What is the Collective Unconscious?

This is certainly not an exhaustive resource, but I will add to it as I come across useful references. Of course for the best understanding, reading Jung’s writings in full context is second to none. New additions will be to the list added at the top and typed in bold. CW = Carl Jung’s collected works

Update May 21, 2020: Added quotes from Erich Neumann’s The Origins and History of Consciousness and On Divination and Synchronicity by Mary-Louise von Franz.

  • “Now I propose to use the hypothesis that the collective unconscious is a field of psychic energy, the excited points of which are the archetypes, and just as one can define neighbourhood relationships in a physical field, so one can define neighbourhood relationships in the field of the collective unconscious.” – On Divination and Synchronicity, Marie-Louise von Franz
  • “So we can now go on with our definition and say the collective unconscious is a field of psychic energy, the excited points of which are the archetypes, and that field has an ordered aspect which is dominated by the number rhythms of the Self” – On Divination and Synchronicity, Marie-Louise von Franz
  • “In the collective unconscious all archetypes are contemporaneous, and exist side by side. Only with the development of consciousness do we come to a graduated hierarchy within the collective unconscious itself.” – Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness
  • “Archetypal images are operating in every man and appear spontaneously whenever the layer of the collective unconscious is activated.” – Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness
  • “It is as though the world of the unconscious were, in effect, an extension of the numinous, as though the inconceivable multiplicity of its aspects had been divided up into the separate figures of the collective unconscious, in order to become experienceable for the ego, either successively or in the aggregate… the collective unconscious is split up into the pictorial world of the archetypal images, and the same line of development leads to the fragmentation of the archetypes themselves.” – Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness p. 321 
  • “The original unity breaks down into a solar system of archetypes and symbols grouped round a nuclear archetype, and the archetypal nexus of the collective unconscious comes forth from the darkness into light.” –  Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness p. 326
  • “The world of symbols form s the bridge between a consciousness struggling to emancipate an systematize itself, and the collective unconscious with its transpersonal contents.” – Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness p. 364
  • “The instincts and the archetypes together form the ‘collective unconscious’” – Carl Jung CW vol 8 par 277
  • “From the unconscious there emanate determining influences which, independently of tradition, guarantee in every single individual a similarity and even a sameness of experience, and also of the way it is represented imaginatively.” – Carl Jung, CW vol 9i, par 118
  • “the sediment of all experience of the Universe of all time, and also an image of the Universe that has been in the process of formation for untold ages.” – Carl Jung, quoted in Wisdom, Madness, and Folly by John Custance
  • “A second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does develop individually but is inherited. It consists or pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic elements.” – Carl Jung, CW vol 9i, par 90
  • “The contents of the collective unconscious have never been in consciousness, and therefore have never been individually acquired, but owe their existence exclusively to heredity.” – Carl Jung, CW vol 9i, par 88
  • “The collective unconscious expresses itself in archetypically formed ideas.” – Carl Jung, CW vol 9i, par 45
  • “The collective unconscious is but an incapsulated personal system; it is sheer objectivity, as wide as the world and open to all the world. There I am the object of every subject, in complete reversal of my ordinary consciousness, where I am always the subject that has an object.” – Carl Jung, CW vol 9i, par 46
  • “Discerning persons have realized for some time that external historical conditions, of whatever kind, are only occasions, jumping-off grounds, for the real dangers that threaten our lives. These are the present politico-social delusional systems. We should not regard them causally, as necessary consequences of external conditions, but as decisions precipitated by the collective unconscious.”  – Carl Jung, CW vol 9i, par 49
  • “As a rule, the standpoint of the unconscious is relative to the conscious attitude.” Carl Jung, CW vol 9i, par 77
  • “If there is already a predisposition to psychosis, it may even happen that the archetypal figures, which are endowed with a certain autonomy anyway on account of their natural numinosity, will escape from conscious control altogether and become completely independent, thus producing the phenomena of possession.” – Carl Jung, CW vol 9i, par 84
  • “The pathological element does not lie in the existence of these ideas, but in the dissociation of consciousness that can no longer control the unconscious. In all cases of dissociation it is therefore necessary to integrate the unconscious into consciousness. This is a synthetic process which I have termed the ‘individuation process.’” – Carl Jung, CW vol 9i, par 83
  • “Accordingly, the therapeutic method of complex psychology consists on the one hand in making as fully conscious as possible the constellated unconscious contents, and then on the other hand in synthesizing them with consciousness through the act of recognition. Since, however, civilized man possesses a high degree of dissociability and makes continual use of it in order to avoid every possible risk, it is by no means a forgone conclusion that recognition will be followed by appropriate action.” – Carl Jung, CW vol 9i, par 84

This is a living document. Will update as I come across more information. New additions will be added to the top of the list and will remain bolded until the next addition.


See also What is an Archetype?

-Ryan; Last updated 5/21/2020

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