Does archetypal theory extend to animals? Carl Jung may not have thought so, but perhaps that’s because he had never owned a bichon frise.
By Elijah Huntington
I have a dog who eats poop. He is nine years old, fifteen pounds overweight and he will not stop. My dog, Bridger, is a bichon frise who was adopted in a gas station parking lot. The bichon is a small, white curly haired breed of dog. Their curls are tight like velcro, allowing all manner of unwanted debris to stick tightly in their nest of fur. When properly cut, cleaned, and brushed this allows for a very fine frizzy coat of fur, the envy of all show dogs. Bridger is no such dog, however. He enjoys rolling in dirt, digging in dirt, perhaps even tasting dirt; yet his favorite pastime is eating poop.
Obviously, Bridger strays from the typical bichon. With his beer-belly and horrible breath, the sad truth is he will never compete in a dog show. Yet concepts only a show dog would have a grasp on are not entirely foreign to him. Where my German boxer fails to enjoy getting teeth checked, nails clipped, or wearing new doggy outfits, these activities put Bridger in his element. When Dexter, my papillon-chihuahua-wiener dog mutt, is groomed, he shivers and suffers increased anxiety, suddenly appearing much less confident of himself. Antithetically, Bridger likes “strutting his stuff,” posing for me when I come home so I may admire his protruding stomach, pig-like-tail, and how his eyes can be seen for once without a curtain of ringlet bangs blocking the view.
Bridger is not the only animal who displays characteristics specific to his species despite lacking formal training. The behavior is instinctual, bred into him, and is baffling. How can a dog as pig-like as Bridger know to move his head in unison with a directing hand, or to sit and smile flashing rank teeth in a tilted head the way a show-dog would?
Dr. Jung singly applied archetypes to the human psyche, but perhaps they can be extended to animals.
This concept is addressed by the late Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung and is thought of as evolution’s effect on the mind. He called these mental attributes Bridger displays “archetypes.” Dr. Jung singly applied archetypes to the human psyche, but perhaps they can be extended to animals. Before plunging down this rabbit hole it must be stated that Jung’s definition and theory of the archetype is not widely accepted nor applied in most scientific research, as it is impossible to empirically measure and test. It is speculation and impossible to truly prove, although, the theory holds water.
Every Christmas, Bridger receives a new sweater (until recently at least, as he is too fat and too short for most made-for-dog sweaters to fit him, likely due to his addiction) and he falls in love. Not with the sweater but with the attention it brings him. Everyone coos and praises Bridger as he hurriedly shuffles from one person to the next seeking renewed admiration. Jungian archetypes attribute this instinct to the Bichon heritage. Archetypes are patterns that manifest in socialization, values, and basic reasoning skills, e.g. a rat’s need to play in order to socialize properly, human ideals of intrinsic human worth or empathy for those who “matter” to us, or even Bridger’s need to show off. Jung theorized these patterns to be archaic in humanity, instincts applied in thought since human conception. Archetypes are drawn into reality by the great painters (Domenichino) or even represented in grand myths and religious motifs.
Righteous heroes ranging from Disney’s Pinocchio to the biblical Abram are both renditions of flawed heroes in articulated stories who become better people through tribulation.
Both Pinocchio and Abram face increasingly harder challenges through which they must battle if they are to become the best forms themselves. Both heroes became slaves and tyrannical figures, forcing the heroes to evolve and formulate unconventional yet creative solutions. Pinocchio became a real boy and Abram became Abraham, Father of Nations, rewarded with a son. Abram had to suffer a famine, dictatorship, trying journeys and choices of life or death, while Pinocchio quite literally had to jump into a fire-breathing whale’s mouth, after which he drowned.
I believe animals possess similar genetically manufactured systems.
The point here is that their representation goes deeper than words. They follow the hero’s journey; they represent something all people should strive towards. From the psychoanalyst’s point of view, their stories exist as formats people try modelling themselves after. Specifically in Jungian psychiatry, they are the written and verbal attempts to express archetypes. The archetype is too deep to be extracted or defined perfectly, so myths are the best format. Archetypes evolved within humans, the most intelligent, righteous, generous and leadership-oriented mammals rose in the hierarchy and so internalized values were bred into humanity, existing cross-culturally (Hendriques). Humans developed language and advanced conceptualization skills, causing mythological heroes to arise so others might follow the path they know to be internally and morally correct as it proved itself across centuries of evolution.
I believe animals possess similar genetically manufactured systems. It may be a radical notion, but try to reflect on why the alpha monkey is not even ordinarily the strongest most dominating monkey, rather, he is the one sharing food, grooming fellow monkeys, and keeping the peace in troop disputes (Peter). Wolves in dominance disputes attack each other physically, and when one wolf is defeated it lays on the ground, exposing its neck in submission. The other wolf then clasps the neck in its teeth but releases its rival without drawing blood. If wolves could articulate myths, perhaps they would have one about a giant wolf who was generous to his pack and never killed.
As for Bridger, a Bichon myth would probably glorify a stout, clean, frizzy and beautiful dog who captivated the world. While my rotund dog may aspire to this archetypal Bichon, he is still far from its match. Bridger’s proclivity to showboat is indicative of an innate psychological factor bred into his species through forced accelerated evolutionary processes. But as for his poop eating, it is a drive only Bridger understands.
- Domenichino. “The Rebuke of Adam and Eve: Kimbell Art Museum.” Kimbell Art Museum, 1626, http://www.kimbellart.org/collection/ap-198203.
- Henriques, Greg. “A Theory of Ten Universal Values.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 19 Oct. 2014, http://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/theory-knowledge/201410/theory-ten-universal-values.
- Jung, Carl G. The Collected Works | The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Vol. 9, University Press, 1961.
- “Yes Virginia, there is a munchkin,” by mrRobot on Flickr.
- Peter. “Insights On Leadership From Chimp Alpha Male Behavior.” Renaissance Man Journal, 3 Apr. 2017, gainweightjournal.com/insights-on-leadership-from-chimp-alpha-male-behavior/.