The History of ARAS

An Introduction to ARAS

The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism (ARAS) is dedicated to the collection, description, and dissemination of archetypal images. Photographs of works of art, ritual images, and artifacts drawn from sacred traditions all over the world and contemporary art are presented as individual records, which include written accounts of the context and meaning of each image.

Each record not only provides the identity and location of the image but also describes the myths and rituals of the tradition from which it derives. In addition, a discussion of the symbolic patterns, or archetypes, found in the image and known from other cultures is included in a section entitled "Archetypal Commentary." Here also are found interpretive statements by analytical psychologists that connect the archetypal symbolism to the inner experience of contemporary men and women.

ARAS has an interesting history, which I should like to summarize briefly before describing its specific content and function in more detail. A number of original illustrations of ancient symbolic artifacts were collected by Olga Froebe-Kapteyn at her estate on Lake Maggiore in southern Switzerland, where each year in late August, beginning in 1933, she conducted meetings of the Eranos Society. In his foreword to Spirit and Nature, volume 1 (1954) of the series Papers from the Eranos Yearbooks, Joseph Campbell notes that each meeting was assigned a theme, which served as the topic for papers presented by scientists, theologians, philosophers, psychologists, and religious historians. "Continuity was due, on the one hand, to the guidance of Frau Froebe, whose sense of the meaning and object of Eranos never wavered [even during the years of World War II when the operation was greatly curtailed—JLH], and on the other, to the continuous presence and genial spirit of Dr. C.G. Jung, whose concept of the fundamental psychological laws of human life and thought supplied a criterion for both the recognition and the fostering of the perennial in a period of transition" (p.xii).

Among the scholars who participated in the Eranos conferences were Heinrich Zimmer (Indian religious art), Károly Kerényi (Greek mythology), Mircea Eliade (history of religions), C.G. Jung and Erich Neumann (analytical psychology), Gilles Quispel (gnostic studies), Gershom Scholem (Jewish mysticism), Henry Corbin (Islamic religion), Adolf Portmann (biology), Herbert Read (art history), Max Knoll (physics), and Joseph Campbell (comparative mythology).

Olga Froebe-Kapteyn had a lively interest in finding and collecting images to illustrate the topic of each year's meeting, which included such titles as "Yoga and Meditation East and West," "The Gestalt and Cult of the Great Mother," "The Hermetic Principle in Mythology, Gnosis, and Alchemy," "The Mysteries," "Spirit and Nature," "Man and Time," and many others. She explained this interest in images in her preface to the volume Spirit and Nature (1954): "Those who feel the truth of the old Chinese conception that all that happens in the visible world is the expression of ideas or images in the invisible might do well to consider Eranos from that point of view" (p.xv). She might have said of the collection of pictorial artifacts what she says of the lectures themselves: "Their value is evocative. In many cases, they carry us to the bounds of scholarly investigation and discovery, and point beyond. They touch upon unusual themes, facts, and analogies and in so doing evoke the great archetypal images" (p.xvi).

One of the creative uses to which Froebe-Kapteyn's collection was put is Erich Neumann's book The Great Mother: An Analysis of the Archetype (Princeton, 1955), where pictures of ancient goddesses provide the material for Neumann's psychological interpretation of the archetype of the feminine as it evolved from the time of ancient Sumeria and Egypt on through the religions of Greece and Rome and into the Christian era. In addition, Neumann presents archetypal images drawn from tribal societies that lack any historical connection to the vast civilizations of East and West. In this way, he demonstrates the universal influence of the archetype, which expresses itself in countless spontaneously generated forms. These eternal images are analogous to the dream images of people all over the world. Hence the term archetype, which denotes an inborn psychic disposition to repeat old patterns of image or behavior in new ways. (Archetype derives from a Greek compound: the word archē ("first principle") refers to the underlying pattern of a symbol, whereas tupos ("impression") denotes a specific concrete form, or configuration, through which the archē is rendered tangible. In other words, the archē points to the creative source, which cannot be represented, while tupos refers to any one of its many cultural manifestations.)

In 1946 Olga Froebe-Kapteyn gave her collection of pictorial artifacts to the Warburg Institute in London. Photographic duplicates of the archive were given to the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich and to the Bollingen Foundation in New York, which was, at that time, supporting numerous scholars in quest of the meaning of symbolism and publishing the works of Jung. Jessie E. Fraser, the librarian of the Analytical Psychology Club of New York (with financial assistance from Jane Abbot Pratt, a member of this early Jungian group), began to edit and develop the archive, extending the range of its subject matter far beyond its original limits. The pictures and their accompanying study sheets that are presented in this volume reflect many years of dedication and patient work on Fraser's part in collecting, sorting, and classifying this material.

Eventually the collection in New York, now called the Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism, was acquired by the C.G. Jung Foundation of New York. Copies of the collection were housed also at the C.G. Jung Institute in San Francisco and at the C.G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles. These three Jungian institutions continue to be the founding members of National ARAS, not because a symbolic point of view is limited to Jungians, but because Jung was the particular proponent of a broadly archetypal point of view that insists upon transpersonal and symbolic connections transcending cultural and theological boundaries. This perspective lies at the heart of the archive.

The archive includes images drawn from the entire range of historical artifacts pertaining to the religious elements basic to each cultural period. Of these, the earliest period is the Paleolithic, with its images of animals, human figures, and abstract designs, which played a magico-religious role in the relationship between the hunter and the hunted. The next period is the Neolithic, with its wide expansion of vegetation symbolism. Here we discover gods and goddesses associated with the agricultural cycle and its seasonal progressions, manifesting the eternal archetype of death and rebirth. The religious art of ancient India, Asia Minor, and Egypt together with Mycenaean art constitute a large section of the archive. The motifs expressed in the art of these early civilizations are found reemerging in modified form in the world religions for which they have provided the foundations: Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism.

In contrast to those images that suggest a historical process according to which symbols constantly die and are reborn in a new form, the archive also includes images drawn from small tribal societies, which provide a horizontal dimension made up of many archaic traditions that are still vital today. One of these is the Paleolithic culture of the Malekula Islands in Melanesia, which has been fully described by John Layard, an anthropologist who later—as a Jungian analyst—put his findings into an archetypal frame of reference.

The study sheets that accompany each image present a detailed description of the image together with a cultural history that serves to clarify the meaning of the symbolism at a time when it was collectively valued. These sections are followed by an archetypal commentary, which brings the image into focus for its modern psychological meaning. Although the psychological interpretation relies heavily on Jung's theory of archetypes, the universal nature of the symbolism on a cultural and religious level is fully honored in this section. The study sheets end with a bibliography for related reading and a glossary of technical terms, making it a useful tool for the researcher as well as for anyone who wishes to enlarge his or her understanding of the image and its historical origins.

As indicated already, the main function of the archive is to enable people of all kinds, and not solely specialists, to discover the living quality of ancient myths, rituals, and symbolic artifacts, and in so doing to deepen their awareness of the archetypes of the collective unconscious that underlie all cultural forms. The viewer may follow numerous paths of inquiry and indeed is encouraged to enter this activity spontaneously rather than from any prescribed direction of study.

When one consults ARAS to find a particular image, one is rewarded not only by the information provided in the study sheets but also—and perhaps far more—by the interest they may arouse in looking up related symbols that one might not have thought relevant. Thus, one may end up with a group of records (images together with their study sheets) that amplify significantly the original image. In this way, a single image may lead far beyond its original focus of interest. This is made possible by the archetypal commentary, which focuses on the universal patterns to which the specific image belongs, in respect to both cross-cultural and psychological contexts. In some cases, this may lead to syncretistic developments of a far-reaching character.

An example of this may be shown in the selection, let us say, of the labyrinth as an image to explore in the ARAS collection. One early form of the labyrinth is a spiral; or it may appear as a double spiral to suggest both the way in and the way out of an enclosed area. It is a simple design found at entrances and exits to caves, graves, temples, and other sacred enclosures. An abstract design, it reminds us that an initiatory experience of an inward nature must also find its way outward again, with all the confusion, anxiety, and peril to conscious orientation that this involves.

The early labyrinths of Paleolithic cultures often express an ambivalent attitude in respect to a great-mother figure. The initiate on Malekula, an island in the New Hebrides Archipelago, must know how to draw one half of a labyrinth design in such a way that it corresponds to a second half that is drawn by Le-hev-hev, a female ghost. If he fails in this, she will devour him. Similarly, the Cretan labyrinth was inhabited by the Minotaur, a monster that was half man and half bull, the offspring of the Minoan mother goddess Pasiphaë and a sacred bull. Nevertheless, there is always a sense that the positive creative aspect of the maternal principle lies inherent in the central symbol, as a circle of containment to which the initiate must submit as if losing himself and then transcend by reemerging renewed.

Later in history, we find this symbol set in stone on the floor near the west portal of Chartres Cathedral in France and in other cathedrals, such as Ely Cathedral in England. The symbolism of meaningful initiatory entrances and exits exist here also, but in medieval Christianity the emphasis is on the wholly benevolent and loving quality of the Virgin Mary. The design at Chartres embodies also a cross, and at the center of the labyrinth is a design suggesting the mystic rose, so that the sacred space embodies the way of Christ (the cross) and the compassion of Mary (the rose). At the same time, the labyrinth suggests that the inward path to the center exists as a parallel to the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the spiritual center of this and other biblical traditions.

Chartres was, above all, sacred to the Virgin Mary. In exploring this image, the viewer finds in the record bibliographical references to numerous works to be read for further amplification of the symbolism. Other references lead the viewer back to the earlier forms of the symbol. In this way, it becomes clear that the labyrinth expresses a fundamental experience of death and renewal through the healing power of the archetypal feminine.

Clearly, one of the major functions of ARAS is to provide an encyclopedic collection of symbolism that honors both the universal pattern and the specific meaning associated with a given image, something seldom found in other collections. There is, however, no supposition among those working in this field that they have found the one and only way of interpreting archetypal symbolism. The symbol is forever recreating itself anew in the imaginations of those who experience it.

Psychotherapists and dream interpreters may find relevant symbolism here to further their understanding of the fantasies and the dreams of their patients. These spontaneous expressions of the individual combine personal and archetypal elements, which the records in the archive may help to disentangle and clarify. This method may provide amplification for many psychological problems confronting both therapist and patient at nodal points in the analytical process of self-discovery.

Images that may prove especially apt for this use of ARAS are those of animals or plants with archetypal significance. The animal and plant symbols that appear in tribal cultures are often reflected in the dreams of modern people. The bear, the serpent, the lion, the bull, the dog, the horse, the boar, the tortoise, and many other animals are given their place of study and interpretation here as prime symbols. Plant symbolism also abounds in modern dreams and reflects the trees, flowers, vines, and grasses of mythological patterns. The world tree, the lotus, the rose, and the vast archetypal expanses of nature in art and religious iconography take on new significance through the perspective provided by the ARAS collection.

Joseph L. Henderson, M.D.
   Co-author with Dr. Carl Gustav Jung, et. al. of Man and His Symbols
   Consulting Analyst to ARAS