The Unconscious and Archetypes

he methods that Jung established to initiate and sustain the analytic process demand a creative relationship with both the personal unconscious, and the collective or transpersonal, unconscious. Our personal unconscious contains the forgotten or unintegrated residue of our individual history. The collective unconscious comprises universal archetypes common to all cultures throughout human history. Jung defined archetypes as primordial patterns inherent in the psyche. Unknowable in themselves, they manifest as compelling images and motifs.

Archetypal images take a variety of forms, including those inner personalities Jung designated as shadow, anima, animus and the Self. A few other examples of archetypes include

  • Personalized figures: the wise old man, the trickster, the hero, and the divine child.
  • Objects: trees, magical rings, the Holy Grail.
  • Places: home, enchanted gardens, hell, labyrinth.
  • Processes: night sea journeys, rites of initiation, heroic quests, and alchemical procedures.
  • Abstract forms: circles, squares, spirals, and mandalas.

These and other similar universal patterns of possible thought and experience generate autonomous psychic energy that can undermine us if we don’t consciously relate to them. Increased consciousness, however, allows us to channel that energy for growth.

By working with the vital images generated in dreams and other spontaneous expressions that embody universal archetypes–once familiar to older cultures in their myths and rituals–Jung discovered that his patients could not only deepen their self-knowledge, but also shed outworn, confining attitudes and actively aspire to and achieve new, more creative and fulfilling lives. Symbolic images can serve as helpful guides on this journey, but contemporary culture often loses touch with the wisdom they embody.