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Strictly speaking, Jungian archetypes refer to unclear underlying forms or the archetypes-as-such from which emerge images and motifs such as the mother, the child, the trickster, and the flood among others.

Jung's idea of archetypes was based on Immanuel Kant's categories, Plato's Ideas, and Arthur Schopenhauer's prototypes.The archetypes form a dynamic substratum common to all humanity, upon the foundation of which each individual builds his own experience of life, colouring them with his unique culture, personality and life events.Jung was fond of comparing the form of the archetype to the axial system of a crystal, which preforms the crystalline structure of the mother liquid, although it has no material existence of its own.These images and motifs are more precisely called archetypal images.However it is common for the term archetype to be used interchangeably to refer to both archetypes-as-such and archetypal images.

In Jungian psychology, archetypes are highly developed elements of the collective unconscious.

Being unconscious, the existence of archetypes can only be deduced indirectly by examining behavior, images, art, myths, religions, or dreams.

Jung rejected the tabula rasa theory of human psychological development, believing instead that evolutionary pressures have individual predestinations manifested in archetypes.

Jung first used the term primordial images to refer to what he would later term "archetypes".

Thus, while archetypes themselves may be conceived as a relative few innate nebulous forms, from these may arise innumerable images, symbols and patterns of behavior.

While the emerging images and forms are apprehended consciously, the archetypes which inform them are elementary structures which are unconscious and impossible to apprehend.