Archetypes are pre-existing and unconscious psychic blueprints instinctual patterns that are inherited at birth, and which enable us to react in a human manner. Representing the fertile ground in which our conscious separate identities are rooted, they form the basic elements of the universal Mind that we as human beings all have in common.
The unconscious mind contains material that arrives from two diametrically opposed directions. Freud saw its function as that of a personal psychic dustbin for rejected needs, desires and memories, sealed off by a tight-fitting lid the resistance. But Jungs great insight was that elements of what he called the collective unconscious are also present, acting as emergency fail-safe mechanisms guiding us as individuals through the fire and water ordeals of life and death that are fundamental to human experience.
These archetypal potentials are deeply embedded in our psychic inheritance. Since, like the rejected material sent down from personal consciousness they are not available to rational examination, we fear them to an even greater extent and deny their very existence through repression. Notwithstanding, their instinctual patterns still manage to seep into our consciousness as the constellations of elemental images present in myth and dreams – the pantheon of gods and goddesses found in every culture and at all times throughout human history.
As Jung discovered, the main boughs of the archetypal tree are few in number, but from each of them stem many subsidiary branches. The archetypes taken as a whole tell the story common to all humanity: that of the journey from life to death – from the blissful state of the newborn, through the conflicting opposites inherent in human experience to the ultimate goal of re-unification and rebirth.