Mind & Myths: A Study of Jungian Archetypes


Amit Kumar Srivastava
Assistant Professor
Shri Ram Murti Smarak College of Engineering & Technology
Nanital Road, Bareilly, U.P.

Akansha Abhi Srivastava
Assistant Professor
Bansal Institute of Engineering & Technology
Sitapur Road, Lucknow, U.P.


The study of myths and religions intensified through the 19th century & their patterns were extracted and compared, which explain the theories on what they revealed about common human conditions emerged. Myths were increasingly seen as expressions of needs in the human psyche & the psychoanalytical perspective on myth is unavoidable. There is a quickly growing mass of documentation of myths from around the world. Quickly increasing knowledge of religions and traditions among distant and obscure cultures & by the end of the 19th century, the literature on the subject was already immense, mostly pointing to psychological explanations for the structure and content of myths, as well as for the birth of religions. This fast growth of interest in the traditions of other cultures was taking place rather simultaneously with the establishment of the science of psychology, and they influenced each other continuously. Anthropologists used psychological concepts to analyze and explain beliefs and religious practices of societies, and psychologists searched anthropological material for support to their theories about the mental nature of man. The two psychologists so far most influential in the psychological treatment of myth are: Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung. Both were connected to the psychoanalytical movement, and their perspectives on man and myth. To go deeper into the psyche than mere emotions or instinctive stimuli, we could call their thoughts on myth psychoanalytical. The term depth psychology is often used in this framework, but that would imply an existence of a shallow counterpart, which can be questioned, and it also suggests a grading of the components of the psyche that is theirs. So, this paper is an attempt to explore the psychoanalytical perspectives on myths, by taking the support of theories of these two famous psychologists. 

Key Words:  Myths, Psychoanalysis, Sigmund Frued, Carl Gustav Jung, Jungian Archetypes

Sigmund Freud & Carl G. Jung:

Sigmund Freud was born in Moravia in 1856, but his family moved to Vienna only a few years later. In 1881 he did M.D. and worked in the Vienna General Hospital for a few years, also researching the clinical uses of cocaine. In 1885-86 he studied in Paris under Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-93), a French neurologist who made pioneering research of hysteria.

In 1896, he used the term psychoanalysis for the first time. By the very end of the century, in November 1899, The Interpretation of Dreams was published. In 1906 he befriended and started to cooperate with Carl G. Jung from Switzerland. Totem and Taboo, published at first as four separate magazine articles in 1912-13, presented theories that contradicted Jung's emerging models of explanation.  In 1927 Freud published The Future of an Illusion, where he discussed the origin of religion and clearly confessed to his own atheism. Moses and Monotheism was published in 1939, the same year Freud died.

Carl Gustav Jung was born in Switzerland in 1875, the son of a priest who died when he was 21. He studied medicine in Basel until 1900, his interest in psychiatry awakened by the end of his studies, and later worked at a psychiatric hospital in Zürich. In 1902 he got his MD with the dissertation On the Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena. Between 1905 and 1913 he was a lecturer of psychiatry at the University of Zürich. In 1909 he opened a private practice, which he would run until his death.

He sent his 1906 book The Psychology of Dementia Praecox (the ailment later by Eugen Bleuler renamed schizophrenia) to Sigmund Freud, which started a collegial friendship between them. This was turned into dispute and separation, especially with Jung's 1912 publication Neue Bahnen der Psychologie, questioning Freud's focus on sexual trauma and the Oedipus complex. Jung's first mention of the term archetype was in the 1919 text Instinct and the Unconscious. In 1921 he published Psychological Types, and in 1941 together with Karl Kerényi Essays on a Science of Mythology & died in 1961.

Myth as self-realization

To Jung, myths emerged from the unconscious and contained archaic truth about existence:
"Myths are first and foremost psychic phenomena that reveal the nature of the soul."

                                                          Ancestor figure, from Bakota, Gabon.

Although Jung emphasized the myths as stories, a series of related events from a beginning to an end, he showed no interest in the satisfaction of relief that Aristotle called catharsis, a mental or emotional cleansing appearing in the audience of a good drama. Jung also pointed out the emotional attraction of those stories, but explained it as a resonance from within the human mind, an inner recognition of the hidden truth those stories contained. In that way, the myths served as inspiration. The hidden truth was a number of keys of how to find self-realization, and the inspiration was one of getting people started on that path.

Myth is the primordial language natural to these psychic processes, and no intellectual formulation comes anywhere near the richness and expressiveness of mythical imagery.

The most obvious example is that of the hero myth, where the hero's struggle to overcome his fear and other obstacles to reach his goal, serves as an instigation for every person to do the same - get free of inhibition, and find the courage to pursue the path that leads to the realization of one's own potential. The myth is a kind of self-therapeutic manual, and the final outcome for the successful user of it is an enlightened mind, someone who truly knows himself.

This self-realization Jung calls the individuation process. It mainly consists of joining the unconscious with the conscious, by having the knowledge of the former rise to the latter. When man is completely aware of his subconscious and what is stored therein, he has reached self-realization and truly knows himself.

Jungian Archetypes:

Archetypes create myths, religions, and philosophical ideas that influence and set their stamp on whole nations and epochs

The clues to self-realization in myths, and in many other cultural phenomena, are according to Carl G. Jung the archetypes, symbolic elements containing aspects of the workings of human life and mind. The term archetype is not one of his invention, but he used it in an elaborate way in his theories of psychology and culture, giving it his own specific meaning.

The word archetype is from the Greek Arkhetupon, , having meaning of being the initial version of something later multiplied. It is made up of arkhos, meaning chief or ruler (used also in e.g. archbishop and monarch), and tupos, meaning mould, model or type. The archetype has been used to describe original or ideal model phenomena and characters, such as easily recognizable type-roles in drama - like the evil stepmother, the miser, the brave hero. In the case of drama and literature, such archetypes are usually traceable back to myth and fable.

Jung's use of the term archetype is similar at first glance. He repeatedly refers to such fictional type-roles as archetypes, the hero being the one most frequently used but to Jung they are far more than recognizable characters - in fact, they are not at all characters, essentially, but symbolic keys to truths about the human condition and to the path of personal enlightenment. The Jungian archetypes can reveal the workings of the world, as to how it affects the human psyche, and what man should do to accomplish something. They are learning tools, lessons from primordial time, answers included.

Meaning of some Jungian Archetypes:

The Hero: who pursues a great quest to realize his destiny.

The Self: the personality striving towards its own complete realization.

The Shadow: the amoral remnant of our instinctual animal past.

The Persona: the mask and pretense we show others.

The Anima & Animus: our female and male roles and urges.

The Mother: primarily in the sense of our need of her.

The Father: primarily an authority figure often inducing fear.

The Child: our innocent beginning with all our potential in front of us.

The Sage: or wise old man, one who has the profound knowledge.

The God: the perfect image of the Self.

The Goddess: the great mother, or Mother Earth.

The Trickster: a rascal agent pushing us towards change.

The Hermaphrodite: the joiner of opposites.

The Beast: a representation of the primitive past of man.

The Scapegoat: Suffering the shortcomings of others.

The Fool: Wandering off in confusion and faulty directions.

The Artist: The visionary and inspired way of approaching truth.

Mana: concepts of spiritual energy.

The Journey: A representation of the quest towards self-realization.

Life: Death and rebirth, the cyclic nature of existence.

Light and dark: Images of the conscious and the unconscious.

The Tree: The growth towards self-fulfillment.

Water: The unconscious and the emotions.

The Wizard: Knowledgeable of the hidden and of transformation needed.

The foremost of the Jungian archetypes is the hero, a person who bravely overcomes great difficulty in order to realize his destiny. He could be described as a role-model, urging each of us to go ahead and pursue our own quest. Freud, too, put significant emphasis on the hero of myth and lore.  Jung's hero meets with certain characters, events and obstacles on his quest. Those are often recognizable from one myth to another and archetypes as well. The hero myth is the ultimate formula of self-realization, wherefore it is central in Jung's treatments on myth. Other myths - even such of seemingly greater magnitude, like those of creation, the flood, or apocalypse - could more or less be seen as components of the hero myth, symbolizing certain premises or necessary processes of the hero quest.

Creation of Myths from Around the World:

Ideas about the birth of the world are at the very core of any culture's definition of itself and its view on its role in the world. This is quite evident when looking at a creation myth and the society in which it is upheld.

The ruler ship of that culture claims its right through the myth, its priesthood forms the rules of worship and celebration around it, and the members of that society define their roles and aspirations based on it. Although a creation myth is rarely comparable to a law, the society that confesses to it tends to read it as the primary reason for the order to which it subjects its citizens. The creation myth is not their constitution, but proclaims the principles to which a constitution must conform, in order to work in the world as they know it.

Knowledge, too, is greatly influenced by the ideas presented in the creation myth. What can be known, and how it can be understood, are set out by it. The perspectives that are absent from the creation, myths are unlikely to be explored by the culture loyal to it. The same is true for the line of reasoning fathomable within that culture, as well as the reach of its language, and the directions of its thoughts.   The ideas on how the world was formed shape the very patterns of any other ideas, and the paths that they will pursue. The creation of the world sets the rules for how the world can be perceived and explored. It forms the boundaries of what the world is, and what it is not.

A creation myth also proclaims the role of man in the world. The myth fixes his destiny and in what way he will find meaning in his existence. He may be the vary goal of creation, or he may be just a lesser ingredient in it. Both cases are found in creation myths around the world. In several myths man is nothing but a persistent disturbance, annoying his maker.

This is of vast importance in how man relates to nature and the world around him. It is also instrumental in how he regards himself, his potential, his rights and obligations. Indeed, the creation myth of a society sets the stage for all the thoughts nurtured by it. The myth also influences what perspectives are at all possible to conceive and comprehend. This is true for our modern world, too. For example, the Big Bang theory does not deviate greatly from the creation of the world by its divinely distant maker simply pronouncing: "Let there be!"

Human Thought Revealed:

The above makes the creation myths extremely rewarding in examining the thoughts and thought patterns of any culture. In addition, it's usually the most spectacular and splendid example of imagery and imagination of its culture. When the mind ventures as far as to the very beginning of the world, it performs a feat that must be at the height of its capacity. So, what the mind manages to envision on that quest draws from the outmost borders of its reach. The creation myth is one of the greatest achievements of the human mind, in any given cultural situation. That may be one of the major reasons for such myths being praised so highly in the cultures of their emergence.

Since the creation myth can reveal so much about man's thoughts, it's an excellent material for studying the nature of the human mind. It reveals essential things about the patterns of human thought: how physical experience leads to intellectual conclusions, how the mind makes up for missing pieces in the puzzle of understanding the world we live in, and how the mind relates to its own conclusions. There is a lot about the human nature to be revealed through the creation myths – provided we learn to interpret them accurately.


To comprehend creation myths we must try to understand the minds of the people who originally invented them. But many of those myths are so old that very little can be known for sure about their makers. Actually, several myths have such a distant origin that these same myths are the only clues to the thoughts of the cultures from which they sprang. So, we have to track their thoughts through the myths, in order to get any understanding of their minds, by which to get the meanings of the myths revealed.

Of course, that easily leads to walking in a circle – but not necessarily. The inner logics of a myth, the cosmology it implies and presents, as well as what we do know about the environment in which that people lived, are pieces of the puzzle. There is seldom ground to be absolutely certain about conclusions made from these ingredients, but just as with the puzzle: If the pieces fit and make a complete picture, then we should have reason to trust the result. At least, the conclusion must be regarded as likely.


Carl Gustav Jung, "The psychology of the child archetype," in Carl Gustav Jung and Károly Kerényi, Jung and Kerenyi. The Science of Mythology, trans. Richard Francis Carrington Hull (London and New York: Routledge, 2002) 83-118 (90).
* C. Fred Alford, The Psychoanalytic Theory of Greek Tragedy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994).
* Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms. Volume II: Mythical Thought, trans. Ralph Manheim (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1977 [1955]) 155-174 (156).
* Jacques Lacan, Le séminaire, Livre IV: La relation d'objet (1956-1957), ed. Jacques-Alain Miller (Paris: Seuil, 1994) 330. My trans.
* Marcos Zafiropoulos, Lacan et Lévi-Strauss ou le retour ŕ Freud (1951-1957) (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2003).

Amit Kumar Srivastava
Assistant Professor
Shri Ram Murti Smarak College of Engineering & Technology
Nanital Road, Bareilly, U.P.

Akansha Abhi Srivastava
Assistant Professor
Bansal Institute of Engineering & Technology
Sitapur Road, Lucknow, U.P.

Source: E-mail August 23, 2016


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