Jung’s dream house and discovering your own archetypal home

Jung’s dream house and discovering your own archetypal home

exam060114MuckrossHouse_largeIn Memories, Dreams, Reflections Jung reports a seminal dream in his discovery of the collective unconscious. 

I was in a house I did not know, which had two storeys.  It was “my house”.  I found myself in the upper storey, where there was a kind of salon furnished with fine old pieces in Rococo style.  On the walls hung a number of precious, old paintings.  I wondered that this should be my house and thought, “Not bad”.  But then it occurred to me that I did not know what the lower floor looked like.  Descending the stairs, I reached the ground floor.  There everything was much older.  I realised that this part of the house must date from about the fifteenth or sixteenth century.  The furnishings were medieval, the floors were of red brick.  Everywhere it was rather dark.  I went from one room to another, thinking, “Now I really must explore the whole house.”  I came upon a heavy door and opened it.  Beyond it, I discovered a stone stairway that led down into a cellar.  Descending again, I found myself in a beautifully vaulted room which looked exceedingly ancient.  Examining the walls, I discovered layers of brick among the ordinary stone blocks, and chips of brick in the mortar.  As soon as I saw this, I knew that the walls dated from Roman times.  My interest by now was intense.  I looked more closely at the floor.  It was of stone slabs and in one of these I discovered a ring.  When I pulled it, the stone slab lifted and again I saw a stairway of narrow stone steps leading down to the depths.  These, too, I descended and entered a low cave cut into rock.  Thick dust lay on the floor and in the dust were scattered bones and broken pottery, like remains of a primitive culture.  I discovered two human skulls, obviously very old, and half disintegrated.  Then I awoke.[1]

Jung presented the dream to Freud, who he was working very closely with at the time, but dissatisfied with his (Freud’s) reading of it[2] Jung independently interpreted the dream along the following lines: the house was a symbol of his psyche or psychology. Our homes being amongst the most primal of our collective symbols. The home is where the heart is, as the old saying goes. Our homes are our castles (irrespective of how modest they may be), our sanctuaries. They are sacred ground. The border of the home constitutes a boundary between me and mine and “the world”, “the others”. Its boundaries are designed to keep the unwelcome out and admit the welcome by my invitation. In my home (ideally) I feel contained, safe, held. The home symbolically is an extended psychic body, a manifestation of my soul in the world. And inasmuch as it holds me it is also a symbol of the mother. This symbolic significance explains much of the cultural rituals and protocols around our homes and their status in our society. Once you become a guest in my home there is a subtle but significant shift in your status from someone-out-there to someone-one-in-here. The beliefs and cultural norms of the Bedouin tribes are particularly telling in this regard. This also goes some way to explaining the lasting psychological trauma of a home invasion and the frequent need to relocate.

And in the dream Jung is clear that it is not just any house but his house, “my house”. Once one is armed with the concept of the collective unconscious the rest follows fairly organically. Of course Jung himself wasn’t, so the reading he birthed is a testament to his genius. As he descends the various layers of his house, he is descending the layers of his own psychology, psyche or soul. What he discovers is that each successive layer connects him with an earlier time in man’s history and the history of his ancestral line and also casts an increasingly wide net so that his interconnectedness to his fellow man is increased. Or perhaps it is better stated to say he is increasingly connected to an ever wider group of fellow human beings who share, at the various levels, his ancestry. Such that he begins in his personal living space on the upper floor and ends in the shared prehistoric roots of all mankind.

Discovering your own archetypal home

Using the symbolic structure of Jung’s dream house I want you to consider the ancestral impulses and archetypal inhabitants of your own psychology. To do this we borrow quite strictly from Jung’s conceptual apparatus of the collective unconscious and archetypes, but more liberally with respect to the particularities of his dream house. In other words we might say that Jung was visited by what the shamans call a “big dream”. A dream that wasn’t as much his personal property (no pun intended) as it was the property of all mankind –a message from the dream gods if you will.

In order to utilise this image in your investigation (and hopefully discovery) of your own archetypal home, I want you to adopt the following classification of the respective levels or internal structures of the house.

Following Jung’s trajectory we will move from the top (the personal) to the base (the transpersonal). At each level I want you to identify a governing archetype (or spirit).

Level 1 the top floor of your house is concerned with your personal narrative. The archetype you are looking for here is the one that governs your own personal life, your own narrative or life journey to date. Naturally you are going to be able to indentify multiple possibilities here and choosing one is bound to be challenging. Nevertheless, select only one concept, idea, archetype that has been present throughout your life like the mythological red thread, irrespective of whether you could always see it or not, or followed it or not.

Level 2 the ground floor of your house is concerned with the family you were born into. Identify in each of your parents same gender lineage a governing archetype. In the case of your paternal line consider: your father, your bothers, sons, uncles, male cousins and grandfather – all in the paternal line; in the case of your maternal line consider: your mother, sisters, aunts, cousins and grandmother. So, on this level you should identify two archetypes, one from each of your paternal and the maternal lines respectively.

Level 3 the cellar of your house is concerned with the culture in which you live and are identified with. This is open to interpretation because a number of complicating factors come into play. The culture you grew up in, the culture in which you currently live, distinct cultural and racial groups in the country in which you live, considerations of communal or group sub-cultures and so on. For most of us there will be a number of distinct group, social and cultural influences. Each of these groups will incarnate a particular archetype. Nevertheless for the sake of the application select one archetype from amongst these groups with which you most closely identify.

Level 4 the cave under your house is concerned with the ancestral line from which you emerge. This could be singular or multiple depending on your personal ancestry. Here you want to reflect on the spirit (or archetype) of “the people” you are descended from.

Using myself as an example:

Level 1: consciousness (although my life has been filled with different and quite distinct impulses, asked to select a single one I think consciousness – the pursuit of, would be a likely candidate).

Level 2: paternal: the will to power; maternal: melancholy

Level 3: I identify myself very much as a South African and even more specifically as a white South African (the political incorrectness of such an admission notwithstanding) and the spirit that I see living in white South Africans in contemporary culture is one of entrepreneurship.

Level 4: I emerge from two ancestral lines, the Lebanese and the Afrikaners. In my reading of the Lebanese a good candidate for their dominant trait or archetype is: trader (they are and historically have always been traders). The Afrikaners, when I think about them what come out for me is that they are pioneers – they exhibit a pioneering spirit.

So I find the following archetypes living in my own psychology: consciousness, will to power, melancholy, entrepreneurship, trader, and pioneer. Here it seems a synthesis can be realised between: trader – entrepreneur (these two seem to share a very similar archetypal basis). As such I narrow my list down to: entrepreneur, consciousness, will to power, melancholy, and pioneer. I think there is a case for a synthesis between pioneer and consciousness as well (consciousness being the consequence of pioneering into unchartered territories). Nevertheless I think the distinctions between these two archetypes are sufficient that they are best left intact and independent if obviously related. 

The bivalent nature of archetypes

It is important when considering the archetypes that emerged for you during this application to reflect on both their productive and destructive aspects. This is something that Jung emphasised in relation to archetypes – their bivalent nature. E.g. the mother (archetype) can be nurturing or consuming and so on. Considering three of my own archetypes this is what I see:

Trader-entrepreneur

Constructive: able to successfully trade, negotiate, do business, create new opportunities, think creatively, navigate the world etc.

Destructive: unproductive (a trader can produce nothing and still be a very successful trader), manipulative, exploitative, depersonalise and commoditise the other, greedy, avaricious etc.

Consciousness

Constructive: Jung had it that consciousness has infinite value and possibly nothing further need be said on the scale of the positive, although I cannot resist adding Socrates aphorism, ‘The unconsidered life is not worth living’.

Destructive: passivity, inaction, analysis paralysis, consciousness can be substituted for the actual process and joy of life, and so on.

Melancholy

Productive: soulfulness, reflection, the true state of every genuine philosopher, empathetic, feeling, caring, a mytho-poetic sense or lens, and so on.

Destructive: sadness, apathy, fatalism, joyless, sourness etc.

It is important to realise that every archetype has both the constructive and destructive capacities, not one or the other. And Jung would suggest that when one is consciously constellated its opposite is unconsciously constellated. The very significant implication of this idea being that consciousness is best served by being aware of both the productive and destructive characteristics of the archetype in your own psychology.

Understanding you own myth

Armed with this knowledge the next question to consider is what possible story could be told with these archetypal characters? This is, I believe, what Jung means when he asks of us to identify our own myth. This is the ‘next step’ in the process, beyond the classical mapping of your story onto a collective myth or fable. In other words the archetypal characters in your psychology are characters on the stage of your life and your personal life story is their story, the story they tell. Now stories, as we know from literary theory, follow certain typical (or in Jungian terms: archetypal) forms. Your archetypes create a natural structure in which your story can be told, in which your myth can unfold. This structure has a natural form and limitation; its possibilities are not infinite. However there are, if not infinite, certainly a multiplicity of different forms, shades and hues of personal narrative that these archetypal characters can create and be part of. Understanding what your myth may be is about reflecting on what this story may look like or could look like; knowing what it is, beyond speculation, is the business of living this life and discovering what story emerges.



[1] MDR, p. 182.

[2] Freud attempting a classical psychoanalytic wish fulfilment wherein Jung wished for the death of certain family members, represented by the skeletons in the cave, which seems an excessively reductionist reading in this case.

Share this post

Comments (3)

  • Parvin Kavehkar Reply

    Very interesting article! I never thought about archetypes being possibly destructive ! One of my most frequently presented archetypes is wallet, purse, and so on! Does anyone know what it represents?!

    Thank you very much

    June 20, 2014 at 03:02
  • Dan Reply

    Good wholesome stuff . Loved reading the article Stephen . Thanks

    June 23, 2014 at 17:25
  • Allan Raymond Cohen Reply

    I found it very dificult to get a hold on the esence – here is mine:-
    Level 1 the top floor – Being accepted
    Level 2 the ground floor PATERNAL – Notice me; MATERNAL – Victim.
    Level 3 the cellar – Small town mentality
    Level 4 the cave – Jewish wanderer – always looking

    need some help to intergrate it

    July 1, 2014 at 11:58

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *