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Jungian Archetypes and Symbols

Carl G. Jung (1875-1961)

Jungian archetypes have a central role in dreams, art, myths, and legends. Jung buried himself in the study of myths and art from across time and cultures to build his concept of archetypes.

Jung, a psychiatrist and psychologist, was a contemporary of Sigmond Freud, the father of psychology. Jung studied with Freud (1907-1912) for a time before parting and pursuing his own theory and work.

Freud's psycho-sexual view of mental illness saw sexuality as the primary driving force behind most or many mental disorders, especially neuroses. Personality was composed of the instinctual Id, Ego, and Super Ego. The ego was what we projected to the world. The Super Ego played the role of a conscious, there to keep the Id in check. In the Id was our animalistic, instinctual drives and desires. Freud's credo was that the purpose of treatment was to make the unconscious conscious. This is still the guiding principle behind many insight-oriented therapies. His treatment method was called psychoanalysis.

Jung set forth his own theory of libido and the unconscious. His primary contributions in terms of therapy were several.
  • His theories on personality types, which serves today as the basis for the Myers-Briggs Personality Types classification system: Introvert/extrovert, thinking/feeling, and intuition/sensation. 
  • His rejection of Freud's psychosexual etiology for neuroses, and his corresponding emphasis on client's here-and-now conflicts. This method he referred to as analytical psychology.
  • His emphasis on the libido as being more closely aligned with the will to live rather than sexuality.
  • The cooperation between the conscious and unconscious mind for mental health and wellbeing.  The "unconscious" consists of the personal unconscious and well as a more global unconscious inherited in our species, referred to as the Collective Unconscious. (See discussion in "consciousness and personality", coming soon.)
It is to this last point that archetypes and symbols come into our discussions...


These are the inhabitant's of the Collective Unconscious--the inherited storehouse of our species' experiences. As a neo-Platonic concept, archetypes are the prototypes of personality.

Jung described them as primordial images (see Jung's Man and His Symbols, pp 57-58, linked below). They are not definite images, but more "motifs". The exact form they take in our dreams and fantasies are individualized and will depend in part upon our own cultural references.

Archetypes are the tendency to form such representation of a motif. These representations can vary a great deal from individual to individual and between cultures without loosing their basic pattern. They are instinctive trends much as birds' tendency to build nests or ants' ant hills and colonies.
  • They are the ideal: the perfect models from which we are but imperfect copies.
  • They are universal: they are norms of human myths and legends, found across cultures, time, and in primitive as well as contemporary human cultures.
  • The express common human needs and instincts, and potentials.
We need to distinguish between instincts and archetypes. Instincts are physiological urges and are perceived by the senses. At the same time, these instincts manifest themselves in fantasies and dreams, usually as symbolic images. These are the archetypes.
We will discuss under the Gene-Archetype section (coming soon), that the genes are the real archetypes. Based on our modern understanding of genetics, inheritance, and molecular biology, the DNA is the ..., If so, this storehouse may go back to the beginning of life itself.

Examples of archetypes include the Old Man, Old Woman, Warrior, Teacher, Mother, Father, Healer, Hero, Trickster, the Evil Animal (often a snake), the Goddess, and the Child.

Personal Archetypes

We each have our own personal archetypes, intimate companions that are with us and can be contacted and used. These are the source of our personal power. The ancients and indigenous peoples called these intimates, Spirit Guides or Allies.

Carolyn Myss, in her book, Sacred Contracts: Awakening Your Divine Potential, argues that we have twelve such personal archetypes or Spirit Guides. Four of which form the foundation of our personal power and self-esteem: Child, Victim, Prostitute, and Saboteur. The latter was know as the Trickster in Native American myths and legends and took the form of the coyote.

These are our survival archetypes. They are the intimate companions of your intuition. All four influence how we relate to material power, respond to authority, and make choices. You can read more about them on the Traditional Archetype page.

These four symbolize our four life challenges as we grow toward adulthood. How we negotiate these challenges determines a lot about our personal power and who we are in the world.

You will have a chance to meet your personal archetypes on the Power Animal, Teacher, and Working with Your Personal Archetype pages.


Each archetype has its positive and negative side. The negative side is referred as its shadow.

We also have our shadow side. Our shadow is that parts of ourselves we have rejected or denied. Shadow includes those instinctual urges we wish to deny. They are the rejected parts of ourselves. It is least familiar to our conscious mind. It can include our sexual desires, desires for power, anger, fears, and much more.

But our shadow is a natural part of us. As long as it goes unacknowledged it will create mischievous. It become hostile when it is ignored or misunderstood. Making allies of our shadow is an important part of individuation.


Three reoccurring symbols are stones, animals, and the circle according to Jung. We find these in the arts and literature across the ages. Symbols can, and usually do, reflect a multitude of meanings.


The Old Testament (Torah) speak of stones in many places. Often as sacred stones or sacred places. As Jacob traveled toward Haran and used the stones in a certain place along the was as a pillow. God appeared to him in a dream telling him of the land he would give Jacob and his descendants. A stone was an integral part of his dream.


Animal symbols are found in the earliest of cave drawings. Not only were they hunted, they were revered, if not worshiped. Each animal symbolizes something in terms of its strength--and weakness. The weakness is its shadow.

Animal symbols characterize our nations, our sports teams, our schools and colleges, and many other things even in today's world. Rome's and the US's symbol is the Eagle.

The profusion of animal symbols in the arts point to the importance of integrating our instinctual parts of ourselves with the conscious part of ourself. This process Jung referred to as individuation (below).

I would argue that not only are animal symbols, they are also archetypes. As stated above, each archetype has a shadow side.

Animals also symbolize our instinctual sides. In itself a particular animal is neither good nor bad. It is part of nature, just as our instincts are part of our nature. As such, they often symbolize our shadow sides.

We each have our own archetypal Power Animal and animal guides as discussed on the Power Animal page. You will have an opportunity there to find your's.

In one of my continuing education workshops attended by therapists, nurses, physicians ,and clergy, we regularly did a Hypno-Journey™ to let participants find their Power Animal. One of the clergy members was very hesitant, but he went ahead and participated in the exercise. When we shared their experiences, he said that, not following instructions, he had prayed to Jesus for guidance. In the trance/journey, he said Jesus told him not to be afraid that he (Jesus) was known as the lamb of God and the Lion of Judea. The clergy decided it was OK to have his own Power Animal after that.


The circle or sphere is another universal symbol. It symbolizes the self, completeness, or the whole. The circle has no beginning or end. It is about inclusiveness.

In Native American ceremonies there is the medicine wheel, each part of which is a hologram of the whole universe. The sweat lodge is a half-sphere.

Other archetypal symbols  

I would add the four directions, i.e. a cross (two lines crossing at 90) or square, also are archetypal symbols, as may be the triangle.


Individuation is the process of becoming whole. It is about integrating our instinctual and shadow parts of our individual unconscious with our conscious. It is psychic growth to wholeness.
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