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  • Writer's pictureKarey Pohn

A Bit About Archetypes

Van Eenwyk (1997) talks about chaos theory as it applies to ideas found Jung’s Analytical Psychology. He reminds us that part of Jung’s genius was to see similar unconscious patterns in a wide variety of behaviors from normal to psychotic. In working with his “crazy” patients, Jung recognized symbolic patterns and saw order in what seemed to be disorder—there was a method to their madness. This is how he came to the idea of the collective unconscious and his theory of the archetypes. The collective unconscious is impersonal or transpersonal as “it is detached from anything personal and is common to all men since its contents can be found everywhere” (Jung, 1943/ 1972, p. 66, para. 103). Archetypes are the primordial images that are common to all humanity. As organizing principles of the psyche, archetypes “are the psychic correlates of the instincts” (Odajnyk, 1976, p. 15), and allow us to perceive in patterns and categories. Jung says of them: “The primordial images are the most ancient and most universal ‘thought-forms’ of humanity. They are as much feelings as thoughts: indeed, they lead their own independent life” (Jung, 1943/1972, p. 66, para. 104) . . . and are relatively autonomous. Jung goes on further to say that archetypes are ideas that have:

been stamped on the human brain for aeons. That is why it lies ready to hand in the unconscious of every man . . . . The greatest and best thoughts of man shape themselves upon these primordial images as upon a blueprint. I have often been asked where the archetypes or primordial images come from. It seems to me that their origin can only be explained by assuming them to be deposits of constantly repeated experiences of humanity . . . . The archetype is a kind of readiness to produce over and over again the same or similar mythical ideas . . . recurrent impressions made by subjective reactions.” (pp. 69-70, para. 109)

Jung felt that there were two kinds of dynamics operating in the psyche: cyclical and developmental. The cyclical processes Van Eenwyk (1997) refers to as the synchronic aspects of individuation, which he tells us “constantly repeat themselves through the establishment of the tension of opposites, their resolution and the subsequent appearance of new tensions between the resolution and new possibilities” (p. 16). The developmental processes which Van Eenwyk terms diachronic “build upon the synchronic dynamics and move through time . . . they begin somewhere and end up somewhere else” (p. 16).

Using the previously described ideas of chaos theory, especially as they culminate in strange attractors, we can see how the repetitive synchronic dynamics of the psyche, which are common to all people interacting with themselves can become so complex that they defy descriptions and yet produce new patterns that are loosely based on the old. Over time, the diachronic dynamics develop and unfold from the synchronic and this gives us infinite complexity, and yet overall patterns at the same time. It is no wonder then that van Eenwyk postulates that indeed, archetypes are the strange attractors of the psyche.

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