Collective unconscious: the secret language of symbols

Collective unconscious: the secret language of symbols

Posted by Jacinthe Roy Rioux on

"To feel that one leads a symbolic life, to be an actor in the divine drama, gives human beings inner peace. It is the only thing that can give meaning to human life." - C.G. Jung


Whether as carriers of meaning, vehicles of ideas, or silent language, symbols prove to be the ultimate craftsmen of our unconscious. They transcend the limits of words to give life to images, thus becoming indispensable architects of the process of individuation.


Symbols and Archetypes


Symbols play a central role within archetypes, those primordial images that line the myths and stories born from the dialogue between the conscious and the human unconscious. The boundary between a symbol and an archetype may seem delicate, but their distinct nuances reveal fascinating depths.


A symbol is typically a concrete representation that refers to something abstract. It can be a sign, an object, or an image that carries a particular meaning for an individual or a given culture. Symbols are often used to communicate complex ideas concisely.


On the other hand, an archetype is a fundamental design or model based on universal images, stories, or myths. Archetypes transcend specific cultures and are recurring patterns that manifest in various traditions. Unlike symbols, archetypes are more abstract and can take different forms while retaining a central core of meaning.


The idea that the archetype is difficult to describe and requires putting the elusive into words is relevant. Archetypes are often deeply rooted in the collective unconscious and resist precise definition. Their understanding is often linked to lived experience rather than theoretical explanation, making them complementary rather than central in description.


The Symbol


The etymology of the word "symbol," derived from the verb "symballein," meaning to bring together, unite, or ally, underscores its fundamental essence of connection.


Symbols can take various forms, whether a representative idea, an image, a word, or even a being. They act as representations evoking "something," emanating from the association of ideas. This representation is a projection of the imaginary onto the tangible.


Endowed with subjective value and emotional charge, the symbol exists in the eye of the beholder. Thus, symbols carry multiple and inexhaustible meanings.


Humans are destined to create symbols. Acting as activators of often repressed primitive energy, symbols are mirrors of the soul's state, seeking to restore disturbed balances. Through the symbol, the soul represents itself.


Whether eternal, cultural, or natural, symbols bear a meaning inherited from the collective unconscious. Several symbols are part of the common heritage transmitted by the human psyche, contributing to the richness of the collective heritage.


As expressions of life's deepest movements, revealing the hidden and serving as a bridge between man and the divine, symbols are natural and spontaneous manifestations emerging from the unconscious. They play an essential role in connecting individuals to broader meanings, transcending the limits of conscious understanding.


Enveloping the arts, philosophy, and world religions, symbols also emerge in dreams and synchronicities. The symbol is a visible image of the invisible, an abstraction addressing the unconscious. As a language of images and emotions, symbols give meaning to experience and lend meaning to existence.


The Archetype


Stories, myths, and legends abound with specific and repetitive themes. These images from the collective imagination are called archetypes.


An archetype becomes active in an individual's life when something is missing in the tangible sphere and requires an understanding of the intangible. The archetype is a model of action, understanding, and instinctive behaviors. It awakens only when invoked. Take the example of Kundalini, the dormant energy serpent within each of us. It awakens in certain circumstances, much like the archetypes that slumber within us from the beginning.


Universal archetypes evolve uniquely over time, cultures, and individual perspectives. Take the example of the witch archetype, once repressed for centuries. Nowadays, its essence has transformed, emerging as a figure of feminine wisdom, emancipated and mistress of her powers. This resurgence, particularly notable in the New Age spirituality sphere and within women's circles, illustrates the ability of archetypes to reinvent themselves and adapt to cultural dynamics.


By generating a sense of reverence, a perception of something greater than oneself, the archetype impacts the individual's psyche, providing access to profound truths. The archetype expresses itself through a process of resonance: the subject perceives a sensation charged with meaning through it.


Linked by Meaning


Like dreams, myths transport us to the origins, to the most primitive instincts. Vectors of revelation, they urge us to explore and become aware of what already resides deep within us.


As long as we do not experience the sacred nature of these stories, they remain mere images. By touching on their sacred aspect, the depth of these narratives activates within and around us, opening the door to a deeper understanding and a more intimate connection with the mysteries of existence.


Symbols, archetypes, stories, and myths serve as essential links. They come to life through synchronicities, dreams, and revelations.


Synchronicities manifest through events linked by meaning. Two seemingly unrelated occurrences can associate meaningfully for the one experiencing them.


These synchronicities testify to the existence of laws that transcend those of nature, inscribed in the collective unconscious, a human memory surpassing the linear constraints of time. It is a specific space to which we can occasionally refer to find meanings and deep connections beyond daily reality.


Dream, by nature, escapes linearity. In a disjointed chronology, it conveys images, situations, ideas, and symbols, stemming from the real or the imaginary, translating what cannot be accepted by the realm of the conscious.


Western thought follows a linear trajectory, while Eastern thought adopts a causal, synchronistic approach, emphasizing elements that make sense together. That's why we often turn to Eastern thought in search of meaning. In this thinking, order prevails where meaning resides... And where meaning reigns, wholeness flourishes.


In summary, the exploration of symbols, archetypes, stories, and myths proves to be a meaningful quest. Through the twists and turns of synchronicities and dreams, we discover deep connections and meanings that transcend the limits of daily reality. Rooted in the collective unconscious, these elements defy the linear laws of time, offering a space where meaning and wholeness converge. In the diversity of thoughts, between Western linearity and Eastern synchronicity, we find complementary perspectives, each offering a key to unlocking the doors of profound understanding.


In the complex dance of symbols and ideas, we are invited to explore the dimensions of existence beyond the boundaries of tangible reality.






Frédéric Lenoir, Jung - Un voyage vers soi, 2021

Martin Lings, Symboles et archétypes - Essai sur le sens de l'existence, 2010 

Allan G. Hunter, La voie de la synchronicité, 2014

C.G. Jung, Psychologie de l'inconscient, 1997


Photography: Bianca Des Jardins

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