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This book is primarily an exploration of archetypes.
We will see how the archetypes form the basis for our life.
And we will learn how to use this understanding for
our happiness, our material well-being, and our spiritual attainment.

Jump to the following topics:

  1. What are archetypes?  
  2. The benefits from an understanding of archetypes.
  3. The archetypes have been known throughout history.
  4. There are many archetypes.  
  5. Techniques for developing our ability to recognize archetypes.
  6. Other chapters regarding archetypes.

What are archetypes? They have been described in various ways:

  1. Archetypes are the "seeds" from which all things originate, both animate and inanimate.
    • Human life. They are the common foundations from which human beings develop their lives. That is why the people in different cultures tend to have similar emotions, behaviors, rituals (social and religious), symbols, social organizations, and ways of perceiving and thinking; each of those phenomena is based upon an archetype which exists in everyone.
    • Animal life. If universal human behaviors can be attributed to archetypes, we can attribute animals' universal instinctive behaviors to archetypes.
    • Inanimate objects. If the behaviors of living things can be attributed to archetypes, perhaps we can attribute the "behaviors" of inanimate objects to archetypes; those "behaviors" would include the chemical activities, electrical activities, etc., of rocks, water, stars, galaxies, etc. -- and the universe itself.
  2. Collectively, archetypes have been compared to a blueprint or a genetic code which presents predetermined plans for the structure and function and development of each aspect of human life. We might wonder whether some or all of the archetypes are biologically based in the genes themselves, with one archetype per gene; if so, then our awareness of archetypes is founded on our intuitive awareness of our own genetic structure. (Carl Jung said that the archetypes are "present in the germplasm," i.e., the genes [Jung 1959, page 75].)
  3. They are the primary contents of the "collective conscious." In contrast to the personal unconscious (which contains entities which are unique to each person's experience) the collective unconscious holds the archetypes -- the entities which are common to all of humanity. Although Carl Jung was credited with the "discovery" of the collective unconscious, previous writers in philosophy and religion had offered similar ideas about a common source from which we all draw; for example, the Jesuit philosopher Teilhard de Chardin described a "noosphere" which is "composed of particles of human consciousness ... formed by the inner experiences of mankind."  The collective unconscious does not exist in geographical space (or in a specific part of the brain); it is merely the "field" (like a magnetic field which surrounds a magnet) which is created in the presence of archetypes. This field surrounds each archetype, and it also reaches out to connect with the archetypes which are in everything else.
  4. They are aspects of spirit. Spirit is one homogeneous substance, but it has various distinct functions when it expresses itself into material form; when we perceive each function, we attribute it to an archetype. For example, the soul -- through its human embodiment -- can act as a healer; therefore, we can say that there is a Healer archetype within the substance of spirit. Archetypes per se, do not exist (i.e, they are not actual entities, like a physical object which we could hold in our hands); the theory of archetypes is merely a conceptual model by which we understand and categorize the distinguishable aspects of life.

The benefits from an understanding of archetypes.

  1. We recognize the common ground which we share with other human beings (and with everything else). Some spiritual teachers claim that the foundation for this oneness is in our undifferentiated spiritual essence; however, if we do not perceive that spirit, we can surely recognize the archetypal expressions of it, e.g., our similar emotions, etc. With this commonality in human society, we understand one another's feelings and behaviors, because those people are responding to the same archetypes which we know. (Without archetypes -- if such a scenario can be imagined -- humans might not be able to communicate at all from our separate, individual worlds.) Through our connection to the archetypes, we are linked with all other people, and with everyone's ancestors and everyone's future descendants -- and with the rest of creation.
  2. We clarify and simplify the tasks of human life and of spiritual growth. We "clarify" in the sense that we recognize underlying archetypes in each situation; we "simplify" in the sense that we are not bewildered by the infinite variations of life but instead we can methodically deal with the finite number of archetypes from which those variations arise. The clarification and simplification assist us in both our human life and our spiritual explorations.
    • Human life. Sometimes life seems to be a random array of experiences; at other times, we recognize recurring events, e.g., a pattern of unpleasant relationships. As we look deeper, we realize that these patterns are based on our continued attempt to understand the underlying archetypes. (In the case of relationships, those archetypes might be Power, Love, or another). When we understand the nature and dynamics of those archetypes, our future relationships improve. Thus, our life is simplified -- because we are not confronting a large number of relationships but instead we are confronting the same one or two archetypes.
    • Spiritual explorations. In one sense, the "spiritual path" is merely our experiments in dealing with archetypes. In our human life, spirit does not confront us with its totality; instead, it reveals itself in its individual aspects, so that each aspect can be studied one-at-a-time. Those aspects are archetypes. Thus, as we learn about archetypes, we learn cumulatively about spirit itself. Our spiritual explorations are simplified because we are not caught up in the diversity of religious concepts and rituals; instead, we recognize the few archetypes which underlie those concepts and rituals, e.g., humility, service, love, forgiveness, detachment, etc. And we work directly with those archetypes, in a manner which suits us, knowing that our examination of archetypes can be equally enlightening in either a religious context or in everyday life.

The archetypes have been known throughout history. Carl Jung developed his concept of archetypes when he noticed the recurring symbols and themes in his patients' dreams, and as he realized that those same symbols and themes have appeared in both ancient and modern art, mythology (particularly in the assortment of Greek gods and goddesses), fairy tales, legends, and religion (including Buddhism's Tibetan Book of the Dead, where the archetypes are encountered in "the Bardo"). Archetypes have been described by Plato as "ideal forms," and by Europe's rationalistic philosophers as our innate tendency to perceive and understand in a particular manner, and by practitioners of various types of divination (such as numerology, runes, I Ching -- and astrology with its "signs of the zodiac").

There are many archetypes. Potentially, human life contains an infinite number of possibilities -- but those possibilities are based on a finite number of archetypes. (In another section of this book, I have listed some of those archetypes, such as Teacher, Parent, Birth, Servant, etc.) Despite the limited number of archetypes, human life is varied because we each express the archetypes in our own way. The archetypes are impersonal and autonomous. But when we create our lives, we flesh out these pre-existing archetypes in accordance with various factors:

  1. Cultural factors. For example, in a modern culture, the Home archetype might present itself as a house or apartment; in another type of culture (or sub-culture), the Home archetype might present itself as a tipi, tent, cave, or another type of housing. While the collective unconscious is shared by all of humanity, groups of people create their own "group unconscious"; in any sub-culture such as a family, ethnic group, religion, or corporation, there are shared myths, symbols, legends, heroes, and other indications of the presence of archetypes which are being expressed in a manner which is unique to that group.
  2. Personal factors. These factors can include our intuitive perceptions regarding the needs of the moment, and our logical analysis, and our habitual responses, etc. For example, at any moment, we might be a compassionate Warrior or a vicious Warrior.

Techniques for developing our ability to recognize archetypes. We can look for the underlying archetype or constellation in every object and action in our life, and in the world around us.

  1. Empirical evidence. For example, we know, by simple definition, that a human mother is expressing the Mother archetype.
  2. Logical deduction. For example, if we are looking for the Death archetype, we can logically expect to find it in words (such as "fatal" or "funeral"), or in the presence of a hearse in traffic, or in a memory of a deceased relative, or in the sadness which we feel when we see a dead animal next to the road, or in a movie or novel featuring a murder mystery, or in the perception of death in a remotely related subject such as autumn leaves (which are, of course, dead). The Death archetype can be present even in something which seems to be completely unconnected to the subject; for example, it could be evoked by a photograph of Star Trek's "Mr. Spock" because we saw a Star Trek movie on the day when our sister died.
  3. Literature. We might notice that a story from mythology, legends, or fairy tales is being played out in our life.
  4. Dreams. Archetypes are represented in the characters, objects, settings, and scenarios of our dreams.
  5. Nature. As explained earlier, archetypal behavior can be viewed in animals and in inanimate objects.
  6. This book. Archetypes are specified throughout the book, particularly in the chapter regarding "archetypal cycles." The chapter regarding "archetypal fields" helps us to discern the contents of those fields; as we explore the fields, we learn about the archetypes themselves.

Other chapters regarding archetypes. Throughout this book, we will explore the influence of archetypes upon the various aspects of our life, particularly the human mind, emotions, and behaviors. Some chapters deal specifically with archetypes.  

  1. Archetypal fields. These fields (which can be compared roughly to magnetic fields) surround an archetype, and they retain an impression from every thought, image, energy tone (i.e., emotion and feeling), and action which we generate whenever we encounter that archetype. Then, in future encounters with that archetype, we tend to re-use those previous "elements" (i.e., the thoughts, etc.) which have been recorded in the archetypal field.
  2. Archetypal field-work. This is a collection of techniques by which we deliberately implant new elements into our archetypal fields, so that our automatic response to archetypes tends to be effective and vibrant.
  3. Archetypal constellations. These are the groupings of related thoughts, images, energy tones (i.e., emotions and feelings), and actions corresponding to a particular archetype.
  4. Archetypal cycles. In this chapter, we examine the relationships among archetypal situations, and we recognize the many archetypal roles which we play in life. Archetypes are not merely an academic theory; they are the heart of everyday life -- our material life, our psychological life, and our spiritual life.

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