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Concept of Archetypes at Carl Jung

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The archetypes concept has been approached by Jung in his entire work after he left Sigmund Freud. But in his book on the confrontation between the ego and the unconscious*, when he describes the process of assimilation of the unconscious, he writes about archetypes such as: Persona, Shadow, Anima / Animus and the Self.

But what is the archetype according to Jung? An innate tendency which molds and transform the individual ego/consciousness.

It is rather a natural tendency to shape things than a collection of inherited contents such as images, ideas, concepts; it is a matrix which influences human thinking and believes on the ethical, moral, religious and cultural levels.

Jung talks about the archetype (also called "primordial image") as of the biologists' patterns of behavior (inborn behavior patterns). In short, archetypes are inborn tendencies which shape the human behavior.

"The archetype concept - Jung writes - derives from the often repeated observation that myths and universal literature stories contain well defined themes which appear every time and everywhere. We often meet these themes in the fantasies, dreams, delirious ideas and illusions of persons living nowadays".

These themes are representatives of archetypes; they are based on archetypes. They impress, influence and fascinate us (our ego). This is why we call their tremendous effect numinous - that is, able to arise deep and intense emotions.

Archetypes do not have a well defined shape "but from the moment they become conscious, namely nurtured with the stuff of conscious experience." Basically an archetype is empty, purely formal, nothing else but a pre-shaping possibility or an innate tendency of shaping things.

We can say that archetypes resemble the instincts in that that they cannot be recognized as such until they manifest in intention or action.

Archetypes are both negative and positive, that is they have two sides. One may figure out the archetype dualism by comparison with the symbolism of the well-known yin-yang principle. Though Yin and Yang are parts of the same unity - the T'ai chi - they have separate and opposite meanings: decline and progress, below and high, night and day and so forth.

Finally, the archetype is psychoid (psychic-like); it shares both psychic and material aspects and acts as well on a psychic and/or material plane. (See also the synchronicity principle).

Read about:

Persona - Animus - Anima

Shadow - Self - Wise Old Man (coming soon)

Read also:


Further resources:

    * The book is included in Two Essays in Analytical Psychology. You may order it from

  • Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious provides valuable information about the archetype concept. You may order this book from

Archetypes in Dreams:

  • We illustrate the occurrence of archetypes in dreams and explain their meaning in our Jung and Dreams email course. Click here to learn more.

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