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What is an Archetype?

I am getting into difficult waters which is always true when you try to explain or talk about the Archetypes.  Like light, when you try to explain a definition. it gets complicated. You sense them and see their effects but can never know them directly. So to describe the Archetypes in blunt words is challenging.
Let me start with a metaphor to my difficulty; Anna Russell’s narrative of Wagner’s Ring Cycle of Wagner. She is spot on accurate in describing the basic principles of this 20 hour saga – yet in its comic simplicity it conveys nothing of the splendor/complexity or numinous of the opera.  Trying to put Jungian terms into simple language  runs the risk of making it sound absurd or silly. I will try my best.

In his travels and studies Jung saw in every culture (past and present) basic human draws to things, certain types of people and universal objects.
Examples: the mother, the father, the ruler, and the shaman.
Examples of things; the Sun, the Moon, the Stars, and Water and Fire.
Through time and evolution of both the brain and culture we are ‘wired’ to be emotional towards many things. He called this universal connection The Collective Unconscious. At the heart of any Complex is something called The Archetype.

Archetypes are inherited innate and a priori modes of perception, linked to instincts, which regulate our perception. They are primordial ideas, common to all of mankind, and they express only through images. They are charged with emotion and function autonomously from the unconscious. Works of Art, Myths, and Symbols get us in touch with Archetypes.
Let’s use for an example the Father Archetype.
When you relate to your father, you relate not only to the physical man who is your father (in all his good and bad) but you come in contact with The Father – what the Father means throughout history/society and in your culture.
For those who know Tarot, the Card “The Emperor” in an archetypal image of The Father and all he can be, both good and bad. You recognize him and feel him maybe sometimes without conscious thought. The Card accesses the Archetype and its paternal energy, or libido as Jung called psychic energy. Jungian psychoanalysis is a exploration first of the personal, but also of the Collective. It is about how to you relate and connect to the Archetypes.

There are many Archetypes, some more ubiquitous and powerful than others.
Some famous ones are the Shadow, the Anima, the Trickster, and the Self. I’ll write about some of these in later.
Archetypes are universal but the people/symbols we use to get in touch with them change over time. The Western mind often – but not always – identifies with the Greek Mythos. But any culture’s Gods and Figures do fine. Mercury = Loki= Spider = Raven = Trickster.

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