Archetypes and Elixirs: A Jungian Perspective on Life as We Know It.

Image of flaming red liquid in a cocktail glass

Returning with the Elixir of Knowledge and Wisdom

One of the key themes in Jungian psychology is that of individuation, which is an expansive process involving realisation and manifestation of the archetypes within. Archetypal aspects refer to many different facets of the self’s potential, such as the Shadow, the Animus or Anima, the Wise Elder or the Trickster / Magician. Many of these inner selves are unconscious or undeveloped and only emerge when we are able to unearth their existence through various channels such as encounters, dreams and active imagination.

All cultures have notions of human personality and self, made up of multiple aspects, many of which are oppositional or paradoxical and often these various traits are personified into panthea of gods and goddesses or other equally varied groups of characters. Take, for instance, the ways in which each of the Graeco-Roman deities encapsulates a set of particular human strengths and weaknesses. For instance Athena is wise and just but also warlike and ruthless in certain circumstances. Apollo likewise brings illness but also healing in the form of the arts and muses.


Individuation – Incorporating the Archetypes

At the start of every human life there is a diffusion of experience, expression and personality. That complex cloud of embodied sensations in the world gradually becomes organised into patterns of thought, feeling and memory and infused into a sense of the individual self. While all these phenomena are shaped and informed by the physical and social environments around us, variously named and operationalised through culture, certain broad categories of experience and expression can be identified across humanity and according to Jungian thought, these constitute the archetypes. Archetypes are universal potentials for broad human drives, yet as potentials for patterning, they are manifest in ways unique to individuals and cultures, rather like the ways in which each snowflake is structured through certain rules of construction, yet no two snowflakes are the same.

Jung stressed that this individuation was not a materialistic ‘individualism’ but a spiritual quest, a journey, and one which required a certain amount of courage and determination to overcome fear and resistance within the self. It also involves the withdrawal of projections, in other words the taking of responsibility for our own lives and recognising the fact that our own growth is in our own hands. To incorporate the archetypes successively through the sequence of Shadow first, then Anima/Animus and beyond, entails as well a kind of accumulated knowledge or insight – the elixir of life, the wisdom of the ages. And that wisdom and insight is most beneficially directed at ourselves, as The Oracle reminded Neo in the very archetypal movie ‘The Matrix’.

We have helpers along the way, though, such as family, friends, inspirational leaders and authors, as well as examples to follow in the guise of totems, god-like and saintly figures and characters from myth and legend. We also have negative influences, sometimes within the established society and canons of accepted ideas and practices around us, sometimes within our circle of relationships, and sometimes within ourselves as internalised negative attitudes and inner critical voices.

The Hero’s Journey

Archetypes and Elixirs form the raw material of the hero’s journey, our journey. Our internal responses to events, characters and relationships in the world around us shape the person we become. Whether that is contracted, frozen and bitter or expanded, empathic and wise, is largely up to us.  The Archetypes are always there, waiting for us to awaken them, the Elixirs are ever-present and calling to be consumed. Taking the plunge can be the most difficult first move but also the most exhilarating. Starting with some dream delving is one way in, creative journaling another. Both of these techniques helped to jump-start my own journey, informed and motivated by reading the works of Dr Carl Jung and inspirational blogs such as Jean Raffa’s here on wordpress. Individuation is an act of self-creation and the creative potential is inherent in all humans. Any creative activity can get your individuating juices flowing, indeed creativity has been identified as a significant booster of mental health promotion and recovery.


Thanks for dropping by,

Enjoy the Journey :)


Flaming Elixir Image source Guest of a Guest website, New York×300.jpg

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sandra Harriette
    Jun 02, 2014 @ 16:34:25

    Just before this, I was reading a newsletter from Pam Younghams ( and she was talking about how this week (June 2nd – June 8th) would be characteristically marked by many of the aspects involved with individualization as you discussed here.

    The universe has its way, I tell you…



  2. Skip Conover
    May 27, 2014 @ 22:37:47

    I would like to share this piece on with your permission. You can write to me at

    Liked by 1 person


  3. jeanraffa
    May 27, 2014 @ 21:08:00

    Hi Roberta. A gem of an article! We need all the explanations of archetypes we can get! It’s a very important concept and if we don’t understand it we’ll never understand ourselves well enough to take the authentic Hero’s journey. And thanks for the kind mention!

    Liked by 1 person


    • Roberta McDonnell
      May 28, 2014 @ 06:20:03

      Thanks so much Jean, it’s always a pleasure to catch up with you and a privilege to cite your work. I have always found the archetypes concept exciting and profound – it seems to me to be a very real and practical way of understanding life. Thinking about archetypes brings everything into perspective and imposes a tremendous clarity onto the complexities of experience. Thanks so much for your vital and very true comments too, Jean, much appreciated :)



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