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Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious

It is a striking paradox in all child myths that the “child” is on the one hand delivered helpless into the power of terrible enemies and in continual danger of extinction, while on the other he possesses powers far exceeding those of ordinary humanity.

 This is closely related to the psychological fact that though the child may be “insignificant,” unknown, “a mere child,” he is also divine.

 From the conscious standpoint we seem to be dealing with an insignificant content that has no releasing, let alone redeeming, character.

 The conscious mind is caught in its conflict-situation, and the combatant forces seem so overwhelming that the “child” as an isolated content bears no relation to the conscious factors.

 It is therefore easily overlooked and falls back into the unconscious.

 At least, this is what we should have to fear if things turned out according to our conscious expectations.

 Myth, however, emphasizes that it is not so, but that the “child” is endowed with superior powers and, despite all dangers, will unexpectedly pull through.

 The “child” is born out of the womb of the unconscious, begotten out of the depths of human nature, or rather out of living Nature herself.

It is a personification of vital forces quite outside the limited range of our conscious mind; of ways and possibilities of which our one-sided conscious mind knows nothing; a wholeness which embraces the very depths of Nature.

 It represents the strongest, the most ineluctable urge in every being, namely the urge to realize itself.

 It is, as it were, an incarnation of the inability to do otherwise, equipped with all the powers of nature and instinct, whereas the conscious mind is always getting caught up in its supposed ability to do otherwise.

The urge and compulsion to self-realization is a law of nature and thus of invincible power, even though its effect, at the start, is insignificant and improbable.

Its power is revealed in the miraculous deeds of the child hero, and later in the athla (‘works’) of the bondsman or thrall (of the Heracles type), where, although the hero has outgrown the impotence of the “child,” he is still in a menial position.

The figure of the thrall generally leads up to the real epiphany of the semi-divine hero.

Oddly enough, we have a similar modulation of themes in alchemy—in the synonyms for the lapis.

As the materia prima, it is the lapis exilis et vilis.

As a substance in process of transmutation, it is servus rubeus or fugitivus; and finally, in its true apotheosis, it attains the dignity of a ft litis sapientiae or deus terrenus, a “light above all lights,” a power that contains in itself all the powers of the upper and nether regions.

It becomes a corpus gloriftcatum which enjoys everlasting incorruptibility and is therefore a panacea (“bringer of healing”).

The size and invincibility of the “child” are bound up in Hindu speculation with the nature of the atman, which corresponds to the “smaller than small yet bigger than big” motif.

As an individual phenomenon, the self is “smaller than small”; as the equivalent of the cosmos, it is “bigger than big.”

The self, regarded as the counter-pole of the world, its “absolutely other,” is the sine qua non of all empirical knowledge and consciousness of subject and object.

Only because of this psychic “otherness” is consciousness possible at all.

Identity does not make consciousness possible; it is only separation, detachment, and agonizing confrontation through opposition that produce consciousness and insight.

Hindu introspection recognized this psychological fact very early and consequently equated the subject of cognition with the subject of ontology in general.

In accordance with the predominantly introverted attitude of Indian thinking, the object lost the attribute of absolute reality and, in some systems, became a mere illusion.

The Greek-Occidental type of mind could not free itself from the conviction of the world’s absolute existence—at the cost, however, of the cosmic significance of the self.

Even today Western man finds it hard to see the psychological necessity for a transcendental subject of cognition as the counter-pole of the empirical universe, although the postulate of a world-confronting self, at least as a point of reflection} is a logical necessity.

Regardless of philosophy’s perpetual attitude of dissent or only half-hearted assent, there is always a compensating tendency in our unconscious psyche to produce a symbol of the self in its cosmic significance.

These efforts take on the archetypal forms of the hero myth such as can be observed in almost any individuation process.

At first glance it might be thought that such a man and woman would be especially likely to make the “perfect marriage.” ~Carl Jung, CW 9i, Para 289