The Collective Unconscious, Archetypes and Symbols
The Swiss Psychologist Carl Gustav Jung 1875-1961 was responsible for popularising and advancing the study and concept of the Collective Unconscious. Jung believed that each of us have our own Personal Conscious wherein resides all knowledge and memories of our personal experiences in our current life. Below the Personal Conscious he placed the Personal Unconscious. The Personal Unconscious contains memories that we have either forgotten or repressed but that are particular to the individual. This information is not easily accessed and we are not readily aware of it. If some of those memories were painful or traumatic they become split off from conscious recall. The conscious then represses them and forbids them access or recall. They remain trapped and locked up in the deepest prison cells of the subconscious. However, even though these memories or incidents cannot be recalled they can exert their own impact and impression by manifesting as symptoms or neurosis in the individual. The individual will have no idea of the underlying cause or root origin of these symptoms as the memory of it has been repressed. They know, but they just do not know that they know. Through meditation and hypnosis forgotten or repressed memories can be brought to light often for therapeutic reasons.
The Tarot cards can also reveal through their imagery such repressions. Outside of our Personal Conscious and Unconscious we have the Super Conscious where our Higher Self resides along with the records of our Past Lives and all we have learned. Great wisdom, peace, love and understanding can be accessed from our Super Conscious and Higher Self through the Subconscious. The Super Conscious is also our connection with the Divine and again can be accessed through deep meditation and hypnosis. Information and advice from our Super Conscious is transmitted to our Conscious via our Subconscious.
If that was not enough to get our minds around, Jung also believed that there was another Unconscious Realm, an Unconscious that we inherited from birth. He believed that below the Personal Unconscious lay the Collective Unconscious which housed the records of the evolution of mankind since the dawn of time. These records are not personal to any particular individual yet belong to all and connect all. Jung believed that each and every one of us can access the Collective Unconscious for information or inspiration and that each and every one of us also contributes to its growing pool of knowledge and memories.
The Collective Unconscious is made up of Archetypes and Symbols. Many believe that we tap into the Collective Unconscious when we dream. The definition of Archetype is “an original model after which other similar things are patterned” (Calvin S. Hall and Vernon J. Nordby from their book “A Primer of Jungian Psychology”). Archetypes are patterns of behaviour that repeat themselves over and over again and for every situation in life there is an Archetype or Archetypal Behaviour associated with it. As humans evolve we continue to add Archetypes to the Collective Unconscious. Examples of Archetypes are found everywhere and anywhere humans exist and are constantly to be found expressing themselves in books, movies and plays etc along within our own environment, relationships and social circles.
Still confused? Then take for example the Hero Archetype. Think of how many times we see this Archetypal Figure expressed in movies and books. Everyone loves a hero and if asked to visualise a typical hero, we can easily conjure up any number of hero types e.g. Superman and Batman. They spend their whole life protecting us from the villains (another archetype) and saving the world from ultimate disaster every week. These are larger than life heroes but they set the pattern of idea in our psyche as to what a hero ultimately is and what the hero or heroine needs to aspire to. Your idea of a hero might be different from mine. It might be the selfless fire fighter who risks his life to save the life of a child as he forces his way through a burning building as all his colleagues try to stop him. Nevertheless, he is still living up to the Archetypal idea of a hero. The Archetypal Hero of old would have been the Robin Hood type character. Robin Hood stole from the rich to give to the poor. He was hated by the aristocracy (the villains) yet loved by the poor (innocent victims). As a Hero he had to contend with sword fights, bow and arrows, bareback horse-riding and the daily danger of being hung at the gallows. Today, the Archetypal Heroes have to deal with high-powered rifles, rocket attacks, nuclear weapons, psychotic serial killers, terrorists, corrupt governments or law enforcement agencies, hanging from the side of a helicopter and even computers that have started to think for themselves.
The Hero Archetype has come a long way since the days of Robin Hood and even Robin Hood would have been based on an earlier version of a Hero. The Original Archetypal Hero would go back to primitive times. As mankind evolved, so too did our idea of the Hero. What the Hero did from then on was to become a representation of the original Archetype. The same applies to all Archetypes. Therefore an image of Robin Hood compared to an image of Superman will still represent the Hero Archetype. Even though they are worlds and centuries apart we have little or no problem recognising them as Heroes. When we see an image or picture depicting a Hero or Archetypal Heroic Situation, a story and visuals immediately begin to form.
The Tarot is full of Archetypes and Archetypal images. It is by getting to grips with the nature of Archetypes, their impact on us and our psyche, that we will understand what the cards are trying to tell us. Take for instance the 5 of Swords in the Minor Arcana.
Depicted in this card is the Archetypal Bully. The person who is used to getting their own way through intimidation, force and threat. The imagery expresses this Archetypal Behaviour and therefore when we see this card appear in a spread it will have an immediate impact on both the reader and the querant. The querant may never have read one line from a book about Tarot but he or she will instantly see a portion of the card’s associated and traditional meaning in its imagery. This is because the querant is identifying with an Archetype or Archetypal Situation depicted in the card. The querant is accessing the Collective Unconscious. You as the reader must add to this and make any necessary connections so that a trend or story begins to form.
We all have an idea or experience of what a bully is and so know one when we see one, which is what we see when we look at the 5 of Swords. The imagery depicted in the Tarot cards is not just art for art sake. The picture will be depicting an Archetype or Archetypal Situation, which we will all respond to. Different cultures or races however, may have their own particular Archetypes but generally as the human race we will agree on most of them.
Exercise: Lay out the Four Suits Including the Court Cards in four lines. Now slowly go through the cards in search of both Archetypes and Archetypal Situations in their imagery. Do they remind you of people you know or something that you have experienced? In your mind form a story about each Archetype or Archetypal Situation, similar to the way I summed up the Archetype and Archetypal Situation in the 5 of Swords. This exercise will assist you in associating personal experiences and knowledge to the cards when reading. It also helps develop your storytelling techniques.
When it comes to the Symbols associated with the Collective Unconscious we must also familiarise ourselves with another way of looking at the imagery of the Tarot. We must learn to open our eyes and use our minds in many creative ways.
The meaning of the Symbols we see throughout the Tarot can change and shift from one reading to the next. For one querant we may see the offer of the Cup to the disinterested figure sitting on the ground in the 4 of Cups as someone offering you something; an opportunity or perhaps a relationship, friendship or offer of help that you are unaware of as you or not paying attention, are disinterested or are too bored to care.
For another querant the same card may find the Cup being offered this time as his or her boozing buddies trying to encourage overindulgence while the figure works hard to ignore them. You have to be flexible with Symbols as they are known to be shape-shifters. What we see today in the cards we may not see tomorrow. The querant may also symbolically see something in a card that you do not as it corresponds to something that is going on in their life or connected to their issue. What they see may have no bearing on the traditional associations or meaning of the card but is just as important and relevant. Asking your querant if any cards jump out at them or have particular meaning to them can result in some interesting results. This can often help open a card reading or overcome a block while reading. When this happens it is best to accept that the card is not for your interpretation. It is solely for the querant to decipher. An example of this might be the likes of the Knight of Cups.
Depending on the question we may interpret this card as an offer of a relationship as we see the gentle, and loving romantic Knight ride in on his beautiful white horse offering his Cup of emotion or love to the querant. However, the querant may not identify with this at all and may not find it relevant. Rather the querant may see herself in this card as she accepted the winning cup for her grade at last week’s dressage competition. It is much easier to get to grips with the Archetypes than it is with Symbols. With Symbols the need to be creative and intuitive is vitally important. We must train ourselves to really see and not just look. We must open the eyes of our Subconscious and also dip into the realms of the Collective Unconscious for inspiration when interpreting or even noticing the presence and importance of a particular Symbol in a card or cards.
We must also look for Recurring Symbols in a reading as they happen regularly. When we get Symbols repeating themselves in a reading we must pay close attention for they are literally screaming at us. An example of this might be the 2 of Swords and the 8 of Swords.
Both cards depict a figure blindfolded. What might this be telling us? That the querant is blind to the facts? That the querant is blind to what is going on around her? That the querant deliberately doesn’t want to know what is going on around her? That the querant is hiding from or hiding the truth? That the querant can’ t see a way out of her situation? That the querant is afraid to look for fear of what she might see about herself or the situation? That the querant’s vision is poor? That the querant has retreated within and is accessing her inner-self rather than the outer world for answers? It may be any of these or none at all. These cards may offer not only their traditional meanings but also carry the bonus of their repeated Symbolism to add extra clout to the reading. If we also saw the 7 of Cups and the 9 of Wands in this reading we could add to these messages.
The central figure represented in the 7 of Cups has his or her head covered by a cloth again; another form of blindfold or possible concealment. The figure in the 9 of Wands wears a bloodied bandage around his head. This may have originally been a blindfold but through gritty determination, pain and hurt he has eventually managed to pull it off his eyes. During a reading it can be very exciting when certain symbols in the cards stand out or jump up at you. When this happens, the rest of the imagery in the card or cards appears to retreat from your line of vision and then there is no getting away from what they are trying to tell you.
Exercise – Lay out all the Minor Arcana including the Court Cards face up on the table in front of you. Carefully scrutinise the imagery for Recurring Symbols or for Symbols that are impressions or versions of other Symbols. Make a note in your journal of any that you find. Record your observations. Be imaginative and creative with your observations. Record if the card numbers relate, the scenery, the facial impressions of those involved and the colouring of the card. Search for clues as to how they might be connected. Create a story around them
In a nutshell The Collective Unconscious is understood to be like a giant memory bank containing all the data on every single living being or creature since the dawn of time. It is guardian to the mysteries of the universe and the evolution of man. This memory bank can be accessed by those who seek understanding, inspiration and divine direction. It is the Collective Unconscious which connects us all. Every single thought or action of every single person both positive and negative is stored within its vastness. The energy it vibrates with is determined by the total contribution of all and its balance can be upset by even one person’s act of negativity or aggression. When we read the Tarot we access this memory bank; both reader and querant, for insight and wisdom. We, as humans are also expected to contribute individually to the memory bank in a positive and responsible manner, so that we may share our personal knowledge and experience with others for the good of mankind.
The Collective Unconscious is sometimes linked to the Akashic Records. Some believe that it is where the Akashic Records reside. The Akashic Records work on the same principle as the Collective Unconscious. They are home to the records of all our lives; past, present and even future probabilities. The Akashic Records are very mystical and are thought to exist on another realm or dimension. However, like the Collective Unconscious we can tap into this realm under certain circumstances.
Copyright © 2006-2012 Vivien Ní Dhuinn