The developmental/emergent model of archetype, its implications and its application to shamanism



Abstract:  This paper addresses the ongoing debate in the JAP to do with archetype theory and supports an emergent/developmental model which sees archetypal imagery as an emergent phenomenon arising out of neural bio-structures laid down in early infant life as a result of developmental experience.

This model is supported by the current findings of those developmental biologists who adhere to Developmental Systems Theory. The themes of Developmental Systems Theory are examined and corroborative parallels are drawn with the model. A number of implications follows: the model has substantial explanatory power and leads to a new perspective on innatism; it implies an archetype-environment nexus; it collapses the nature-nurture debate in relation to archetype theory; it collapses the ‘sacred heritage’ approach to archetypes and it removes the conceptual division between the collective and personal unconscious.

This developmental/emergent perspective is then applied to the shaman archetype, using ethnographic records of the Sakha (Yakut) Siberian tribe. The material supports the hypothesis that the shamanic complex is laid down in early infancy by a combination of events which cause emotional ruptures in the mother-infant dyad. Siberian shamanism is then understood to arise out of developmental experience and not from the constellation of an autochthonous archetype.