausible?

Many psychologists find Jung's idea of archetypes no more convincing than Freud's sexual theory. However, Jung's ideas may not seem so unlikely if you realize that each archetype represents a common and significant feature of ancient human social environments. All human societies have men, women, babies, old people, and dangerous people. Evolution shapes organisms to respond to significant features of the ancestral environment. Such stimuli are are called releasers or sign stimuli, as we saw in Chapter 8. For humans, archetypes are essentially releasers in the terminology of the ethologists.

Jung wrote a remarkably far-sighted essay about UFOs in the 1950s (Jung, 1958). He said he did not believe they actually existed, although he would be convinced by physical evidence. Then as now, physical evidence of UFO visits was strangely lacking, given the frequency with which they were "seen." Jung concluded that UFO sightings were modern versions of a phenomenon known to humans for centuries: visions which express a deep spiritual yearning.

How did Jung explain flying saucers?

Jung pointed out that flying saucers were a perfect spiritual symbol for the modern age. They were circular, like the mandala, and therefore served as a metaphor for the self or reflective self-consciousness. They were morally ambiguous, like many of the ancient gods. Nobody knew if they were here to save the earth or to destroy us. They had the trappings of modern civilization, being technologically advanced, but they also held the power and mystery of the old religions. For self-consciously modern, technologically-oriented people who could no longer find inspiration in old belief systems, flying saucers were a natural substitute.


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