The Archetype in Spiritual Alchemy

The concept of the Archetype


and its significance in spiritual alchemy.




The concept of the archetype is central to spirituality in general because it is the inherent, transpersonal nature of the archetypal components of the psyche that act as the motivator, energizer and guiding force in the Adept. The archetypes can be seen as being pockets of quantum consciousness.


The archetypes, therefore, can be seen as spiritual instincts.


This metaphysical understanding is one which stretches back in the West at least as far as to the philosophical schools in Classical Athens. Furthermore, the Hebrew and Christian Bibles cannot be fully understood without a theological engagement with the concept.


The concept is also a central ingredient in the transformation dynamics of spiritual alchemy.

Above is Elias Ashmole's illustration from "Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum" London 1652.


This depicts the achemical process in its entirety and the toad here is a symbol of the shadow.


The toad has had a colorful and checkered history in its role in magic and folk-lore. It has simulatneously been seen as midwife's helper and devil's familiar. At the same time both life giver and life taker. There are toad rituals to protect livestock and property and toad spells to bring sickness and calamity. Toads can be used for love charms or they can bewitch an enemy with their evil eye and even cause death.


It is these paradoxical connections that have made this ambiguous creature a common and powerful symbol in the art of spiritual alchemy. This same mystifying concept of an attachment to death as well as re-birth is central to the individual's 'shadow:' The hiddean aspect of our unresolved pain and unrealized potential that lies buried in the darkness of the subconscious.


While the shadow will remain for most a ligering psychic cancer, the processes of spiritual alchemy are centered around transforming it into a catalyst and source of power for the constellation of the individual's Soul. The paradox of this instinctual or archetypal Higehr Self is that it is born out of the darkest and most primal aspects of our being. This is what is meant by T. S. Eliot's quote: "In my end is my beginning."


We see above that the toad is in the throes of a struggle for victory against the snake which is a symbol of our life conflicts. The cosmological aspects of the sun and moon are given the central spot in the composition and they are the stage around which the drama unfolds. This is to show that the battles are inherent throughout our life and this point is emphasized by the snake being tied into a love knot which shows that it is an intimate companion for the hero. The drops of dew symbolize the tears from the suffering that we experience in the midst of our trials and the Phoenix is the symbol here for the triumph of the Instinctual Higher/Divine Self reborn from the ashes

This is the symbol of the Sacred Heart, normally depicted in the breast of Jesus or one of the saints. It is often portrayed as a ruby, a gemstone associated with healing and sensuality. Here it is a chemical phial crowned with the Rosy Cross. As is typical the crown of thorns girdles it, there is the sacred wound from the spear, the sun's rays illuminate from behind and fire emanates from the flask: There is no better depiction of the Rubedo and the opening of the heart chakra. This energy center is green in the rainbow body but the red of the Sacred Heart corresponds to the passion of earthly sensuality; normally associated with the root chakra at the base of the spine. This is a link connecting the material and spiritual realms. The sun's rays provide the other link and symbolize the 'Inspiratio' that brings vital Self-awareness and the visit from the World Soul into the quest. The thorns and stigmata represent the pain that accompanies and informs the journey to wholeness. The fire is the exhilarating physical feeling that one experiences from their newly acquired treasure: It actually feels like a fire in the breast!"

Despite (or perhaps because of) its ancient legacy the theory of the archetype has become shrouded in controversy and misinterpretation. The theological import of the archetype is especially evident in the mystical element of Christianity and it is also plays a very central role in many other schools of mystic teaching.


The concepts of the so-called 'collective unconscious' and the concomitant 'archetypes' have become synonymous since the first half of the twentieth century with the founder of analytical psychology, Carl Gustav Jung, who coined the former term.


Contrary to his own better understanding, Jung continually named the subjective symbols that the archetypes produce as the objective archetype as such. This over-working led to an unending confusion of derivative images being labeled archetypes by him and his followers which has seriously dissolved their meaning as a psychological reality. It has also confused the metaphysical understanding of the concept as it is explained throughout the Western intellectual tradition.


Jung was unable to provide appropriate evidence for his contentions which has further brought the concept into disrepute in the larger scientific community.


Although Jung clearly stated that the archetypes were either instinctual processes or their compensatory polar opposite, in his work he continually attributed the symbolic images that the archetype produces to be the archetype itself. This was also in contradiction to his own acknowledgment that “the archetype is essentially an unconscious content that is altered by becoming conscious and by being perceived, and it takes its colour from the individual consciousness in which it happens to appear.”1


According to Jung, archetypes are “primordial types, that is, universal images that have existed since the remotest times.” Jung quotes Levy-Bruhl’s concept of représentations collectives to describe the way in which these primordial and universal images have become expressed in the symbols of myth and fairytale.3 This comparison by Jung to Levy-Bruhl's concept underlines the same point of confusion because these collective representations are specific, conscious images that vary from one culture to the next.


Despite occasionally qualifying his theory by stating that the “unconscious processes, then, are not directly observable,”4 Jung continually contradicted this by insisting that “the archetypes are the unconscious images”5 which are consciously apprehended in, for example, the sun,6 the cross,7 the trinity,8 the quaternity,9 the virgin mother,10 the horse,11 the healing snake,12 incest,13 all god forms14 which means every specific manifestation including Wotan15 and, presumably, each of the 330 million forms of God in Hindu symbolism as well as a host of other vehicles.


In the end there are an infinite number of possible derivative images that, throughout his collected works, Jung would continually refer to as the actual archetype itself and this does not include all the so-called “archetypal” life situations which could also have infinite possible manifestations. This is a distortion and mockery of the original concept and it is also a basis of great confusion about the role and nature of the archetype. It is also a problem that Jung should have recognized when he states that the various symbolic images (which he refers to in the text as the actual “archetypes … ) … reveal quite unmistakably the critical and evaluating influence of conscious elaboration.” 16




1 Jung, C.G. (1959). 4.


2 Jung, C.G. (1959). 5.


3 Jung, C.G. (1959). 5.


4 Jung, C.G. (1986). 40.


5 Jung, C.G. (1959). 44.


6 Jung, C.G. (1917). 109.


7 Jung, C.G. (1963a). 433.


8 Jung, C.G. (1953a). 209, 280f, 286.


9 Jung, C.G. (1963a). 246, 261. (1995e). 406.


10 Jung, C.G. (1963a). 714.


11 Jung, C.G. (1995e). 347.


12 Jung, C.G. (1972). 184.


13 Jung, C.G. (1995b). 659. (1978). 396. (1995e). 368.


14 Jung, C.G. (1963a). 404, 557.


15 Jung, C.G. (1995b). 203f.


16 Jung, C.G. (1959). 5.


Jung, C.G. (1917). Gesammelte Werke Band 7. Zwei Schriften über Analytische Psychologie. Düsseldorf: Walter Verlag. 1995.


Jung, C.G. (1953). Collected Works Volume 12. Psychology and Alchemy. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.


Jung, C.G. (1954). Collected Works Volume 8. On the Nature of the Psyche. Princeton: Bollingen.


Jung, C.G. (1956). Collected Works, Volume 5. Symbols of Transformation. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.


Jung, C.G. (1959). Collected Works, Volume 9.1. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Princeton: Bollingen. 1977.


Jung, C.G. (1963a). Gesammelte Werke Band 11. Zur Psychologie westlischer und öslicher Religion. Zurich: Rascher Verlag.


Jung, C.G. (1963b). Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Glasgow: Collins. 1977.


Jung, C.G. (1967). Gesammelte Werke Band 6. Psychologische Typen. Olten: Walter Verlag. 1989.


Jung, C.G. (1973a). Gesammelte Werke Band 17. Über die Entwicklung der Persönlichkeit. Düsseldorf: Walter Verlag. 1994.


Jung, C.G. (1973b). Gesammelte Werke 5. Symbole der Wandlung. Olten: Walter Verlag.


Jung, C.G. (1973c). Gesammelte Werke Band 18. Die Dynamik des Unbewußten. Olten: Walter Verlag. 1991.


Jung, C.G (1976), Collected Works Volume 18. Princeton: Princeton University Press.


Jung, C.G. (1995a). Gesammelte Werke Band 4. Freud und die Psychoanalyse. Düsseldorf: Walter Verlag.


Jung, C.G. (1995b). Gesammelte Werke Band 10. Zivilisation im Übergang. Düsseldorf: Walter Verlag.


Jung, C.G. (1995c). Gesammelte Werke Band 1. Psychiatrische Studien. Düsseldorf: Walter Verlag.



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