Psychoanalysis of Myth 7
Jung's Collective Unconscious
Jung's idea of archetypes existing and remaining in some kind of human awareness through generations, independently of time and place, calls for an explanation similar in kind to Freud's theory of an archaic heritage, mentioned above. That was also what Jung started with, but he continued to develop a solution of his own, the collective unconscious — which is not that different at all from Freud's concept.
by Stefan Stenudd
This book examines Jungian theories on myth and religion, from Carl G. Jung to Jordan B. Peterson. Click the image to see the book at Amazon (paid link).
by Stefan Stenudd
This book examines Freudian theories on myth and religion, from Sigmund Freud to Erich Fromm. Click the image to see the book at Amazon (paid link).
Each person has an unconscious, part of it very personal indeed, and part of it is the same for all human beings. This part is the collective unconscious, where the archetypes are stored. It is simply the part of the unconscious, which does not come from personal experience. The personal unconscious contains such material as actual personal memories and experiences that have been forgotten or repressed, and the rest belongs to the collective unconscious. Jung did not see this as any sort of telepathic dimension with ability to reach out of a person's mind. To him it is more like an imprint, something inherited by all, along the line of animal instincts. This is also how Freud saw the archaic heritage.
Somehow instincts progress and adapt in animals, as they change by evolution and their needs alter according to changes in their surroundings. Otherwise their instincts would soon be their doom instead of their support in survival. Therefore, some kind of evolution of instincts is possible. Jung imagines a similar development of the human brain, as the means by which the collective unconscious appeared and was filled with archetypes. To Jung, the complexity of the human mind allows for that additional and more refined set of instincts which is the collective unconscious:
The hypothesis of the collective unconscious is, therefore, no more daring than to assume there are instincts.
The archetypes give examples of this, since many of them obviously relate to phenomenons that all people have in common — such as the mother, the child, life and death. Jung insists that archetypes are shared by all, and not just people of one culture or one time period. Therefore, he must mean that what cannot be grasped or recognized by every human being, is not an archetype. So, the idea of the collective unconscious creates a definite border for what are archetypes, and what are not. They must relate meaningfully to all human beings. With some of the archetypes Jung specified, that is not so obvious — they are rather limited to his own European and Christian background. Still, if he makes mistakes in applying his theory, it does not necessarily mean that the theory is faulty.
Pluto abducts Persephone, by Jan Peter van Baurscheit the younger.
To Jung, the collective unconscious seems to have little else to do than store the archetypes, which are the instruments for any person to reach self-realization in the individuation process. Archetypes are essentially all that the collective unconscious consists of. What is kept there is in the form of archetypes, as if this is the way for the unconscious to code such parts of itself.
Myths are born out of the collective unconscious, therefore made up of archetypes. To Jung, they are little more than expressions of that part of the psyche: "In fact, the whole of mythology could be taken as a sort of projection of the collective unconscious." Dreams, on the other hand, come from the personal unconscious, and cannot become myths, because of their personal nature. Whereas the personal unconscious is unable to influence the collective unconscious, the reverse is possible:
The collective unconscious influences our dreams only occasionally, and whenever this happens, it produces strange and marvelous dreams remarkable for their beauty, or their demoniacal horror, or for their enigmatic wisdom — "big dreams," as certain primitives call them.
So, Jung's collective unconscious is an inherited part of the psyche, a fundamental driving force, a container of great truths, and the only trustworthy guide to self-realization. Yet, it is hidden in the depth of the mind, unknown to man. Myths are the instruments to discover and to utilize it.
Applying Jung to myth
Psychoanalysis of Myth
© Stefan Stenudd 2006
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I'm a Swedish author of fiction and non-fiction books in both English and Swedish. I'm also an artist, a historian of ideas, and a 7 dan Aikikai Shihan aikido instructor. Click the header to read my full bio.