Definitions and Origins

Philosophy and Psychology of Myths

What is an archetype?

As explicated by the Swiss psychoanalyst and mythographer Carl Jung, archetypes are the psychic equivalent of instincts. They are primal images and tendencies toward such images inherited by what Jung called the “collective unconscious” as opposed to the personal unconscious. These images take specific form in different cultures, creating a set of universal motifs in cultural “clothes.” Thus, we have a hero archetype that explains the similarities in the lives of the Greek Theseus and the German Siegfried, for example, or a Great Mother archetype that relates the Phrygian Cybele to the Native American Corn Mother. In myth and literature studies and in psychology, we often use the term “archetype” simply to mean the universal motifs that emerge in literature, dreams, and myths.


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