Collective Unconscious

The Collective Unconscious

... just as the human body shows a common anatomy over and above all racial differences, so, too, the psyche possesses a common substratum transcending all differences in culture and consciousness.  I have called this substratum the collective unconscious. 

With a circumspection characteristic of genius, Jung in his description of the “collective unconscious” brought forth a concept in which the traditions of this idea in cultural history could be united with the empirical findings of contemporary natural science and through which the dualism of matter and mind/psyche may perhaps at the same time be overcome. 

Unlike the personal unconscious, whose contents are an accumulation of the psychic materials of the individual (that are continuously being replenished), the collective unconscious consists of elements inherited from the entire human species since primeval times while its existence is passed on through heredity.  It consists of the historical collection of man’s universal experience of fear, danger, love, hate, etc., and consists of the struggles between the dark and light principle. 

This unconscious psyche, common to all mankind, does not consist merely of contents capable of becoming conscious, but of latent dispositions towards certain identical reactions

Through the investigation of the dreams of his patients (Jung) discovered that these contents go on appearing and operating, producing living effects in the inner psychic world, quite untroubled by the dreamer’s rationalistic conscious judgments.  But, according to Jung, these symbolic religious experiences do not spring from personally acquired complexes but rather from a much deeper, generally human unconscious psychic matrix that, as is well known, he called the collective unconscious, and also the “objective psyche.”  P&R 52

Objective Psyche

It is popularly known as ‘a reservoir of the experiences of our species’, and because it is impervious to the influence of the conscious mind it is referred to as the objective psyche. 

   Hence the eternal doubt whether what appears to be the objective psyche is really objective, or whether it might not be imagination after all.  But then the question at once arises: have I imagined such and such a thing on purpose, or has it been imagined by something in me?  It is a similar problem to that of the neurotic who suffers from an imaginary carcinoma.  He knows, and has been told a hundred times before, that it is all imagination, and yet he asks me brokenly, “But why do I imagine such a thing?  I don’t want to do it!”  To which the answer is: the idea of the carcinoma has imagined itself in him without his knowledge and without his consent.  The reason is that a psychic growth, a “proliferation,” is taking place in his unconscious without his being able to make it conscious.  In the face of this interior activity he feels afraid.  But since he is entirely persuaded that there can be nothing in his own soul that he does not know about, he must relate his fear to a physical carcinoma which he knows does not exist.  And if he should still be afraid of it, there are a hundred doctors to convince him that his fear is entirely groundless.  The neurosis is thus a defence against the objective, inner activity of the psyche, or an attempt, somewhat dearly paid for, to escape from the inner voice and hence from the vocation.  For this “growth” is the objective activity of the psyche, which, independently of conscious volition, is trying to speak to the conscious mind through the inner voice and lead him towards wholeness.  Behind the neurotic perversion is concealed his vocation, his destiny: the growth of personality, the full realization of the life-will that is born with the individual.  It is the man without amor fati who is the neurotic; he, truly, has missed his vocation, and never will he be able to say with Cromwell, “None climbeth so high as he who knoweth not whither his destiny leadeth him.”      TDoP 183

   The neurotic’s fear of carcinoma is therefore justified: it is not imagination, but the consistent expression of a psychic fact that exists in a sphere outside consciousness, beyond the reach of his will and understanding.  If he withdrew into the wilderness and listened to his inner life in solitude, he might perhaps hear what the voice has to say.  But as a rule the miseducated, civilized human being is quite incapable of perceiving the voice, which is something not guaranteed by the current shibboleths.  Primitive people have a far greater capacity in this respect; at least the medicine-men are able, as part of their professional equipment, to talk with spirits, trees, and animals, these being the forms in which they encounter the objective psyche or psychic non-ego.  TDoP 183

The story of the Temptation clearly reveals the nature of the psychic power with which Jesus came into collision:  it was the power-intoxicated devil of the prevailing Caesarean psychology that led him into dire temptation in the wilderness.  This devil was the objective psyche that held all the peoples of the Roman Empire under its sway, and that is why it promised Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth, as if it were trying to make a Caesar out of him.  Obeying the inner call of his vocation, Jesus voluntarily exposed himself to the assaults of the imperialistic madness that filled everyone, conqueror and conquered alike.    TDoP 180

“The Collective Unconscious contains the whole spiritual heritage of mankind’s evolution, born anew in the brain structure of every individual”  

Tribalism, nationalism, and racism pervade the collective unconscious.  When a person goes beyond these trappings, and realizes the Self [11], they attain universality.  This universality is recognizing that we are part of a universal wholeness and occurs when the mentally illusory lines of differentiation have been erased.[12] 

A. Individual
B. Family
C. Tribe
D. Nation
E. Ethnic Group
F. Primitive Human Ancestors
G. Animal Ancestors
H. Central Energy

“People achieve a (perceived) psychic "benefit" when they are racist or classist”[13] 

Quantum Physics discovered that all matter in the universe is influenced subjectively by the observer - an intimate link exists between them.

Jung discovered that the human psyche is influenced objectively - by the collective unconscious[14]. 

Consciousness influences matter!

“Below this level, Heisenberg and others have hinted, there may no longer exist a fundamental ground of matter, but, rather, fundamental symmetries and ordering principles.”

In addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche … there exists a 2nd psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals.  This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited.  It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents. 

This widened consciousness is no longer that touchy, egotistical bundle of personal wishes, fears, hopes, and ambitions which always has to be compensated or corrected by unconscious counter-tendencies; instead, it is a function of relationship to the world of objects, bringing the individual into absolute, binding, and indissoluble communion with the world at large.  The complications arising at this stage are no longer egotistic wish-conflicts, but difficulties that concern others as much as oneself.  At this stage it is fundamentally a question of collective problems, which have activated the collective unconscious because they require collective rather than personal compensation.

Whereas the contents of the personal unconscious are acquired during the individual’s lifetime, the contents of the collective unconscious are invariably archetypes that were present from the beginning.  The most accessible of these, and the easiest to experience, is the shadow, for its nature can in large measure be inferred from the contents of the personal unconscious.

The Collective unconsciousness is described as “objective” because it is identical in all individuals and is therefore one. Out of this universal One there is produced in every individual a subjective consciousness, i.e., the ego.

As a rule, when the collective unconscious becomes really constellated in larger social groups, the result is a public craze, a mental epidemic that may lead to revolution or war or something of the sort. These movements are exceedingly contagious – almost overwhelmingly contagious because, when the collective unconscious is activated, you are no longer the same person. You are not only in the movement – you are it. If you lived in Germany or were there for a while, you would defend yourself in vain. It gets under your skin. You are human, and wherever you are in the world you can defend yourself only by restricting your consciousness and making yourself as empty, as soulless, as possible. Then you lose your soul, because you are only a speck of consciousness floating on a sea of life in which you do not participate.

You see (how) the concept of the collective unconscious, as Jung conceived it, serves as a saving factor.  Only through that concept can we see an inner conflict objectively, without projecting it either onto the body or onto the subject.  AAI 97

    Archetypes of the collective unconscious

Simple minded folk have never, of course, separated these things from their individual consciousness, because the gods and demons were not regarded as psychic projections and hence as contents of the unconscious, but as self-evident realities.  Only in the age of enlightenment did people discover that the gods did not really exist, but were simply projections.  Thus the gods were disposed of.  But the corresponding psychological function was by no means disposed of; it lapsed into the unconscious, and men were thereupon poisoned by the surplus of libido that had once been laid up in the cult of divine images.  The devaluation and repression of so powerful a function as the religious function naturally has serious consequences for the psychology of the individual.  The unconscious is prodigiously strengthened by this reflux of libido, and, through its archaic collective contents, begins to exercise a powerful influence on the conscious mind.  The period of the Enlightenment closed, as we know, with the horrors of the French Revolution. 

In the collective unconscious you are the same as a man of another race, you have the same archetypes, just as you have, like him, eyes, a heart, a liver, and so on.

The Multiple Unity of the Collective Unconscious


The collective unconscious appears at first to be – to put it simply – the sum of archetypal structures that manifest themselves in typical mythological motifs in all human beings.  Underneath these structures, however, one finds a still deeper layer that has the appearance of a unit.  Jung remarks: “Our Western psychology has, in fact, got as far as yoga in that it is able to establish scientifically a deeper layer of unity in the unconscious.  The mythological motifs whose presence has been demonstrated by the exploration of the unconscious form in themselves a multiplicity, but this culminates in a concentric or radial order which constitutes the true centre or essence of the collective unconscious.”  It is the same center that becomes visible in mandala symbols, in those circular, square, and spherical symbols(.)  As this central, unified area of the unconscious is approached, time and space are increasingly relativized.  That deepest area of the unconscious that is simply a unit or the center may therefore be understood as an omnipresent continuum, “an omnipresence without extension.”  “When something happens here at point A which touches upon or affects the collective unconscious, it has happened everywhere.”  As this part of the “objective psyche” “is not limited to the person, it is also not limited to the body.”  This psyche “behaves as if it were one and not as if it were split up into many individuals.”  The multiplicity of the archetypes seems to be nullified or suspended in it.