Vocational Archetypes, Synchronicity, and Human Destiny 7/7/2023
©Jungian Analyst Steven Herrmann, PhD, MFT
What are Vocational Archetypes? Who developed this hypothesis and studied its phenomenology first from a Jungian standpoint? How can readers identify what your archetypes of vocation are?
The theory of vocational archetypes is certainly not new. It has been with us for millennia. William Everson, the late poet-in-residence at UC Santa Cruz, was the first post-Jungian to develop the theory of vocational archetypes. I was his teaching assistant for five quarters during the 1980-1981 school term at UCSC. I later studied vocational archetypes in the shaping of our personal destinies in my grounded theory research at John F. Kennedy University in 1986. On the basis of this research at JFKU, I found supportive evidence for the hypothesis that the calling to vocation comes from an archetype of vocation: a nuclear symbol for the Self. I hypothesized that nuclear structures of identity(vocational archetypes) grow out of the Self/self―as from a central blueprint―concurrently with the ego’s experience of environmental reality.
The theory of the vocational archetype is not novel. For instance, the significance of the vocational dream in Eastern Asia reached its climax in China toward the end of the 14th century during the reign of the first Emperor of the Ming Dynasty. At that time, it was obligatory for all high-ranking officials to receive their vocational instructions from dreams, which were often relied upon while formulating public policies, laws and city regulations. Law judges would often spend the night in city temples in hope that the tutelary god would appear to them in dreams and enlighten them on a case in question. Laufer continues:
"Not only officials but also plain people, in case of a difficult decision, resort to the expedient of seeking a dream by visiting a temple; burning incense, they invoke the deity to favor them with the dream that will shed light on the subject of their perplexity."[i]
Ananda K. Coomaraswamy wrote similarly that in the Rig Veda the eighteen or more professional arts and sixty-four avocational arts (eighty-two in total) were said to have arisen from Visvakarman, the Supreme Artificer. “Sometimes the artist is thought of as visiting some heaven, and there seeing the form of an angel or architecture to be reproduced on earth.” Visvakarman was seen as the Master Architect of the angelic realm. He was the patron deity of human craftsmen. Visvakarman could also assume the form of a human architect himself in order to produce a particular work of art; or the form itself might in some instances have been revealed directly in a dream from the Master Architect.[ii]
Moreover, in the Advaita Vedanta (or Non-dual philosophy) of Sri Shankaracharya the “arrow-maker” was said to have learnt “concentration from the maker of arrows.”[iii]The Maker of Arrows was none other than the Self Supreme dwelling within the human heart, or Atman. It was from the Self that the various arts were said to have arisen in their various shapes and forms. Art was viewed, therefore, as “imitation” of angelic prototypes, or what I’m calling vocational archetypes, as seen by the inward facing eye in yoga, meditation, dream, or vision.[iv]
It is also a known fact that vocational dreams have played an important part in the development of Asian culture from the Patanjali sutras right up until our present day. Laufer states further that: "Many hundreds, more probably even thousands, of dreams are recorded in the Chinese annals and in the biographies of individuals and have had a sometimes far-reaching effect on the course of historical events; but despite this abundance of material, no one has ever made a special study of Indian or Chinese dreams. Of all categories of dreams, the inspirational dream is the most interesting, because it has proved a creative force in literature, science, and art, or stimulated ambition or provoked activity of one sort or another."[v]
Whereas, in my Master’s thesis at JFKU, I examined the significance of calling dreams upon vocational choice in early adulthood, in my Doctoral Dissertation completed in 1994, I concentrated upon the crystallization of vocational archetypes during early childhood (two to six) and latency (between the ages of six and eleven); for this was a period that had not been researched nor developed much in analytical theory.
This led to my theory of the emergence of vocational archetypes in childhood. When I was working as a Jungian psychotherapist at Lincoln Child Center in Oakland, California, I hypothesized that the nuclear symbol has an underlying structure, which is collective at its core. I gave empirical evidence for the verification of this theory by elaborating upon Jung’s first dream of individuation in my literature review. I also showed how his dream formed an important part of Jung’s theoretical fore structure: his theory of the collective unconscious. It might be termed the “spiritual” point of view, because I looked at the fantasy productions of a child’s unconscious (i.e., vocational archetypes), not exclusively at the products of the child’s consciousness, or personal unconscious as such, but from the very ground of being.
Whether vocational archetypes can be realized (i.e., made conscious) in childhood―given the proper conditions of a facilitating environment and what role these powers play in the maturation and shaping of the nascent personality―is a question which occupied my thoughts since the completion of my Master’s Thesis. Yet the question of how to study the opus in its inception, how to observe the first stirrings of vocational archetypes in their primary nuclear forms was an area that had remained uncharted by the proponents of analytic theory. Little attention had been given to the period of childhood and latency as a stage of preparation for mature vocational self/Self-realization in adulthood, mid-life, and into old age.
The hypothesis of the vocational archetypes as primary channels for human action in the world needed to be explored in-depth by an analytically trained researcher to see if the seed of individuality (i.e., the vocational archetype) is inherited from birth, or whether it is shaped by social and environmental forces. Thus, my hypothesis proved that the Self is made up, not of a single seed of individuality, but of seeds of potentiality, tendencies toward specific styles of activity in the instinctive regions of the psyche. Vocational archetypes are nuclear structures that can never be fully known because they are not fully representable (i.e., there is a psychoid continuum to the archetype’s existence, the angelic or Heavenly dimension of the Supreme Artificer or master Architect, as Coomaraswamy said above), but they may indeed be experienced through vocational imagery, such as through symbols of the shaman, medicine man, medicine woman, artist, teacher, scientist, mathematician, physicist, theologian, preacher, environmentalist, engineer, naturalist, woodworker, musician, astronomer, cosmologist, poet, dancer, doctor, nurse, chef, politician, psychoanalyst, and Jungian analyst, etc. The Psychoid is a trans-causal factor that extends from the psyche of an individual into the material world, and vice versa, via the principle of synchronicity.
The vocational archetype is a “disposition,” a “calling,” which holds a key to a person’s identity and it forms the underlying constituency of the psyche, the nuclear center of the Self. The vocational archetype is something with both a hereditary and a psychodynamic base to it―a disposition toward a specific type of creative functioning that is ready made from birth; as well as something that is socially conditioned by means of environmental images. The hereditary factor cannot be something that one acquires, such as skills or talents, through the process of living―although consciousness does indeed play a vital part in it―but a factor that arises out of an instinctive foundation that is inherited from birth in the subconscious.
This is to say that the calling comes from both the collective unconscious and a social factor in the world, not exclusively from the conscious standpoint. There is often a feeling of numinosity associated with its Self-realization, a feeling of a presence. When I use the term numen, I mean it in the sense that Jung meant it: that there are certain symbolic events that occur in a person’s life that can be characterized by a strong affective tone, an overpowering emption and an inner light, or luminosity of meaning, which can easily be projected onto figures in the outer world, such as a parent, grandparent, mentor, or teacher. The qualities of emotion, feeling, or affect that take place during such moments of awakening are frequently patterned by vocational archetypes.
As the central cores of order within the human psyche, vocational archetypes are the primary pathways for action in the world, the paths of the hero venture in all myths and religions. Although Jung did not develop this idea explicitly in his writings, it is everywhere implicit in his theory of vocation put forth in “The Development of the Personality.” In my Dissertation, I examined Jung’s theory of individuation as it relates to childhood in order to illustrate the fact that, despite the injuries that may occur to a child during the process of development, there are hereditary factors (i.e., vocational archetypes) that can enable individuals to follow their “call” regardless of his or her psychic trauma. In Jung’s life, there is little doubt that the nuclear symbol embedded in his first vocational dream from the age of three enabled him to become the person he was destined to be.
Just as we may find examples of the vocational archetype in the highest stages of artistic, scientific, and ethical achievements in European civilization, Asia, the America’s, Africa, and the whole world, so too can we find dreams, visions and indigenous rituals that substantiate the notion of the call from the perspective of shamanistic societies. On the North American continent, for instance, I showed how vocational symbols were manifested in the form of totem animals―a guardian, or ancestral spirit―which, like the psychological theory of the Self, was said to express the pattern of an individual’s wholeness. The emergence of the totem or Animal Power signaled the calling to perform their vocation in life, to live it experientially in its Self-realized forms in the culture they were raised in. Thus, the creative instinct forms the quintessence of the individuation process in my view. The creative instinct is at the center of all psychological growth and transformation. This instinct for creativity is able to draw great sums of psychophysical energy, like iron shavings to a magnet towards its central point of motivating force. It has a goal in the conscious realization of the Self.
Vocational archetypes (i.e., the callings to marriage, parenthood, artistic, or scientific vocation, etc.) are self-portraits of the creative instinct; they subsume all aspects of the urge for individuation in humankind. Yet vocation is not limited to extraordinary individuals alone. It is also transmitted to “common” individuals or ordinary children, as I showed in my four clinical case studies from LCC, where I conducted my Dissertation research study. In this highly limited context, I hypothesized that every individual has an innate urge to discover him or herself through creative activity in relationship to the Self, an Animal Power, God, or Nature.
The theory of vocational archetypes made a bridge between so-called common occupations and their “extraordinary” prototypes (i.e., exceptional vocations). The theory presupposes that the creative instinct is a part of everywoman and everyman. Every human being has a calling, through which he or she can offer something original and creative to the world. While it is an empirical fact that the theory of the nuclear symbol was present in the data I selected for study, my “uncovering” of the theory had more to do with the principle of correspondence, synchronicity, than any cause-and-effect relationship between the variables. There were trans-causal factors at play.
In the process of theory-building I took into account not only the subjectively derived factors of acquired learning; I also needed to consider the psychoid factor, for when vocational archetypes get released, they exist both inside the psyche as well as outside, simultaneously. This simultaneity is a sure sign of their trans-causality. Therefore, the data I selected is what was required to bring out the theory that was latent within me by design. The vocational symbol was the image-representation of the same background of the vocational archetypes I observed. These nuclear symbols pointed to specific occupations, professions, or callings in life. The vocational symbols are a cultural phenomenon that has occurred across countless generations of people, which gives them a collective significance in the life history of every individual. They are also a highly personal phenomenon that is constellated in response to environmental and intrapsychic events, through which the innate disposition of a child, adolescent, or young adult is crystallized into definite forms.
I concluded that vocational symbols are image-representations of vocational archetypes in their nuclear forms. They come from the collective or transpersonal unconscious and not from the personal sphere. The vocational symbols have been formed through centuries of use along occupational channels that are collective in nature, such as the occupation of the hunter, healer, shaman, basket weaver, gatherer of medicinal plants and herbs, wise old man and wise old woman archetypes.
Nuclear symbols, on the other hand, are both personal and transpersonal in nature. They consist of vocational archetypes on the one hand and of occupational complexes―from the personal unconscious―on the other. The term occupational complex means, from an analytical psychological point of view that the complex is a derivative of a deeper and more basic underlying family complex that goes back to the ancestors. The occupational complex is a derivative of the family complexes, and they can be studied by recourse to their occupational themes or ancestral dreams. These themes may be studied systematically through the visioning techniques I called occupational play therapy. By employing this method in child psychotherapy, I observed a pattern of activity, affect-complexes, motives, and emotionally-laden themes that had been constellated in the children’s facilitating environments, or in their families of origin, and at the cores of these complexes were the nuclear symbols of vocation.
One could say that the vocational archetypes make up the cores of the occupational complexes, and that nuclear symbols subsume them both. Moreover, I proved in my studies that occupational complexes tend to split into two poles: an instinctive-energetic pole, and a spiritual pole. Nevertheless, the vocational archetype functions as a harmonizing principle of interior and exterior order allowing children to move (in fantasy, dreams, or play) ―from passive victims of childhood trauma―to active participants in the shaping of their personal destinies.
As the occupational themes emerged through vocational dreams, fantasies, and sandplay, I began to see a similar pattern in children who’d not been subject to the same degree of trauma. Therefore, a solution needed to be found in theory to offset the hypothesis of complexes: the vocational archetypes needed to be humanized, through a process of reductive analysis, interpretation, and grounding in reality. By this I mean reductive analysis back to the original source of the trauma helped to trace the personal history of the child’s motivation back to its archetypal source in the ground of their very existence.
In our culture, psychological techniques, particularly dream work and sand tray therapy―but also the elementary school and classroom settings―can act as a facilitating environment to evoke the vocational archetypes concerned. Creative dramatics, role playing, and other methods of verbal and non-verbal therapy can also act as a catalyst for visionary activity in children, through which the vocational archetypes may be constellated in imaginal forms and through which memories of psychophysical traumas can be integrated the field of consciousness.
Children form transference’s quite naturally in the therapeutic and classroom settings, but the way in which their occupational themes are enacted in psychotherapy (i.e., through occupational play) can be shown to take place at a deeper level of structural organization than in the classroom environment, where memories of trauma are more typically reenacted through post-traumatic play, and impulsive behaviors. This may be due to the fact that the central archetype in the therapeutic environment is the shaman, medicine man, or healer, rather than the teacher―which is a more recent acquisition in the historical unconscious than the shamanic archetype, or medicine woman; imprints of experience that are approximately seventy-million years old.
The symbols that pattern a child’s occupational themes may appear to be the same in some cases, which is to say that their interests may be patterned by the same archetypes in the collective unconscious, such as the archetype of the protector, artist, veterinarian, policeman, or policewoman, fireperson, or healer of animals. This is to say that the nuclear symbol is generally associated with a vocational archetype of some kind. Yet the archetypes, like complexes, as I mentioned above tend to divide into two poles.
While it is true that the vocational archetypes have a tendency to inflate the ego, the symbol of the healer is itself is a neutral factor. It is what the ego does with it―how it gets expressed through a career―that determines whether it will be used for purposes of personal aggrandizement, grandiosity, narcissistic aims, or for the advancement of healing as a collective phenomenon in the human race.
Moreover, vocational archetypes have a tendency to constellate themselves in a child’s environment at the inception of psychic trauma. My theory is that vocational archetypes are released through different types of personal or impersonal evocation. I showed, for instance, how the nuclear symbol is conditioned by imprints of experience within the cultural milieu. My hypothesis was that vocational archetypes are “open” to imprinting from the environment (i.e., they are culturally transmitted). I also showed how, at a deeper archetypal level, the visionary activities of shamans and medicine people can help us understand the relationship between psychic trauma and vocation through the initiatory pattern of the vision quest. The shaman in childhood feels that his or her aptitude for art, ritual healing, music, poetry, story, or dance is something he or she was born with and was given to them by the ancestors. Furthermore, it was often evoked from a need in their facilitating environments, a need to heal the tribe that came to them out of a calling, or vision from the ancients.
Thus, a person could be born with a disposition to be a healer, like the Oglala Sioux holy man, Black Elk, but the environmental imprints which triggered the symbol’s emergence during the period of traumatization and socialization might be the determining factors of what forms the symbol will take the person’s early adult life. Whatever the case may be, a child who has come into contact with his or her nuclear symbol experiences it through a sudden release of energy that can have a redeeming effect upon the self/Self and world. The child or adolescent becomes “lived” by forces―vocational archetypes―which transcend their trauma through a channel of creative activity.
Therefore, Vocation often becomes a way to remember our traumas; to heal ourselves from dissociation, numbing, and emotional suffering; to give our lives to a transpersonal power, outside the range of our normal human experiences; and lead us on a path of action that can bring liberation to ourselves and the world.
Thus, when I say a vocational archetype has been evoked from the environment, I mean that an impression has been formed in relationship to an object on the outside; the relational area―between the child and the object―is where the factor of creativity comes into play. The child learns to imitate and internalize what he or she sees or learns in the facilitating environment. We may call such image-internalization and encoding of archetypal imagery environmental imprinting and relate it to the principle of evocation, since what is taken into the child is an image of what is already present in a given culture. The vocational archetypes emerge to fulfill collective needs by creating new occupational structures through individual destinies. Some of these career themes represent recent acquisitions in American culture, such as the calling to become a writer of computer software codes or a programmer. Others are older and much more established.
To say that the symbolism of vocational dreams is transmitted to new cultural elements in society may be an accurate description of the phenomenon of vocation. Finally, I examined fifteen variables in my Dissertation that were theoretically significant. 1) the problem of the inferior function, 2) healing the splits in society, 3) the vision quest and cultural healing, 4) finding a gradient that is steeper than nature, 5) the relativity of the four psychic functions, 6) motivation and imagination, 7) creativity and the development of personality, 8) archetypal frustration in parents and teachers and the child’s sense of needing to live out the unlived life of their ancestors, 9) problem children and acting out, 10) parents and teachers as initiators, 11) fantasy sets vocational archetypes into motion, 12) looking to the core of vocational symptoms of archetypal frustration in occupational complexes, 13) freedom to choose, 14) valuing children for their talents and interests, and 15) making room for the inferior function. The last variable arose out of my hypothesis that the calling often comes from the inferior function. For example, in Vincent’s vocational dreams and sand tray images during his sessions of occupational play therapy, the calling, the summons to become a veterinarian, came as an urge to healhis connection to the animal powers, to cure his personal trauma, and provide a remedy for the problem of disconnection from animal instincts for his culture through his inferior function of sensation, real hands-on work as an animal doctor.
We can deny the spiritual side of the vocational archetypes only so long in our collective history before the shamanic archetype will again reassert itself and make its healing presence known to heal our splits from the earth, God, and human nature. The Native American shaman is an archetype in our racial unconscious that seeks to lead us towards our wholeness as a nation. But the child who has such a calling is also faced with the problem of the occupational complex; Vincent’s vocational symbols of the medicine man, shaman, or veterinary doctor was not a figure of an all-healer, a person who is insensitive to his or her childhood wounds. The shaman is a wounded-healer, a figure who is open to personal and collective needs in the nation; to religious experiences, vulnerability, joy, pain, trauma, and to love. It is this vulnerability to wounds that leads the shaman to shamanize.
This is a brief summary of my hypothesis of vocational archetypes, and how it emerged in my work with William Everson, dream research at JFKU, and my Dissertation study of emotionally disturbed boys at Lincoln Child Center. I will now leave you with some questions to ask yourself:
1) What is my vocational archetype?
2) Is there a vocational archetype that is nuclear in my personality?
3) Can keeping a close record of my dreams help me confirm my vocation?
4) How can I stay in touch with my archetype of vocation and look for outer signs of confirmation that I’m on the right career-path?
5) Am I currently in a career crisis in mid-life, or, in transition into retirement and wondering what my next steps will be in the unfoldment of life?
6) Can synchronicities help me make the nuclear symbols of vocation conscious in my life and verify my calling from the Self and society simultaneously?
7) Is the path of vocation a way to cure my personal and transpersonal neurosis, which is essentially a defense against my inner voice and the vocalism of the Self in Society?
8) What can vocational dreams tell me about the deepest sources of my motivation now?
9) Would it be wise for me to consult a Jungian analyst for some help?
[i] Laufer, B. (1932). “Inspirational Dreams in Eastern Asia.” Journal of American Folk-Lore. 44, (1): 210- 11.
[ii] Coomaraswamy, A. (1934). The Transformation of Nature in Art. New York: Dover, 10.
[iii] The Transformation of Nature in Art, 9.
[iv] Ibid. 9.
[v] “Inspirational Dreams in Eastern Asia,” 208-209.