The HPedia: Archetype

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The archetype is perhaps the most common naturalistic interpretation employed by Neopagans.  Halstead finds the concept notable in the work of such Neopagan figures as Vivianne Crowley, Margot Adler, Dion Fortune, Starhawk, and Janet and Stewart Farrar.

Although the term predated C. G. Jung (going as far back as Plato), it has become inseparably bound up with him, as well as with Joseph Campbell who was deeply influenced by him.  Unlike most psychologists of his day, Jung did not conceive of the mind as a tabula rasa, but as an organ structured toward specific tendencies as the result of evolutionary pressures.  Jung did not settle on one single definition of the archetype, as noted in John Ryan Haule’s Jung In the 21st Century, though it is “always some sort of structuring principle that lies outside of everyday consciousness and, when it emerges suddenly, exceeds all subjective expectations.”  Jung conceived of archetypes as “typical modes of apprehension”, closely related to instincts, which he called “typical modes of action” (Collected Works 8, quoted in John Ryan Haule).

Haule notes that for Jung, an archetype is separate from an archetypal image.  The former is an innate biological pattern empty of form, the latter a cultural image that gives the pattern form.  Thus, the archetype of the anima may appear as Athena without implying that the two are one and the same.  Both are necessary for an archetype to appear, but the two are distinct.  Neopagans have often been guilty of blurring the lines between archetype and archetypal image, leading to some confusion.

John Ryan Haule has attempted to align Jung’s archetype with modern evolutionary understandings, linking it with notions of mental modularity, and describing it thus:

An archetype is a species-specific behavior pattern that recognizes and imagines the settings in which the behavior is an appropriate response.  Inherited with our genes as an empty program, it becomes activated automatically when it encounters appropriate stimuli.  The details of the inherited pattern are developed and refined through a socialization process that begins in earliest infancy, building neural connections through active engagement with caretakers and the world at large.  When an archetype is constellated, our whole body is engaged and its emotional arousal focuses and motivates us with a force that is very difficult to resist.

The identification with mental modularity might seem problematic, however, and possibly inconsistent with Jung’s descriptions of archetypes (see “Modularity of Mind”).  Haule responds to this criticism in his interview.

Halstead notes:

Jungian theorists may take issue with Neopagan usage of the term “Archetype”, which is ineffable, to refer to consciously constructed symbols.  When Neopagans use the term Archetype, they mean that their experience of a symbol (or “sign” in Jungian parlance) is profound and one that they relate to the universal human experience of discovering meaning in life.  (See Goldenberg, 1979.)

Waldron and Waldron have treated the history of Neopaganism and Jungian archetypes, which Halstead has incorporated into a three-part series on the history of American Neopaganism’s search for legitimacy.  In another essay, Halstead laments how Neopagans have turned their back on Jungian interpretations after coming to perceive deities as “just” archetypes; instead, he urges we rediscover the archetypes as gods in their own right.

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One Comment on “The HPedia: Archetype

  1. Pingback: Yes, Virginia, I’m a Pagan Atheist, by Jeffrey Flagg | Humanistic Paganism

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