Archetypes: The Common Psychic Structures of Humanity

Archetypes

Consciousness, according to Carl Jung is the relationship between the ego and its psychic components. The ego is the center of consciousness while the psychic components refer to the personal and collective unconscious containing the archetypes. These elements continuously interact with each other to form one’s psyche.

The conscious aspect of your psyche is your field of awareness that makes you aware of your experiences. The personal unconscious encompasses all experiences in your life that bypassed your conscious awareness like the minute details of daily activities, or painful events that you have repressed.

The collective unconscious, on the other hand, as Jung claims, connects an individual to the whole of mankind. He refers to them as “identical psychic structures common to all”. These are archaic or ancient memories of our ancestors that we genetically inherit from our parents. It is easier to perceive the collective unconscious as a collective database of consciousness much like our cloud computing technology. Some even refer to it as God.

What are archetypes?

As Jung said, archetypes are “deposits of ancestral experiences, but they are not the experiences themselves”. They are psychological complexes of the collective unconscious that are the results of patterns of our ancestors’ experiences. So all archetypes are present in our psyche but only a few dominate or rather subconsciously influence our personality.

As we make progress through the hardships of life, we come across one or more of these archetypes. They usually show up in times of stress as unconscious reactions to situations. For instance, you may start seeing a pattern of numbers, or signs related to the subject in concern.

Archetypes in Myths and Religion

Jung in addition to being a psychiatrist was also interested in mythology and religion. His interest in these disciplines led him to connect the dots and discover similarities among them. What he found was quite intriguing. The archetypes revealed various symbols, patterns, and themes that many religions and myths around the world had in common. What further intrigued him is that similar themes and patterns recurred in the dreams, and fantasies of his schizophrenia patients.

If there indeed is a connection between the archetypes and the structure of myths, it could mean that there exists a storehouse that contains information about collective human evolution. Many ancient civilizations like the Egyptians, Tibetians, Indians, etc shared similar notions of a collective cloud containing the history of humankind.

Jung thus believed that our psyche is not just a product of our personal experience but also contains elements that are transpersonal and common to all.

Is there any scientific evidence for the existence of archetypes?

Jung accounts for his archetypal theory by appealing to experiential knowledge. He presents his evidence of identical thought patterns found among individuals from across the world to prove the validity of the archetypes. He also claims that there is no other way to prove the validity of archetypes without their obvious applicability.

However, there are various works of other thinkers in their respective disciplines that hint at the existence of archetypes. Following are the three pieces of evidence that support archetypes:

1. Levi-Strauss: Structural Commonality in Myths

Levi Strauss, a French anthropologist studied the structure of language in order to decipher the patterns in myths. Myths are traditional stories that reflect the deep beliefs and dogmas of the time. He wanted to know what made mythology all over the world so similar.

His method was quite simple. He deconstructed a myth to its smallest components – mythemes and  laid it out in a pattern that could be read both horizontally and vertically. The horizontal axis corresponded to non-reversal times which was the story of the myth, while the vertical axis corresponded to the structure of the myth laid out in reversible times.

Strauss considered myth to be a language since it had to be spoken in order for it to exist. Therefore, he posited that language is the structure of the myth since language is eternal and the only component using which we can go backward or forward in time. On the other hand, the story belonged to a linear time since its contents cannot be changed in time.

He concluded that it was the structure of the myth and not the contents of its story that made myths all over the world so similar. Thus, according to him, present phenomena are nothing but transformations of the structures of primitive patterns present in our minds, which is quite similar to Jung’s idea of transformation through various archetypal stages.

2. Noam Chomsky: Universal Grammer

Noam Chomsky, an American linguist and philosopher formulated theories related to children’s language development. He purported the very famous “universal grammar theory” suggesting that children are already pre-equipt with an understanding of the basic structure of any human language.

This suggests that there are universal characteristics common to all languages giving children the ability to acquire languages so instinctively. What probably happens is, as the neurons in children’s brains from patterns, it corresponds to the pre-existing structures in their collective unconscious. This is perhaps what gives children the instinctive quality to attain languages so quickly.

Chomsky’s description of universal structures of our psyche resembles Strauss’s structure of myths and Jung’s archetypes. Thus, this presents a reasonable amount of evidence to prove the existence of archetypes.

3. Jean Piaget: Schemata

Schemata, according to Jean Piaget are generalizations of past experiences that record your thoughts and form patterns by categorizing new information. For instance, feeling afraid in darkness is a schema that we obtained from our ancestors. Darkness made them more vulnerable to attack by animals and hence they feared it. Though, this is instinctual fear is not quite necessary in the present times, but from years of a similar response to the stimuli of darkness, it has now become a part of our collective psyche.

Archetypes then in this sense can be viewed as the different patterns of collective schemas of humanity. It is the record of humanity’s history of motifs, thoughts, and behaviors. What is baffling is that these patterns are recorded and stored under esoteric conditions and may even be accessible by us!

Perhaps, in years to come, genetics will open new avenues for exploring the impact of heredity on the unconscious mind. But until then, we have to consider that there is a possibility schemas are the factors behind the perpetuity of myths. This explains why myths are written and read the way they are to subconsciously trigger similar values across humanity. Perhaps someone wise, a long time ago thought that there are certain keys values without which humanity won’t flourish.

Why should you learn about the archetypes?

Learning about the archetypes is a great way to explore your collective unconscious which is imperative for personal growth. It will not only make you aware but will also help you understand others better.

Following are its two major implications:

1. Assists in the individuation process

Individuation is the process of becoming your true self. Jung posits that our conscious mind is only a part of our whole psyche and the unconscious has a significant role to play in its regulation.

All of us undergo this process at some point in our lives. It occurs as one progresses through the various stages of life instigated by the patterns of the collective unconscious, the archetypes. The shadow, anima and animus, the self are the three life stages described by Jung.

Dr. Clare W Graves, a professor of psychology at Union College, suggested that individuation happened in seven stages alternating from ego-centric to social cooperation. The various archetypes described by him are survivor, trickster, hero, shadow, anima/animus, wise one and the self.

When you learn about the archetypes, you become aware of it when it comes up in your experience. This knowledge will help you keep your perspective in check especially while dealing with negative life situations.

2. Understanding of collective evolution
The emergence of archetypal images across various disciplines only proves that there is something common that connects humanity at a deeper level. The study of archetypes is crucial if you want to increase your perception of patterns founds in myths, religion, literature, and also dreams.

These psychic components define the structure of our world and are integral to the understanding of mankind’s collective evolution. Understanding the schemas of development will be helpful in deciphering the motifs of collective evolution.

The idea that individual growth mimics collective development has significant implications in shifting your worldview from disconnected to connected. Archetypes connect the parts – humans to the whole – God, and this is exactly what the premise is of a connected worldview.

 

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