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Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000

Archetypes (Archetypal Dream Images)


While the notion of archetypes is at least as old as Plato, it is most familiar to the modern world through the work of Carl Jung, the prominent Swiss psychotherapist. In contrast to his mentor Sigmund Freud, Jung divided the unconscious mind into two subdivisions, the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious (which he also referred to as the objective psyche). The personal unconscious is shaped by our personal experiences, whereas the collective unconscious represents our inheritance of the collective experience of humankind. This storehouse of humanity’s experiences exists in the form of archetypes (or prototypes).

The archetypes predispose us to subconsciously organize our personal experiences in certain ways. We are, for instance, predisposed to perceive someone in our early environment as a father because of the father archetype. If a person’s biological father is absent during childhood, someone else (e.g., an older brother) is assimilated into this archetype, providing concrete images for the father complex (the reflection of the father archetype in the personal unconscious).

Archetypes are not specific images or symbols. They are more like invisible magnetic fields that cause iron filings to arrange themselves according to certain patterns. For example, Jung postulated the existence of a self archetype, which constitutes the unconscious basis for our ego—our conscious self-image or self-concept. In dreams, this self is represented in a variety of ways, often in the form of a circle or mandala (a circular diagram used as an aid to meditation in Hinduism and Buddhism). The self can also be represented by surrogate symbols, such as four of almost anything (according to Jung, four is the number of wholeness and hence a symbol of the self), a pattern Jung referred to as a quaternity. These concrete manifestations of elusive archetypes are referred to as archetypal images or, when they appear in dreams, as archetypal dream images.

Jung asserted that much of world mythology and folklore represents manifestations of the collective unconscious. He based this assertion on his discovery that the dreams of his patients frequently contained images with which they were completely unfamiliar, but which seemed to reflect symbols that could be found somewhere in the mythological systems of world culture. Jung further found that if he could discover the specific meaning of such images in their native culture, he could better understand the dreams in which they occurred. The process of seeking such meanings is referred to as amplification.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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