According to Carl Jung, there are patterns that structure the way we think, act and imagine in the world. We’re born with these patterns, and we share them with everyone on earth—but they’re unconscious. We know them only instinctively, and they manifest in a myriad of variations through our stories and other artistic endeavors.
Archetypal theory is a lot more radical than most people realize. Here are five lesser-known facts about Jungian archetypes:
1. Jung’s discovery of the archetypes started with a nightmare. In 1913 he dreamed of a blood-tide engulfing Europe; when World War I broke out that summer, he realized that his individual, dreaming psyche was connected with the wider fate of humanity.
2. There are only four main archetypes: the Shadow, the Anima/Animus (together, the Divine Couple), and the Self. But the list of secondary archetypes is long and mutable.
3. Archetypes actually extend beyond the human “universal unconscious”; they are elemental patterns that play a vital role in the creation and governance of matter (nature) as well as mind (psyche).
4. Contrary to popular belief, modern science draws on the archetypes just as faithfully as religion(s). Both the Big Bang and the primordial swamp are basic and universal archetypal constructs: the fact that we have “evidence” in the form of a fossil record only proves that archetypes have called the shots in both evolution and our “scientific” understanding of it.
5. Since the French Revolution we have repressed our awareness of archetypes so ferociously in favor of a rational existence that archetypes have become a source of disgust, horror and/or fetishistic fascination.
Why am I telling you all this? Because, whether you buy the particulars of Jung’s theory or not, it can be great fun to unearth the archetypes in familiar stories. Sometimes it can tell us more about a particular character and his/her role in the narrative.
It’s also fun to assign your friends and acquaintances to various archetypal categories! This I plan to do in a series of follow-up posts to this one. . .