Carl Jung introduced the term archetype into psychological theory, and he is primarily responsible for the development of the concept to which it refers. Jung recognized two basic layers in the unconscious—the personal unconscious, whose contents are derived from present lifetime experience, and the collective unconscious, whose contents are inherited and essentially universal within the species. The collective unconscious consists of archetypes. Jung described these as primordial images that have existed from the remotest times, but images that lack clear content. Their specific content as realized images is supplied by the material of conscious experience. Thus, the archetype as such is an empty form that must be inferred, or derived by abstraction, from a class of experienced images or symbols.

Jung (1969) noted that the term was first used by Philo Judaeus and later appeared in the writings of Irenaeus and Dionysius the Areopagite. In such ancient uses, it had a meaning close to that of Plato's ideas. A similar concept recurs over the centuries in idealistic philosophy and was emphasized by Romantic philosophers of the nineteenth century.

Jung acknowledged an intellectual lineage that can be traced to Plato, but he contended that his use of the term archetype is more empirical and less metaphysical than the use of the same or corresponding terms by idealistic philosophers. He arrived at the concept initially through a study of psychotic patients and augmented his understanding through a more comprehensive study of symbol systems. To the extent that he used experience as a springboard for theory, Jung can be regarded as more Aristotelian than Platonic. Yet, to the extent that Jung's theory of ar chetypes is valid, it leads to the paradoxical conclusion that only a limited empiricism is possible. For Jung, the archetypes are the most fundamental ingredients of the whole psyche. They are the forms that underlie everything we perceive, imagine, and think. Through progressive accumulation and elaboration of specific contents, the archetype becomes manifest in the image and then in the conscious idea, and even the basic concepts of philosophy and science can be regarded as ultimately rooted in archetypal forms. Thus, while Jung's concept of the archetype may be partly empirical, it necessarily rests on its own archetypal base.

Jung noted that this concept is akin to that of the instinct. Each term refers to an inborn predisposition, and in each case it is a predisposition that must be inferred from a certain class of effects. The term instinct refers to a predisposition to act in a certain way, whereas archetype refers to a predisposition toward a certain kind of "psychic apprehension." One might surmise that in both cases we are dealing with a tendency that has evolved and become universal within a species because it has survival value. Jung, however, did not provide a biological rationale for the archetype, and he considered it rather futile to speculate on its origin. He merely suggested that if the archetype ever "originated," its origin must have coincided with that of the species.

Jung began to develop the archetype concept during his early work at the Burgholzli Hospital, where he observed that some of his relatively uneducated psychotic patients experienced universal religious and mythological symbols. In many instances it was clear that the patient could not have learned of the symbol through formal study, and the appearance of the symbol in the patient's ideation or imagery had to represent a spontaneous eruption of unconscious material not derived from experience during the present lifetime. Jung subsequently explored the archetypal realm through an intensive examination of his own dreams and waking fantasies. He developed a method of "active imagination," by which he was able to secure a spontaneous flow of dreamlike material in a waking state. He studied religious symbolism, mythology, tribal lore, and such occult disciplines as alchemy in quest of evidence of universal motifs. Thus, his conclusions can be said to rest on an extremely broad base of observational data.

The archetypes to which Jung devoted the greatest amount of attention in his writings include the shadow, the anima and animus, the wise old man, the magna mater (or great earth mother), the child, and the self (Jung, 1968). Each of these archetypes collects a great deal of associated content, which varies according to the experience of the individual and colors a large portion of our total experience. The behavioral, intellectual, and perceptual qualities over which we fail to develop much conscious control remain with us as a kind of unexamined dark side and become associated with the shadow. The feminine qualities that a man fails to realize consciously in himself become associated with his anima, while the unrealized masculine qualities of the woman become associated with her animus.

Thus, each archetype becomes the core of a system of content that varies a bit from one individual to another.

The archetypes noted above tend to be experienced in personified form. They may appear as figures in our dreams, and they provide the source of such cultural symbols as gods and goddesses. They also enter extensively into our interpersonal experience, for we frequently project them onto other people. Each of these archetypes can be expressed in a great variety of personifications. Agiven anima image, for example, may be positive or negative and may emphasize any of a number of possible qualities—sexuality, beauty, wisdom, spirituality, moral virtue, destructive-ness, and so forth. There are other archetypes, which Jung (1969) called archetypes of transformation, that do not appear in a personal form. They are expressed in many of the situations, places, implements, and events of our dreams, and they govern corresponding motifs in folklore. Jung believed he had identified the most important archetypes. Yet, if his basic assumptions are valid, it may be assumed that the total number of archetypes is indefinitely large and that an exhaustive inventory is not feasible.


Jung, C. G. (1968). The collected works of C. G. Jung: Vol. 9, Pt. II. Aion: Researches into the phenomenology of the self.Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Jung, C. G. (1969). The collected works of C. G. Jung: Vol. 9, Pt. I. The archetypes and the collective unconscious. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Richard Welton Coan University of Arizona

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