Archetypes are images, motifs, representations that sit in the collective unconscious.  They are universal, not personal images; if they were our own personal imagery we would not be surprised or bewildered by them when they appear in our visions or dreams.  Archetypes are broader than the personal ”…they create myths, religions, and philosophies that influence and characterise whole nations and epochs of history.”  [1]

Jung described them as a deep spell.  Any life situation can be imagined to have an archetypal dimension…it moves us into certain emotions and behaviours that are not intentional or even entirely individual.  Jung uses the word seizure to describe the experience of an archetype – the spell is the sign that something archetypal is at play.  “We need images that effectively give us insight into the archetypal depths of our life experience, otherwise we are left with surface explanations that remain on the purely personal, social and physical levels.” [2]

Archetypes can never be known, we can only ever glimpse them – that fleeting sense that you can’t really explain.  This sort of imagery or feeling is best described through story telling as it was in the oral tradition of indigenous cultures.  “In former times men did not reflect upon their symbols, they lived them and were unconsciously animated by their meaning.”[3]  In this way the archetype can inform behaviour and aspects of culture.  “The purpose of glimpsing them is not to explain them away and then have control over them, but rather, to be guided by them toward our own instinctive way of life, to feel the very roots of our identity, and so be able to live in intimate relation to our own soul.”[4]

In the Western world we would benefit from a reconnection with nature, with our basic instincts and deeper consciousness.  The loss of this connection leads to a distorted expression in physical symptoms and neurosis.  We need to stop, turn around and meet our shadow face to face, explore the sometimes fearsome imagery in our inconsciours.  In this way, by accepting our inner complexity, we can acknowledge the same complexity in others.  We need not exist in the polarity space of us and them, good and bad, but acknowledge that we all have aspects of all these things.  In this way life could be more interesting and rewarding, and deeper – much deeper.

There is a lot of information you can access about the Jungian Archetypes, I only refer to two sources here for a very brief overview.  Please do further research of your own as I think we can all benefit from such understanding on our journey.

[1] Jung, C.G., Man and His Symbols, Picador, 1978, p.68

[2] Moore, ThomasThe Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life, Hodder & Stoughton, 1996, p.194

[3] Jung, C.G., Man and His Symbols, Picador, 1978, p.69

[4] , ThomasThe Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life, Hodder & Stoughton, 1996, p.195