Archetypal Theory and Carl Jung

BECAUSE BOTH JUNG and archetypal theory have come under attack in recent years, it is worthwhile to briefly clarify the epistemological parameters, controversial issues, and answers to challenges. In essence, archetypal theory is associated with the life-long thought, work and research of Carl Jung. As James Hillman argues, it was Jung “who reintroduced the ancient idea of archetype into modern psychology”.[i]

THE EVIDENCE given for archetypes in this chapter is largely based within the parameters of Jung’s archetypal theory – ‘archetypes of the unconscious’. This is not to say that Jung is the only archetypal theorist. Henry Corbin, James Hillman and others, throughout history, are also important. Corbin is particularly seminal in regard to archetypal landscapes, as we shall see in the last chapter. Hillman is an important contemporary archetypal philosopher and theorist, who “offers a way into Jung – and a way out of Jung, especially his theology. For to stay wholly with this one thinker is to remain a Jungian, which as Jung himself said is possible only for Jung”.[ii]

By calling on Jung to begin with, Hillman states he is acknowledging the fundamental debt archetypal psychology owes to Jung. Jung is the immediate ancestor in a long line that stretches back through to Plato and to Heraclitus, with even more branches yet to be traced. But Hillman also acknowledges “the second immediate father of archetypal psychology”, namely Henry Corbin (1903-1978).[iii] Hillman argues that for Corbin the fundamental nature of the archetype is accessible to imagination first and presents itself as an image; hence the entire procedure for archetypal psychology as a method is imaginative.[iv]

Jung’s Challenge

JUNG’S THINKING SPANS both modernism and postmodernism. Jung is now recognized as an important postmodernist. Of course, Jung and his theory of archetypes are controversial in some quarters. Perhaps this is not surprising. Jung implicitly challenged the patriarchy and the ideologies behind patriarchal hegemony. He challenged Freud, the undisputed ‘Father of Psychoanalysis’. Jung wanted to go beyond Freud’s foundationalist theories of sexuality – for example the ‘Oedipus complex’ and ‘penis envy’ – to an exploration of spirituality.

Jung was a life-long student of world religions, both historical and cultural. He challenged head on Western monotheistic cultures with the concept of an inner spirituality within the archetypes of the collective unconscious. This spirituality was pluralistic and had many potential ‘Gods’. In this, it was more akin to Paganism, alchemy, Gnosticism, the hermetic traditions and the mystical and esoteric wisdom streams. Jung challenged the monotheistic ‘God/Father’ concept. This was just one archetype among many; hence Jung challenged the hegemony of the traditional religious institutions and their foundational disciplines. In particular, he challenged fundamentalism and modernist theology. For Jung the God image, or Imago Dei, comes from within the psyche. It is an archetype. It displays the struggle of the psyche for self-realisation; which is the spiritual goal of the individual and all of humanity.

THE SOUL AS THE FEMININE PRINCIPLE or anima archetype within the human being, was emphasized by Jung. It is perhaps because of this that he was well regarded by educated and independent women, both in his time and after his death.

As well, the anima archetype within is congenial to openly gay men, and those heterosexual men secure enough in their personhood and masculinity to be happy to enjoy and acknowledge their feminine side. This recognition of the archetypal power of the anima, redeemed the feminine, long derogated within traditional patriarchal monotheism. For example Jung argued that the “whole nature of man presupposes woman, both physically and spiritually.” [v]


[i] James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), xiii.

[ii] Ibid, xii.

[iii] James Hillman, Archetypal Psychology – A Brief Account (Dallas: Spring Publications,Inc. 993), 2.

[iv] Ibid, 4.

[v] Carl Jung, ‘Two Essays in Archetypal Psychology’, in: Collected Works, vol. 7, 188.

Evidence For Archetypes

EVIDENCE FOR ARCHETYPES can be divided into several different categories: (1) ‘associative evidence’, similar or associative theory which overtly supports archetypes or bears a resemblance to archetypal theory; (2) ‘scientific evidence’, where it is argued Jung’s method which is descriptive and phenomenological is not unscientific, and ‘archetypes’ are given theoretical support from the theory of other scientists; (3) ‘evidence from quantum physics, which is support from the theory of quantum physicists.

Complicating the issue of evidence for archetypes is that acceptable evidence is dependent on how archetypes are defined. Different theorists have defined archetypes in different ways. For example, while the leading Romanian and latterly American academic historian and philosopher of religion Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) and James Hillman define archetypes in similar ways to Jung, there are also differences. Jung, a self-described empiricist, wanted a naturalistic theory of archetypes which had scientific credibility. Hillman would abandon the scientific approach to archetypes altogether and advocate instead that we see science from the viewpoint of archetypes. For Hillman, science itself is a sort of myth and fantasy of the soul.

Even within the archetypal theory of one thinker, most notably Jung, there can be many strains of thought which can appear contradictory. Jung, however, is acknowledged as the pre-eminent thinker on archetypes in the twentieth century – and it is precisely because his theory encompasses both modernist scientific perspectives and evidence from quantum science and postmodern and mystical perspectives that his thought is so compelling, evocative and complex.

Walter A. Shelburne philosophy professor and founding member of the Applied Philosophy Institute, California, has studied and examined the scientific and logical evidential parameters of Jung’s theory of archetypes in depth. He concludes:

“even though there are these many strains of Jung’s thought – a philosophical emphasis, a mythos emphasis, as well as a scientific emphasis – this is not to say that everything Jung said has to be evaluated from the critical standpoint of any one particular point of view. For…in spite of the confusion that Jung creates by working over his material from these methodologically divergent perspectives, a legitimately scientific perspective can nonetheless be reconstructed from his thought.”[i]

[i] Walter A. Shelburne, Mythos and Logos in the Thought of Carl Jung – The Theory of the Collective Unconscious in Scientific Perspective (State University of New York Press, 1988), 10.