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 transpersonal pockets of 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.



The following is the Foreword to the book The Function of the Archetype in Spiritual Alchemy

To be published January 2018.


At the start of the modern era Western science was very concerned with looking outwards to the heavens for the meaning of people's position in creation. Starting with Copernicus and popularized by the efforts of Galileo a new view of our place in the universe colored the beginning of a revolution that captured the imagination of a newly forming epoch that can be defined, among other characteristics, as the era of the burgeoning individual. By the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century the, then, nascent social and psychological sciences began an inward turn and many began to understand the importance of seeking our meaning in the deepest levels of the psychology of the individual.


Spiritual alchemy also revolves around the question of our place in creation and the end goal of the refining process in the alchemical cauldron is the finding and building for the adept of their Soul. This is our innermost authentic being that for most is covered over with the layers we have created or that have been made for us for the comfort and security of cultural conformity.

The processes involved in the 'Hero's journey' to the Soul are dependent on the concept of the archetypes which are transpersonal pockets of consciousness that make up the dynamics of creation. Although the idea of the archetype is very ancient, it has become synonymous with the analytic psychology school of Carl Jung for the last hundred years.


As demonstrated in my previous book, The Idea of the Archetype. Ancient and modern, Jung and his followers identified every symbolic expression as being an archetype and for Jungians there are literally an infinite number of so-called “archetypes”. This has lead to a situation where the role and nature of the true archetypal energy has become so watered down that it has become, in fact, lost. Although there are a great many symbols that have archetypal resonance when they are found in a series in mythology or other sacred writing, this does not automatically mean that these symbols themselves are archetypes. The word archetype means 'first form': They are hard-wired into the actual structure of the collective unconscious that we inherit as part of being human. The symbols that Jungians continually refer to as 'archetypes' are culturally specific and often specific to individuals. This does not mean that the symbols do not have a potential to act in our life but they are catalysts that stir up the archetype. The power itself resides in the archetype. This is an important point to understand in any discussion of the archetypes and, as explained in my previous book, the fact that they exist a priori in the collective unconscious means that the archetypes can be equated to the instincts.


On the one hand it is understood now that animals in general and humans in particular do not have a huge array of instinctual motivations as was once thought. On the other hand, despite the assertions to the contrary from the behaviorist schools, it has been convincingly demonstrated in clinical psychology that humans do have an instinctual repertoire including the inherent knowledge to expect and build a relationship with the caregivers in our life. Therefore it follows that the mother archetype and father archetype can be held from the overly broad system of the Jungian archetypes. However there is an important distinction that must be made here regarding the polar nature that Jung attributed to the archetypes in his writing:


The archetype is not only a 'first Form' but it is also a pure Form. In other words the inherent, instinctual attraction that a baby is born with to be attached to their caregivers does not include a negative or 'devouring' aspect that Jung placed over it. Nowhere in the literature of developmental psychology is there any evidence for this at all. The natural tendency for the baby and infant is always to have a full trust and unmitigated rapport with their care-givers and the development of this 'darker' side is not apparent until such time as it is warranted by the particular experience of the individual concerned. This polar formation over the original instinct is in reaction, usually, to various limitations placed over us against our earliest expressions of autonomy. In other words the 'dual' nature that Jung wrote of is not archetypal or a priori at all but the development of the complexes in the personal unconscious of the individual. In my observation of my own children they were well over 18 months before any discernible image was apparent that there was a dual aspect to our role as mother and father for them. Naturally each case will be slightly different depending on the situation but it is clear that the original mother/father archetypes are not double-edged.


These two distinctions are not an incidental nuances but very important points in our Path towards wholeness or Self realization because the end goal of this Journey is to locate and constellate the original instinctual and transpersonal energy contained in the archetype of our Higher Self. If one treats the many symbols that we meet along the way as being actual pre-existent Forms then there is a huge danger that our inner complexes including all the 'dual' characterizations that these complexes have created will take hold of us as if they are something 'beyond' us. This will mean that we will become, for all intents and purposes, 'possessed' by our complexes. The nature of our complexes is to operate in such a way as they do for many people in any case. It is this dynamic that is operating when one is seized by an irrational and seemingly 'exterior' voice goading us into what is, in fact, a programming that has been incubating in the personal unconscious waiting to irrupt into conscious apprehension by a suitable hook.


This is the very real danger that Jungians are laid open to in traversing the inner 'labyrinth' on their way to encounter the Minotaur at the center. What will happen is that they mistake their personal complexes as being archetypal aides that will, inevitably, betray them and throw them off course.


In the first chapter to this book I will outline and explain a model of the human psyche that is based on the archetypes and which fits much more accurately into the, more advanced, clinical and empirical evidence that we have gained since the first attempts put forward by the early pioneers such as Jung and Freud. I will add here that these psychologists themselves anticipated and encouraged the on-going up-date and correction of the 'rough trail' that they themselves admitted to have blazed.

The subsequent chapters of this book will outline the processes of spiritual alchemy taken out of its disguised occult context and placed into a frame of reference that can be understood with reference to the latest findings in depth psychology and clinical neurology. These chapters will include practical methods for Self-healing and the attainment of Self-realization for the adept that will bring real and lasting change into their life: This is the 'inner journey'.


Another failing in the handling of the archetypal dynamics by Jung and his followers is the ignoring of what could be termed the 'larger' archetypes. In other words, there are archetypes that are inherent as working principles in the creation itself. Examples of this higher tier of archetypes are the Eros or Destiny which Freud wrote about extensively as being archetypes with direct references to their use in Plato as discussed at length in my previous book.


This level of archetype is very important in the Work of spiritual alchemy and no adept can expect to understand their own 'micro' Journey without recourse to these 'macro' mechanics. This means that one must understand the perspective of looking at the inner universe as well as the outer universe to attain Self-awareness.

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.



Let's Connect

Payment methods:


Copyright @ All Rights Reserved