If you Google ‘Jungian Archetypes’ and look at the page you weirdly trust the most on the internet, Wikipedia, you will find yourself stifling a yawn in the first two paragraphs. And I won’t blame you. I agree that the work of most theorists is hard to understand at first glance.
Moreover, there’s either jargon material on google scholar or pop culture listicles in your search results, both of which don’t sound good enough. So, how about we take a comprehensive look at Jungian archetypes without all those complicated psychology terms? Let’s start with the basics- who was Jung?
Who Was Carl Jung?
Swiss psychologist Carl Jung was a student of Sigmund Freud, the famous psychoanalyst whom you might remember as the one with the beard and the cigar. Being psychologists, both students and teachers were very curious about the human mind. Several theories had already been proposed, for example, the tabula rasa theory, which says that the mind is a blank slate on which the experience writes.
On the other hand, Freud was of the view that the human psyche is like an iceberg. Our conscious thoughts are only the tip of this iceberg. Below the tip lies our unconscious mind. It contains childhood memories, fantasies, motives that we are unaware of. So, psychological problems are caused by sexual repression, unresolved attachment issues with parents, unrealistic fantasies, and everything else that lies in our unconscious.
Carl Jung neither believed in the blank slate theory, nor did he agree with Freud that the unconscious is just a dusty attic where you store disturbing memories. He had traveled the world. He had studied more cultures than his American and European colleagues.
Jung’s ideas stood out from those of his 19th and 20th-century contemporaries. At that time, a majority of psychoanalysts and experts focused on how individuals are different from each other. Jung was the one who drew attention to what we share in common as not just a community or nation, but an entire race.
So, he came up with an entirely different theory. He said that the unconscious is made up of the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious is a part of the unconscious, which is shared by all of us as a race. It is universal. This collective unconscious contains what Jung called ‘primordial images.’ Later, they became popular as Jungian archetypes.
What Are Jungian Archetypes?
The term archetype is most often explained as a ‘sign, symbol, and pattern of thinking and behaving.’ The word comes from the Greek term archetypo– arche, meaning original and typos meaning image. So, the literal meaning of archetype is ‘original image.’
What is that supposed to mean? Basically, Jungian archetypes represent concepts that are recurring in most mythological narratives, religions, and folk tales regardless of the culture or society. They exist in our minds even before we are born, just like physical organs and structures develop in the womb before we are born.
Sounds a bit abstract? That’s because it is. Jungian archetypes have no solid form. They are expressed in different ways depending on our history and culture.
For example, Jung identified archetypal figures like the mother, the father, the child, the devil, the gold, the trickster. If you look closely, you will realize that most of these archetypes manifest in one form or another in every culture.
For instance, the archetype of trickster manifests as Narad’s character in Hindu mythology, Hermes in Greek mythology, Cupid in Roman mythology, and so on. Not just mythology, but the trickster archetype is seen in contemporary media and literature too. For instance, Bugs Bunny from Looney Tunes and Captain Jacks Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean are expressions of this archetype.
How Many Jungian Archetypes Are There?
Jung believed that there is no definite list of archetypes. Archetypes change over time and overlap with each other, giving rise to new ones. That’s why it is difficult to name and count them. From this long and possibly never-ending list of archetypes, Jung identified four major ones:
The persona is what you use to represent yourself in society. It is like a social mask that you wear to keep a mostly socially desirable, acceptable, and consistent image of yourself in front of other people. For example, your coworkers think of you as a sociable, agreeable person.
Or, they think of you as someone who is intimidating, smart, and ambitious. Or, maybe to them, you are reserved, quiet, and thoughtful. That is your persona. Your persona could even be different for your family, friends, or colleagues.
The important point is, it is just a mask. It might not be close to your real self at all. But, we need to hold on to the persona because it helps us get along in society. It helps us relate to other people and make a place for ourselves in social circles.
It gives us a sense of acceptance and belonging. We idealize the gods and goddesses, heroes and saviors in movies, and our real-life role models are all expressions of the persona. They have desirable qualities that make them loved, cherished, and idealized in society.
The shadow is the other side of the persona. It contains all your unconscious motives, memories, fantasies, cravings. It might include your sexual desires and fetishes, aggression, the instinct to hurt others, prejudice, greed, weaknesses that you want to hide, and so on. This is the side of you that you’re afraid of seeing because it goes against social values and your personal ideals.
It is not really a bad or evil thing to have. It just completes your ‘self.’ If the persona is the part of us that we actively advertise to the world, the shadow is the one we want to hide. Both keep showing up throughout our life, balancing each other out. For example, sometimes, it is healthy to face your negative emotions like hatred or jealousy to get over them and function as usual.
The demons in mythology, Halloween ghosts, villains in Hollywood, stereotypes of criminals are archetypes of the shadow. They are the stuff that we want to keep away from. We don’t promote or encourage their behavior. Nevertheless, they are a part of the narrative.
The most realistic expression of this archetype could be Joker’s story- a person who embraced his shadow a little too close.
Of the four major Jungian archetypes, this looks like the most interesting one. Anima archetype is the feminine side of the male psyche, and the animus archetype is the masculine side of the female psyche. Basically, every man has a feminine side, and every woman has a masculine side.
The anima has qualities like warmth, emotionality, sensitiveness, and so on. These are qualities that we don’t typically associate with men. The animus has qualities like rationality, courage, desire. These are the ones that are usually not associated with women.
These qualities lie outside conscious awareness, i.e., we don’t know that we have them. But they are present, regardless of whether we express them or not. Jung has also outlined the stages of development of the anima and animus in men and women, respectively.
The self, according to Jung, is the whole of us- conscious, personal unconscious, and collective conscious together. All of us have a sense of self- we say, “I am this or that,” “I think,” “This is me.” That comes from the archetype of the self. Jung described it as the image of a mandala- at the center of this mandala is your ego.
Here, Jung talks about something called a two center hypothesis. He says that while the self is at the center of our personality, there is ego at the center of the self.
Ego is not an ego in the traditional sense. It is a concept borrowed from Freud. Freud had said that the self consists of id, ego, and superego.
To put it simply, it is the part of you that wants to ditch all diet plans, Super Ego is the one that wants you to follow a strict one year diet and exercise regimen, and Ego is the one that struggles to find the middle path. This ego, says Jung, is at the center of the self.
The Four Cardinal Orientations:
In addition to the four main archetypes, Jung also emphasized twelve other archetypes. They are caregiver, ruler, creator, innocent, sage, explorer, magician, rebel, hero, lover, jester, and everyman. Jung believed that each one of us has one dominant archetype.
Furthermore, he grouped these archetypes into four cardinal orientations- ego, social, order, and freedom. These orientations are basically four types of things that motivate us. For example, people who have the rebel archetype are motivated by a desire for freedom, while those who have the lover archetype are motivated by a need to belong.
Analytical psychology, also known as depth psychology, is based on Jung’s ideas about personality traits and the human psyche. It says that our life aims to bring together, to integrate the different parts that our personality is made of.
Some of these parts are very much known to us. Some others are hidden because they are not acceptable to us. But since they are very much a part of us, we need to uncover and accept them. Principles of analytical psychology are a helpful way to make sense of our lives.
Although Jung’s ideas are fascinating, some drawbacks are worth discussing.
No Empirical Proof
Most theories like that of Jung are criticized for one thing in the scientific community- they cannot be empirically tested. When Jung said there are archetypes, he failed to define what exactly is a Jungian archetype.
If Jungian archetypes are abstract and exist only in the mind, can we associate them with particular brain areas or at least have some quantifiable proof of how they affect behavior? Can we systematically study them?
If Jungian archetypes are inherited from ancestors, is it the same way we inherit eye color? If it is different, how? These are some questions that Jung didn’t answer.
That is why his theories and ideas still lie in the domain of pseudoscience. Many people find his views interesting, but they have not yet been empirically tested.
Jung’s idea of anima/animus is that it is the part of you that contains qualities that are not typically associated with your gender. If you smell gender stereotyping here, you might be right. The particular qualities of anima and animus feed existing prejudices about gender.
For instance, that women are caring and supportive by nature and lack rationality is a stereotype. That men are courageous by nature, but lack sensitivity is a stereotype.
Today, we believe in gender fluidity and gender-neutral upbringing. But the society in Jung’s times was quite different from what it is today. It was a time when gender-specific roles were an explicit norm. It has clearly influenced Jung’s thoughts in subtle ways. Still, there is a key takeaway in this idea.
We can look at it this way: our gender identity and expression as a man or a woman is not the whole story. There is an anima/animus that balances out all our black and white ideas of gender. Gender identity does not have to be trapped in watertight compartments. If interpreted like this, Jung’s ideas look more progressive even for our times.
All of Jung’s major writings have been compiled in this book series called ‘The Collected Works of C.G. Jung.’ It’s twenty volumes of essays, papers, lectures, letters, and more written by Jung. If you’re not a book person, you can even check out YouTube videos and short articles about Jung’s ideas.
If you are amazed, perplexed, or pleased with Jung’s work, you certainly shouldn’t be satisfied with a casual introduction. If you find his work vague or confusing, you shouldn’t stop at first impressions. Whatever you think, it’s always a good idea to explore things like Jungian Archetypes.