Archetype is a term used by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung to indicate the psychological contents of an alleged collective unconscious. For Jung the archetypes are inherited patterns encoded in the body, universally shared by mankind.¹
Jung often likens the archetypes to ancient deities, saying that the word “archetype” is a scientific-sounding update for a very old idea. Not unlike the gods and goddesses of ancient times, archetypes apparently have a psychic life of their own. And when ego consciousness encounters the archetype, the individual experiences a sense of the numinous.
According to Jung, the encounter with the numinous may be psychologically constructive or destructive, healing or disorienting. The effect of the numinous on the conscious ego depends on two things:
- The psychological stability and maturity of the individual
- The character and intensity of the numinosity, itself
The experience of the numinous is often facilitated by a meaningful visual symbol (e.g. a mandala) or ecstatic activity (e.g. chanting, music-listening or dancing). Jungian writers and literary critics, alike, often say that the symbol “mediates” archetypal energy. So when the archetype enters into consciousness, it takes the form of numinosity.
For Jung, the self is also an archetype, one of wholeness.
In contrast to experiencial manifestations of the archetype, which take the form of numinosity, visible manifestations of the archetypes appear as archetypal images. Jung distinguishes these recognizable images from the archetype proper, which Jung says can never be fully known. Jung calls the unknowable aspect of the archetype the pscyhoid aspect. This distinction between the unknowable archetype and its recognizable image is often overlooked in casual commentaries about Jung. Wikipedia notes:
These images and motifs are more precisely called archetypal images. However it is common for the term archetype to be used interchangeably to refer to both archetypes-as-such and archetypal images.²
The idea of the archetype has been championed by Jungians and some literary writers as “the answer” to all of the complexities and difference found in world religions. In fact, many Jungians tend to blur real differences by gelling everything into Jung’s handy model. But the idea of the archetype has also been roundly critiqued.³
Jung himself was a complex, confusing and honest thinker. At times he would say that archetypal energies differed. Other times he would lump different religions and symbols together as if they were the same. Jung also writes in his letters than not many people realize he had a Christian bias. He even admitted to being contradictory at times.
Despite the complexity and confusion within Jung’s work, some of his followers have simplified his work into something palatable for the masses. As always, dumbing things down has its pros and cons. On the one hand it can help everyday people to benefit from some of Jung’s more useful ideas. On the other hand, it can leave Jung open to a kind of unjust demonization by fundamentalists and rigid religious thinkers.4
4 See for instance “Carl Gustav Jung: Enemy of the Church” by Dr Pravin Thevathasan » http://www.theotokos.org.uk/pages/churpsyc/cgjung.html. And a partially misinformed critique of Jung can be found in “CARL JUNG: PSYCHOLOGIST OR SORCERER?” by Marsha West » http://www.newswithviews.com/West/marsha5.htm. By way of contrast, Fr. Victor White entered into a respectful dialogue with Jung. The two agreed on some points while disagreeing on others. This seems the more sensible, mature and constructive way to go. See » http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor_White_%28priest%29
- Archetypal Image (earthpages.wordpress.com)
- Evoking the archetypes of Carl Jung (patricktay.wordpress.com)
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- Forum II: Archetype (imanberhan.wordpress.com)
- Psychology in Writing: The Collective Unconscious – Introduction (wtjowett.wordpress.com)
- Jung analysis (clas3026.wordpress.com)
- Psychology in Writing: Anima and Animus – Introduction (wtjowett.wordpress.com)
- Pearson Archetypes – Just Another Zodiac (thestarryeye.typepad.com)
- Model of maturity- Jungian perspective (gcervino.wordpress.com)