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ARCHETYPES . The English word archetype derives from a Greek word that is prominent in the writings of religious thinkers during the Hellenistic period. In modern times, the term has been used to refer to fundamental structures in the human psyche as well as in religious life. In either sense, an archetype is a pattern that determines human experience (whether on a conscious or an unconscious level) and makes itself felt as something both vital and holy.

The Meaning of Archetype

The Greek compound derives from the combined meaning of two words, tupos and archē, both of which have double referents. Tupos refers both to a physical blow and to the concrete manifestation of its impact. Hence, the seal and its imprint are both tupoi. Further, the relation between any form and its derivative forms is indicated by this term. For example, the cast that molds the statue and the statue itself are both tupoi, as is the mold that is placed around a fruit by a grower in order to shape it as it grows. Internal and invisible molding is also a kind of tupos as in biological generation: the child is the tupos of its parent. Finally, as in the English cognate, type, tupos comes to signify any character or nature that is shared by numerous, related phenomena with the result that they appear to have been cast from the same mold: for example, the eucalyptus is a type of tree.

The nominal prefix archē refers to what is first or original, both in a temporal and in an ontological sense. As such, it may indicate equally the heavenly powers that govern the cosmos, the ruler of a realm, or the vital organs that empower life in the body.

Together, these two Greek words make up to archētupon, or "the archetype," a term that was not so commonly used as either of its components but that does appear with some frequency in the rather esoteric writings of certain Hellenistic religious philosophers. Already in De opificio mundi (1.69), the Jewish theologian Philo Judaeus refers to the archetype as the imago dei ("god-image") residing in and molding humanity in the likeness of God.

Later, Irenaeus uses the term when, in his lengthy treatise attacking the so-called Christian heretics (Against Heresies 2.7.5), he recounts a Valentinian version of the cosmogony. According to the Valentinians, a group of gnostic Christians, the world was not created by God out of nothing, but rather it was the fabrication of a demiurge, who copied directly or indirectly (depending on the version) an archetypal world (the Pleroma) that existed outside himself. In this view, the Demiurge creates in the manner of a mechanic who builds a robot that simulates, but does not replicate, a living model.

A third use of to archētupon during the Hellenistic period is found in the writings of the Platonic mystic Plotinus. He intuited a divine realm of which the creation was a mere reflection. Plotinus reminds his reader to observe the regularity and order exhibited by the natural world. This harmonious state of affairs, he claims, depends on a higher reality for its laws of being. The phenomenological realm does not truly exist, according to Plotinus, but appears at the boundaries between true being, that is, the One, and the void external to it. Plotinus's cosmogony thus presents a third use of the imagery associated with the term archetype. At work here is neither Philo's idea of an inner force (inspiration) nor the Valentinian concept of the craftsman basing his creation on a model (imitation), but rather the metaphor of reflection that depicts an emptiness upon which is castas if upon a mirrorthe form of a divine but transcendent reality.

For all three philosophers, the word archetupon is used to depict a cosmogonic principle. Common to all three belief systems is the conviction that the creation of the cosmos, including the creation of man, depends on the preexistence of a transcendental reality.

During the twentieth century, the word archetype has been rehabilitated by the historian of religions Mircea Eliade and the depth psychologist C. G. Jung. Eliade, in his study of the religions of humankind, uses the term to name the sacred paradigms that are expressed in myth and articulated in ritual. For Jung, the concept of the archetype can also be applied to the dynamic structures of the unconscious that determine individual patterns of experience and behavior.

Eliade's Understanding of the Archetypes

In his preface to the 1959 edition of Cosmos and History, Eliade explains that, for him, the terms exemplary model, paradigm, and archetype are synonymous. For the member of tribal and traditional cultures, the archetypes provide the models of his institutions and the norms of his various categories of behavior. They constitute a sacred reality that was revealed to humankind at the beginning of time. Consequently, the archetypal patterns are regarded as having a supernatural or transcendent origin.

The sacred and the profane

These observations provide the basis for Eliade's description of the way in which a religious person distinguishes two separate modes of being in the world: the sacred and the profane. The member of a tribal or traditional society may be called homo religiosus ("religious human") precisely because he or she perceives both a transcendent model (or archetype) and a mundane reality that is capable of being molded to correspond to the transcendent model. Furthermore, he or she experiences the transcendent model as holy, that is, as manifesting absolute power and value. In fact, it is the sacred quality of the archetype that compels him to orient his life around it. Finally, the sacred is recognized as such because it appears to humans within the profane setting of everyday events. This is the hierophany ("appearance of the sacred"), that is, when the supernatural makes itself felt in all its numinosity in contrast to the natural order.

The hierophany

The appearance of the sacred may take on any form. It may be perceptible by way of the senses: God in the form of a white buffalo or in the magnificence of a roaring waterfall. The sacred may appear to humans by way of a dream, as in Jacob's dream of the angels of the Lord descending and ascending upon the ladder between heaven and earth (Gn. 28:12). Or the hierophany may be envisioned by way of the imagination, as, for example, the visions of Muammad, Black Elk, and Teresa of Ávila. The sacred reality makes itself known to the consciousness of humans by whatever means are available to it.


The consequence of an encounter with the sacred, states Eliade, is the desire to remain in relation to it, to orient one's life around it in order to be filled continually with the sense of being and meaning that it evokes. In this sense, the hierophany creates a new order of things. No longer do space and time make up a homogeneous continuum; one moment, or one place, has become touched by the sacred, and from that time on, it will provide a means of connecting the two realms, a center that mediates sacred and profane experience.

This connection may be strengthened in many ways. Jacob set up an altar in the place where he had the dream. Religious people may build their homes, villages, or cities on a sacred site. They may practice a way of life revealed to them by means of a hierophany. Any action may become sacred if it is enacted in imitation of the way the gods have acted. Human life itself becomes assimilated to the sacred paradigm and becomes sanctified insofar as it shares in the numinous quality of the timeless archetype.

A modern example of an orientation governed by an archetype is the ritual Eucharist. In the Mass, the Christian repeats a series of actions that were performed in illo tempore, that is, for the Christian, in the beginning of a new age, at a time when God in the person of Christ still walked the earth. By reenacting the last supper, the Christian re-creates that sacred time and shares in its sanctity.

The spirituality that is inherent in this form of religion is not otherworldly. The people do not seek to escape this world for another (celestial or unknown) world. Instead, their actions are directed at making profane existence over into a replica of the archetypal world that has been revealed to them. They seek to realize paradise on earth. For homo religiosus, the limits inherent in temporal existence (decay, impermanence, and death) are transcended by imitating and incarnating the eternal patterns. In this way, they abolish time. Guided by the archetype, they experience the greatest freedom of their nature: they become like one of the gods.

Value of the history of religions

Modern humans may regard themselves as free precisely because they no longer seek to emulate a divine paradigm and see themselves, instead, as an unconditioned agent of history (unbound to external models). This is, of course, the inheritance of the Enlightenment, according to which progress is possible only after detachment from the so-called superstitions of the past in order to follow the dictates of a pure reason. In Eliade's view, one may be fully secularized, yet still be the product of a religious inheritance. Self-understanding requires an examination of that inheritance. Eliade suggests, further, that knowledge and the understanding of the religions of one's ancestors can be a source of meaning and value.

In addition, the archetypal themes that influenced our ancestors are still alive for modern people, both consciously and unconsciously. For instance, the difficulties of life can be regarded as obstacles to fulfillment or, interpreted against the archetypal theme of initiation, aspects of an ordeal that may lead to growth and, ultimately, transformation. Exile from one's homeland can be a source of bitterness and regret, or, viewed in light of mythical paradigm, the path of the hero such as Parzival, Odysseus, or even Moses, to name a few for whom the journey brought with it rewards unobtainable to those who remained at home.

Furthermore, in Eliade's view, the archetypal patterns linger on in the unconscious of modern individuals, serving as themes that motivate and guide them. On a collective level, the search for eternal life seems to underlie much of the science of modern medicine. On the individual level, the person may play out an unconsciously motivated role that has a recognizable mythical form: the hero, the sacred marriage, the wise old woman, the eternal child. The paradigms appear in numerous constellations with varied force at different times, even during the life of the individual. The insight that governs homo religiosus, an insight that Eliade elucidates, is this: There is a difference between the possession of happiness or wealth or power or success, on the one hand, and the realization in one's own life of an archetypal pattern. For the religious person, salvation can never be possessed but must always be embodied.

The Meaning of Archetype in Jung's Psychology

Many people have pointed out the difficulty of presenting a systematic analysis of C. G. Jung's theory of archetypes. This is perhaps a direct result of his method: As a physician, Jung discovered the existence of the archetypal reality through an examination of the subjective experiences of his patients and himself. Therefore, his theory was constantly growing in response to his clinical work. His contribution to a general theory of archetypes lies along the same lines of Philo's thought; like Philo, Jung emphasizes the presence of divine images within humans, directing and influencing human development.

At the Eranos seminars in Ascona, Jung and Eliade were able to discuss and compare their ideas on archetypes. As a psychologist knowledgeable in the study of religion, Jung knew and accepted the concepts of Eliadearchetype as transcendent model, the nature of hierophany, and so forthbut, in addition, for Jung, the archetype was also active in determining the inner life of humans in both its spiritual and material dimensions.


The archetype is most concretely viewed as instinct. Jung states that the archetype

is not meant to denote an inherited idea, but rather an inherited mode of psychic functioning, corresponding to the inborn way in which the chick emerges from the egg, the bird builds its nest, a certain kind of wasp stings the motor ganglion of the caterpillar, and eels find their way to the Bermudas. In other words, it is a pattern of behavior. This aspect of the archetype is the biological one. (quoted in Jacobi, 1959, p. 43)

However, the instinctual life of the body is unconscious. It is felt indirectly through drives and compulsions as well as through images that arise spontaneously in dreams and fantasy. It is the imagination that serves to mediate the subjective experience of instinct to the ego. Instinct clothes itself in images taken from everyday experience. The archetypal nature of instinct appears in the numinous quality of many of these images, that is, they have the power to compel one abso-lutely.

This is not to suggest that, for Jung, the archetype is nothing but instinct. On the contrary, it is the transcendent model that is recognized as having a directive force in the lives of individual persons even on the biological level. In fact, Jung suggests that instinct and spirit are simply two different names for the same reality seen from opposing perspectives. What looks like instinct to the outsider is experienced as spirit on the subjective level of inner life. The appearance of the archetypal pattern at different levels of human experience in varying forms is described as pro-jection.


Employing Eliade's term, Jung might say that the hierophany, or appearance, of the archetype may take place anywhere, even within the unconscious life of the body. The psychological term projection simply points to the mode of appearance and not to the ontological status of the archetype, that is, the archetype does not exist as a projection, but rather it appears in projection. This form of speech recalls the metaphor of Plotinus, that the One is reflected by the outer void. In a similar way, we can imagine the archetype reflected (through being projected) on various planes that support the total human experience: the outer world of sense experience, the inner world of imagination, and the unconscious world of the body. In other words, the gods may appear to humans on top of a holy mountain, within a dream during a rite of incubation, or even as a bodily compulsion. Still, the transcendent nature of the archetype is not affected. Here, as in all religious language, we encounter the paradox of transcendence and immanence, each capable of an independent existence requiring the existence of the other.

The Religious Meaning of Archetype

The existence of archetypes cannot be proved, but archetypes can be subjectively experienced. Jung often explained that, as a psychologist, he could not prove the existence of God. Nevertheless, in Face to Face, his interview with John Freeman for the BBC, he admits that he has no need of belief in God because he has knowledge based on experience. In Ordeal by Labyrinth, a book of conversations with Claude-Henri Rocquet, Eliade insists on the religious content of the archetype.

If God doesn't exist, then everything is dust and ashes. If there is no absolute to give meaning and value to our existence, then that means existence has no meaning. I know there are philosophers who do think precisely that; but for me, that would be not just pure despair but also a kind of betrayal. Because it isn't true and I know that it isn't true. (Eliade, 1982, p. 67)

Even when employed in the twentieth century by a historian of religions and a psychologist, the ancient term archetype retained the religious significance that it had for three religious philosophers during the first centuries of the common era. Referring both to the sacred model and to its appearance within the world of phenomena, the archetype is meaningless in any system of thought that denies the reality of a transcendent principle. In other words, the term suggests a view of creation according to which this world depends for its very nature on some reality outside itself.

See Also

See also Hierophany; Iconography; Jung, C. G; Orientation; Transcendence and Immanence.


Eliade, Mircea. Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return. New York, 1954. A good introduction to the role of archetypes in the religions of traditional cultures.

Eliade, Mircea. Patterns in Comparative Religion. New York, 1958. Discussion of archetypal theory throughout.

Eliade, Mircea. Ordeal by Labyrinth: Conversations with Claude-Henri Rocquet. Chicago, 1982. The autobiographical material provides a valuable framework for Eliade's theoretical writings.

Jacobi, Jolande. Complex, Archetype, Symbol in the Psychology of C. G. Jung. Princeton, 1959. The best introduction to Jung's theory of archetypes, this small volume provides the reader with a guide to Jung's writings on the topic as well as to related material in the works of other analytical psychologists.

New Sources

Henry, James P. "Religious Experience, Archetypes, and the Neurophysiology of Emotions." Zygon 21, no. 1 (1986): 4774.

Laughlin, Charles D., and C. Jason Throop. "Imagination and Reality: On the Relations between Myth, Consciousness, and the Quantum Sea." Zygon 36, no. 4 (2001): 709736.

McCollister, B. "Religion: Intrinsic to the Human Psyche?" Humanist 50, no. 1 (1990): 39.

Beverly Moon (1987)

Revised Bibliography

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Archetype is a term used in religious and mythic studies to indicate regularly occurring universal patterns witnessed across world religions and cultures. An external expression of an archetype might bear unique qualities characteristic of that specific culture, yet the underlying skeletal form of the motif will be the same in all traditions.

The term is primarily associated with the work of the Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung (1875–1961). The theory of consciousness that he authored is, in fact, sometimes referred to as the archetypal theory. This term is absolutely central to Jung's entire oeuvre and to the work of those who follow in the Jungian tradition.

Jung self-consciously took the term from the original Greek philosophers of the sixth to fourth centuries b.c.e. These founders of the Western philosophical tradition, known as the pre-Socratics, were originally cosmologists who authored theories regarding the nature and origin of the cosmos. The pre-Socratics were searching for what is labeled in German scholarship the Urstoff, the "original stuff" of the universe. The first philosopher, Thales (ca. 625–547 b.c.e.), posited that the Urstoff was water, Anaximines (fl. 545 b.c.e.) thought it was air, and so on. Several terms were employed by these philosophers for this essential substratum of the cosmos, one of which was the term arche.

"Arche" is a Greek word that is the source of English words relating to "archaic." In Greek it means "old" but also something more: it signifies "original" or "first." The first words of the Bible, "In the beginning," were rendered in the Greek translation (the Septuagint) as "Arche." The arche is what was there "in the beginning" or "from the beginning."

Later philosophers developed highly complex theoretical systems, building upon the foundation the pre-Socratics had set. Plato (425–367 b.c.e.), in his famous theory of forms, states that the physical, or "phenomenal," world is only an imperfect copy of a higher, nonmaterial realm of perfection, where the forms exist as eternal, immutable, perfect ideas, such as beauty, truth, justice, and so on. One of the terms Plato used for these forms was archai.

As Plato's school continued to evolve, the middle-Platonists re-imaged the forms as pure, perfect thoughts in the mind of God, which can emanate out from Him into the physical world. This philosophy was then inherited by Augustine (354–425 c.e.) and other Christian theologians known as the church fathers. Augustine applied the term archetypes to these exemplary thoughts in the mind of God, one of which, the Logos, proceeds out from Him, takes on a human form and becomes the Christ in the theological formulation of the church. This is the philosophical legacy then that Jung purposely petitions in his use of the term archetype.

Types are "typical" patterns. This term also derives from a Greek word, typos, meaning an "imprint" or "impression," such as footprints will leave pressed into the wet sand along the sea coast. Archetypes are fundamentally understood, then, to mean "original impressions," or "imprints present from the beginning."

Though Jung borrows the term archetype from the Greek and early Christian philosophers, his concept of what it means is somewhat different. The locus of the archetypes in Jung's system is not some ethereal, transcendental realm of perfection or the mind of God. Jung places them as original impressions within collective consciousness—one of the key features of Jung's theoretical system.

In his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1961), Jung recounts an important dream he had in 1909, which first led him to his signature theory of the collective unconscious. In the dream he was in the upper story of a house and proceeded down the stairways to the lower level, then to the basement and subbasement. At each successive level the scene became darker and historically older, until the subbasement appeared as a prehistoric cave shared by animals. Jung felt that this dream represented the structure of the psyche. The ego consciousness is on top, but it is undergirded by successively older layers containing within them the entire history of life. This means that the archaic past is carried within all of us, allowing us to access ancient memory traces from out of the great repository of consciousness.

Onto this field of consciousness the ongoing experience of life has imprinted forms, typically expressed as images. These primal forms in consciousness include not only memory traces from the entire history of life's evolution but also potentialities for future developments. These forms Jung labels the "archetypes," calling them the "living contents of the unconscious," symbolized by the fish and other life (archetypes) which are the "living contents" of the vast, unfathomable ocean (unconscious), or the trees (archetypes), the "living contents" of the forest (unconscious). He describes the archetypes as a priori structures built into consciousness, and says they are equivalent to the "instincts."

By the term a priori, Jung means that these structures are present prior to any personal experience the individual may have had. They are built in just as hands and other physical structures are built in by the genetic coding. In a parallel manner, the archetypes are innate structures built into consciousness that will then well up autonomously in dreams, fantasies, pathologies, mythologies, folklore, and religion.

Jung's theory of a priori structures inherent in consciousness would represent the polar opposite of John Locke (1632–1705), the British empiricist philosopher famous for the concept of the tabula rasa, the theory that each of us is a totally "blank slate" at birth, and everything in our consciousness is learned a posteriori, "after direct experience."

To call the archetypes instincts is a profound statement. Jung believes archetypal forms encompassing everything from geometric shapes to mythic and spiritual elements are instinctive to life forms, just as the drives to satisfy hunger and to reproduce are. We instinctively produce a vast range of archetypal potentialities, all of which press for expression; as Jung says in the opening statements of his autobiography, "Everything in the unconscious seeks outward manifestation."

Owing to the presence of these archetypal forms, similar motifs show up across the world. The pyramid, a structure built in the ancient world by Sumerians, Egyptians, Indians, Chinese, Meso-Americans, and others is one prominent example. Jung believes this is not due to cultural diffusion, the hypothesis that one group invented the pyramid and travelers to that place learned of it there (a posteriori) and spread it to other places. Certain areas were completely isolated from others until centuries later. Jung believed that direct contact between cultures is not required to produce similar forms in art, architecture, religion, and other media. The pyramid shape has been produced across the world because the form preexists and is held in common by all within the collective unconscious. From there it can well up and be externally expressed at different times in different parts of the world.

This concept of archetypal forms in collective consciousness, according to Jung, is the explanatory mechanism accounting for synchronistic expressions all across the board. Where others might apply the word "coincidence," Jung rejects this concept as by far the more unlikely possibility and places in its stead the term "synchronicity."

Archetypal forms are virtually infinite in number. In the twenty volumes of his Collected Works, Jung provides examples and presents the evidence for his claims. A few prominent examples of archetypal forms include the ubiquitous shape of the circle, or mandala, which Jung thinks is symbolic of the key category of "wholeness." Mandalic forms show up in religious symbols and rituals, art forms, the dreams of individuals, and even as a fundamental shape produced by phenomena in nature, such as planets, stars and galaxies, and the structure of atoms, the building blocks of all physical reality.

Specific elements occurring in nature leave impressions upon consciousness as archetypal forms, such as the the snake, which appears in religious and mythic contexts all over the world. Each archetype is holistic, that is, opposite aspects are always represented, as in the fearsome, awful qualities of the snake, as well as its awesome, fascinating side. Other animal forms impress human consciousness and come to expression as the archetype of the wolf, the bear, the horse, the jackal, the bull, the whole range of different birds, and so on. Each such symbol represents qualities that are ultimately ineffable, beyond description, and numinous, or awe producing, as, for example, the wolf archetype represent the essentially untamable quality and the winged horse, the soaring of the imagination in unlimited freedom.

Mythographers and historians of religion are in an excellent position to document archetypal forms, as both religion and myth are considered by Jung to be veritable treasure-houses of archetypal symbolism. All the gods and heroes of mythic lore are precisely archetypal expressions, according to Jung, whether or not they are understood by specific religious adherents to be actually existent beings. Thus gods and goddesses appear in typical patterns in religious contexts all across the world.

We can easily take note of these types: the thunder/lightning/war god such as Zeus, Jupiter, Thor, Indra, and even Yahweh; the dying and rising gods who offer resurrection and eternal life, such as Osiris, Dionysus, Persephone, Attis, Adonis, Baal, and Jesus Christ; and triple-goddess traditions across the world representing variants of virgin, mother, and crone. Specific archetypal motifs will sometimes constellate to form a complex, such as the Oedipus complex, or an archetypal pattern, as in the hero myth found all over the world.

According to Jung, it is because there are underlying patterns in consciousness that are "alive" in the collective psyche that such common themes repeat themselves in religious and mythic traditions and in the lives of individuals as well. Jungians feel that the existence of such common patterns everywhere can not be understood if one does not posit the existence of something like archetypal forms in a collective consciousness.

See alsoDreams; Myth; Psychology of Religion; Rites of Passage.


Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 1956.

Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy. Vols. 1, 2, 5. 1946.

Jung, Carl G. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious: Collected Works. Vol. 9, Part I. 1959.

Jung, Carl G. Man and His Symbols. 1961.

Jung, Carl G. Memories, Dreams, Reflections. 1961.

Jung, Carl G. OnSynchronicity. 1959.

Kirk, G. S., and J. E. Raven. ThePresocratic Philosophers. 1957.

Sharon L. Coggan

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A central concept in the theory of personality developed by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung.

Archetypes are primordial images and symbols found in the collective unconscious , whichin contrast to the personal unconsciousgathers together and passes on the experiences of previous generations, preserving traces of humanity's evolutionary development over time.

Carl Jung began to evolve his theory of archetypes around 1910 while working with patients at the Burghölzli Mental Hospital. Noting the presence of universal symbols from religion and mythology in the dreams and fantasies of uneducated patients, who would have had no conscious way of learning them, he concluded that these images belonged to a part of the unconscious not derived from personal experience. Jung proposed that universal images and ideas can be passed from generation to generation like biological traits , and he formulated the concept of the collective unconscious, whose contents become conscious when called forth by appropriate experiences in one's life. In formulating his ideas about archetypes, Jung supplemented his clinical observations with a comprehensive study of myths and symbols that later included investigations into the religions and mythologies of preliterate peoples in Africa and the southwestern United States.

Jungian archetypes are like prototypes or molds that each person fills in differently depending on his or her individual experience. For example, although the term "mother" has certain universal connotations that come to mind for most people, the details of this archetype will be different for everyone. For Jung, archetypes were more than a theoretical constructhis interest in them was primarily therapeutic. He claimed that his patients improved when they understood the ways in which their difficulties were related to archetypes. There is no limit to the number of possible archetypes: they are as varied as human experience itself. Many take the form of persons, such as the hero, the child, the trickster, the demon, and the earth mother. Others are expressed as forces of nature (sun, moon, wind, fire) or animals. They may also occur as situations, events (birth , rebirth, death), or places.

Jung considered four archetypes, in particular, important enough to form separate systems within the personality . These include the persona, the anima and animus, the shadow, and the self. The persona is a person's public image, the self he or she shows to others ("persona" is derived from the Latin word for mask). The persona is necessary for survival, as everyone must play certain roles, both socially and professionally, to get along in society. However, management of the persona can cause emotional difficulties. A common problem occurs when a person comes to identify too strongly with the persona that he or she has created, a condition that Jung called inflation. Victims of this problem are often highly successful, accomplished people who have become so preoccupied with projecting a certain imageoften for professional advancementthat their lives become empty and alienated.

The anima and animus are the opposite of the personathey represent a person's innermost self. They are also distinguished by gender: the anima is a man's feminine side, and the animus is a woman's masculine side. Jung theorized that in order for persons of both sexes to understand and respond to each other, each sex had to incorporate and be able to express elements of the other, a belief that foreshadowed both the feminist and men's movements in the United States by over half a century. The shadow is associated with a person's animal instincts, the "dark side" that is outside the control of the conscious personality. However, it is also potentially a source of spontaneity, creativity , and insight. In contrast to the anima and animus, the shadow is involved in one's relationships to persons of the same sex. Perhaps the most important archetype is that of the Self, which organizes and unites the entire personality. However, rather than combining all the other archetypes or aspects of personality, the Self has a dynamic all its own, which governs both inner harmony and harmony with the external world. It is closely related to the ability of human beings to reach their highest potential, a process that Jung called individuation, which he considered every person's ultimate goal.

Further Reading

Hall, Calvin S. and Vernon J. Nordby. A Primer of Jungian Psychology. New York: Mentor, 1973.

Hopcke, Robert. A Guided Tour of the Collected Works of C. G. Jung. Shambhala; distributed in the U.S. by Random House, 1989.

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The scientific hypothesis of the archetype was proposed by Jung as an innate formal element that structures the psyche at its most basic levels. In itself psychoid and therefore anchored in reality beyond the psyche (in "spirit" or nous, the non-biological mind), the archetype is responsible for coordinating and organizing the psyche's homeostatic balance and its programs for development and maturation. Essentially there is one master archetype, the self, which defines the skeletal form of human wholeness.

The archetype itself is not available directly to experienceonly its images and created patterns can become manifest and subject to experience by the psyche. These archetypal images are potentially unlimited in number and variety. They are embedded in the universal patterns of myth, in religious symbols and ideas, and in numinous experiences; they are also often represented in symbolic dreams and in altered states of consciousness. Within the psyche, archetypal images are linked to the (five) instinct groups, giving them direction and potential meaning. Like the archetype, the instincts are psychoid and rooted in reality beyond the psyche itself (in the physiological base of the psyche, the body). Archetypal images and instinctual impulses, united within the psyche, together make up the collective unconscious, the primordial psychosomatic basis of all psychic functioning.

Jung first used the term "archetype" in 1919. This was preceded by several years of speculation on primordial images and impersonal dominants. The implications of the archetypal hypothesis were developed by Jung himself and by his many students over subsequent decades in numerous case studies and investigations of myth, religion, and esoteric practices, especially alchemy. As the field of analytical psychology has grown and developed, the notion of the archetype and the role of archetypal images in psychological functioning and development have assumed a central role and have become the most distinctive feature of this school of psychoanalysis. Archetypal psychology, led by James Hillman, is a later offshoot of analytical psychology.

Jung himself found important connections between archetypal theory and the work of such ethologists as Konrad Lorenz who studied innate patterns of animal behavior and discovered innate releasing mechanisms. There are also parallels to be drawn between archetypal patterns and the innate mental schemas described in cognitive psychology. Recent findings of innate human patterns in neuropsychiatry and sociobiology also suggest confirmation of the hypothesis of the archetype. Some leading thinkers in analytical psychology have found close similarities between the theory of archetypal images and Kleinian notions of unconscious phantasy.

Criticisms of the archetypal hypothesis have come from many quarters. As an essentialist position, it has drawn fire from social constructionists who argue that human nature is infinitely malleable and defined more importantly by social and material conditions than by innate propensities. It has also drawn criticism from clinicians for whom the personal conflicts and traumas inflicted in childhood define the universe of therapeutic concern. For Jung and his adherents, however, the archetype has been seen as the source of healing and as the guide to potential wholeness of the individual.

Murray Stein

See also: Amplification (analytical psychology); Animus-Anima (analytical psychology); Imago; Mother goddess; Numinous (analytical psychology); Self (analytical psychology); Symbolization, process of; Synchronicity (analytical psychology); Transference/counter-transference (analytical psychology).


Jung, Carl G. (1935b [1954]). Archetypes of the collective unconscious. Coll. Works (Vol. IX, Part I). London: Rout-ledge & Kegan Paul

Neumann, Erich. (1955). The great mother: An analysis of the archetype. London: Routledge.

Stein, Murray. (1996). Practicing wholeness. New York: Continuum.

Stevens, Anthony. (1982). Archetypes: A natural history of the self. London: Routledge.

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ar·che·type / ˈärk(i)ˌtīp/ • n. a very typical example of a certain person or thing: the book is a perfect archetype of the genre. ∎  an original that has been imitated: the archetype of faith is Abraham. ∎  a recurrent symbol or motif in literature, art, or mythology. ∎  Psychoanalysis (in Jungian psychology) a primitive mental image inherited from the earliest human ancestors, and supposed to be present in the collective unconscious. DERIVATIVES: ar·che·typ·i·cal / ˌärk(i)ˈtipikəl/ adj.

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archetype (är´kĬtīp´) [Gr. arch=first, typos=mold], term whose earlier meaning, "original model," or "prototype," has been enlarged by C. G. Jung and by several contemporary literary critics. A Jungian archetype is a thought pattern that finds worldwide parallels, either in cultures (for example, the similarity of the ritual of Holy Communion in Europe with the tecqualo in ancient Mexico) or in individuals (a child's concept of a parent as both heroic and tyrannic, superman and ogre). Jung believed that such archetypal images and ideas reside in the unconscious level of the mind of every human being and are inherited from the ancestors of the race. They form the substance of the collective unconscious. Literary critics such as Northrop Frye and Maud Bodkin use the term archetype interchangeably with the term motif, emphasizing that the role of these elements in great works of literature is to unite readers with otherwise dispersed cultures and eras.

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archetypegripe, hype, mistype, pipe, ripe, sipe, slype, snipe, stripe, swipe, tripe, type, wipe •guttersnipe • bagpipe • standpipe •tailpipe • drainpipe • pitchpipe •windpipe • hornpipe • blowpipe •stovepipe • hosepipe • soilpipe •pinstripe • archetype • logotype •phenotype • linotype • Monotype •electrotype • daguerreotype •subtype • stereotype • collotype •genotype, stenotype •prototype • sideswipe

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archetype XVII. — L. archetypum — Gr. arkhétupon, sb. use of n. of adj. ‘first moulded as a model’, f. arkhe- (var. of arkhi-) + túpos model, TYPE. Cf. F. archétype.

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archetype A hypothetical ancestral form in which all the basic characteristics of a taxonomic group occur, although they are not specialized in any one direction. Thus the modern primitive mollusc Neopilina is perhaps close to the molluscan arche-type.

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archetype an original which has been imitated; (in Jungian theory) a primitive mental image inherited from the earliest human ancestors, and supposed to be present in the collective unconscious.