"Fairy tales are the purest and simplest expression of collective unconscious psychic processes... They represent the archetypes in their simplest, barest, and most concise form… The most frequent way in which archetypal stories originate is through individual experiences of an invasion by some unconscious content, either in a dream or in a waking hallucination—some event or some mass hallucination whereby an archetypal content breaks into an individual life." – Marie Louise von Franz


Why is this? The fairytale is an oral retelling, passed down from friend to friend, and from family to family. It usually begins with a bed time story, thought up without literary aspiration, or intentional symbolism. The fairytale arises from the common-folk, and as such unintentionally gives insight into the state of the collective unconscious. There is an almost divine seeming purification process that occurs within oral traditions. No individual neurosis is able to sustain multiple retellings, as it is edited out by people who find the details inconsistent or unsettling. On the other hand, no collectively pertinent detail is allowed to be omitted, as those listening to a retelling will call out and correct any storyteller who omits details that resonate with the collective.


While literature provides a glimpse into the mind and life of an individual and his or her conscious experience of his or her environment, the fairytale provides a unique glimpse into the less conscious, more instinctive understanding a collective has of its own transformation. In learning the language of fairytales you will begin to better understand the archetypes through which we interpret and navigate our own lives. There is something unifying and refreshing, I think, about recognizing how inextricably interwoven and therefor mappable our journeys are. 




“Carl Jung understood archetypes as universal, archaic patterns and images that derive from the collective unconscious and are the psychic counterpart of instinct. They are inherited potentials which are actualized when they enter consciousness as images or manifest in behavior on interaction with the outside world.”




Common archetypes:


The Innocent / The Hero / The Orphan  / The Caregiver / The Explorer / The Rebel / The Lover / The Creator / The Jester / The Sage / The Magician  / The Ruler


Each archetype orients towards a particular position in a journey:

Ego – Order – Social – Freedom


Joseph Campbell, of course, is well known for using archetypes to map out the hero’s journey.


It is important to avoid the temptation to identify with one or other archetype, just as it is important not to identify too strongly with one or other character within a fairytale. When looking at the unconscious, picture the whole spectrum, from collective to individual, as being holographic. Each part contains the whole. You must abandon the limited orientation of the “I” in order to access the whole of the journey. Every archetype and every character is the core or the story, just as every individual point in the universe is its center when expansion is measured from it.


There is no ultimate and concrete meaning to a fairytale. It is malleable and meant to be explored rather than solved.




Read Goose Girl and make notes for discussion.




What archetypes can you identify?

What seems symbolically familiar, or resonates with other stories you have heard?

How does gender play in here?

How does justice play?

What is each character’s motive?

What lessons do you feel yourself learning?

What do you think each character might represent if each character is an aspect of a self or a collective selves?





Write a 500-800 word fairytale of your own. Imagine you are telling a bedtime story. Don’t think consciously about archetypes or meaning. Instead begin simply with “once upon a time there was a…” and accept the first images that come to your mind. This is an exercise Jung calls active imagination. As soon as you see something in your mind’s eye, put it in your story, approach it, see what it wants, follow it to the next character or image.



The Goose-Girl

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

There once lived an old queen whose husband had been dead for many years, and she had a beautiful daughter. When the princess grew up she was promised in marriage to a prince who lived far away. When the time came for her to be married, and she had to depart for the distant kingdom, the old queen packed up for her many costly vessels and utensils of silver and gold, and trinkets also of gold and silver, and cups and jewels, in short, everything that belonged to a royal dowry, for she loved her child with all her heart.

She likewise assigned to her a chambermaid, who was to ride with her, and deliver her into the hands of the bridegroom. Each received a horse for the journey. The princess's horse was called Falada, and could speak. When the hour of departure had come, the old mother went into her bedroom, took a small knife and cut her fingers with it until they bled. Then she held out a small white cloth and let three drops of blood fall into it. She gave them to her daughter, saying, "Take good care of these. They will be of service to you on your way."

Thus they sorrowfully took leave of one another. The princess put the cloth into her bosom, mounted her horse, and set forth for her bridegroom. After they had ridden for a while she felt a burning thirst, and said to her chambermaid, "Dismount, and take my cup which you have brought with you for me, and get me some water from the brook, for I would like a drink."

"If you are thirsty," said the chambermaid, "get off your horse yourself, and lie down near the water and drink. I won't be your servant."

So in her great thirst the princess dismounted, bent down over the water in the brook and drank; and she was not allowed to drink out of the golden cup. Then she said, "Oh, Lord," and the three drops of blood answered, "If your mother knew this, her heart would break in two."

But the king's daughter was humble. She said nothing and mounted her horse again. They rode some miles further. The day was warm, the sun beat down, and she again grew thirsty. When they came to a stream of water, she again called to her chambermaid, "Dismount, and give me some water in my golden cup," for she had long ago forgotten the girl's evil words.

But the chambermaid said still more haughtily, "If you want a drink, get it yourself. I won't be your servant."

Then in her great thirst the king's daughter dismounted, bent over the flowing water, wept, and said, "Oh, Lord," and the drops of blood again replied, "If your mother knew this, her heart would break in two."

As she was thus drinking, leaning over the stream, the cloth with the three drops of blood fell from her bosom and floated away with the water, without her taking notice of it, so great were her concerns. However, the chambermaid what happened, and she rejoiced to think that she now had power over the bride, for by losing the drops of blood, the princess had become weak and powerless.

When she wanted to mount her horse again, the one that was called Falada, the chambermaid said, "I belong on Falada. You belong on my nag," and the princess had to accept it.

Then with many harsh words the chambermaid ordered the princess to take off her own royal clothing and put on the chambermaid's shabby clothes. And in the end the princess had to swear under the open heaven that she would not say one word of this to anyone at the royal court. If she had not taken this oath, she would have been killed on the spot. Falada saw everything, and remembered it well.

The chambermaid now climbed onto Falada, and the true bride onto the bad horse, and thus they traveled onwards, until finally they arrived at the royal palace. There was great rejoicing over their arrival, and the prince ran ahead to meet them, then lifted the chambermaid from her horse, thinking she was his bride.

She was led upstairs, while the real princess was left standing below. Then the old king looked out of the window and saw her waiting in the courtyard, and noticed how fine and delicate and beautiful she was, so at once he went to the royal apartment, and asked the bride about the girl she had with her who was standing down below in the courtyard, and who she was.

"I picked her up on my way for a companion. Give the girl some work to do, so she won't stand idly by."

However, the old king had no work for her, and knew of nothing else to say but, "I have a little boy who tends the geese. She can help him." The boy was called Kürdchen (Little Conrad), and the true bride had to help him tend geese.

Soon afterwards the false bride said to the young king, "Dearest husband, I beg you to do me a favor."

He answered, "I will do so gladly."

"Then send for the knacker, and have the head of the horse which I rode here cut off, for it angered me on the way." In truth, she was afraid that the horse might tell how she had behaved toward the king's daughter.

Thus it happened that faithful Falada had to die. The real princess heard about this, and she secretly promised to pay the knacker a piece of gold if he would perform a small service for her. In the town there was a large dark gateway, through which she had to pass with the geese each morning and evening. Would he be so good as to nail Falada's head beneath the gateway, so that she might see him again and again?

The knacker's helper promised to do that, and cut off the head, and nailed it securely beneath the dark gateway.

Early in the morning, when she and Conrad drove out their flock beneath this gateway, she said in passing, "Alas, Falada, hanging there!"

Then the head answered:

Alas, young queen, passing by,
If this your mother knew, 
Her heart would break in two.

Then they went still further out of the town, driving their geese into the country. And when they came to the meadow, she sat down and unbound her hair which was of pure gold. Conrad saw it, was delighted how it glistened, and wanted to pluck out a few hairs. Then she said:

Blow, wind, blow,
Take Conrad's hat,
And make him chase it,
Until I have braided my hair, 
And tied it up again.

Then such a strong wind came up that it blew Conrad's hat across the fields, and he had to run after it. When he came back, she was already finished combing and putting up her hair, so he could not get even one strand. So Conrad became angry, and would not speak to her, and thus they tended the geese until evening, and then they went home.

The next morning when they were driving the geese out through the dark gateway, the maiden said, "Alas, Falada, hanging there!"

Falada answered:

Alas, young queen, passing by,
If this your mother knew, 
Her heart would break in two.

She sat down again in the field and began combing out her hair. When Conrad ran up and tried to take hold of some, she quickly said:

Blow, wind, blow,
Take Conrad's hat,
And make him chase it,
Until I have braided my hair, 
And tied it up again.

Then the wind blew, taking the hat off his head and far away. Conrad had to run after it, and when he came back, she had already put up her hair, and he could not get a single strand. Then they tended the geese until evening.

That evening, after they had returned home, Conrad went to the old king and said, "I won't tend geese with that girl any longer."

"Why not?" asked the old king.

"Oh, because she angers me all day long."

Then the old king ordered him to tell what it was that she did to him. Conrad said, "In the morning when we pass beneath the dark gateway with the flock, there is a horse's head on the wall, and she says to it, 'Alas, Falada, hanging there!' And the head replies:

Alas, young queen, passing by,
If this your mother knew, 
Her heart would break in two."

Then Conrad went on to tell what happened at the goose pasture, and how he had to chase his hat.

The old king ordered him to drive his flock out again the next day. As soon as morning came, he himself sat down behind the dark gateway, and heard how the girl spoke with Falada's head. Then he followed her out into the country and hid himself in a thicket in the meadow. There he soon saw with his own eyes the goose-girl and the goose-boy bringing their flock, and how after a while she sat down and took down her hair, which glistened brightly. Soon she said:

Blow, wind, blow,
Take Conrad's hat,
And make him chase it,
Until I have braided my hair, 
And tied it up again.

Then came a blast of wind and carried off Conrad's hat, so that he had to run far away, while the maiden quietly went on combing and braiding her hair, all of which the king observed. Then, quite unseen, he went away, and when the goose-girl came home in the evening, he called her aside, and asked why she did all these things.

"I am not allowed to tell you, nor can I reveal my sorrows to any human being, for I have sworn under the open heaven not to do so, and if I had not so sworn, I would have been killed."

He urged her and left her no peace, but he could get nothing from her. Finally he said, "If you will not tell me anything, then tell your sorrows to the iron stove there," and he went away.

So she crept into the iron stove, and began to cry sorrowfully, pouring out her whole heart. She said, "Here I sit, abandoned by the whole world, although I am the daughter of a king. A false chambermaid forced me to take off my royal clothes, and she has taken my place with my bridegroom. Now I have to do common work as a goose-girl. If my mother this, her heart would break in two."

The old king was standing outside listening by the stovepipe, and he heard what she said. Then he came back inside, and asked her to come out of the stove. Then they dressed her in royal clothes, and it was marvelous how beautiful she was.

The old king summoned his son and revealed to him that he had a false bride who was only a chambermaid, but that the true one was standing there, the one who had been a goose-girl. The young king rejoiced with all his heart when he saw her beauty and virtue. A great feast was made ready to which all the people and all good friends were invited.

At the head of the table sat the bridegroom with the king's daughter on one side of him, and the chambermaid on the other. However, the chambermaid was deceived, for she did not recognize the princess in her dazzling attire. After they had eaten and drunk, and were in a good mood, the old king asked the chambermaid as a riddle, what punishment a person deserved who had deceived her master in such and such a manner, then told the whole story, asking finally, "What sentence does such a person deserve?"

The false bride said, "She deserves no better fate than to be stripped stark naked, and put in a barrel that is studded inside with sharp nails. Two white horses should be hitched to it, and they should drag her along through one street after another, until she is dead."

"You are the one," said the old king, "and you have pronounced your own sentence. Thus shall it be done to you."

After the sentence had been carried out, the young king married his true bride, and both of them ruled over their kingdom in peace and happiness.













Jung refers to dream work as a process of individuation through integration. The elements of your dreams are reflections of your own psyche. Every piece of scenery, every character, every feeling, reflects in some way an aspect of the internal struggle your unconscious is seeking to sort out while your conscious brain in out of the way.


In order to “individuate” we need to learn how to read the language of our dreams, which are of course fluid, symbolic, and deeply complex.




Break down elements:


What is the setting? – note the season, geography, temperature. Are you indoors or out? Is the setting familiar, stranger, or some strange take on a familiar place? What are your feelings about the setting?


Mood: what is the overall mood of the dream? How do you feel?


Symbols: what colours stand out? Are there any numbers or words? Is anything named or pointed at? What are the key objects in the dream?


Humans and animals: who are the other characters in the dream? What do they want? How do they make you feel?


Each character in your dream represents a different aspect of yourself. Jung had beautifully categorized a few of these key aspects and how they most commonly manifest:


Anima / animus – The anima is the feminine projection of the masculine psyche. The animus is the masculine projection. If in your dream you encounter a member of the opposite gender that seems to inhabit qualities you lack in yourself it is likely the anima or animus.


Shadow self – If you are hiding from, fighting, or running away from something it is likely your shadow self. It is the aspect of yourself you have been taught must be repressed and so it lies dormant in you – gaining strength, needing to be faced and integrated.


The stronger the figure/emotional reaction to the figure in the dream the more repressed the aspect of self, and therefor important to identify and accept/integrate.




Animals make great dream symbols. They are already loaded with archetypal information and so are easy to link to characteristics, hangups and desires. The more reptilian and ancient the animal, the more deeply hidden the psychosis and therefor more important.


A dog would indicate a shallow concern, easily fixed. A lizard would be more complex, a dinosaur or dragon means you likely have years of work to do on a given aspect of yourself.




Dream recall is crucial to accessing the unconscious. The most obvious and effective way to accomplish this is to set a mild alarm clock 5 minutes before your actual alarm clock. Have a notebook or recorder next to your bed, and tell yourself, before you go to sleep, that you intend to recall and write down your dream. No dream is too small to record. If you have a partner it helps to tell them your dreams upon waking up. Repeat the images to yourself, commit them to memory.




Make a written list of all the dreams you remember (or as many as you can in one week)

Begin to pick out common images and symbols and arrange them together in poetic lists.


For example: you can group together all instances of violence, or all animals, boat rides, houses, mothers, fathers, etc.


Organize your lists by most frequently occurring motif to least. You will begin to identify which elements of yourself are most prominently trying to communicate with you.


Let this exercise take you where it will and bring in 1-2 pages of the most distilled version of it next week.









“I indignantly answered, “Do you call light what we men call the worst darkness? Do you call day night?”
To this my soul spoke a word that roused my anger, “My light is not of this world.”
I cried, “I know of no other world!”
The soul answered, “Should it not exist because you know nothing of it?” 
― C.G. JungThe Red Book: Liber Novus

Image and Psyche

“The psyche consists essentially of images. It is a series of images in the truest sense, not an accidental juxtaposition or sequence, but a structure that is throughout full of meaning and purpose; it is a ‘picturing’ of vital activities.”  ~ C.G. Jung

According to Carl Jung, nothing can be known until it first takes the form of a psychic image. In other words, the human psyche is like a lens through which the raw data of life passes and is given form in the shape of thoughts, ideas, feelings, sensations, or visual pictures. We do not become aware of things as they are, Jung would say, we become aware of our experience of things.

Because of this fact, Jung was deeply impressed by what he termed ‘psychic reality’ and he believed that observing the flow of images within one’s imagination gave a person access to the activity of their inner lives — the “picturing of their vital activities.” This is why the dream plays such an important role in Jungian Psychology.

Furthermore, he discovered that interacting with the images of one’s unconscious produced healing changes in a both the individual’s inner and outer lives. This process of interacting with the images of one’s psyche he called active imagination.2 



The Neurobiology of Active Imagination

In his book, The Neurobiology of the Gods, Erik Goodwyn surveys the current findings of the neurosciences in relation to the recurrence of certain kinds of images as they appear in dreams and fantasy. He finds that contemporary research is validating many of Jung’s key insights into the role of psychic images.

One of the main findings that Goodwyn reports is the evidence showing the autonomy of unconscious systems of mental functioning. Ultimately, what the research indicates is that there are multiple unconscious systems of emotion that are often at odds with the conscious intentions we have for our lives. These unconscious systems are “revealed” to our conscious minds through the symbolic images of our dreams and fantasies. According to Goodwyn:

“Such a symbol is a personality, complete with motivations, intent, purpose, and so on, and because of this it can be an important ‘player’ in our lives.”

Our conscious access to these unconscious emotional systems is limited and so we cannot simply override them with our willpower. We are obliged to enter into a relationship with these systems and to seek out some way to integrate them into our life experience. This is exactly the purpose of the active imagination method.


The Technique of Active Imagination 

Active imagination, as the name suggests, is the active engagement with the natural symbol making function of the psyche. At its most basic, it is a process of noticing the images that are being produced by the mind and that have a strong, though mostly unconscious, impact on our daily life. 

Everyone is familiar with the popular cartoon image of the man with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. These two forces attempt to convince him to do the right thing, or tempt him to do the wrong one.  Although this portrait is a clichéd one, it presents the broad outlines of this technique. 

There are ‘voices’ inside us and we must enter into conversation with them if we don’t want them to drown out our own voice and unconsciously run our lives.

The procedure itself is relatively simple, if not particularly easy. Here is how Jung describes the process:

“[The patient] must make himself as conscious as possible of the mood he is in, sinking himself in it without reserve and noting down on paper all the fantasies and other associations that come up. Fantasy must be allowed the freest possible play, yet not in such a manner that it leaves the orbit of its object, namely the affect, by setting off a kind of ‘chain-reaction’ association process.”

The first step, then, is to allow one’s mood to become a fantasy, but a fantasy that stays connected to the emotional situation. It is not a random free association process. How a person develops the fantasy depends on personal preference and ability. It can be done by writing, drawing, painting, acting, or even dancing.

Once an image has been formed and elaborated, the second step is to try to understand it, though not necessarily in the sense of interpreting it. The process is more one of coming to terms with the image, responding to it, and developing a relationship with it. Just as a healthy relationship with a human being is one of mutual respect and compromise, so the same is true of one’s relationship with the figures of one’s own psyche. 

“It is exactly as if a dialogue were taking place between two human beings with equal rights, each of whom gives the other credit for a valid argument and considers it worth while to modify the conflicting standpoints by means of thorough comparison and discussion or else to distinguish them clearly from one another.”

The question then arises: what does this process look like in the context of psychotherapy and what does it add to the whole experience?


“My soul, where are you? Do you hear me? I speak, I call you - are you there? I have returned, I am here again. I have shaken the dust of all the lands from my feet, and I have come to you, I am with you. After long years of long wandering, I have come to you again. Should I tell you everything I have seen, experienced, and drunk in? Or do you not want to hear about all the noise of life and the world? But one thing you must know: the one thing I have learned is that one must live this life. Do you still know me? How long the separation lasted! Everything has become so different. And how did I find you? How strange my journey was! What words should I use to tell you on what twisted paths a good star has guided me to you? Give me your hand, my almost forgotten soul. How warm the joy at seeing you again, you long disavowed soul. Life has led me back to you. Let us thank the life I have lived for all the happy and all the sad hours, for every joy, for every sadness. My soul, my journey should continue with you. I will wander with you and ascend to my solitude.” 
― C.G. JungThe Red Book: Liber Novus



“We should grow like a tree that likewise does not know its law. We tie ourselves up with intentions, not mindful of the fact that intention is the limitation, yes, the exclusion of life.” 
― C.G. JungThe Red Book: A Reader's Edition: A Reader's Edition



Repetition, Association, Interiority

Where to look for inspiration:


Toni Morrison

Virginia Woolf

Maggie Nelson

Anne Boyer

Betty Boop Cartoons

Freestyle Rap

Abstract art


Joderowsky Films




Develop your own personal symbolic vocabulary – what symbols reoccur to you in dreams? What do they represent?


Organize your symbols - expanding on your dreamwork – begin to construct a stream of consciousness prose piece that utilises your personal symbolic lexicon – exploring every crevice of your psyche. Remember to use repetition and interiority to keep you on track. It may also help to ignore grammar and punctuation – make a kind of music. Don’t worry about the occasional instance of seeming nonsense. Avoid any temptation to be poetic.











Now that you have begun your symbol lexicon, you have a solid platform upon which to build the structure of your internal worlds – ever moving closer to what Jung calls “fully integrated”.


It is important to create a container – a sort of ceremony around the development of your symbolic world. I recommend buying a binder you can decorate and add pages to as your work on your symbols. Collect clippings of images that remind you of your reoccurring imagery – animals, locations, people, etc. The more these things materialize in front of you’re the more clearly you will be able to see and understand them.


Shrines work too – create a visual arrangement in your apartment – something near your bed that helps you remember the monsters you’re trying to learn from. In many cultures masks are hung in the home for this purpose – a sort of exposure therapy, keeping your demons in clear view. To counterbalance this you can also insert a positive character or symbol into your space to remind you of the strength and positivity that you also carry within you.


Ideally, as you naturally develop your ability to hear and interpret your unconscious these practices will meld into your artistic practices, each enriching the other.


Recommended reading:


Marie Louise von-Franz

Emma Jung

Barbara Hanna

Carl Jung

Women Who Run with The Wolves