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Concept of Collective Unconscious at Jung

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Jung's concept of collective unconscious was developed at the time when he was working with schizophrenic patients in Burgholzli psychiatric hospital.

Though initially Jung followed the Freudian theory of unconscious as the psychic strata formed by repressed wishes, he later developed his own theory to include some new concepts. The most important of them is the archetype.

Archetypes constitute the structure of the collective unconscious - they are psychic innate dispositions to experience and represent basic human behavior and specific situations. Thus mother-child relationship is governed by the mother archetype. Father-child - by the father archetype. Birth, death, power and failure are controlled by archetypes. The religious and mystique experiences are also governed by archetypes.

The most important of all is the Self, which is the archetype of the Center of the psychic person, his/her totality or wholeness. The Center is made of the conjunction of consciousness and unconscious reached through the individuation process .

Archetypes manifest themselves through archetypal images in all the cultures and religious systems, in dreams and visions. Therefore a great deal of Jungian interest in psyche focuses on interpretation of dreams and symbols in order to discover the compensation induced by archetypes as marks of psyche transformation.

The word "compensation" refers to what Jung believes to be the psychic version of homeostasis, that is the ability of the body to maintain a certain equilibrium and stability. Thus archetypes are related to the basic functioning of our psyche.

The collective unconscious is an universal datum meaning that every human being is endowed with this psychic archetype-layer since his/her birth. One can not acquire this strata by education or other conscious efforts because it is innate.

We may also describe it as a universal library of human knowledge, or the sage in man, the very transcendental wisdom that guides mankind.

Jung stated that the religious life must be linked with the experience of the archetypes of the collective unconscious. Thus, God himself is experienced like an archetype on the psychic level.


Jung about the Collective Unconscious

The collective unconscious - so far as we can say anything about it at all  - appears to consist of mythological motifs or primordial images, for which reason the myths of all nations are its real exponents. In fact, the whole of mythology could be taken as a sort of projection of the collective unconscious... We can therefore study the collective unconscious in two ways, either in mythology or in the analysis of the individual. (From The Structure of the Psyche, CW 8, par. 325.)


Further Resources:

  • More about the collective unconscious may be found in the entire work of Carl Jung, mostly in the books and papers written after the split from Sigmund Freud. A good collection of writings to start with is The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Princeton University Press, 1990. You may order this book right now from by clicking the following link:
  • You may also want to order his Psychology and Alchemy, where archetypes are explained in the context of dream interpretation. Order this book now from
  • We deal with the archetypes occurring in dreams in our course dedicated to Jung's method of dream interpretation. Click here to learn more...

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