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What Are the Four Primary Jungian Archetypes?

Read on to learn more about the 4 foundational archetypes of Jungian psychology.

Read on to learn more about the 4 foundational archetypes of Jungian psychology.

Types of Jungian Archetypes

Archetypes are not exclusive to Jungian psychoanalytical theory. Archetypes are found throughout mythology, in various religions, films, literature, and so on. There are countless archetypes and archetypal images.

However, in Jungian theory, based on the work of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, some archetypes figure more prominently than others. Also, Jungian theory defines and uses some archetypes in a way that is actually specific to Jungian psychology.

The four archetypes that are the foundation of the psyche are of primary importance to Jungian thought.

What Are Jung's Four Major Archetypes?

  1. Self
  2. Anima
  3. Animus
  4. Shadow

What Are Archetypes?

Archetypes are one of the foundations of Jungian psychology and may seem to be a daunting subject to comprehend. However, archetypes are actually only expressions of original energy or the ideal image of what becomes an idea.

An archetype is an original concept, the blueprint, so to speak, that precedes and forms the structure of physical manifestations. For example, think of the entity known as "mom." Immediately, one's own mom springs to mind. One thinks of the person who nurtured one in the womb and throughout life, who encouraged, supported, and gave one love absolutely and unconditionally.

But one's mom is not the only mom; every person on the planet has a mom. Some moms may match all of the above; some may not even remotely resemble those ideas. The point is, though, that there is an expectation of what a mom is; there is an idea behind all those moms. That idea's ideal is found in the archetype of the "Great Mother."

The Great Mother is the sum total of all concepts embodied in "mom"—fertility, creativity, nurture, support—all of those concepts and more are found in the Great Mother archetype. Simply put, the Great Mother is the blueprint for the person one calls "mom."

The light of self-awareness.

The light of self-awareness.

Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

Jungian psychology often makes use of the concept of the unconscious. The unconscious is both personal and universal. When referring to the universal unconscious, the term used is the collective unconscious. Sometimes referred to as "racial memory," the collective unconscious consists of the totality of human experience and wisdom.

Archetypes are those concepts that are a part of the collective human experience. They are cross-cultural, universally recognized and understood. To continue with the mother example, it is obvious that every culture has mothers as members. Every culture understands the concept of mother. The concept needs no translation; it is immediately understood.

From a Jungian standpoint, part of the reason for this universal understanding is that every person is tied to the collective experience. Since every individual makes up the collective, every person, in their unconscious awareness, is aware of what "mother" means because the archetypal Great Mother is a part of the collective unconscious.

When Good Archetypes Go Bad

Archetypal energy is one of the most powerful energies in the human psyche. Since the archetypes and all they represent are innate parts of the human experience, there is an inborn idea of what one believes one can expect when encountering a human expression of an archetype.

The results can be devastating when one encounters a person acting in an archetypal office but behaving contrary to what is expected of someone in the role. Think again of mom, but this time think of the abusive or neglectful mom. Think of the mom who abandons her child in a toilet stall, the mom who beats her child, the mom who hurls emotional abuse, and the mom who berates, belittles, or simply ignores her child.

The damage the child suffers from their mom's actions arises not only from the actual abuse but from the innate knowledge that the mom is not meant to act in such a manner. This knowledge could be one of the reasons children blame themselves for abuse—something in them knows what mom is meant to be, and they place the blame for mom's failure squarely on their own shoulders.

The Self Archetype

When one thinks of the Self, one typically thinks of who one is, the personal identity known as "I." However, the Jungian Self differs dramatically from one's conscious, personal identity. The personal Self, that individual identity normally associated with the Self, is actually the ego—the personal conscious individual. But psyches are composed of more than the conscious aspects of the personality—psyches also contain unconscious elements. Just as there is a collective unconscious, there is also an individual unconscious.

To achieve self-realization means to unite the elements in the personal unconscious with the elements in the ego consciousness. When the Self is realized, it does not mean that the conscious personality is obliterated; it means that the conscious personality is augmented with those parts of the psyche which are fractured and contained in the personal unconscious. A symbolic expression of the Self is a circle with a dot inside it. The Self is neither just the circle nor just the dot. The Self is both the circle and the dot.

In dreams, the Self is often expressed in circular figures. Mandalas, stones, or even the sun can be Self symbols.

Trampling down death by death.

Trampling down death by death.

The Anima Archetype

The psyche, unlike individuals, has no gender. The psyche is comprised of both the male and the female.

However, the part of the psyche that is the opposite of one's external gender is hidden in the unconscious. Females have a hidden inner male; males have a hidden inner female. For men, the hidden female expression of the psyche is called the Anima.

There is no individual Anima—that is, no "my Anima" or "your Anima"—the Anima is not personal. What is personal is how one relates to the Anima archetype, the manner in which one views the Feminine in its entirety.

How one relates to the Feminine is, often, unfortunately, the product of one's experiences, usually early experiences, with individual women.

If these experiences were traumatizing or unpleasant, the Anima will similarly reflect those experiences and take on a negative form, such as a henpecking woman or a femme fatale bent on destroying the male individual.

If, however, one's experiences with individual women were positive, the Anima becomes a powerful guiding force, oftentimes symbolizing an individual man's very soul or at least a soul guide.

It is important to understand that the Anima, the actual archetypal female is not synonymous with the individual woman one has encountered. This is important because to achieve wholeness and realize the Self, one must integrate, come to terms with, and accept the female with the male.

The Virgin Mary, Dante's Beatrice, and even Marilyn Monroe are Anima figures. In dreams, the positive Anima may manifest as a comforting guide, whereas an ominous, threatening woman can be the Anima in negative form.

Rooftop to the basement.

Rooftop to the basement.

The Animus Archetype

All the above written about the Anima applies to individuals with an external female gender, only in reverse.

For women, the hidden male is known as the Animus archetype.

Whereas the Anima is often associated with the soul, the Animus is typically associated with concepts such as spirit, logic, and action.

Just as there is no individual Anima, there is no personal Animus. There is simply the archetypal quality of maleness, which again must not be confused with individual males the gendered female has encountered.

Whereas the female is concerned with receptivity, the male is associated with activity. For the female to be truly successful, she must integrate the Animus because it is the Animus that allows the female to manifest all the knowledge she receives via her intuitive self.

Neither the female nor the male is privileged over the other in Jungian psychological theory. The receptive female needs the male activity to put thought into action. The active male needs the capacity to receive in order to act.

In dreams, the Animus in positive form appears as an encouraging figure, while in its negative form, it can take on the role of the gangs of unknown men.

In waking life, a woman relating to the negative Animus may often experience feelings of "what's the use," "there's no point," or other negative, self-defeating thoughts and self-talk.

Contemporary Animus figures include Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and Barack Obama.

The Shadow Archetype

As the repository of psychic rejects, the Shadow is often misunderstood as nothing more than the personality's "dark half." While some shady segments certainly do exist, some areas are filled with "shadow gold."

Shadow gold refers to Carl Jung's statement, "In the Shadow is the gold." His comment refers to those powerful, positive, potentially life-altering psychic parts exiled from conscious awareness due to pain, cultural disapproval, or their association with negative life experiences.

Shadow dreams often involve themes of the hidden, such as menacing water creatures like alligators, snakes in the grass, or being chased by a foreboding figure.

Last Words

Archetypes are not only the foundation of analytical psychology—they are the primal prototypical concepts and ideals forming the foundation of human existence and expression.

However, in Jungian psychological thought, archetypes are the very foundation of the psyche, and learning to relate to them positively is crucial to psychic wholeness.

Further Info on Carl Jung's Life and Work

More on Jungian Studies

Further Reading on Archetypes

  • What Is the Jungian Animus Archetype?
    Information designed to help the reader gain a basic understanding of the Jungian animus archetype. Explains concepts such as masculine and feminine principles, the divine hermaphrodite, and how to identify and interpret animus dreams.
  • The Jungian Shadow Archetype and Dreams
    A guide to help understand the Jungian shadow archetype and how it manifests in dreams. Read on to learn more about integration of the shadow archetype and shadow gold.

© 2012 Madailein Aisling Ireland


Madailein Aisling Ireland (author) from Seattle, WA on March 08, 2019:

Thank you so much!

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on March 08, 2019:

This is a great article on Jungian psychology, especially for someone like me who rejected college psychology after the first course and had no idea why. I later found the answer to that in parapsychology. His studies do seem to parallel the esoteric and are great for minds that are just awakening and trying to shake the effects of duality. I plan to read more of your enlightening articles, especially those concerning dreams.

rjbatty from Irvine on December 21, 2015:

Taking on the subject of Jung for a Hub really takes a lot of courage, and you did a pretty good job of it. Encapsulating his concepts in short script would be daunting -- I never felt adequate to the task. I applaud your efforts because Jung's basic concepts about the psyche should be mandatory knowledge for everyone on the planet. We have to understand ourselves first and foremost. Only then might we be qualified to render opinions about others. Unfortunately, most of Jung's concepts are beyond the grasp of most individuals. His concepts are understandable but for most/many it all sounds far too esoteric to penetrate their consciousness, and this is really unfortunate. People, in general, don't want to examine themselves. They don't want to probe beyond what they acquired as teenagers, and thus just carry on a sense of unawareness and unconscious compulsions.

Madailein Aisling Ireland (author) from Seattle, WA on December 13, 2012:

Thank you for your kind words.

I checkout out the link you provided. Great looking site. Do you contribute to the site? Very cool stuff.

Daniel on December 13, 2012:

Very nice, easy-to-understand explanation and post. I highly enjoyed reading it!