some additional thoughts on the collective unconscious and also some new ones on the tarot
So I've been thinking more about the collective unconscious and I just can't imagine it being the result of some similarity in brain patterns, or some pool of collective psychic imagery. Rather, I have convinced myself that it must be some artifact of society. It is caused by society, rather than causing it. However, I also currently believe that it is an integral lynch pin of social human behaviour, and it allows society to continue to exist and to propagate.
The collective unconscious (there has to be a better term...) is then, I propose, a collection of the fundamentals of social existence. The archetypes and our relation to them is a universal bonding factor, something we can all relate to. This would explain the wide-ranging nature of these images. I have no idea if they appear in Eastern writings, and would actually expect them not to. I would pose that there are probably several collective unconscii (sp?) for cultures that developed with little interaction (e.g. East-West). My supposition would go so far to say that there are likely some areas of significant overlap (representing common ground between the two socities) but also some areas of significant departure.
The use of these collective images, images we can all relate to, in stories, art, etc. would therefore provide a certain glue, which holds society together. In my fictional writings, where I use mythic structure, I have noticed the stories become one of conformity. The hero, after his trials and tribulations comes to embrace the societal values that he formally ranted against. And, as I pointed out previously, the hero sacrifices himself (the individual) before he returns home to save society.
Thus mythic fiction is a force for society, against selfishness, and stimulating altruism. This is certainly not its only function, and I doubt the power of one individual piece, but as one, art using mythic tropes, tapping archetypes, acts to hold society together.
This sound all sorts of high and mighty but I think it may be true. It would certainly go some distance to explaining the creative urge. It would also explain the surprisingly positive response I have received to some of my stories (from friends and family only I would mention, I have only just submitted a piece for some more professional critique).
I am therefore going to continue to use mythic structure, and also to include more of these archetypes in my fiction. It strikes me that using fiction to try to knit society more tightly together, to increase the altruistic instinct is a decent goal in life.
But where to find guidelines on how to tap into the repository of images and thoughts that is the collective unconcious? Of course, by arguing that the collective unconscious is a universal feature of society, I am also bound to wander into the use of archetypes if I write unguided but I would prefer a more guided approach. However, Jung himself only mentions 4 archetypes (the self, the anima, the animus, and the shadow) and this is not enough to sustain fiction. Even when supplemented with other frequently mentioned archetypes (the mother, the mentor, the trickster, etc.) it seems there is more.
This is where I come to the Tarot. I want to make it perfectly clear up front that I don't believe that the Tarot can predict the future. That is new age, hippy bullshit--no more, no less. However, its reputation to do this impossible task is, I believe, tied into its relationship with the collective unconscious.
However old the Tarot is, it is pretty damn old. To have survived for so long it must be tapping into something pretty significant, and I am staking a hope on it being more than just human gullibility. People continue to find significance in these cards. A large part of this, certainly, is the human desire for causality. People look at the random assortment of cards and force connections to the situation they're contemplating. (Indeed, in this capacity, as long as the person using the cards is aware of this fact, I could see the Tarot actually being a useful way to examine a personal situation, rather than just as a way to fleece tourists out of $100). But, again I would point to the longevity of the cards. To have survived this long (at least 600 years according to wikipedia) they must have tapped into something pretty fundamental. Otherwise the old pictures would have lost their meaning centuries ago.
I would argue that the tarot is therefore a repository of the western collective unconscious.
It is therefore a perfect guide for creating fiction. I indeed to experiment with it's use as a tool to stimulate my creative juices. If you see my name up in lights in a few years, you'll know I was right.