Carl Jung, Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious — Follow-Up

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

This is an introduction and necessary preamble to a brief series of articles. I’m doing this so that readers don’t have to go back and read all the related preceding material in its entirety (although the links are included, should anyone wish to). So here I’m just setting the scene.

A few weeks ago I wrote an article in response to one by James Cussen about Carl Jung and the collective unconscious. My principal complaint was that he had written the whole article on this theme without once mentioning the word archetypes. His overall intention seemed to be to avoid any suspicion of metaphysics in Jung’s understanding of the collective unconscious, saying that it is “the psychology of the instincts of humanity”, “the mental component of the instincts”. It is therefore related purely to biology and instincts, the result of “four billion years of evolutionary refinement”, “It is no more mystical than the freshly hatched turtle making a beeline for the sea”.

I agreed that what he said in the first two of those four quotes was true, but that this was at best only half the story. My belief is that the word archetypes, meaning literally ‘original types’, and therefore considered to mean ‘blueprints’, also refers to organising causal factors, operating from a metaphysical dimension of the collective unconscious, shaping life at the material level.

My article was intended to be only a quick, off-the-cuff response, not going into details. To my surprise, however, this turned out to be my most successful article ever on Medium, both in terms of number of claps and clappers. It must obviously therefore have struck a chord with readers.

However, I then received a response from Sender Spike, with whom I correspond frequently on Medium and who seems very knowledgeable: “I guess your understanding of Jung is rather peculiar. According to Jung, archetypes are primary, autonomous, hereditary structures of human unconscious (and yes, they are a result of evolution of human species)… Archetypes shape life at the material level only as a manifestation of human actions. And if Jung mentions metaphysical planes… I’m quite sure that he does not mean anything outside of human psyche”.

I then received a reply from James Cussen himself. He said that his non-mention of the archetypes was intentional, because he was seeking “to communicate directly what the collective unconscious is”. By this I take him to mean that the term archetypes is in some way incidental, and not essential for an understanding. He reiterates that it was “Jung’s own words and contention — that the collective unconscious is the storehouse of the instincts… an empirical phenomenon… developed through our evolutionary past”. He goes on to say that, despite this being Jung’s belief, he personally believes that there is a metaphysical aspect to the collective unconscious. Thus he agreed with me “about this only being half of Jung (despite… Jung claiming the opposite)”.

While I was actually in the middle of composing my response to Cussen, I came across a further article by Zachary Burres on Jung and the subconscious mind. (Was this synchronicity?) I found him saying things identical to Cussen, that the collective unconscious is “the parts of our mind we inherit from our ancestors”. It has “evolved with us over time, and is the sum of our instincts and the source of our mental images and processes”. “Jung calls these ‘sums of instincts’ or inherited psychological organs archetypes”.

At this point, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I was questioning my sanity, but I was beginning to wonder whether I had merely imagined what I thought I had read in Jung, or worse, whether I was projecting into it what I had wanted to find, and therefore misread it. I’ve therefore decided to go back and see if I can find some other authors who agree with my interpretation, and more importantly any quotes from Jung which clearly and unequivocally support it. If I can do this, it would suggest that Sender Spike’s, James Cussen’s, and Zachary Burres’s interpretation is based merely on a selective reading of Jung, and does not give the whole picture.

So that will be the theme of the forthcoming articles, which I hope will be of interest to readers. I’ve done the decent thing and not done any reading in advance in order to improve my chances. If I fail in my search, I will have to own up and admit that I’ve got it wrong.

Carl Jung

I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics and astrology. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here).

I am a singer/songwriter interested in spirituality, politics, psychology, science, and their interrelationships. grahampemberton.com spiritualityinpolitics.com