Meditation Triangle Units
The Collective Unconscious and Its Archetypes
by Philippe L. De Coster, D.D.
Satsang Press – Gent, Belgium
© October 2010 – Philippe L. De Coster, D.D.
The Collective Unconscious and Its Archetypes
The works of the psychologist Carl Gustav Jung are voluminous and profound. He developed the study of the unconscious part of the psyche beyond the negative aspects emphasized by Freud, and found within the collective unconscious the source of all inspirations and instincts -- including the beautiful and spiritual. The uniting or integration of the conscious (thinking) mind with the unconscious mind became the foundation of psychological wholeness and balance in Jung's practice of modern psychology. The following is from the "Definition" portion of Jung's lecture in 1936 on "The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious", Collected Works, Vol. 9.i, pars. 87-110. The collective unconscious is a part of the psyche which can be negatively distinguished from a personal unconscious by the fact that is does not, like the latter, owe its existence to personal experience and consequently is not a personal acquisition. While the personal unconscious is made up essentially of contents which have at one time been conscious, but which have disappeared from consciousness through having been forgotten or repressed, the contents of the collective unconscious have never been in consciousness, and therefore have never been individually acquired but owe their existence exclusively to heredity. Whereas the personal unconscious consists for the most part of complexes, the content of the collective unconscious is made up essentially of archetypes.
3 The concept of the archetype, which is an indispensable correlate to the idea of the collective unconscious, indicates the existence of definite forms in the psyche which seem to be present always and everywhere. Mythological research calls them "motifs"; in the psychology of primitives they correspond to Levy-Bruhl's concept of "representations collectives," and in the field of comparative religion they have been defined by Hubert and Mauss as "categories of the imagination." Adolf Bastian long ago called them "elementary" or "primordial thoughts." From these references, it should be clear enough that my idea of the archetype -- literally a pre-existent form -- does not stand alone, but is something that is recognized and named in other fields of knowledge. My view along my studies, then, is as follows: In addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche (even if we tack on the personal unconscious as an appendix), there exists a second psychic 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.
From Carl Gustav Jung's "The Structure of the Psyche", 1927:
Just as some kind of analytical technique is needed to understand a dream, so a knowledge of mythology is needed in order to grasp the meaning of a content deriving from the deeper levels of the psyche.... The collective unconscious -- so far as we can say anything about it at all -- appears to consist of mythological motifs or primordial images, for which reason the myths of all nations are its real exponents. In fact, the whole of mythology could be taken as a sort of projection of the collective unconscious. We can see this most clearly if we look at the heavenly constellations, which srcinal chaotic forms were organized through the projection of images. This explains the influence of the stars as asserted by astrologers. These influences are nothing but unconscious, introspective perceptions of the activity of the collective unconscious. Just as the constellations were projected into the heavens, similar figures were projected into legends and fairy tales or upon historical persons.
Jungian Archetypes and Symbols
Carl G. Jung (1875-1961)
Jungian archetypes have a central role in dreams, art, myths, and legends. Jung buried himself in the study of myths and art from across time and cultures to build his concept of archetypes. Jung, a psychiatrist and psychologist, was a contemporary of Sigmond Freud, the father of psychology. Jung studied with Freud (1907-1912) for a time before parting and pursuing his own theory and work. Freud's psycho-sexual view of mental illness saw sexuality as the primary driving force behind most or many mental disorders, especially neuroses. Personality was composed of the instinctual Id, Ego, and Super Ego. The ego was what we projected to the world. The Super Ego played the role of a conscious, there to keep the Id in check. In the Id was our animalistic, instinctual drives and desires. Freud's credo was that the purpose of treatment was to make the unconscious conscious. This is still the guiding principle behind many insight-oriented therapies. His treatment method was called psychoanalysis. Jung set forth his own theory of libido and the unconscious. His primary contributions in terms of therapy were several.
His theories on personality types, which serves today as the basis for the Myers-Briggs Personality Types classification system: Introvert/extrovert, thinking/feeling, and intuition/sensation.
His rejection of Freud's psychosexual aetiology for neuroses, and his corresponding emphasis on client's here-and-now conflicts. This method he referred to as analytical psychology.
His emphasis on the libido as being more closely aligned with the will to live rather than sexuality.
The cooperation between the conscious and unconscious mind for mental health and wellbeing. The "unconscious" consists of the personal unconscious and well as a more global unconscious inherited in our species, referred to as the Collective Unconscious. (See discussion in "consciousness and personality", coming soon.) It is to this last point that archetypes and symbols come into our discussions...
Summary of the Above
The contents of the collective unconscious are called "archetypes," which means they are srcinal (i.e., primal), inherited patterns, or forms of thought and experience. They are the ancient, unconscious source of much that we think, do, and say as human beings. They are the "givens" in our psychological makeup, the patterns that shape our perceptions of the world, the furnishings that are present in our psychological home from the moment of birth. We inherit the same forms, but each of us fills in the content by the way we experience our lives. Thus, Father might be a positive archetype to one person, but it might be filled with negative meaning for another. Archetypes can be loosely compared to the instincts of animals. For example, birds instinctively know how to build nests and all the birds of a species build the exact same kind of nest. The bird is unaware that it has a special instinct for a particular form of nest building. Nevertheless, it does. Or we could say that dogs, as a species, are psychologically patterned to be loyal and obedient to the archetype of Master. Master is an archetype that is strongly developed in dogs; however, it does not appear to be an archetype that exists in the psyches of giraffes, snails, or buffaloes. Humans are the same way. Archetypes that exist in humans include Male and Female, God and the Devil, Goddess and Witch, Father and Brother, Mother and Sister, Dragon, Lion, Priest, Lover, Hero, Tree, Snake, and so on. We humans automatically inherit the outlines of these archetypes, fill them in with colours and details of our individual experiences, attach meaning to them, and project them into the outer world. Archetypes are neither good nor bad. They simply are. Archetypes are not susceptible to being sugar-coated or tamed by civilization; they live an autonomous existence at the root of our psyches in their srcinal raw and primitive states. To most humans, with our limited awareness of the natural cycles of life and our fear of suffering, certain archetypal qualities seem good and others seem bad. We are attracted to the "positive," creating, nurturing aspects of Mother, for example, but terrified of her "negative" qualities such as her terrible fierce possessiveness, or her power of life and death over us. Because of our fascination with, and fear of, these unknown qualities within us, when an archetype appears in a dream it can have an especially powerful impact. If a positive or likeable aspect of Lion, Dragon, Mother, Father, Goddess, or God appears in a dream, we may wake up feeling fascinated with the dream - it feels mysterious and meaningful. The meaning behind this kind of dream is often more profound than the meanings behind dreams that have to do with our
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