Carl Jung "The Collective Unconscious and Archetypes" and "The Principal Archetypes"

The Collective Unconscious

Jung views Freud’s model of the psyche as incomplete. Freud stops at the existence of what Jung comes to call the personal unconscious in order to distinguish it from his own notion of the collective unconscious which exists at a deeper layer of the psyche. The personal unconscious is peculiar to each individual, is formed at a decisive moment in the course of the physical and psychic maturation of the human being (it is acquired by each human being during the resolution of the Oedipus Complex) and consists of those repressed instinctive impulses (drives) that are incompatible with the mores of civilised life. By contrast, the collective unconscious is shared by all people (it is "identical in all men" [CUA 642] consisting of a "common psyche substrate of a suprapersonal nature which is present in every one of us" [642]), is innate (it is "not a personal acquisition but is inborn" [642], that is, it is genetically transferred and, as such, part of our common human heritage) and is comprised of archetypes.

In other words, the contents of the unconscious dimensions of an individual’s psyche are of two types: those of a personal nature that "go back unquestioningly to personal experiences, things forgotten or repressed" (646) and those of an impersonal character which "cannot be reduced to experiences in the individual’s past, and thus cannot be explained as something individually acquired" (646). These "correspond to certain collective (and not personal) structural elements of the human psyche in general, and . . . are inherited" (646).


The archetypes per se (which he calls also "primordial types" [CUA 643] and "universal images" [643]) are the psychic residue, stored in the collective unconscious and thus unknowable in and of themselves, of typical and repeated patterns of experience of human beings all over the world since time immemorial. Jung is at pains to point out that the archetypes themselves never enter directly into our consciousness but manifest themselves indirectly by means of certain mental images that are inspired by the archetypes themselves and which re-present certain archetypal experiences. In "each of these images there is a little piece of human psychology and human fate, a remnant of the joys and sorrows that have been repeated countless times in our ancestral history, and on the average, follow ever the same course" (RAPP 81). Clearly, the archetype lodged in the collective unconscious is not to be mistaken for the experience itself of which it is, rather, merely an interpretation.


The archetypal images in our consciousness are the very stuff of which dreams are made. Dreams do not solely give vent in disguised form to repressed instinctual impulses as in the Freudian scheme of things. In dreams, according to Jung, we glimpse and thus can study the archetypes which manifest themselves in certain images and patterns of action. Jung is of the view that each individual must comes to terms with their identity as human beings by assimilating into full consciousness the significance of these archetypes, the archetypes being representative of typical human experiences. One of the most important ways to do so is by studying one’s dreams.


Another important way of coming to grips with the archetypal patterns imposed by mankind upon human experience and, thus, the nature of human identity is via the study of myth. Myth might be thought of as the less ‘advanced’ equivalent in more ‘primitive’ cultures of the literary and similar cultural practices to be found in more ‘sophisticated’ cultures. Myths demonstrate, Jung contends, in a more elemental and straightforward way than does literature their grounding in those archetypal configurations of human experience. Myth often involves the personification of natural phenomena and events. For example, the movement of the sun across the sky is depicted in Greek mythology as a god driving his chariot from East to West (whose son unfortunately one day drives his chariot too close to the sun and pays the consequence). For Jung, it is less a question of taking a natural phenomenon and imposing upon it a humanised interpretation than of figuring essentially human inner dramas in terms of natural phenomena. For example, the rise and the fall of men are often depicted not insignificantly in terms of the rise and setting of the sun. Alternately, the sin of hubris is depicted in terms of flying too near to the heat of the sun. Jung suggests that this ‘humanisation’ of nature in this way is the result of the projection of certain psychic needs on the part of mankind. From Jung’s point of view, human beings project the archetypal images lurking in their collective unconscious onto the natural world outside of them, unconsciously drawing upon such natural phenomena (that are in and of themselves inherently without such significance) in order to explicate human behaviour and actions and in this way making sense of the world.

In short, Jung claims, myths are essentially "psychic phenomena that reveal the nature of the soul" (643). Primitive man desperately needed to

assimilate all outer sense experience 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. All the mythologised processes of nature, such as summer and winter, the phases of the moon, the rainy seasons, and so forth . . . are the symbolic expressions of the inner, unconscious drama of the psyche which becomes accessible to man’s consciousness by way of projection--that is, mirrored in the events of nature. (644)

Myths "refer to something psychic" (644) within human beings, being "involuntary statements about unconscious psychic happenings" (645) on the part of primitive man. The psyche contains, Jung asserts, all the "images that have ever given rise to myths" (644): our "unconscious is an acting and suffering subject with an inner drama which primitive man rediscovers, by means of analogy, in the processes of nature" (644). To understand myths correctly, then, we must view them as narrativisations of inner psychic motifs, the verbal translation of archetypal human experiences to which all humans can relate because they are stored in our collective unconscious. Hence, of course, the importance of an understanding of myth to an understanding of the nature of human identity.

The process which each human being must and inevitably does undertake is that of individuation, the process of becoming whole. It involves seeking a balanced psyche, harmonising those aspects of one’s conscious identity which are obvious with those aspects not consciously recognised and often denied. In other words, the archetypes help to put us in touch with those human experiences which seem at first glance remote from our personal experience but which are part and parcel of being human. For example, confronting and assimilating the archetype called the anima allows men to get in touch with their feminine side and vice-versa (the animus). Assimilating the archetype called the shadow (everything which our conscious selves would disavow) allows people to come to terms with the less savoury sides of their personality, to give vent to those less socially respectable aspirations in a process which makes for greater mental health.