According to the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, the archetypal image is a representation of an underlying archetype. Archetypal images symbolize and mediate the psychological power of the collective unconscious to the ego (i.e everyday consciousness).
Through different types of expression (e.g. works of art and architecture), mankind translates these hidden archetypal forces into the observable world of human culture.
Some modern and ancient examples of archetypal images would be figures like Godzilla, the Klingons, The Cylons, Luke Skywalker, Spiderman, Superman, Superwoman, Batgirl, Marilyn Monroe, Spock, the Magician, the Witch, the Angel, Yahweh and the Devil.
Jung believes the ancients did not always see archetypal images as mere symbols, but often as actual things in themselves. The Indian sun god, Surya, for instance, was not a symbol but a real deity, diurnally traveling across and lighting up the sky in a splendid chariot. Likewise, many American Indian cultures firmly believe their myths tell of actual ancient events and heroic ancestors. And today, Catholics believe that the Eucharist is not just a symbol but the real presence – in essence but not form – of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.¹
On the topic of UFOs, Jung believed the rounded flying saucers of the 1950s were archetypal images of the human self, not unlike the mandala. By the same token, Jung didn’t rule out the possibility of actual UFOs.
However, Jung was not as open-minded with regard to Christian truth-claims, choosing to adapt them to his own theories. At times he speaks of the crucifixion of Jesus, for instance, as producing an upwardly skewed symbol of the self (i.e. the crucifix) instead of seeing Jesus’ death as a saving sacrifice and absolute victory over evil, as do most Christians. Some might argue that Jung’s and the Christian view do not really differ. Others do believe that they differ on important points—most notably, on the nature of and how to deal with evil.²
¹ Belief, alone, does not create truth out of falsehood. But as Plato pointed out, a true belief does relate to an actual truth, if not knowledge of that truth.
² An interesting follow-up to this point can be found in Jung’s relationship with the Dominican priest, Victor White. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victor_White_%28priest%29
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