In this disturbing and overwhelming time of the coronavirus pandemic, I notice that certain shopping patterns are unusual as consumers rush to stock up, hoard, and despair over out-of-stock items; some may perhaps be worthy of further curiosity on an archetypal, unconscious basis. In the supermarket located near my office in mid-town Manhattan, all the red apples are gone; they have been mass-purchased. However, all the yellow apples remain, abundantly stacked in bins, available, untouched. There are conscious factors no doubt such as price, popularity, family appeal, distribution, and availability. But for a Jungian researcher, there may be archetypal factors as well. Without being able to get near enough to consumers as we respect social distancing to interview them, I decided instead to describe the characteristics of archetypes.
Certain characteristics demarcate archetypes from being more than recurrent motifs, dramatic themes, mental frameworks, instinctual behaviors, big ideas, repeating narratives, resonant attractors, image schemas, or categorical clusters. Although prominent or repetitive in patterning, repeating narratives and recurrent motifs are not necessarily archetypal nor universally resonant. Before we can diagnose the presence of an archetype, we can check that at least three of the four characteristics described in this article are present in a brand, product, or category. These are the four A’s of archetypal characteristic:
The First Characteristic of Archetypes: Autonomy
The archetype has a compelling, autonomous presence when it appears. When consumers and research participants describe an irresistible pull toward a brand, product, or category as if exists on its own as a persona or independent force, archetypal autonomy could be operating. From the Jungian perspective experienced in psychotherapeutic or psychological contexts—but may be replicated among consumer behavior—archetypes demand to “be taken seriously” and have “a strange way of making sure of their effect” (Jung, 1951/1968b, pp. 156-157 [CW 9 pt. 1, para. 266]). These living psychic forces provide positive consequences like transformation, attraction, revitalization, or heroism whereas violating or ignoring them have negative consequences like causing neurosis, complexes, and psychotic disorders. Describing the phenomenology of the archetypal experience as autonomous, archetypes could behave as living subjects in their own right, “exactly like neglected or maltreated physical organs or organic functional systems” (pp. 156-157 [CW 9 pt. 1, para. 266]). In research into the unconscious factors, we look for corroborative elements that bear the quality of autonomy during decision making. My professional experiences in the world of marketing, organizational development, and brand innovation have demonstrated how professionals become stimulated about archetypes related to better understanding consumer needs and how managers continue to include the subject within their qualitative and quantitative research findings. Stevens (1995b) wrote this rationale as to why archetypes would continue to appear in multiple categories of experience with or without autonomous existence nor validity:
Just how indispensable the archetypal concept is in practice [and] can be judged from the manner in which researchers in many other disciplines keep rediscovering the hypothesis and reannouncing it in their own terminology. Indeed, if the significance of an idea can be measured by the number of people who later claim it as their own, then the archetypal hypothesis must certain be one of the most important ideas to have emerged in the present century. (p. 35)
The Second Characteristic of Archetypes: Activation
Archetypes have the ability to activate human behavior and emotions. When consumers and research participants describe the spontaneous activation of feeling as a result of a brand from brand, product, or category, archetypal affect could be operating. Connected with agency, and following Jung, Hogenson (2010a) emphasized that archetypal activation could animate or reanimate a person beyond, counter to, or in excess of the conscious will of that individual. The emotions could be on a continuum, between excitement and aversion, from happiness to deep sorrow, from elation to depression. These archetypal emotions could enhance, substitute for, or intensify the personal agency of the individual, as if unconscious impulses were forcing a person to “carry out actions from necessity, without conscious motivation” (p. 4), suggesting that archetypes had a teleological, final-cause function moving an individual toward his or her destiny and finality of purpose.
The Third Characteristic of Archetypes: Affect
Archetypes are surrounded by heightened emotions—the feeling and experience of depth, awe, numinosity, thrill, or mystery in the presence of an archetype. When consumers and research participants find it easy and empowering to reveal and explore the emotions of a brand, product, or category, archetypal affect could be operating. Jung felt that archetypes had a magical, spiritual, and numinous aura. He defined the numinosum, which had its own agency and could evoke a powerful response that controlled and seized the subject, either as a “quality belonging to a visible object or the influence of an invisible presence that causes a peculiar alteration of consciousness” (Jung, 1940/1969, p. 7 [CW 11, para. 6]). Although authors like Hobson (1961) believed that numinosity and awe were part of the experience rather than the archetype or archetypal image itself, this argument seemed to split intellectual hairs. Having experienced the presence of archetypal numinosity at certain moments of facilitation of ideas or response to compelling advertising, I agree with Samuels (1983), who built on this characteristic:
Because archetypal layers of the psyche are, in some sense, fundamental, they tend to produce images and situations which have a tremendous impact on the individual, gripping him and holding him in a grip, perhaps, but not always, with an accompanying feeling of mystery and awe; he will be unable to remain unaffected. (p. 7)
Hogenson (2009) wrote that archetypes are charged and “develop numinous effects that express themselves as affects” (p. 4), whereas Blandin (2011) agreed that the archetype’s energetic charge of numinosity, fear, or fascination could lead to transformation.
The unknown—within and without—always presents with a numinous charge, sometimes frightening, at other times fascinating, at times both. As the unknown becomes known, the numinous charge dissipates but this does not reduce the unknown to the known. It is a process of transformation of both the unknown element and the individual coming to know it; transformation is the archetypal process. (p. 208)
Goodwyn (2013) underscored the activated archetype’s “fascination, terror, or other powerful affects and imagery” (p. 388). The language of archetypal fascination seemed similar to the work of humanistic psychologist Maslow (1971), who developed theories of needs, self-actualization, and, relevant to Jung’s ideas, peak experiences:
The term peak experiences is a generalization for the best moments of the human being, for the happiest moments of life, for experiences of ecstasy, rapture, bliss, of the greatest joy. I found that such experiences came from profound aesthetic experiences such as creative ecstasies, moments of mature love, perfect sexual experiences, parental love, experiences of natural childbirth…the word enables me to speak of all or any of these experiences in the same moment. (p. 101)
Csikszentmihalyi (2008) wrote about flow as a positive, optimum human experience that intensified and activated complexity using vivid terms for the joys of movement, sex, yoga, martial arts, seeing, the senses, music, and tasting—as well as the flow of thought, of work, solitude, friends, transforming tragedy, and the making of meaning as heightening the immediacy of awe and wonder on a moment by moment basis.
A self that is only differentiated—not integrated—may attain great individual accomplishments, but risks being mired in self-centered egotism. By the same token, a person whose self is based exclusively on integration will be connected and secure, but lack autonomous individuality. Only when a person invests equal amounts of psychic energy in these two processes and avoids both selfishness and conformity is the self likely to reflect complexity. (p. 42)
The Fourth Characteristic of Archetypes: Agency as the Subject
The archetype has power to become the subject and turn the human into object. In an interaction involving the archetype, positions of power and autonomy are reversed for the human experiencing the archetype. When consumers and research participants suggest that the brand or product is in control and they are the followers, archetypal agency as subject could be operating. Jung suggested that in ordinary ego consciousness, the human was the subject, observing and acting upon another person, place, thing, idea, or situation; ego consciousness rendered oneself as subject and the other as object. By contrast, in the presence of the archetypes of the collective unconscious, the archetype became the subject, which acted upon the human experiencing the archetype; this human was no longer in control of the experience. Individuals might unconsciously identify with a particular archetype at key points in their life stages or psychic development, believing themselves to be the possessor of the numinous power rather than recognizing that it came from beyond the self. Jung (1937/1969) identified instincts he termed “the drive to activity” (p. 117 [CW 8, para. 240]), explaining how archetypes could drive the human with logic and passion toward its own end goal, render him unable to resist and unwilling to break free, because an archetypal experience brought meaning of an unimaginable depth.
I should like, then, to differentiate…the drive to activity. This urge starts functioning when the other urges are satisfied; indeed, it is perhaps only called into being after this has occurred. Under this heading would come the urge to travel, love of change, restlessness, and the play-instinct. (p. 117 [CW 8, para. 240]).
Back to the disappearance of all the red apples and the complete availability of yellow apples in my NYC supermarket in mid-town, I am playing with the archetypal ideas of red apples as related to paradise, the garden of Eden, temptation, revitalization, strength, power, determination, and intensity, with the negative pole of anger, revenge, danger; whether positive or negative, the action of red feels powerful when we are powerless. Whereas, yellow apples in their representation of sunshine, happiness, optimism, loyalty, freshness, joy, cheerfulness, and their equally strong negative pole of anxiety, deceit, and cowardice, are dynamics that feel less desirable and less relevant during the pandemic. In an ideal world, if I could do some spot but deep interviews in the supermarket based upon the potential of archetypal autonomy, affect, activation, and agency, we might disclose more insights on this small but fascinating choice and research query.
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Four Characteristics of Archetypes: Autonomy, Affect, Activation, Agency