What Good Is an Archetype?

Image from the Book of Lambspring. "Nature turns toward us the face that we turn toward it" (Jung).

Craig Chalquist, PhD

The least of things with a meaning is always worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.
-- C. G. Jung


A psychiatric collegue of Jung's at the Burgholzli clinic in Switzerland saw an inpatient who still goes by the case name "Solar Phallus Man." This patient had hallucinations of a giant phallic tube extending downward from the sun to blow winds in four directions over the earth. Jung, who happened to own one of the few books in print that described this image in great detail, identified it as a piece of Egyptian mythology. The patient had not owned this book and probably had not read it. This is one of the discoveries that led Jung to his own formulation of a shared, or collective, unconscious.

Jung believed that this shared unconscious could generate the same basic motifs everywhere. A bar maid, he commented, could dream of a precise Wheel of Life figure without having seen one. These universal motifs or patterns he called archetypes, the basic structures that organize human experience while connecting it to the greater-than-human. Archetypes are akin to the natural laws that order the physical universe: invisible but discernible by their effects. These include intensely numinous experiences, cosmic dream images, sacred figures in art and myth, sudden inspirations, and intensely felt emotional and bodily reactions to meaningful encounters like synchronistic events.

Why does this matter? What difference does it make to know when some archetype (Rebirth, Divine Child, Great Mother, King, Resurrection, Death, Divine Marriage) shows up in the vicinity?

See also my Glossary of Jungian Terms.