“Most religious stories and mythologies have some sort of similar root, some sort of global archetypes.” Maynard James Keenan

 “Americans want to believe that the average Brit wears a bowler and a school tie and maintains a stiff upper lip and has a certain dry sense of humour; they do not want to be told that a good percentage of the British population are vulgar dimwits who care about nothing but shopping, alcohol, football and Posh Spice’s navel.” Joe Queenan

In Jungian psychology there is the well-known concept of the Collective Unconscious; a “reservoir” of ancestral experience inherited through genes or very ancient memes. In science it’s known that babies’ brains are “hardwired” to recognise faces shapes and voices. There has also been research that suggests they can recognise spider shapes at an early age, presumably because the quicker you can recognise a danger, like a poisonous spider, the better your chances of survival. These examples show that experience of the world is, to some extent, built into our genes from ancestral experience and show a very basic idea of Archetypes; models of human perception, roles and functions that are often represented by symbols and personalities.

But not only can the Collective Unconscious be ancestral experience but unconscious material that we exchange every day, things in society that we don’t question and take for granted as “reality.” This too contains “models of human perception, roles and functions that are often represented by symbols and personalities” that are called stereotypes.

There is a subtle but important difference between the two; Archetypes, for the most part, come from within and are natural to the human psyche and its development and are the fulfilment of certain human experiences. Stereotypes are things to conform to, that are imposed on the human psyche from the outside by cultural standards. With Archetypes the human psyche is simply going through different processes of human development that most humans go through despite culture. With stereotypes the human psyche is being programmed by cultural forces and made to fit into a preset image.

But it’s difficult to tell the difference between the two when you get to look at stereotypes and Archetypes. Some stereotypes have archetypal aspects to them, the interpretation of some Archetypes can be twisted so that they are conformed to and some Archetypes might be very ancient stereotypes that are so consistent with human existence they become universal in quality.

I think that’s the good thing about Archetypes, their universal qualities allow us to see another culture and understand the basic human experience that is going on underneath the bowler hat, feather headdress, baseball cap, horned helmet or sombrero. It’s only the mind that is so immersed in its cultural or societal stereotypes that cannot understand another human being from another culture because the other doesn’t fit into their idea of human “reality.” In this day and age where humanity is reaching a global phase of its development, it’s important to relinquish stereotypes and embrace an archetypal understanding of others, to form a common basis of understanding and communication. We can still be members of our own culture, but instead of conforming to it we can creatively play with it to complement the basic experience that is the human being.