Carl Gustav Jung developed an understanding of archetypes as being “ancient or archaic images that derive from the collective unconscious”. These are different from instincts, as Jung understood instincts as being “an unconscious physical impulse toward actions and the archetype as the psychic counterpart”.
Archetypes are innate universal pre-conscious psychic dispositions that form the substrate from which the basic themes of human life emerge. Being universal and innate, their influence can be detected in the form of myths, symbols and psychic aptitudes of human beings the world over. The archetypes are components of the collective unconscious and serve to organize, direct and inform human thought and behaviour. Archetypes hold control of the human life cycle. As we mature the archetypal plan unfolds through a programmed sequence which Jung called the stages of life. Each stage of life is mediated through a new set of archetypal imperatives which seek fulfillment in action. These may include being parented, initiation, courtship, marriage and preparation for death.
“The archetype is a tendency to form such representations of a motif – representations that can vary a great deal in detail without losing their basic pattern … They are indeed an instinctive trend”. Thus, “the archetype of initiation is strongly activated to provide a meaningful transition … with a ‘rite of passage’ from one stage of life to the next”: such stages may include being parented, initiation, courtship, marriage and preparation for death.
Jung rejected the tabula rasa theory of human psychological development, believing instead that evolutionary pressures have individual predestinations manifested in archetypes. Jung first used the term primordial images to refer to what he would later term – archetypes. Jung’s idea of archetypes were based on Kant’s forms, Plato’s Ideas and Schopenhauer’s prototypes.
For Jung, “the archetype is the introspectively recognizable form of a priori psychic orderedness”. These images must be thought of as lacking in solid content, hence as unconscious. They only acquire solidity, influence, and eventual consciousness in the encounter with empirical facts.”
The archetypes form a dynamic substratum common to all humanity, upon the foundation of which each individual builds his own experience of life, developing a unique array of psychological characteristics. Thus, while archetypes themselves may be conceived as a relative few innate nebulous forms, from these may arise innumerable images, symbols and patterns of behavior.
While the emerging images and forms are apprehended consciously, the archetypes which inform them are elementary structures which are unconscious and impossible to apprehend. Being unconscious, the existence of archetypes can only be deduced indirectly by examining behavior, images, art, myths, religions, dreams, etc. They are inherited potentials which are actualized when they enter consciousness as images or manifest in behavior on interaction with the outside world.
Although the number of archetypes is limitless, there are a few particularly notable, recurring archetypal images, “the chief among them being” (according to Jung) “the shadow, the Wise Old Man, the child (including the child hero), the mother … and her counterpart, the maiden, and lastly the anima in man and the animus in woman”. Alternatively he would speak of “the emergence of certain definite archetypes … the shadow, the animal, the wise old man, the anima, the animus, the mother, the child”. Although five main archetypes were discussed in Jung’s writing there are many others. The following are the five most common archetypes.
Five main archetypes are sometimes enumerated:
The Self is the regulating center of the psyche and facilitator of individuation – the representative of “that wholeness which the introspective philosophy of all times and climes has characterized with an inexhaustible variety of symbols, names and concepts”.
It represents all that is unique within a human being. Although a person is a collection of all the archetypes and what they learn from the collective unconscious, the self is what makes that person an I. The self cannot exist without the other archetypes and the other archetypes cannot exist without the self; Jung makes this very clear. The self is also the part which grows and changes as a person goes throughout life. The self can be summed up as the ideal form a person wishes to be.
The Shadow represents the traits which lie deep within ourselves. The traits that are hidden from day to day life and are in some cases the opposite of the self is a simple way to state these traits. The shadow is a very important trait because for one to truly know themselves, one must know all their traits, including those which lie beneath the common, i.e., the shadow. If one chooses to know the shadow there is a chance they give in to its motivation.
The Anima is sometimes seen as the feminine side within a man, but Jung did not fully intend this to be viewed in this way. The Anima is beyond generalization of society’s views and stereotypes. Anima represents what femininity truly represents it in all its mysteries. It is what allows a man to be in touch with a woman. The anima is commonly represented within dreams as a method to communicate with a person. It contains all female encounters with men to help the relationship between the two improve better.
The Animus is similar to the anima except for the fact that the animus allows a female to understand and communicate with a man. Just like the anima, it is commonly represented in dreams of a woman to help them understand themselves and relationships with men. It can be known as part of the collective unconscious’ connection with all of the encounters of males with females, like the anima, to improve relationship with males and females.
The Persona is to Jung a mere “functional complex … by no means identical to the individuality”, the way we present to the world – a mask which protects the Ego from negative images, and which by post-Jungians is sometimes considered an “archetype … as a dynamic/structural component of the psyche”. Some view this as the opposite of the shadow which is not entirely true, this is just the face that is put on for the world, not our deepest internal secrets and desires; that is the self.
The precise relationships between images such as, for example, “the fish” and its archetype were not adequately explained by Jung. The image of the fish is not strictly speaking an archetype. However the “archetype of the fish” points to the ubiquitous existence of an innate “fish archetype” which gives rise to the fish image.
These archetypal figures can also be represented from the main archetypes such as the anima and the animus or archetypal thoughts such as the resurrection of a savior figure.