A structural layer of the human psyche containing inherited elements, distinct from the personal unconscious. (See also archetype and archetypal image.)
The collective unconscious contains the whole spiritual heritage of mankind’s evolution, born anew in the brain structure of every individual.[“The Structure of the Psyche,” CW 8, par. 342.]
Jung derived his theory of the collective unconscious from the ubiquity of psychological phenomena that could not be explained on the basis of personal experience. Unconscious fantasy activity, for instance, falls into two categories.
First, fantasies (including dreams) of a personal character, which go back unquestionably to personal experiences, things forgotten or repressed, and can thus be completely explained by individual anamnesis. Second, fantasies (including dreams) of an impersonal character, which cannot be reduced to experiences in the individual’s past, and thus cannot be explained as something individually acquired. These fantasy-images undoubtedly have their closest analogues in mythological types. . . . These cases are so numerous that we are obliged to assume the existence of a collective psychic substratum. I have called this the collective unconscious.[“The Psychology of the Child Archetype,” CW 9i, par. 262.]
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.[“The Structure of the Psyche,” CW 8, par. 325.]
The more one becomes aware of the contents of the personal unconscious, the more is revealed of the rich layer of images and motifs that comprise the collective unconscious. This has the effect of enlarging the personality.
In this way there arises a consciousness which is no longer imprisoned in the petty, oversensitive, personal world of the ego, but participates freely in the wider world of objective interests. This widened consciousness is no longer that touchy, egotistical bundle of personal wishes, fears, hopes, and ambitions which always has to be compensated or corrected by unconscious counter-tendencies; instead, it is a function of relationship to the world of objects, bringing the individual into absolute, binding, and indissoluble communion with the world at large.[“The Function of the Unconscious,” CW 7, par. 275.]