What is an archetype?

What is an archetype?


The word “archetype”, according to the Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, was much used in ancient Greek, arche meaning “root” or “origin” while typos “pattern” or “model”. An archetype is an ingenious model of an individual , ideal example, or a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated ; a logo universally Recognized by all. The modern concept of the archetype appeared within the late nineteenth century, pertaining to the recurring literary phenomena like motifs, themes, and narrative designs. Similar motifs or themes could also be found among many various mythologies, and certain images that recur within the myths of individuals widely separated in time and place tend to have a standard meaning or, more accurately, tend to elicit comparable psychological responses and to serve similar cultural functions. Such motifs and images are called archetypes. The first one to use the concept within the sense it now, v appears in contemporary archetypal criticism is cultural anthropologist James G Frazer at the turn of the century. He used the concept of archetype to explain the structural principles behind the archetypal myths and rituals in the tales and ceremonies of diverse cultures. Myths and archetypes thus offered the critic another alternative, additionally to the generic or the historical, to questions concerning literary conventions or genre. Because of its more or less universal nature, the archetype is vital for constructing macro structures of literature concerning different times and geographical locations.

In literature, archetypes can be grouped under three heads for the convenience of study-archetypal images, archetypal themes or motifs, and archetypal genres. These literary archetypes carry symbolic meanings which are universally recognized, though these meanings may vary significantly from one context to another. As for instance, ‘water’ is an archetypal image which can mean many things: 1 e mystery of creation; birth-death resurrection, purification and redemption; fertility and growth. The ‘serpent’ is an archetypal image which can imply: • symbol of energy and pure force (libido), evil, corruption, sensuality ; destruction ; mystery ; wisdom the unconscious. Similarly, you can find for yourself archetypal colours, numbers, personages (archetypal woman, lover, wise old man, and trickster), etc. While reading literature, you must have come about common themes or motifs like : creation (either of the cosmos or nature or humankind), immortality (escape from time and the theme of endless death and regeneration), and theme of hero (as the saviour, deliverer or the sacrificial scapegoat). These are archetypal themes or motifs which act as fundamental structuring device of literature. In addition to images and motifs, you will find four archetypal genres
across various literatures of the world, corresponding to the four seasons : comedy (spring), romance (summer), tragedy (autumn) and irony (winter).

You will find that the development of the concept of archetype owes especially to the following three persons for their separate contributions : James G Frazer in the late nineteenth century revealed the recurring mythical patterns in tales and rituals ; Carl Jung in 1930’s and 1940’s developed a theory of archetypes out of it ; and Northrop Frye proposed, based on the previous two, an entire system of literary archetypal criticism within the 1950’s.

Frazer was part of a group of comparative anthropologists working out of Cambridge University who worked extensively on cultural mythologies. For twenty-five years he worked on The Golden Bough, his masterpiece and the first influential text dealing with cultural mythologies. In this work you will find a comparative study of the primitive origins of religion in magic, ritual, and myth. Here, he tries to show a general development of modes of thought from the magical to the religious and finally, to the scientific, or the traces of human consciousness from the primitive to the civilized. It was first published in two volumes in 1890, later expanded to twelve volumes, and then published in a one-volume abridged edition in 1922. Frazer’s main contribution was to demonstrate the “essential similarity of man’s chief wants everywhere and in the least times,”

Particularly as these wants were reflected throughout ancient mythologies. In the abridged edition he explains that,

[u]nder he names of Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis and
Attis, the people of Egypt and western Asia
represented the yearly decay and revival of life,
especially vegetable life, Which they personified as a
god who annually, died and rose again from the dead.
In names and details the rites varied from place to
Place: in substance they were the same.

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