Archetypal psychology was initiated as a distinct movement in the early 1970s by James Hillman, a psychologist who trained in analytical psychology and became the first Director of the Jung Institute in Zurich.

Hillman reports that archetypal psychology emerged partly from the Jungian tradition whilst drawing also from other traditions and authorities such as Henry Corbin, Vico, and Plotinus.

Archetypal psychology relativizes and deliteralizes the notion of ego and focuses on what it calls the psyche, or soul, and the deepest patterns of psychic functioning, “the fundamental fantasies that animate all life” (Moore, in Hillman, 1991).

Archetypal psychology likens itself to polytheistic mythology in that it attempts to recognize the myriad fantasies and myths – gods, goddesses, demigods, mortals and animals – that shape and are shaped by our psychological lives. In this framework, the ego is but one psychological fantasy within an assemblage of fantasies.

Archetypal psychology is, along with the classical and developmental schools, one of the three schools of post-Jungian psychology outlined by Andrew Samuels.


The main influence on the development of archetypal psychology is Carl Jung’s analytical psychology. It is strongly influenced by Classical Greek, Renaissance, and Romantic ideas and thought.

Influential artists, poets, philosophers, and psychologists include Nietzsche, Henry Corbin, Keats, Shelley, Petrarch, and Paracelsus.

Though all different in their theories and psychologies, they appear to be unified by their common concern for the psyche – the soul.

C. G. Jung

Carl Gustav Jung was a Swiss psychologist who was the first father of archetypal psychology. Jungian archetypes are thought patterns that find worldwide parallels in individuals or entire cultures.

Archai appears in dreams, religions, the arts, and social customs in all people and they manifest impulsively in mental disorders.

According to Jung archetypal ideas and patterns reside within the collective unconscious, which is a blueprint inherent in every individual, as opposed to the personal unconscious, which contains a single individual’s repressed ideas, desires, and memories as described by Freud.

What differentiates Jungian psychology from archetypal psychology is that Jung believed archetypes are cultural, anthropological, and transcend the empirical world of time and place, and are not phenomenal.

On the contrary, Archetypal psychology views archetype to always be phenomenal.

Henry Corbin

Henry Corbin, a French scholar, and philosopher is the second father of archetypal psychology.

Corbin created the idea of the existence of the mundus imaginalis which is a distinct field of imaginable realities and offers an ontological mode of location of archetypes of the psyche.

The mundus imaginalis provided an evaluative and cosmic grounding for archetypes. The second contribution Corbin made to the field was the idea that archetypes are accessible to the imagination and first present themselves as images, so the procedure of archetypal psychology must be rhetorical and poetic, without logical reasoning, and the goal in therapy should be to restore the patient’s imaginable realities.

Therefore, the goal of therapy is the middle ground of psychic realities, the development of a sense of soul. Also, according to Corbin, the method of therapy is the cultivation of imagination.

Edward Casey

Edward S. Casey is attributed with distinguishing archetypal psychology from other theories by explaining an image as a way of seeing rather than something is seen.

According to Casey, an image is only perceived by imagining because an image is not what one sees but the way one sees. He also states that imagination is an activity of the soul and not just a human faculty.

An image appears to be more profound, more powerful, and more beautiful than the comprehension of it. This explains the drive behind the arts which provide disciplines that can actualize the complexity of the image.

James Hillman

Hillman (1975) sketches a brief lineage of archetypal psychology.

By calling upon Jung to begin with, I am partly acknowledging the fundamental debt that archetypal psychology owes him. He is the immediate ancestor in a long line that stretches back through Freud, Dilthey, Coleridge, Schelling, Vico, Ficino, Plotinus, and Plato to Heraclitus – and with even more branches yet to be traced (p. xvii).

Polytheistic psychology

Thomas Moore says of James Hillman’s teaching that he “portrays the psyche as inherently multiple“.

In Hillman’s archetypal/polytheistic view, the psyche or soul has many directions and sources of meaning – and this can feel like an ongoing state of conflict – a struggle with one’s daimones.

According to Hillman, “polytheistic psychology can give sacred differentiation to our psychic turmoil.…” Hillman states that:

“The power of myth, its reality, resides precisely in its power to seize and influence psychic life. The Greeks knew this so well, and so they had no depth psychology and psychopathology such as we have. They had myths. And we have no myths – instead, depth psychology and psychopathology. Therefore… psychology shows myths in modern dress and myths show our depth psychology in ancient dress.”

Hillman qualifies his many references to gods as differing from a literalistic approach saying that for him they are aides memoires, i.e. sounding boards employed “for echoing life today or as bass chords giving resonance to the little melodies of life.

Hillman further insists that he does not view the pantheon of gods as a ‘master matrix‘ against which we should measure today and thereby decry the modern loss of richness.

Psyche or soul

Hillman says he has been critical of the 20th century’s psychologies (e.g. biological psychology, behaviorism, cognitive psychology) that have adopted a natural scientific philosophy and praxis.

His main criticisms include that they are reductive, materialistic, and literal; they are psychologies without psyche, without a soul.

Accordingly, Hillman’s oeuvre has been an attempt to restore psyche to its proper place in psychology. Hillman sees the soul at work in imagination, fantasy, myth, and metaphor. He also sees the soul revealed in psychopathology, in the symptoms of psychological disorders.

Psyche-pathos-logos is the “speech of the suffering soul” or the soul’s suffering of meaning. A great portion of Hillman’s thought attempts to attend to the speech of the soul as it is revealed via images and fantasies.

Hillman has his own definition of soul. Primarily, he notes that the soul is not a “thing“, not an entity. Nor is it something that is located “inside” a person. Rather, the soul is “a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint towards things… (it is) reflective; it mediates events and makes differences…“(1975).

The soul is not to be located in the brain or in the head, for example (where most modern psychologies place it), but human beings are in psyche.

The world, in turn, is the anima mundi, or the world ensouled. Hillman often quotes a phrase coined by the Romantic poet John Keats: “call the world the vale of soul-making.

Additionally, Hillman (1975) says he observes that soul:

refers to the deepening of events into experiences; second, the significance of soul makes possible, whether in love or religious concern, derives from its special relationship with death. And third, by soul I mean the imaginative possibility in our natures the experiencing through reflective speculation, dream, image, fantasy—that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical.

The notion of the soul as an imaginative possibility, in relation to the archai or root metaphors, is what Hillman has termed the “poetic basis of mind“.

Dream analysis

Because Hillman’s archetypal psychology is concerned with fantasy, myth, and image, it is not surprising that dreams are considered to be significant in relation to soul and soul-making.

Hillman does not believe that dreams are simply random residue or flotsam from waking life (as advanced by physiologists), but neither does he believe that dreams are compensatory for the struggles of waking life, or are invested with “secret” meanings of how one should live. Rather, “dreams tell us where we are, not what to do” (1979).

Therefore, Hillman is against the 20th century traditional interpretive methods of dream analysis. Hillman’s approach is phenomenological rather than analytic (which breaks the dream down into its constituent parts) and interpretive/hermeneutic (which may make a dream image “something other” than what it appears to be in the dream). His dictum with regard to dream content and process is “Stick with the image.

Hillman (1983) describes his position succinctly:

For instance, a black snake comes in a dream, a great big black snake, and you can spend a whole hour with this black snake talking about the devouring mother, talking about anxiety, talking about the repressed sexuality, talking about the natural mind, all those interpretive moves that people make, and what is left, what is vitally important, is what this snake is doing, this crawling huge black snake that’s walking into your life…and the moment you’ve defined the snake, you’ve interpreted it, you’ve lost the snake, you’ve stopped it.… The task of analysis is to keep the snake there…

The snake in the dream does not become something else: it is none of the things Hillman mentioned, and neither is it a penis, as Hillman says Freud might have maintained nor the serpent from the Garden of Eden, as Hillman thinks Jung might have mentioned.

It is not something someone can look up in a dream dictionary; its meaning has not been given in advance. Rather, the black snake is the black snake. Approaching the dream snake phenomenologically simply means describing the snake and attending to how the snake appears as a snake in the dream.

It is a huge black snake, that is given. But are there other snakes in the dream? If so, is it bigger than the other snakes? Smaller? Is it a black snake among green snakes? Or is it alone? What is the setting, a desert or a rain forest? Is the snake getting ready to feed? Shedding its skin? Sunning itself on a rock?

All of these questions are elicited from the primary image of the snake in the dream, and as such can be rich material revealing the psychological life of the dreamer and the life of the psyche spoken through the dream.


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