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*psycho/analytic corner* - collective unconscious and archetypes

One of the most interesting aspects of Jung's work is undoubtedly the introduction of the concept of the collective unconscious.

With the introduction of this concept, Jung surpasses the notion of the unconscious as it was understood by Freud, who argued that the unconscious was nothing more than the point where removed or forgotten contents converged.

Jung calls the latter personal unconscious: this rests on a deeper layer, which does not come from acquisitions of a personal nature but is innate in all of us. This deeper layer is the collective unconscious, and it derives from the inherited brain structure. This heritage, common to all humans, is the foundation of every individual psyche.


The unconscious, Jung maintains, constitutes the original datum from which consciousness emerges. For Jung, it is indisputable that there is no consciousness primarily regulating human activity, precisely because a good part of our lives is spent in a state of unconsciousness. Jung calls this deepest layer of the unconscious 'collective' because it is universal in nature, i.e. it has contents and behaviour that are the same everywhere and for all individuals.


We could define the collective unconscious as

A common psychic substratum of a suprapersonal nature is thus present and essentially identical in all men.

The contents of the personal unconscious are the so-called 'feeling-toned complexes', while the contents of the collective unconscious are called 'archetypes'. The concept of the archetype, which is an indispensable correlate of the idea of the collective unconscious, indicates the existence in the psyche of determinate forms that seem to be present always and everywhere.


Initially Jung called them Urbilder, or primordial images. Jung's choice of the term was prompted by St Augustine's "idee asprinciples" - ideas containing the content and meaning in a clear form:

"... Les idees principàles (original ideas) are stable and immutable forms [...] which have not been created and are therefore eternal and present themselves in the same way, and which are contained in divine intelligence...".

Later, in 1946, Jung makes an important distinction between the archetype in itself, that is, the archetype potentially inherent in every psychic structure, and the actualised archetype, which represents the perceptible form of the archetype. As such, the actualised archetype has entered the field of consciousness and subsequently presents itself as an archetypal image.

In this case, its manifestation varies constantly according to the conditions within which it comes into being.

There are, as it were, archetypal images that become effective only under certain circumstances after having lain in the unconscious until a moment before. The archetype represents in essence

an unconscious content that is modified through consciousness precisely because it is perceived, and this occurs according to the individual consciousness in which it manifests itself.

Not only does the archetype possess the possibility of representing itself in a static way as a primordial image, but also has a dynamic processual way, i.e. in the differentiation processes of consciousness. . Jung calls the archetypes 'psychic organs' and argues that the ultimate meaning can be circumscribed, rather than described.


Archetypes are determined in form, but not in content. The more the archetype is not precise in form, the deeper the layer of the collective unconscious from which it stems from.


If the problem is linked to time and personality, the guise in which the archetype expresses itself will be very complicated, but at the same time, it will also be more delimited and precise.

On the contrary, the more impersonal and general what the archetype wants to illustrate, the simpler and more undefined will be its language.

We can say that the number of archetypes is not infinite. In life, there are as many archetypes as there are typical situations. Continuous repetition has imprinted these experiences in our psychic constitution; it has not done so in the form of images endowed with content, but rather, initially, as 'forms without content' that constitute the possibility of a certain type of perception and action.

The archetype will be activated when a situation arises that corresponds to it and a way is opened up against all reason or will.


In the language of the unconscious, which is a purely figurative language, the archetypes appear in personified or symbolic form. What is expressed by archetypal content is a simile. One should not think that all similes can effectively clarify the archetype and therefore the archetype can be got out of the way. Even the best of attempts at explanation is nothing more than a translation into another figurative language. The number of archetypes constitutes the proper content of the collective unconscious. It is not an unlimited number, because it coincides with the possibility of typical fundamental experiences experienced by human beings from the earliest times.

The motifs of the archetypal images can be found in all mythologies, fables, religious traditions and mysteries. The archetype, the primordial source of universal human experience, lies in the unconscious, and from there powerfully invades the sphere of our lives.


Summarising the above, Jung's thesis is that in addition to the immediate consciousness, which is individual in nature, there is a second psychic system with collective, universal and impersonal nature. This system is common to all individuals. This collective unconscious, which is not derived from experience, does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existing forms that are the archetypes, which can only become conscious at the moment they are 'activated' and give a very precise form to certain psychic contents.

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