The child archetype is a central theme in the work of Carl Jung. Of the Child archetype Jung says:
“One of the essential features of the child motif is its futurity. The child is potential future. Hence the occurrence of the child motif in the psychology of the individual signifies as a rule an anticipation of future developments, even though at first sight it may seem like a retrospective configuration.” (Carl Jung, CW 9i, para 278)
In the darkness of human history, the Christ Child stands as an image of the potential of the future. The child holds the potential for future change. Jung continues:
“Life is a flux, a flowing into the future, and not a stoppage or a backwash. It is therefore not surprising that so many of the mythological saviours are child gods…. the “child” paves the way for a future change of personality. In the individuation process, it anticipates the figure that comes from the synthesis of conscious and unconscious elements in the personality. It is therefore a symbol which unites the opposites; a mediator, bringer of healing, that is, one who makes whole. Because it has this meaning, the child motif is capable of the numerous transformations mentioned above: it can be ex-pressed by roundness, the circle or sphere, or else by the quaternity as another form of wholeness.”(ibid)
The image above is ‘The Triumph of the Innocents’ by William Holman Hunt. In the image Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus flee to Egypt. King Herod has ordered the killing of all the first-born males or ‘innocents’ in Bethlehem. The story is told in the Gospel of Matthew, 2: 13-18:
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him. 13
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 14
where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son. 15
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.16
Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 17
“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more. 18
In the image, the Holy Family is surrounded by the spirits of the children slain by Herod. The ‘airy globes’ convey a sense of the waves of ‘the streams of eternal life’ . Christ is an image of goodness and the potential of enlightenment even in the darkest of times. In this way he is an image of potential, of the future, and thus a form of the Child archetype.
- Description from the Tate museum.
- Carl G.Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious – Collected Works volume 9i (originally published 1934–1954)