Journaling Using Archetypes

clear glass jar filled of coloring pens beside of white sketch pad
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I teach a journaling workshop using archetypes as a way to help writers move through blockages. I am going to share the introduction and the first bit of this workshop here because:

  1. I have been asked to post it online by some of my former students and this is as good a place as any.
  2. I have done absolutely nothing for WordPress this week but I am trying very hard to keep posting on a somewhat weekly basis.
  3. Truly, honestly, I am uninspired and the above two reasons seemed good enough to put this here for anyone who might find it useful.

So, without further ado…



Journaling Using Archetypes

Journaling is a process of writing down thoughts without the restrictions, and thereby stress, of writing something for the public to read. The public — meaning teachers, editors, blog readers — can have a restrictive quality on one ’s writing process. There is a “should” associated with something written for public consumption: “I should write in this tense; I should write using proper grammar; I should do this or that in order to make it worthy enough.”

Personal journaling takes away some of those internal “shoulds” and allows a clearer space to put down thoughts, feelings, and emotional memories.  The ability to write things down, to see them on paper or on a computer screen, is a powerful tool that anyone can use to create understanding. The problem, however, often lies in how to start journaling. This is especially the case when a person is highly organized, or highly driven by instructions. Facing a blinking cursor on a blank screen, or pages and pages of blank paper can seem monstrous and daunting. This is where the idea of using archetypes come in.

Archetypes are universal and timeless. They are primordial images (images from before birth) that are continually presenting themselves for translation. Archetypes have no inherent meaning, the viewer (the subject, us) assigns meaning, but they are very familiar. Most anyone has and does attach meaning to the concept of “mother,” “father” or “hero,” so it is as easy as stepping sideways into using them for your own writing.

Carl Jung, the father of the term archetype, explains that an archetype “can be named and has an invariable nucleus of meaning — but always only in principle, never as regards its concrete manifestation” (The Essential Jung, 84). As the viewer, we the subject, assign the meaning, allowing us to explore archetypes in a very specific way; a way that is entirely unique to our experiences and lifestyles.

As such, using archetypes can both create a space, or starting point, for journaling and archetypes can also be used to explore areas of one’s psyche that might otherwise remain hidden. Using the myriad of images and motifs that are familiar by their very nature, archetypes allow a process that brings journaling to an entirely new level. The process is not for the light-hearted.  

Anima and Animus

Self Study

The first set of archetypes that we will look at specifically is the anima and animus. These are an archetypical image of the unconscious. The anima and animus are the unknown; the secretive. These are the personas that shake and groove and show up while sleeping. They inform those Freudian slips or the uncomfortable images that occasionally present themselves while awake. They are, in a way, our very own tricksters.

But we only have one. Sort of.

Traditionally, the anima and animus are the same but different according to which gender you identify with and through. According to the original texts, the anima is the feminine aspect of a male, and the animus is the masculine aspect of a female. But these are merely identifiers and should not be used within strict, black and white boundaries. The process of using these “names” is the same no matter the gender you identify with, or if you identify with a gender at all. Rather, the idea is that there is something within your consciousnesses that is in opposition (opposite) to your waking mind.

To tackle the idea of anima/animus, clearing the way for a path to develop into the unconscious, the journaling exercises are two-fold.

The first is a self-examination of traits that are at odds with your normal behavior. Again, in the tradition of Jung, this would be masculine traits in a female/feminine traits in a male. But this does not have to be the case, at all. Rather, what traits do you embody in the waking state? Now, what behaviors erupt occasionally as if out of the blue?

Are you usually calm, collected, but every once awhile you explode in anger?

The anger is your animus.

Are you usually emotionally invested in life, but occasionally find yourself stepping outside and looking at things cooly and collectively?

Again, this logical side might be your animus.

The process is to make note of these things for the next seven days. Make note of those moments that you pause, and think: “where did that come from?”

This form of self-study will allow sparks of insight into basic personality makeup, as well as paving the road for an exploration into the actual function of the animus/anima. 


Jung’s Anima*

*The second aspect is taken directly from Jung, and as such please keep in mind the world of the masculine/feminine in which he was operating. I will try to adjust accordingly to more represent the full gender spectrum; however, if there are any questions, concerns, or areas that you wish to discuss feel free to bring them up to me.

Jung first noticed his anima while writing down his fantasies and questioning why he had such fantasies. In the midst of his scientific, psychological research, these fantasies he experienced (and had an overwhelming desire to write down) were obviously not of a scientific caliber. Using self-analysis and self-questioning specifically, a tool that he used constantly, he wondered what these rambling fantasies actually were.

A female voice answered him, telling him they were art.

He distrusted this female voice, because it came out nowhere, and also because these fantasies were obviously not art, so why would his conscious, thinking brain make that statement? His conclusion was that it had not made the statement, but rather this female voice was the voice of his unconsciousness.

He used this new found voice to probe his unconscious:

“It is she who communicates the images of the unconscious to the conscious mind, and that is what I chiefly valued her for. For decades I always turned to the anima when I felt that my emotional behavior was disturbed and that something had been constellated in the unconscious. I would ask the anima: ‘Now what are you up to? What do you see? I should like to know.’ After some resistance, she regularly produced an image. As soon as the image was there, the unrest or the sense of oppression vanished. The whole energy of these emotions was transformed into interest in and curiosity about the image. I would speak with anima about the images she communicated to me, for I had to try to understand them as best I could, just like a dream. (Memories, Dreams, Reflections 187-188).

Just as Jung did, we will use this concept of anima/animus as a tool for self-reflective journaling. The first step is writing down those moments that you are not altogether yourself. The second step is poking at those moments to see what emerges.

A few suggestions for exploration:

  • Ask questions, just as Jung did with his anima. If, for instance, you are someone who is normally calm and yet you blow up at your child or spouse, note it (without censure and guilt!!) and then ask: why did that happen? Explore the answer. If a clear response pops into your head, immediately write it down. Then. Ask another question. Follow through with this kind of back and forth for as long as you wish, and don’t limit yourself by listening to that small voice that might say: “this is just your imagination” or “you’re making this all up.” Who knows, and that’s not the point is it? The point is to explore this back and forth with your anima/animus in whatever form that might take.
  • Another suggestion is to free write. This is harder for some because it requires a total disregard for rules. Grammar, who needs it! Not when you are freewriting. So again, take that moment you accidentally said the wrong thing (for example), free write about why that might have been the case.

These are but two different examples of the way that you can explore your anima/animus. The beauty of these kinds of exercises is there is no right or wrong process. There are also no rules so there is no way to break them. Flow through the process and see what is on the other side, and if that is difficult for you, the two above suggestions should allow for enough structure to get started.

When we meet next week, we will go over some of the things you discovered; some of the things that came easily; and most importantly, some of the things that were very, very hard.

Until next time: Happy Exploring!


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