To Swami Devatmananda

Dear Sir, 9 February 1937

It is exceedingly difficult to explain the nature of the archetypal to somebody who does not know about the empirical material we are dealing with in psychology.

The only parallel I can point to outside the psychological field is the so-called mythological motif in myths, legends, folklore, and religions.

If you study such a motif you will find that it is by no means outright, but a living structure representing something that could be called an image. Inasmuch as legends etc. are transmitted by tradition, the archetypes are consciously acquired, but inasmuch as archetypes are found in the mind of the insane as well as in normal dreams quite outside all tradition, archetypes appear also to be contents of the collective unconscious and their existence in the individual mind can only be explained by inheritance.

Concerning your question about free will, the fact is that free will only exists within the limits of consciousness.

Beyond those limits there is mere compulsion.

Why there are people who have the will or a striving for the limitless

I don’t know. I’m not a philosopher, I’m an empiricist.

But I admit there are such people. I know that in the East one explains the particular form of individual character by the doctrine of karma.

This is a doctrine which one can believe or disbelieve.

Being not a philosopher but an empiricist, I’m missing the objective evidence.

Science has no answer to questions which reach beyond human possibilities.

We have no evidence for the objective functions of the psyche apart from the living brain.

At all events there is no possibility whatever of examining such a psychological condition supposed to exist outside the human brain.

We can think all sorts of things about such a hypothetical condition, but the answer is unavoidably a mere assumption which may satisfy the human desire for a faith but not the desire for knowledge.

You will find the definition of the collective unconscious in my book Psychological Types.

The individual unconscious and the collective unconscious together form what I call the “self.”

You will find that definition also in Psychological Types.

Sincerely yours,

C.G. Jung [Letters Volume 1, Page 227]

Note 1: In his later writings Jung developed and expanded the concept of the archetype considerably. He distinguished sharply between the irrepresentable, transcendental archetype per se and its visible manifestation in consciousness as the archetypal image or symbol. Moreover the archetype per se appears to be an a priori conditioning factor in the human psyche, comparable to the biological “pattern of behaviour,” ”a ‘disposition’ which starts functioning at a given moment in the development of the human mind and arranges the material of consciousness into definite patterns” (“Psychological Approach to the Dogma of the Trinity,” CW 1 1 , par. 322 & n. 2).

Liked it? Take a second to support lewislafontaine on Patreon!