by Harry Prochaska, Former Curator of ARAS San Francisco
originally printed in Journal of Analytical Psychology 1984, Vol. 29, Pages 101-111
The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism (ARAS) is a collection of 14,000 photographs of works of art and other human artifacts collected for the archetypal references within the symbolic content of the images. The photograph is accompanied by a text describing the visual detail of the item, its origin and historical context and possible interpretations of the symbol where that is possible and appropriate. In most instances, the Archive also has a slide of the item, many in colour. Each item is also cross-indexed by the various visual components which constitute the image, hence an alchemical couple will appear in the subject index as King and Queen, Sol and Luna, Sun, Moon, gold, silver, union.
While the informing point of view of ARAS is that of analytical psychology, the objective data presented in the descriptions open the archive to users other than therapists and their patients. These two groups find abundant material for the interpretation of symbols in dreams, active imagination, and other facets of analytical work. The Archive has also been used by a theatre director looking for ideas for sets and costumes, by an artist developing a survey of masks throughout world history, by a theologian looking for an androgynous figure of Christ, and by an analyst using slides for a lecture on feminine images. These examples illustrate the variety of interests which lead people to use ARAS.