This article shares an introduction to Carl Jung’s theory of archetypes, brief descriptions of some of the major archetypes and notes on Carl Jung’s parallel theories. All quotes and images in this article are sourced from Carl Jung’s book, “The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious.”
“In themselves, archetypal images are among the highest values of the human psyche; they have peopled the heavens of all people from time immemorial. To discard them as valueless would be a distinct loss. Our task is not, therefore, to deny the archetype but to dissolve the projections, in order to restore their contents to the individual who has involuntarily lost them by projecting them outside himself.”– Carl Jung
The Origins of Carl Jung’s Archetypes
Carl Jung suggested that archetypes are “primordial types, with universal images that have existed since the remotest times” (Pg. 5) which exist in the Collective Unconscious. Archetypes are unlearned, innate, universal, hereditary and function to organize how we experience/perceive reality.
Carl Jung rejected the notion that the human mind is a blank slate at birth which is written on solely by experience. Instead, Jung believed that the human mind retains imprints which are passed down to us from our ancestors, in the form of unconscious, “primordial images,” or archetypes.
Archetypes can be seen in even humanity’s most ancient myths and stories, “primitive man impresses us so strongly with his subjectivity that we should really have guessed long ago that myths refer to something psychic… the psyche contains all the images that have ever given rise to myths, and that our unconscious is an acting and suffering subject with an inner drama which primitive man rediscovers, by means of analogy” (Pg. 7).
The Concept of the Collective Unconscious
Carl Jung believed that the mind is composed of three elements: the Ego, the Personal Unconscious and the Collective Unconscious. According to Jung, the Ego represents the conscious mind, the Personal Unconscious represents learned or acquired imprints (experience), and the Collective Unconscious is something that is shared throughout all humanity.
The Collective Conscious has “contents and modes of behavior that are more or less the same everywhere and in all individuals. It is, in other words, identical in all men and thus constitutes a common psychic substrate of a suprapersonal nature which is present in every one of us.” (Pg. 4).
Furthermore, Jung defines the Collective Unconscious as “a system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents” (Pg. 43).
The Mother Archetype
Carl Jung describes the Mother Archetype as one that is “often associated with things and places standing for fertility and fruitfulness: the cornucopia, a ploughed field, a garden. It can be attached to a rock, a cave, a tree, a spring, a deep well, or to various vessels such as the baptismal font, or to vessel- shaped flowers like the rose or the lotus” (Pg. 81). Jung also mentions that the Mother Archetype can be seen in “hollow objects such as ovens and cooking vessels… and of course, the uterus, yoni, and anything of a like shape” (Pg. 81). The Mother Archetype can even be seen in evil representations such as a “witch, the dragon (or any devouring and entwining animal, such as a large fish or a serpent), the grave, the sarcophagus, deep water, death and nightmares” (Pg. 81).
The qualities associated with the Mother Archetype are maternal solicitude, sympathy, wisdom, any helpful instinct or impulse, all that is benign, all that cherishes and sustains, that fosters growth and fertility. “On the negative side, the Mother Archetype may represent anything secret, hidden, dark, the abyss, the world of the dead, anything that devours, seduces and poisons or that is terrifying and inescapable like fate” (Pg. 82).
The Child Archetype
The Child Archetype can be seen represented by “chthonic animals such as crocodiles, dragons, serpents, or monkeys. Sometimes the child appears in the cup of a flower, or out of a golden egg, or as the center of a mandala. In dreams it often appears as the dreamer’s son or daughter or as a boy, a youth, or young girl; occasionally it seems to be of exotic origin, Indian or Chinese, with a dusky skin, or, appearing more cosmically, surrounded by stars or with a starry coronet” (Pg. 159).
Jung states that the Child Archetype can be represented as “a king’s son or the witch’s child with daemonic attributes. Or seen as a special instance of the “treasure hard to attain” motif, the child motif is extremely variable and assumes all manners of shapes, such as the jewel, the pearl, the flower, the chalice, the golden egg, the quaternity, the golden ball, and so on. It can be interchanged with these and similar images almost without limit” (Pg. 160). “In folklore the child motif appears in the guise of the dwarf or the elf as personifications of the hidden forces of nature” (Pg. 158). Carl Jung mentions that the Child Archetype also appears as a “irruption of the unconscious,” which Jung illustrates in spontaneous experiences such as in European ghost-stories.
The Trickster Archetype
Jung introduces the Trickster Archetype as “having fondness for sly jokes and malicious pranks, powers of a shape-shifter, dual nature, half animal, half divine, exposure to all kinds of tortures and an approximation to the figure of a savior” (Pg. 255). In further description Jung states that the Trickster Archetype “is an altogether negative hero and yet manages to achieve through his stupidity what others fail to achieve with their best efforts” (Pg. 255).
Carl Jung explains that the Trickster Archetype represents a pattern of mind that is animalistic, or the opposite of holy. Or in Jung’s words, the Trickster Archetype is “obviously a “psychlogem,” an archetypal psychic structure of extreme antiquity. In the clearest manifestations he is a faithful reflection of an absolutely undifferentiated human consciousness, corresponding to a psyche that has hardly left the animal level” (Pg. 260).
The Shadow Archetype
The Shadow Archetype represents the part of the unconscious mind that is hidden from the world, and rejected by the ego. The Shadow contains primitive instincts such as the drive to reproduce, to survive, or in the Christian sense, the “sin/flesh nature.” For example, it is natural for us to feel emotions or negative behaviors that may get us into trouble if acted out, the behaviors could include hatred, lust, jealousy, disrespect or malicious intent. If these behaviors were not repressed, it would lead to negative consequences that would greatly affect one’s social status.
To learn more about the Shadow, check out this article: Carl Jung and the Shadow: a Guide to the Dark Side of the Mind
The Persona Archetype
The Persona is how we represent ourselves when we are being perceived by others. The word “persona” is derived from the Greek word for “mask.” Despite not being a physical mask, the persona is a psychological mask, which is dawned in order to portray a certain image.
According to Jung, the persona can change with different social settings, and acts as a shield for the ego (from being perceived as negative). The persona could also act as a defense from the Shadow making an appearance in inappropriate settings. In this sense, the developing adolescent learns that society expects certain behaviors and has its own set of expectations and norms, thus, the child must use his own persona to contain all of their primitive urges, emotions and impulses that are not considered to be socially acceptable.
Neurosis of the Persona Archetype can be seen in individuals who overly identify with their persona. A modern example of the Persona Archetype in stories, can be seen in Jim Carrey’s movie, “The Mask.”
Carl Jung’s theory of the Archetypes can be challenging to understand, though immensely interesting. Once a basic understanding is formed, you may begin to see Archetypes in many modern films or novels, and even within yourself.
If you are interested in diving deeper into Jungian Archetypes, you can read the books below, and work on identifying archetypes in your own life! Feel free to share your ideas below.
Source: Jung, C. G., & Hull, R. (1981). The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.9 Part 1) (Collected Works of C.G. Jung, 48) (2nd ed.). Princeton University Press.