The Child Archetype 

The child motif represents not only something that existed in the distant past but also something that exists now; that is to say, it is not just a vestige but a system functioning in the present whose purpose is to compensate or correct, in a meaningful manner, the inevitable one-sidedness and extravagances of the conscious mind.  It is in the nature of the conscious mind to concentrate on relatively few contents and to raise them to the highest pitch of clarity.  A necessary result and precondition is the exclusion of other potential contents of consciousness.  The exclusions is bound to bring about a certain one-sidedness of the conscious contents.  A&CU 162

… there is all the more danger, the more he trains his will, of his getting lost in one-sidedness and deviating further and further from the laws and roots of his being.   A&CU 163

(PM)  Accordingly, primitive man, being closer to his instincts, like the animal, is characterized by fear of novelty and adherence to tradition.  To our way of thinking he is painfully backward, whereas we exalt progress.  But our progressiveness, though it may result in a great many delightful wish-fulfillments, piles up an equally gigantic Promethean debt which has to be paid off from time to time in the form of hideous catastrophes. 

Sidebar – For ages man has dreamed of flying, and all we have got for it is saturation bombing!   A&CU 163

One of the essential features of the child motif is its futurity.  The child is potential future.  A&CU 164 

It is therefore not surprising that so many of the mythological saviours are child gods.  A&CU 164

… the “child” paves the way for a future change of personality.  In the individuation process, it anticipates the figure that comes from the synthesis of conscious and unconscious elements in the personality.  It is therefore a symbol which unites the opposites; a mediator, bringer of healing, that is, one who makes whole.  A&CU 164

(The child motif) can by expressed by roundness, the circle or sphere, or else by the quaternity as another form of wholeness.  I have called this wholeness that transcends consciousness the “self.”  The goal of the individuation process is the synthesis of the self. A&CU 164

But in so far as the individuation process occurs, empirically speaking, as a synthesis, it looks, paradoxically enough, as if something already existent were being put together. 

The motif’s of “insignificance,” exposure, abandonment, danger, etc. try to show how precarious is the psychic possibility of wholeness, that is, the enormous difficulties to be met with in attaining this “highest good.”  They also signify the powerlessness and helplessness of the life-urge which subjects every growing thing to the law of maximum self-fulfilment, while at the same time the environmental influences place all sorts of insuperable obstacles in the way of individuation.  A&CU 166

More especially the threat to one’s inmost self from dragons and serpents points to the danger of the newly acquired consciousness being swallowed up again by the instinctive psyche, the unconscious.  The lower vertebrates have from earliest times been favourite symbols of the collective psychic substratum, which is localized anatomically in the subcortical centres, the cerebellum and the spinal cord.  These organs constitute the snake.  Snake-dreams usually occur, therefore, when the conscious mind is deviating from its instinctual basis.  A&CU 166

The hero’s main feat is to overcome the monster of darkness: it is the long-hoped-for and expected triumph of consciousness over the unconscious.    A&CU 167

“And God said:  ‘Let there be light!’ “ is the projection of that immemorial experience of the separation of the conscious from the unconscious.  A&CU 167

Hence the “child” distinguishes itself by deeds which point to the conquest of the dark.  A&CU 167

Abandonment, exposure, danger, etc. are all elaborations of the “child’s” insignificant beginnings and of its mysterious and miraculous birth.  This statement describes a certain psychic experience of a creative nature, whose object is the emergence of a new and as yet unknown content.  In the psychology of the individual  there is always, at such moments, an agonizing situation of conflict from which there seems to be no way out – at least for the conscious mind, since as far as this is concerned, tertium non datur.   A&CU 167

But out of this collision of opposites the unconscious psyche always creates a third thing of an irrational nature, which the conscious mind neither expects nor understands. It presents itself in a form that is neither a straight “yes” nor a straight “no,” and is consequently rejected by both.  For the conscious mind knows nothing beyond the opposites and as a result, has no knowledge of the thing that unites them. 

Since, however, the solution of the conflict through the union of opposites is of vital importance, and is moreover the very thing that the conscious mind is longing for, some inkling of the creative act, and of the significance of it, nevertheless gets through.  From this comes the numinous character of the “child.”  A meaningful but unknown content always has a secret fascination for the conscious mind.  The new configuration is a nascent whole; it is on the way to wholeness, at least in so far as it excels in “wholeness” the conscious mind when torn by opposites and surpasses it in completeness.  For this reason all uniting symbols have a redemptive significance.  A&CU 168

“Child” means something evolving towards independence.  This it cannot do without detaching itself from its origins:  abandonment is therefore a necessary condition, not just a concomitant symptom.  A&CU 168

The conflict is not to be overcome by the conscious mind remaining caught between the opposites, and for this very reason it needs a symbol to point out the necessity of detaching itself from its origins.  Because the symbol of the “child” fascinates and grips the conscious mind, its redemptive effect passes over into consciousness and brings about that separation from the conflict-situation which the conscious mind by itself was unable to achieve.  The symbol anticipates a nascent state of consciousness.  A&CU 168

The Christ Child, for instance, is a religious necessity only so long as the majority of men are incapable of giving psychological reality to the saying:  “Except ye be as little children …”

Everything that man should, and yet cannot, be or do – be it in a positive or negative sense – lives on as a mythological figure and anticipation alongside his consciousness, either as a religious projection or – what is still more dangerous – as unconscious contents which then project themselves spontaneously into incongruous objects, e.g., hygienic and other “Salvationist” doctrines or practices.  All these are so many rationalized substitutes for mythology, and their unnaturalness does more harm than good.  A&CU 169

The conflict-situation that offers no way out, the sort of situation that produces the “child” as the irrational third, is of course a formula appropriate only to a psychological, that is, modern stage of development.  It is not strictly applicable to the psychic life of primitives, if only because primitive man’s child-like range of consciousness still excludes a whole world of possible psychic experiences.  A&CU 169

As bringers of light, that is, enlargers of consciousness, they overcome darkness, which is to say that they overcome the earlier unconscious state.  Higher consciousness, or knowledge going beyond our present-day consciousness, is equivalent to being all alone in the world.  A&CU 169   ***

Cont’d … This loneliness expresses the conflict between the bearer or symbol of higher consciousness and his surroundings. 



The invincibility of the child. 

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.  A&CU 170

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 filius sapientiae or dues 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 glorificatum which enjoys everlasting incorruptibility and is therefore a panacea (“briner 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.  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.  A&CU 171

(?) 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.  A&CU 172

The phenomenology of the “child’s” birth always points back to an original psychological state of non-recognition, i.e., of darkness or twilight, of non-differentiation between subject and object, of unconscious identity of man and the universe.  This phase of non-differentiation produces the golden egg, which is both man and universe and yet neither, but an irrational third.  A&CU 172

It knows only too well what dire disturbances of the bodily functions and what devastating psychic consequences can flow from “mere” fantasies.  “Fantasies” are the natural expressions of the life of the unconscious.  But since the unconscious is the psyche of all the body’s autonomous functional complexes, its “fantasies” have an aetiological significance that is not to be despised.  From the psychopathology of the individuation process we know that the formation of symbols is frequently associated with physical disorders of a psychic origin, which in some cases are felt as decidedly “real.”  A&CU 172