On the Nature of the Archetypal

With Special Reference to the Mother Archetype

“Lord, protect me from my friends; I can take care of my enemies.”
— Voltaire

In view of some recent events in the upper world, where certain reactionary elements have gained traction with the aid of my work, I am compelled to repeat a crucial point about archetypes in general which is often overlooked by my so-called friends, namely, the purely formal or “empty” nature of the archetypal world as such. Archetypal Signifiers, whether words or images, are basically empty containers into which we can project whatever meaning we please within certain, very broad generic bounds.

Even during my life time I was forced to repeat myself on this point again and again, for people liked to accuse me of a bad sort of platonism, a platonism without Plato, as though my relationship to Plato were not thoroughly ambiguous! Setting Plato aside for now, let me put a new emphasis on a relevant passage from The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious where I make the same point, since:

Again and again I encounter the mistaken notion that an archetype is determined in regard to its content, in other words that it is a kind of unconscious idea (if such an expression be admissible). It is necessary to point out once more that archetypes are not determined as regards their content, but only as regards their form and then only to a very limited degree. A primordial image is determined as to its content only when it has become conscious and is therefore filled out with the material of conscious experience.

This is the pure geometrical structure of the diamond crystal. As we can see, it is completely devoid of content.
The “timelessness” of the archetype lies not in its content but in its pure form.

Its form, however, as I have explained elsewhere, might perhaps be compared to the axial system of a crystal, which, as it were, preforms the crystalline structure in the mother liquid, although it has no material existence of its own. This first appears according to the specific way in which the ions and molecules aggregate. The archetype in itself is empty and purely formal, nothing but a facultas praeformandi, a possibility of representation which is given a priori. The representations themselves are not inherited, only the forms, and in that respect they correspond in every way to the instincts, which are also determined in form only. The existence of the instincts can no more be proved than the existence of the archetypes, so long as they do not manifest themselves concretely. With regard to the definiteness of the form, our comparison with the crystal is illuminating in as much as the axial system determines only the stereometric structure but not the concrete form of the individual crystal. This may be either large or small, and it may vary endlessly by reason of the different size of its planes or by the growing together of two crystals. The only thing that remains constant is the axial system, or rather, the invariable geometric proportions underlying it. The same is true of the archetype. In principle, it can be named and has an invariable nucleus of meaning—but always only in principle, never as regards its concrete manifestation. In the same way, the specific appearance of the mother-image at any given time cannot be deduced from the mother archetype alone, but depends on innumerable other factors. (CW9i:79¶155)

The last point needs to be emphasized again and again, especially against the tendency to fix a content or image unto the Mother archetype—as if she were exclusively a type of Dragon or “Chaos” which could not turn into its very opposite in the next moment. As I tried to make clear above, whenever we’re talking about images we are already moving in the realm of changing historical experience and not in a realm of eternal dogmatic essences. The “invariable nucleus of meaning” I alluded to above refers only to a certain potential for meaning or structural signification “never as regards its concrete manifestation” or historical determinacy. Understanding an archetypal image requires us to go precisely into the historical dimension of its existence as a product of “innumerable other factors.” That is why this “nucleus of meaning” is literally meaningless, an empty frame devoid of ideological commitments. For any kind of “meaning” we’d like to project unto the archetype can only make sense within a specific historical horizon or symbolic order.

To conclude for now, looking back at my formulations of the archetypal, I can see that the misunderstanding that still persists was in part my fault.

Although Heidegger published Being and Time within my life time and intellectual development, I missed a great opportunity to work on the topic of the soul’s temporality as well as the problem of logical form.

By not paying attention to the problem of logical form, which is the structural level of the archetypal, I remained structurally snared in a trenchant dualism which I tried to overcome semantically, using semantic “depth” and its mythic imagery, while failing to transform my way of thinking and conceptualizing the unconscious. This dualism, for example, is in evidence when we come to a discussion of the temporality of the archetypal. Generally speaking, I simply separated the “timeless” dimension of the archetype from its historical concretion without being able to recognize in the very concept of “eternity,” for example, a fundamental mode of the soul’s temporality in its historic existence.

Although this is a discussion for another entry, I will end by highlighting the fact that the so-called timelessness of the archetype is also in time, also in the process of becoming and transformation. The archetypal is always changing in the transformation of entire transcendental horizons or symbolic orders. Even though Heidegger published Being and Time within my life time and intellectual development, I missed a great opportunity to work on this topic, the soul’s peculiar sense of temporality, as well as the problem of deep logical form, which is the problem of transforming the way we think (unconsciously) and not simply change the “contents” of what we think we know.

Works Cited

Jung, Carl Gustav. The Collected Works of C. G. Jung. Trans. R. F. C. Hull. 19 Vols. New York: Princeton UP, 1953.

Carl Gustav Jung

I have returned from the dead to fulfill my true self as CGJungian, the first post-Jungian or after-Jungian, to walk beneath the earth.

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