Jungian archetypes are one of the most tragically misunderstood things in the spiritual community.
With a quick Google search, you’re likely to pull up infographics listing 8, 12, 16 Jungian archetypes labeled things like “The Artist”, “The Caregiver”, “The Rebel”.
And while these are absolutely archetypal patterns we recognize in stories and within ourselves, they really have nothing to do with Jung.
Jungian archetypes are not tropes. They are not personas. They are not the convenient, clickable typologies we find in astrology, the enneagram, and human design. The archetypes, as identified by Jung, are the “primordial images”, the energetic containers of human experience that are passed down by our very blood.
And while Jung did outline many archetypes, there are really four that stand out as the most essential, and they may not be what you expect. So dive in and get the truth, so that you can expand your knowledge, your wisdom, and your archetypal opening.
This is the Jungian archetype most of us are familiar with. The big misconception is that the shadow is the “bad” in us, the dark the negative, but this is a huge oversimplification. The Shadow is all that is unintegrated. It’s that which we’ve repressed or have not yet become conscious of, even that which may be good and true and beautiful.
And we can’t really talk about the Shadow without talking about Shadow Work, right? Jungian Shadow Work is not what we see happening in the spiritual community today. The shadow work we hear about all the time—confronting your bad behavior, diving into your negative feelings, facing your fears—these are exercises in emotional accountability, not necessarily complex integration.
By definition, the shadow exists in the unconscious, and so shadow work is largely unconscious, and often dangerous. It’s an intense psychological experience of everything you think you are not, and a necessary part of the path of individuation.
It’s really not about “improving” yourself. It’s about accepting yourself.
Anima / Animus
The most controversial of Jung’s archetypes is the Anima/Animus, or what Jung called the “contrasexual” archetype—the archetype of the woman in men, and the man in women. This is one of Jung’s most critiqued theories, not only because it was written with the repressive gender ideologies of the 20th century, but also because it was in some ways inherently misogynistic.
But these archetypes can be updated to understand our concepts of Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine, which are essential to our modern archetypal language. These are the inner masculine and inner feminine, which exist in us all.
The Ego & Persona
In the Jungian context, the Ego is not so much our self-absorption, but our self-identity. It is the “I”. It is the archetype of the self-aware mind, the conscious dreamer who navigates the unconscious dream of his psyche.
The Persona is another archetype we have all heard of before. It is a part of the ego, as the outward-facing expression of our identity. This is the face we present to the world, and so it is often a mask, and an archetype we often misidentify as the ego. This is a big part of the depth psychological work!
The final archetype, and the most ineffable, archetype is the Self, the “psychic totality of the individual” that transcends ego, embraces shadow. It is the archetype of wholeness.
Jung identified the archetype of the Self as the goal of individuation, the unification between people’s human and divine natures. To Jung, the Self might “equally be God within us,” and it is the part of us that pulls, quietly, at our souls. It is the part that brings us to those ecstatic moments of oneness. It is the entirety of the soul.