“The psyche is the greatest of all cosmic wonders and the “sin qua non” [indispensable ingredient] of the world as an object. It is in the highest degree odd that western man, with but very few- and ever fewer- exceptions, apparently pays so little regard to this fact.
Swamped by the knowledge of external objects, the subject of all knowledge [the psyche] has been temporarily eclipsed to the point of seeming non-existence.” ~ Carl Jung
The psyche plays an important role in the creation of our universe, the seemingly outer world is not separate from the psyche that is experiencing it, but is in fact a reflection of the psyche itself.
According to Jung, psyche is a self-regulating system, that seeks to maintain a balance between opposing qualities while constantly striving for growth.
Jung saw the human psyche being made up of 3 layers – the conscious mind (ego) where our sense of identity or conscious awareness resides, the personal unconscious, Jung’s term for the Freudian unconscious, that includes contents in the consciousness which have been forgotten or repressed.
The third layer is the collective unconscious which represent a form of the unconscious (that part of the mind containing memories and impulses of which the individual is not aware) common to mankind as a whole and originating in the inherited structure of the brain.
Jung in The Archetypes and the collective Unconscious said, “The collective unconscious is a part of the psyche, which can be negatively distinguished from a personal unconscious by the fact that it does not, like the latter, owe its existence to personal experience and consequently is not a personal acquisition….the contents of the collective unconscious have never been in consciousness, and therefore have never been individually acquired, but owe their existence exclusively to heredity.
Whereas the personal unconscious consists for the most part of complexes, the content of the collective unconscious is made up essentially of archetypes.”
In order to experiment, Jung tested several groups based on their dreams & fantasies only to find that Freud’s definition of the unconscious mind was limited.
There was another part of the mind shared by these individuals in form of symbols, which they had no conscious access to, and he referred to them as “ancestral heritage of possibilities of representation common to all human beings and, perhaps, even all animals.” These symbols & themes were further termed as archetypes.
The collective unconscious was expressed through ‘archetypes’, which appear as symbols, instincts and imagery throughout our existence, and manifest fully during sleep & imaginations and also during myths & fairytales that have been handed down from one generation to another.
“The main source, then, is dreams, which have the advantage of being involuntary, spontaneous products of the unconscious psyche and are therefore pure products of nature not falsified by any conscious purpose.”
Archetypes are also referred to as collective representations or primordial thoughts expressed through various cultures, traditions and ideologies. Jung highlighted a number of archetypes, including the ‘anima, animus‘, the ‘mother’, the ‘shadow’, the ‘child’, the ‘wise old man’, the ‘spirits’ of fairytales, and the ‘trickster‘ figure found in myths and history.
Adam Adamski in his paper on Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious of Carl G. Jung in the Light of Quantum Psychology said, “Archetypes are the means of action and may take the form of images, dreams, or they are a stimulus to a specific action. Jung says that dreams are archetypal guidance and are the wisdom of past generations. Unaware parts of the psyche are often associated with certain events with an archetypal pattern, with similar events taking place many times in history. Archetypes often carry a strong emotional charge, because relationships with people are the result of differences in the dominant sphere of archetypal feelings.”
Examples of Archetypes
The Anima & Animus
Both man & woman have the characteristics of the other as archetypes resting in their psyche.
While the mirror image of a man in a female’s unconscious mind is called Animus, the mirror image of a woman in a male’s s unconscious mind is called Anima.
Also, when a man or woman projects the psyche of anima or animus onto an actual woman or man, feelings like infatuation, idealization or attraction for the opposite sex is cultivated.
Anima & animus vary in terms of exposure leading to male characteristics or female characteristics in an individual. Jung believed that we are all bisexual in nature, since we all have both masculine and feminine aspects to our nature, but due to society’s expectations we achieve only part of our society’s expectations.
The divine union of anima & animus is known as Syzygy, representing completion and this opens up everything, cracking our old, stagnant world view right down the middle and revealing that everything is connected just as everything is moving. Shiva moves in and out of Shakti.
The shadow is the darker side of our psyche or those characteristics, which are repressed by the conscious mind and considered unfit for exposure to the outside world. It is like a ‘latent disposition’, which is instinctive and irrational in nature.
Freud referred to the shadow as an animal within us & Jung considered it as an unidentified aspect of our ego. It is often projected on others, leading us to find the shadow in others. If we are able to merge the light & dark, we can experience oneness and harmony in our self and progress towards self-realization. If we are unaware of our shadow self, then it disassociates from conscious life.
The symbol through which it is projected is a villain figure, a dark warrior, spider etc. The shadow can also appear in our dreams as a despised person or even as a friend, sometimes. It is said that one can project Shadow archetype through waking life when he/she is expressing it in uncontrollable anger, aggression & furiousness.
It is the sum total of the psyche, with all its potential included. The self is the spirit connected to the universal assimilation of a person’s conscious and unconscious minds. Once we have understood the self, it leads to self-actualization – the ultimate goal of every being.
Some of the other archetypes are father – the controlling figure, mother – the compassionate & nurturing, the orphan- left alone with no one to care, the wise old man- the knowledge, the faithful dog – unwavering loyalty, the seeker – one who is looking for eternal wisdom but is a lost soul, the earth mother- nature, the trickster – one who uses misunderstandings & doom among many others.
Jung also believed mandalas (the ancient circles from the Hindu mythology) to be the direct window into the unconscious and the inner process by which individuals grow toward fulfilling their potential for wholeness.
The theory of collective unconsciousness is vast and extremely enticing as well informative. With understanding of multiple archetypes & symbols available to us, which are time & again exposed through our behavior, beliefs, dreams etc. we can witness the deepest levels of our mind.
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