Father Archetype

“The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. And God said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven”.[1]
The most primordial function of the father archetype is to promote discrimination of opposites and consequently differentiation of various unconscious contents. Jung says: “There is no consciousness without discrimination of opposites”. This function is carried through paternal principle, the Logos, which “eternally struggles to extricate itself from the primal warmth and primal darkness of the maternal womb; in a word, from unconsciousness”.[2] Thus is the function of archetypal father to initiate the prime cause, he is the creator, the auctor rerum.”[3]  The father represents the dynamism of the archetype, for the archetype consists of form and energy.[4] From that perspective is Father Archetype carrier of the images pertaining to Chinese idea of the creative. This means “sublime”, “head”, “and origin”. “Great indeed is the generating power of the Creative; all beings owe their beginning to it. This power permeates all heaven”[5]. (Wilhelm, 1950, p. 4) Edinger says: “As the great mother pertains to nature, matter and earth, the great father archetype pertains to the realm of light and spirit”. Both are associated with consciousness per se. In mythology and cultural products of mankind, therefore we can observe masculine figures exercising the role of freeing spirit from the matter. It is an upward movement and its psychological manifestation is that of development of intellect and rationality, but also extension of consciousness in general, what we can call spirituality.[6] German word ‘geistig’ used by Jung denotes a “mixture” between spiritual and intellectual.[7] (Allenby, 1975) Personification of the masculine principle of consciousness is symbolized by the “upper solar region of heaven”. The wind, pneuma, nous, ruach, are thus symbols of spirit as opposed to matter. Sun and rain represent the masculine principle as fertilizing forces which impregnate the receptive earth. Images of piercing and penetration such as phallus, knife, spear, arrow and ray all pertain to the spiritual father. Feathers, birds, airplanes and all that refers to flying or height are part of this complex of symbols which emphasizes the upper heavenly realms. In addition, all imagery involving light or illumination pertains to the masculine principle as opposed to the dark earthiness of the great mother. Illumination of the countenance, crowns, halos and dazzling brilliance of all kinds are aspects of masculine solar symbolism. The image of the wise old man as judge, priest, doctor or elder is a human personification of this same archetype.[8] (Edinger, 1968)
The father archetype, in its logos function, exerts his influence on the human mind in order to transform undifferentiated – concrete - emotionality bind to body, to less material and abstract form of images and mental representations, but also, in its specific complex-bound function, serves as regulator of boundaries, restrictions and social values that are imposed as rules and laws, in accordance with Freud’s notion of superego.
Even though we speak of the “father archetype” as if it was specific archetypal power of collective unconscious, there are countless variations of it found through man’s mythology. Gareth Hill understands the father archetype as a part of masculine pattern of the Self. The four patterns of masculine and feminine are dynamically related to one another and forming thus a model of Self.[9] (Gareth, 1992, p. 23) He speaks about static masculine and dynamic feminine, and static feminine and dynamic masculine. Each of them has negative and positive side. Emerging archetypes accompany specific stage of ego development. (ibid., p. 35) For example the dynamic masculine is characteristic by its tendency toward differentiation expressed in the images of cleaving and penetrating. It is expressed in initiative and action directed toward a goal. (ibid., p. 9) King Arthur slaying dragon, or Heracles fighting the Nemean Lion are corresponding images for such archetype. On another hand the static dynamic principle is needed when order, organization and hierarchy needs to be created. Zeus can be example of this archetype. The static masculine is therefore “tendency toward organization based on rational knowledge, linear system of meaning, theories of truth, and discriminating hierarchies of value”. (ibid., p. 16) At particular stage is archetype or pairs of archetypes “at the center of the Self”. Task to integrate Apollo archetype, which is expressive of the static masculine principle as a sun hero who embodies light, reason, intellect, and order, standing holding the laurel branch, symbolic of heroic victory, eminence, change and achievement, developmentally differs from that necessitating to integrate the order-preserving warrior Ares, or transformative and mediating Hermes archetypes, even though they are all archetypal expressions of father archetype.  In James Hillman theory we see that archetypes can merge into one greater archetype. When there is emergence of puer aeternus, for example, the Hero, the Divine child, the Eros, the Son of the Great Mother etc. could be observed. Puer can be an expression of relatively specific father’s complex, but archetypally is connected with “cluster” of abovementioned archetypes[10]. (Hillman, 1979)
We can never know the archetype an-sich, - and can define it as a negative borderline concept only - and can observe it and represent it only based on its outcomes: images and behaviour with accompanying energy – its valence and intensity. That is true for archetype and for the complex as well [this is also true for the symbol]. Jung visualized the dynamic nucleus of any complex to be composed of an archetype, which he regarded as its ‘affective foundation’.  The archetypes, in themselves psychoids about which little can be known, come into manifest activity in the form of both image and emotion, simultaneously. “The image renders the meaning of the emotion; the emotion gives the image its dynamism”.[11] (Perry, 1970, pp. 1-2, emphasis mine) Wherever there is affect, there is complex and wherever there is complex, there is archetype in its core. That asserts Jung’s claim that archetypes are forms of apprehension and that they are “necessary a priori determinants of all psychic processes” .[12] (Jung, 1934, par. 270, emphasis mine) Without them there would be no cognition, but also no emotionality. Archetypes thus create in unconscious an arbor archetypica, stemming from basic complexio and on the top divaricating to various archetypes which through complexes approximate conscious realm. If we imagine archetypes as forming fabric of the collective unconscious, then complexes – connected to them – would form a fabric of personal unconscious.  Every complex therefore arises as a result of personal conflict and archetypal, universal conflict. (Jacobi, 1959, p. 25) Complexes are hitherto natural occurrences of every human psychology.
The type of energy and meaning determines creation of complex and through that activation of corresponding archetype. It is form and energy what determines character of complex not sex of the caretaker. Male therapist can be easily holder of a projection of mother complex. That is also why a father archetype, does not have to be represented by male figure at all. As an example I provide following dream of my client: “I am in an upper floor room with my older sister.  I look out a large picture window and I see a dark, tornado coming towards us. (…) She yells at me to get away from the window (…) I do manage to get up and I look out the window again and I see eight tornadoes outside and the sky is very dark.  My sister and I try to seek shelter underneath one of the beds; we huddle next to each other for protection and she sheltered me with her body (…)”.  Client associates the tornado with huge psychic turmoil and uncontrollable emotions, which she later connects to her pathologically abusive mother (the Terrible Mother). When she associates her sister, she says: “She was the oldest, she took care of us and protected us, she was like a father to me (who was absent)” and more, “she was wise, rational, composed and I always looked up to her”. Everything suggests that at the core of this ‘archetypal spirit protector’ is the father archetype and even if she presents with the strong missing-father complex, the archetype of collective father was superimposed on the image of her [oldest] sister, who embodied missing qualities in their family. Because my client is, at times, when dealing with her daughter, overwhelmed by this morbid mother complex, her current developmental task is to integrate her animus as a direct connection to the archetypal father in order to manage the autonomous powers. Reflection, order, discipline, abstraction, boundaries and skills are needed in her case to do so. Archetypes are “principles” and as such are not influenced by morphological gender differences. At the “bottom” is father archetype pure spirit, and of course we do not know what that actually is, the same way we do not know what the matter is (as the fundamental principle of Mother Archetype).
Access to the father archetype and father complex can only be through historical material (amplification) and relevant client material (c-t structure, feelings, emotions, associations, images, fantasies, relations etc.) With this in mind we should approach the whole theme of archetypal father. The topic requires more complex treatment than is possible in this paper.
Integration of the archetype is essential for psychological development; on collective – phylogenetic - and individual – ontogenetic – development.  As this process is universal and pertaining to basic human mind-creating process, so are the archetypes. Jung taught us that archetypes are not acquired modes of cognition, but an a priori structures which can be represented through images and behaviour, therefore the ‘biological’ father of the child can at its best serve as promoter of the father archetype, i.e. gate through which a universal process is channeled. “Behind every individual father there stands the primordial image of the Father, and behind the fleeting personal mother the magical figure of the Magna Mater”, says Jung.[13] Entire human experience is governed by archetypal father and introject of the “real” father.
According to Jung there are psychological consequences of personal experience combined with archetypal images in the collective unconscious, these are called imagos. Like everything else unconscious, they are experienced in transference-countertransference (further t-c) dynamic. “Imago is constituted on the one hand by the personally acquired image of the personal parents, but on the other hand by the parent archetype which in the pre-conscious structure of the psyche”. [14] (Jung, 1946, par. 212, footnote) The term is thus used to differentiate the objective reality of a parent from the subjective perception of its importance. Imago therefore plays essential role in analyzing t-c relationship with client. Jung says: “The image we form of a human object is, to a very large extent, subjectively conditioned. (…) Because of its extremely subjective origin, the imago is frequently more an image of a subjective functional complex than of the object itself. In the analytical treatment of unconscious products it is essential that the imago should not be assumed to be identical with the object; it is better to regard it as an image of the subjective relation to the object.[15] (Jung, 1921, emphasis mine) This example could illustrate it: Evening, after working on this paper I had interesting synchronicity experience related to the material. I went to local bar for a drink and shortly a woman approached me and asked what I did. When I told her, she told me about the dream she had last night: “She was asked by her father to kill him”. She did not know what to do about this dream, but was concerned. She shared with me, that her father was a known musician and that she really admired him for most of her life, but only recently he disappointed her. He was not perfect as she thought! “Maybe, what needs to die is yours idealized image of your father, so real relationship can be established”, said I, to what she replied it made a lot of sense.
Similarly, complex is related to the archetype. Every complex has an archetypal core. Father complex is not only constellated through experiences with personal father, but also by the universal suepattern of archetypal father imprinted in the psyche. Child is experiencing personal father via archetypal energy. Jacobi says: “The tremendous energy of the archetype lends a numinous, spiritual feeling to experiences of father in the young child, especially when it is not appropriately mediated by the personal father. (Jacobi, 1959, p. 9)
Complex itself consists primarily of a ‘nuclear element’, a vehicle of meaning, which is beyond the realm of the conscious will, unconscious and uncontrollable; and secondarily, of a number of associations connected with the nuclear element, stemming in part from innate disposition and in part individual experience conditioned by environment. (ibid.) In case of father’s complex is individual experience of father figure, which is in most cases father (but not in all as I will demonstrate later), or lack of such a figure. The more father’s figure role departs from its “prototype”, i.e. father archetype, the more negative is the constellation of father complex in unconsciousness. As a consequence of inadequate mediation of archetypal energy is the energy of complex accumulated in unconscious. In other words, the more severe is the trauma caused by father figure experienced by the child, the more autonomous and ego-dystonic is the complex constellated. That understandably also forms the quality of father imago. We can talk about the complexes as nodal points consisting of meaning, energy, affect, that is why Jung originally called them “feeling-toned complexes. Such nodal points can attract each other in unconsciousness and “unconscious personality” (shadow) with very primitive characteristics. Complex can be activated and discharged resulting in enormous quantum of affect energy, accompanied by meaning. Complex is the image of a certain psychic situation which is strongly accentuated emotionally and is, incompatible with the habitual attitude of consciousness. (Jung, 1934) In case of child abused by father, such complex can be triggered by dyadic schema resembling original abusive situation. When, let’s say, father was very demanding and critical towards a child, later in life, when child is adult, will have tendency reply this situation when place in fatherly role, and operate thus out of complex. If the child was severely abused, we can assume, that complex was  - due to its incompatibility with social norms – suppressed to the “deeper” level of unconscious and therefore when activated can erupt and seize the conscious ego to the point of compulsiveness and obsession.  The “further” from consciousness, the greater is the autonomy of the complex. Complex has tendency to repetitive, autonomous, resist consciousness, and attracts experience that confirms point of view collected during the time of its genesis.[16] (Singer 2002b: 15) Complexes have also quality of bi-polarity: ego can identify with one “pole” and the other is projected on external object. Accepted part of the complex is comprehended as ‘desired’ or ‘good’ while is shadowy element is projected out. In analysis conflict between this two poles is subject of t-c dynamic.
               Jung says: “The power of the father complex comes from the archetype, and this is the real reason why the consensus gentium puts a divine or daemonic figure in place of the father. The personal father inevitably embodies the archetype, which is what endows his figure with its fascinating power. The archetype acts as an amplifier, enhancing beyond measure the effects that proceed from the father, so far as these conform to the inherited pattern. (Jung, 1961, par. 744) Jung gives an example when his client through the father complex found a lost spirituality, Jung was more and more represented in her dreams as a Great father, wind and spirit, which connected her to God image. (CW 7, p. 129) Father complex therefore serves as a gate to father archetype and when recognized and worked through correctly during analysis a positive influence of the archetype can “dissolve” (broaden conscious perspective) father complex. Complex is the hindrance for ego to access its natural capacity to unfold toward the fullest possible realization of the Self. (Gareth, 1992, p. 107) Connecting client’s consciousness (through mythology, active imagination etc.) with archetypal stratum of the psyche has therefore a therapeutic effect[17], since it gives adequate expression to the dynamism underlying the individual entanglement. (Jung, 1961, par. 738) I give an example. A client of mine presents with a “puer father complex”. His father, who divorced his mother when he was a young boy, functioned as inadequate father object. He mostly focused on his own pleasure-seeking, was not present, spent all his money outside of family and even got incarcerated for the fraud. My client’s dreams often depict situation when he argues with his father, or authority and that he is supported by “mature, wise and attractive woman” (Athena). It took over a year for my client to recognize saboteur-like qualities of his complex. Originally he projected his anger onto me, being passive aggressive, missing sessions, being evasive and rebellious. My countertransference reaction was to feel frustrated like him with his father (and father with my client), but I made sure that represented for my client caring, present, responsible and forgiving father object, of senex-like qualities. That was I compensated for my client’s negative – puer – father complex. Eventually that led to recognizing his own puer factors, making him dealing with his problems by drinking, blocking him from achieving his goals and ambitions. That also awakened a senex archetypal structure in unconsciousness. He is able more to move forward and connect with the archetype of Athena (Gareth: static masculine, essential reason, discrimination and judgment). Athena stands in the core of his anima, which has great potential to connect my client with her father Zeus. Again in this case is the father archetype represented by figure of opposite gender and projected onto therapist as positive supportive figure.
[1] Bible, Genesis 1:2-9
[1] Jung, C., G., "Psychological Aspects of the Mother Archetype," CW 9i, par. 178.
[1] Jung, C., G., “A Psychological Approach to the Dogma of the Trinity”, 1948, par. 197
[1] Jung, C., G., “Psychological Aspects of the Mother Archetype”, 1954, par. 188
[1] Wilhelm H., The I Ching, Princeton University Press, New York, 1967.
[1] (cf. Jung, 1948, p. 13; v. Franz in Jung, 1951, pp. 469 ff.).
[1] Allenby, A.I. (1955). The Father Archetype in Feminine Psychology. J. Anal. Psychol.,
[1] (Edinger, 1968)
[1] Garreth Hill, Masculine and feminine, Shambala, 1992, Boston & London.
[1] Hillman, James, et al. 1979, Puer Papers, Irving, Tex.: Spring.
[1] Perry J. W. (1970). Emotions and Object Relations, The Journal of Analytical Psychology, 15.
[1] Jung, C., G., A Review of the Complex Theory, 1934, in CW 8)
[1] Jung, C., G., CW 17 par. 97
[1] Jung, C., G., “Psychotherapy today”, 1946, par. 212, footnote, 2
[1] Jung, C., G., "Definitions," CW 6, par. 812.
[1] Singer, T. “The Cultural Complex and Archhetypal Defence of the Collective Spirit”, San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal (2002).
[1] Heilsweg, in German means healing, but also salvation.
["The Personification of the Opposites," CW 14, par. 232.]
[The Psychology of The Transference, 1946, par. 381, footnote 34.]
[Freud and Psychoanalysis, 1961, par. 744]
[Freud and Psychoanalysis, 1961, par. 738]
[A Psychological Approach to the Dogma of the Trinity, 1948, par. 270]
["The Origin of the Hero," CW 5, par. 272.]
[1] Bible, Genesis 1:2-9

[2] Jung, C., G., "Psychological Aspects of the Mother Archetype," CW 9i, par. 178.

[3] Jung, C., G., “A Psychological Approach to the Dogma of the Trinity”, 1948, par. 197

[4] Jung, C., G., “Psychological Aspects of the Mother Archetype”, 1954, par. 188

[5] Wilhelm H., The I Ching, Princeton University Press, New York, 1967.

[6] (cf. Jung, 1948, p. 13; v. Franz in Jung, 1951, pp. 469 ff.).

[7] Allenby, A.I. (1955). The Father Archetype in Feminine Psychology. J. Anal. Psychol.,

[8] (Edinger, 1968)

[9] Garreth Hill, Masculine and feminine, Shambala, 1992, Boston & London.

[10] Hillman, James, et al. 1979, Puer Papers, Irving, Tex.: Spring.

[11] Perry J. W. (1970). Emotions and Object Relations, The Journal of Analytical Psychology, 15.

[12] Jung, C., G., A Review of the Complex Theory, 1934, in CW 8)

[13] Jung, C., G., CW 17 par. 97

[14] Jung, C., G., “Psychotherapy today”, 1946, par. 212, footnote, 2

[15] Jung, C., G., "Definitions," CW 6, par. 812.


[16] Singer, T. “The Cultural Complex and Archhetypal Defence of the Collective Spirit”, San Francisco Jung Institute Library Journal (2002).

[17] Heilsweg, in German means healing, but also salvation.

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5 comments on “Father Archetype”

  1. I was very impressed and enlightened from this article! I have an extremely strong attachment to my father (who is 88) still at the age of 62. He was alternately abusive, absent, and loving. He abandoned
    me and my brother when my mother died when I was 13. I have never married.
    Anyway, I found much of what I needed in your article. Thank you. Eve

  2. Interesting read. I just found this from a Google search, because I wanted to help a friend with her dream. I wish I was reading Jung when I was your client. Coincidentally (or maybe not) I downloaded a copy of Synchronicity earlier today.

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