Jung’s Collective Unconscious & Archetypes

A brief introduction to Jungian Analytical Psychology, the aparatuses of the psyche, the collective unconscious, and Jungian Archetypes.

Click Here for the Related IntroNotes Article: Archetypes & Motifs in Myth & Fable

A similar concept to Aarne-Thompson-Uther indices is the Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung’s concept of Archetypes. Intellectual adversary and friend to Sigmund Freud (and potential repressed but reciprocated homo-erotic object of desire), Jung presented similar but divergent thoughts on Freud’s new field of psychoanalysis. 

Freud’s Model of the psych consisted of three psychic apparatuses:

  • The Id (Latin: “it”) = Disorganised instinctual component constructed of desires, impulses, and drives, present from birth. Driven by the Pleasure Principle to seek gratification and avoiding pain. This apparatus is completely unconscious and unknown to the conscious mind.
  • The Ego (Latin: “I”) = The organised, cognitive and executive component which seeks to restrain the Id by grounding itself in the reality of the world. Driven by the Reality Principle to seek ways to gratify the id in a way which will maximise long term pleasure and minimise pain. This is achieved by rationalization and reason. This apparatus is largely conscious and sub/preconscious.
  • The Super-Ego = The internalisation of outside world’s culture and rules. The “conscience”, the Super-Ego contradicts the Id, wanting to act with decorum and is outraged and shamed by the depravity of the Id. This apparatus spans from the conscious, via the pre-conscious, into the deep unconscious.

Thus Freud could discuss mental disorders as conflicts between the Ego and the Id (Transference Neuroses), between the Ego and the Super-Ego (Narcissistic Neuroses), and between the Ego and the external world (Psychoses).

Meanwhile, Jung divided the psyche into the conscious Ego, the Personal Unconscious (our recalled and repressed memories), and the Collective Unconscious.

Jung’s take, informed heavily by Eastern philosophy, was that the Collective Unconscious was populated by human instinct and abstractions called ‘Archetypes’.  Jungian psychology, now termed Analytic Psychology, examined how the psych strove, and more often than not failed and stagnated, to pursue its goal of self-realisation via the process of individuation, the formation of a robust and whole sense of self. The interplays between states of progress in individuation and issues encountered would be seen by analysing a patient’s dreams and thoughts. Symbolic elements of dreams for example would considered the implication of these symbolic archetypes, what they meant to the patient, and how the symbolic interplay of their narrative could be interpreted as representing psychological states.

These archetypes are universally relatable symbols and can be considered a simplified version of Aarne-Thompson-Uther’s motifs: A great/earth mother, a wise sage, the duality of light and dark. Some of these archetypes, being abstract symbols, can over-lap or be subsets of each other, others can be mixed flavours.

The "Venus de Milo" by Alexandros of Antioche, a marble sculpture of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. When discussing the Greek gods in terms of Jungian Archetypes, Aphrodite (the embodiment of love and beauty) is a projected and symbolic incarnation of internal archetypes (here being of feminine sexuality, love, and beauty) (photo by Tom King)

These internal archetypes are projected onto the external world as simplified way of viewing complex ideas. June Singer discussed some more well-studied archetypes in terms of opposites, one set pertaining to the Ego the other to the abstract notion of the Shadow. Light (ego) is opposed by Darkness (shadow), the Old Wise Man (ego) is opposed by the Trickster (shadow), the Great Mother (ego) is opposed by the Tyrannical Father (shadow), et cetera. The implication of the Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang, is unmistakable.

Jung however would argue that the metaphysics and cosmologies of eastern philosophy, of astrology, of alchemy, of mythology, all of which he was well versed in, were simply the human psyche projecting these archetypical symbols onto external phenomena. The process of Alchemy, it’s various procedures, were imbued with the symbols of the internal psych, with the progress towards The Great Work of Alchemy (e.g. formation of the Philosopher’s Stone) marked by a progress of archetypical symbols towards The Great Work of personal psychology: Self-Realisation.

So what are these archetypes? Well given the ethereal and blended nature, delineating individual and unique archetypes is difficult, and at times down-right futile. Nevertheless a number of Jungian psychologists, mystics, artists, and anthropologists have tried.

In his posthumously compiled works Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, Jung explicitly refers to 12 main archetypes, whilst acknowledging the existence of many others:

  • The Self
  • The Anima
  • The Animus
  • The Shadow
  • The Persona
  • The Father
  • The Mother
  • The Child
  • The Wise Old (Sage)
  • The Hero
  • The Trickster
  • The Maiden

In Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson’s book The Hero and the Outlaw a guide to distinct branding directed by principles of myth and pop-psychology define a different 12 archetypes:

  • The Innocent
  • The Orphan
  • The Hero
  • The Caregiver
  • The Explorer
  • The Rebel
  • The Lover
  • The Creator
  • The Jester
  • The Sage
  • The Magician
  • The Ruler 

This has been used also as a system of personality typing and alignment. Largely popular personality typing systems can be considered to employ ideas of archetypes such as: personality enneagrams, various zodiacs, Myer’s Briggs personality types etc.


Banner image edited from an attic red vase

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Archetypes & Motifs in Myth & Fable

A basic introduction to comparative mythology with discussion of motifs, themes, archetypes, the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index, and basic Jungian psychology.

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