By Yakov Leib HaKohain, 2000
The Nature of the Archetypes
At the outset, it’s important to realize that Jung conceived of the archetypes as autonomous structures within the collective unconscious. They were pre-existent, self-generating “forces of nature,” as he sometimes called them, rather than (as many mistakenly believe) artifacts of cultural experience. For example, he writes:
“The archetype is . . . an irrepresentable, unconscious, pre-existent form that seems to be part of the inherited structure of the psyche and can therefore manifest itself spontaneously anywhere, at any time . . .Again and again I encounter the mistaken notion that an archetype is determined [by cultural influences] in regard to its content . . . It is necessary to point out once more that archetypes are not determined [by cultural experience] as regards their content, but only as regards their form and then only to a very limited degree.” (Memories, Dreams, Reflections, pages 392-393)
To illustrate: the “Goddess” archetype is a “pre-existent form” of the “inherited structure of the psyche,” but manifests herself in the “psychic costume,” as it were, of Kali in India, Athena in Greece, the Shekinah in Kabbalah, and the Virgin Mary in Western Christianity — all very different in their culturally determined, outer appearance but identical in their inner psychic content. This is no less true of the archetype of the Self.
The Archetype of the Self
Jung defined the Self in many places and in many ways, but always with the same archetypal overtones. Here are two examples, in which he clearly states that the Self is not (as some mistakenly believe) the same as the “ego” but “superordinate” to it:
“The self is a quantity that is supra ordinate to the conscious ego. It embraces not only the conscious but also the unconscious psyche, and is therefore, so to speak, a personality which we also are.” (Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, CW 7, par. 274)
“The self is not only the centre but also the whole circumference which embraces both conscious and unconscious; it is the centre of this totality, just as the ego is the center of consciousness.” (Link to Amazon com Psychology and Alchemy, CW 12, par. 44)
In other words, the individual Ego emerges from the Self — the Self does not emerge from the Ego — and just as the Self gives birth to the Ego, the Ego gives birth to individual consciousness. (Readers will recall that I discussed and diagrammed this process of what I called “psychic mitosis” in my previous lectures on prenatal consciousness in the Jung Seminar series.)
What is crucial in all of this is that the Self is an autonomous archetype “supra ordinate” to the individual Ego. This is the purport of Krishna’s statement in the Bhagavad Gita, “They are of me, I am not of them.” But even more relevant to our discussion is this:
If the Self is not a byproduct of human consciousness, but vice versa, it therefore has an intelligence and will of its own separate from and superior to that of the individual Ego, of which it is the psychic parent.
Here is what clearly distinguishes Jung’s conceptions from those of psychology, and places them into the category of theology. Whereas modern psychology sees the Self as a creation of human consciousness, Jung sees the Ego as a creation of the Self and, furthermore, subordinate to it. Thus, Jung’s metaphysical formulations are “Self-Centric” while those of Psychology are “Ego-Centric.”
Thus, as Jung finally concludes, and with which we concur,
“the Self is our life’s goal, for it is the completest expression of that fateful combination we call individuality.” (Two Essays on Analytical Psychology, CW 7, par. 404)