Jung saw the human psyche as made up of layers or strata (see diagram above).
First is the conscious mind. The ego is the term given to the organisation of the conscious mind, being composed of conscious perceptions, memories, thoughts, and feelings [Calvin S. Hall & Vernon J. Nordby, A primer of Jungian Psychology, p.34 (1973, New American Library)].
Those mental contents that the ego does not recognise fall into the Personal Unconscious. The Personal Unconscious is made up of suppressed and forgotten memories, traumas, etc. All psychic contents which are either too weak to reach consciousness, or which are actively supressed by the ego, because the latter is threatened by them.
Thus far Jung is in agreement with his old teacher Freud, in supposing the existence of the Unconscious mind, which includes all that is not immediately accessible to everyday waking consciousness (i.e. the Conscious mind or Ego). Conscious and Unconscious are thus the two opposed parts of the psyche.
Jung’s great contribution however was to divide the Unconscious itself into two very unequal levels: the more superficial Personal, and the deeper Collective, Unconscious.
Everyone has their own Personal Unconscious. The Collective Unconscious in contrast is universal. It cannot be built up like one’s personal unconscious is; rather, it predates the individual. It is the repositary of all the religious, spiritual, and mythological symbols and experiences. Its primary structures – the deep structures of the psyche, in other words – Jung called “Archetypes”; a later-Hellenistic Platonic and Augustinian Christian term that referred to the spiritual forms which are the pre-existent prototypes of the things of the material world. Interpreting this idea psychologically, Jung stated that these archetypes were the conceptual matrixes or patterns behind all our religious and mythological concepts, and indeed, our thinking processes in general.
Actually, Jung’s choice of the term “archetype” is in some senses misleading. For in the late Platonic tradition, the archetypes con-stitute a totally spiritual reality; the original perfect spiritual reality or realities which generates the imperfect physical realities; the “thoughts in the mind of God” of Stoicism and Platonic Christianity.
But Jung interprets his archetypes in a biological sense. He says (no doubt due to the Darwinian influence of his age) that they are “inherited”, and that they “have existed since remotest times”. Yet even “remotest times” can still be located temporally. Such times may have occured an enormously long time ago, but they are still temporal. Plato and his successors would never speak of the Ideas or Archetypes or Spiritual Prototypes coming into being in some primordial past; for they saw these as spiritual realities, and therefore eternal; beyond time altogether.
For Jung then, the Collective Unconscious is not, as many of his popularisers claim, a kind of “Universal Mind” or metaphysical reality, like the Platonic World of Forms, but rather an ultimately biological reality. The Spiritual concepts of Platonism are not seen as metaphysical, but biological, or rather, psycho-biological. The Jungian schema can thus be represented as follows:
|—————————————————-Cn Cn Cn Cn Cn Cn| | | | | | | | | | | |PUn PUn PUn PUn PUn PUn| |_______| |______| |_____| |______| |_____| | C O L L E C T I V E U N C O N S C I O U S [Archetypes = Instincts]BIOLOGICAL INSTINCTSPHYSICAL ORGANISM (DNA or hereditary material)—————————————————-|
Jung’s biological theory of the Collective Unconscious.
Now, it cannot be denied that there is a subphysical (the biological subconscious) as well as a supraphysical (the psychic unconscious). Yet care must be taken not to confuse the two. And it seems to me logical to assume that the motifs Jung was concerned with – the psycho-spiritual forces of transformation – pertain to the supraphysical rather than the subphysical.
Certainly, later in life Jung downplayed the “biological” aspect of his psychology, and even discarded it altogether, preferring to see the archetypes in a more Platonic sense of prexistent spiritual entities. And in his voluminous alchemical writings he was more concerned with the dynamics of the psyche, and its transformation, than with explaining how the psyche or the archetypes came about in the first place. So it would be unfair to judge Jung on these grounds. Jung himself obviously did not consider abstract theories concerning the metaphysical or cosmological origin of the archetypes as important a practical here-and-now understanding of how the psyche worked, and how spiritual transformation and the growth to greater wholeness occur.
An occult critique of Jung’s conception of the Collective Unconscious