archetype is a universal symbol, which other more specific symbols
are based on. The word archetype
has its root in ancient Greek and roughly translates as an “original
pattern.” Archetypes are understood differently from the
point of view of different disciplines. In psychology, archetypes are
understood to be models of the personality, whereas in philosophy
archetypes are the ideal forms of more specific objects.
The study of
archetypes in psychology was really set in motion by Carl Jung
(1875-1961). Whereas the study of archetypes in philosophy is
thousands of years old – for Plato, for example, there is an ideal
form of a stone, from which more specific and tangible stones arise.
Due to the work of Jung and those who followed in his footsteps, such
as the famous mythologist Joseph Campbell (1904-1987), it is clear
that archetypes are essential elements of folklore, myth, stories and
the world’s most famous examples of literature.
Gustav Jung is in the ranks of Sigmund Freud as one of the most
famous thinkers of the 20th Century. He was a Swiss-born
psychiatrist, who famously developed the concepts of extroversion
and would end up having some very unique interests, particularly in
religion, myth, mysticism, religion and alchemy. For Jung, archetypes
originate from the collective unconscious.
The collective unconscious is distinct from the personal
unconscious, which is each
individual’s own collection of experiences which they are unaware of.
The collective unconscious, on the other hand, is a reservoir
containing the archetypes and these archetypes are shared by all
people. Furthermore, the collective unconscious does not develop, but
is something which is inherited. So when each of us are born, we are
infused with these universal images which we are not immediately
aware of (see Jung’s Archetypes and the Collective
There is also support for this idea from Freud, who said that within each person’s mind there are archaic remnants
or mental forms whose existence cannot be explained by that
particular individual’s life experiences. The forms are innate and
shared by everyone. According to Jung, the archetypes represent
important motifs of our experience as we evolved over time. That is
why they evoke a strong emotional response and feature in myths from all
over the world.
are many Jungian archetypes,
as they are called. Jung seemed to have some main archetypes, which
he describes in his book Aion: Researches into the
Phenomenology of the Self. The
archetypes include the Self,
which each individual might think is just their personality. However,
for Jung, the self is the unification of the conscious and
unconscious life of the individual. The self is created through a
process called individuation,
in which all the aspects of the personality are integrated into a
unified whole. For Jung, the self as an archetype is best represented
by the mandala. The
word mandala in Sanskrit means “circle” and they are symbols which
are significant in Hindu and Buddhist rituals and spiritual
practices, such as meditation. The psychologist David Fontana remarks
in his book, Meditating with Mandalas,
that the mandala’s symbolic nature can give an individual access to
deeper levels of their unconscious, which will ease the process of
of Jung’s famous archetypes is the Shadow.
The shadow represents our most basic, primitive instincts, the life
and sex drives. If the shadow was to reside anywhere in the brain, it
would be in our limbic system, which is the emotional centre of our brain. The limbic system generates emotions such as anger, lust, jealousy
and fear. The shadow is composed of repressed ideas, weaknesses,
desires and instincts. The shadow is the dark side of our mind. As
such, it can be dangerous – if we deny parts of our shadow, such as
weaknesses we have, Jung said we might project these weaknesses onto
others, distorting our view of ourselves and others. According
to Jung’s analysis of dreams, the shadow is usually symbolised by
monstrous characters such as demons. For a more thorough and detailed description of Jung’s concept of the shadow, see the following article from Psychology Today.
Anima is a feminine
image in the male mind and the Animus
is a masculine image in the female mind. According to Jung, being
able to combine our feminine and masculine natures, rather than
letting one dominate, leads to wholeness. The last of Jung’s main
archetypes is the Persona,
a term which is derived from the Latin word for “mask.” The persona
represents all of the different social masks that we put on. This means that each
individual’s persona may contain a work mask, a family mask, a friend mask, a
romantic mask etc.
There are of course many more archetypes, some of
which are more recognisable and feature heavily in stories around the
world. In his book Man and His Symbols,
Jung goes through some of them and what they stand for: the Father
(authority), the Mother (comfort), the Child (innocence), the Wise
Old Man or Woman (guidance), the Hero (champion), the Maiden (desire)
and the Trickster (trouble-maker). You can immediately think of
examples in books and films which contain these archetypes. Yoda from
Star Wars as the Wise
Old Man, Satan in Genesis as the Trickster, Rapunzel as the Maiden,
Zeus as the Father etc.
Campbell, following in the tradition of Jung, would become famous for
looking at the different myths, folklore, stories and religions from
around the world and picking out the fundamental, universal elements
to them. In his highly influential book The Hero With a
Thousand Faces, Campbell
discusses the journey of the archetypal hero. According to Campbell,
all those famous stories involving heroes, such as the labours of
Hercules or the life of the Buddha, share a basic structure. Campbell
called this structure the monomyth
and in short it involves a call to adventure,
a road of trials, the
boon (or discovery), a
return to the ordinary world
and, finally, the application of the boon.
This structure is clever, because Campbell is able to apply it to
history’s most famous stories, such as Homer’s The Odyssey
and the life of Christ as
depicted in the Gospels.
Campbell seems to justify Jung’s idea that
archetypes are something that we can easily identify with and which evoke a
strong emotional response from us because they symbolise our
evolutionary experiences. The hero’s journey represents the primitive
struggle of our ancestors in entering an unknown world of danger, but
overcoming the danger and bringing back to the tribe or group some
discovery or treasure that will benefit everyone.
idea of the monomyth has been very influential in the world of cinema
– George Lucas credited Campbell with providing a lot of the
inspiration for his Star Wars films.
The producers of the Matrix
trilogy and Disney films such as Aladdin, The Lion King and
Beauty and the Beast
admit that The Hero with a Thousand Faces
helped to structure the plot to these films. The most successful
books and films do appear to commit to many of Jung’s archetypes and
Campbell’s monomyth (Lord of the Rings
comes to mind) which attests to the power of these universal symbols.