The Collective Unconscious…Do you believe?

Carl Jung coined the term Collective Unconscious (or Subconscious) to describe the “unconscious mind, shared by a society, a people, or all humanity, that is the product of ancestral experience and contains such concepts as science,religion, and morality.” While he was obviously a believer in this concept, Freud didn’t buy in to it.

Personally, I totally buy in to it! Why? Well, let me start by saying I have never read Jane Eyre, I never even knew what it was about. I only knew it was written in the 19th century and, until recently, reading something that was written more than a hundred years ago just wasn’t appealing at all. (And, if I’m being honest, I’d rather watch the movies than read the books…I know…shame on me! I just prefer the modern spins on historicals.)

So, three years ago, upon my return from my first trip to London, I set to work on my 2nd book, More than a Governess. The heroine was a secondary character from my first book (A Gentleman Never Tells, coming soon from Second Wind Publishing!!) and I knew that I wanted a troubled, surly hero.

Well, paint me green and call me Gumby! The governess and surly employer schtick had already been done! Imagine my surprise when I received the BBC version of Jane Eyre as a gift a couple months ago and popped it in the DVD player! Okay, so not everything was the same…there’s no psychotic wife in the attic or tragic fire that makes Stephen go blind temporarily…but there are a lot of similarities. But I will swear up and down that I knew nothing about Jane Eyre when I wrote this book.

So, hats off to you, Mr. Jung, for acknowledging and coining a phrase to help me understand why the heck I wrote such a similar scenario!

Has this ever happened to you? Have you come up with an idea that you thought was awesome and totally original, only to read it the next day…or next month…or years later…in another book? If so, do you chalk it up to coincidence like Mr. Freud? Or do you think Jung was on to something?


23 thoughts on “The Collective Unconscious…Do you believe?

  1. Gail says:

    Interesting blog, Jerrica! It never fails. I write something new to me, and the next book I read has the exact same set-up.

    This even happened when I joined a crit group. Someone in the group posted a scene which was almost identical to one I wrote 5 years ago. (And no, I didn’t know her then.) Now I’m too embarrassed to post that old story, because I’m afraid they’ll think I copied!


  2. Lydia Dare says:

    My old screenwriting partner always used to say, “It’s a post-modern world, there aren’t any new ideas anymore.”

    That feels true, especially when you come across something like this.

  3. All right, Gail, spill it!! Who was it??? Was it in our group?? You can’t leave us hanging like that! LOL!

    Jodie, so true!

    Thanks for stopping by, y’all! 🙂

  4. Gail says:

    It was Jodie’s wonderful scene where the heroine is hiding in the armoire. She did such a wonderful job that it but my poor scene to shame. It’s been in hiding ever since.

  5. LOL! Hilarious! Now I want to read it!! 🙂

  6. It’s often been said there are no new stories only new ways to tell them.

    I don’t do collective consciousness (except when writing science fiction ) but rather think the triumvate wholeness of man requires mind, body, and spirit be fed regardless of time, place, or circumstance. (I’ll spare you the treatise that goes with this thought!)

    Glad you finally got around to reading Jane Eyre, Gumby! *G* Used to be a ‘must read’ in school. Now, it’s just another dust collector on many library shelves.

  7. Thanks for commenting, Gwynlyn! Very interesting thoughts!

    And I actually never got around to reading Jane Eyre…I just watched the movie 🙂 LOL!

  8. The way I understood collective C. is more like this: Example: if you look at abstract artistic patterns done by humans you will find many of the same images that turn out to represent the same exact thing, cross cultures, across continents. Another example would be in linguistics which relates to the human brain/mind, how most languages have terms for the same stuff. Only a few lack words for certain things. So your example would be the cross cultural phenom. of womens’ lack of power… Doesn’t that suck?

  9. Interesting, Mickey. The first time I heard the term was in reference to writing, so I automatically associate it with writing now 🙂 I might also call it Law of Attraction. Whatever it is, I definitely think it’s more than just coincidence 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

  10. My sisters and I became parents at relatively the same time. We came up with all kinds (well, three) of “new inventions” that would have helped us with our babies. As soon as we began writing them down, looking for investors to make prototypes, market research, etc.–we went to the store and there they were! We had NOT seen them before–they were brand new on the market, they could NOT have stolen the idea from us–not enough time lag to get the items to market.

    But here’s a better one. My Northern Roses and Southern Belles author sister, Susan Macatee, has heard from the hero of her short story in the book. Kyle Dalton, a Civil War re-enactor, discovered his name from one of the promotional blogs she did. The story has been out for less than a month! And the kicker is, she’s also heard from Erin Branigan, the heroine from her novel, Erin’s Rebel, also a summer 2009 release from The Wild Rose Press. How incredible is that? Again, she does not live anywhere near these people, she does not have some common connection to either one of them, etc.

  11. Rosemary says:

    You have raised a valid point. I have encountered the same problem. But then what I try to do is put a different spin on it. Sometimes it works and sometimes my brain cells can’t think of a differnt plot. Rosemary

  12. Pat Bertram says:

    It could be collective unconscious, it could be that there are no new ideas. Either way, it’s hard — perhaps impossible — for a writer to come up with a story that’s totally new. The only thing we can do is present our characters in a different light, show a different aspect of life or relationships. And that facet of a story is as unique as the author writing it.

  13. Heather Boyd says:

    Great blog Jerrica, but there is not that much similar between Jane Eyre and Becky. LOL. Great name for the book BTW. Perfect. And the revamped blog looks beautiful. :o)

  14. Jerrica, many years ago I remember trying to describe an idea I had about an underlying unity of experience that was somehow passed on to each succeeding generation. The woman to whom I was speaking said, “Oh, you’re talking about Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious.” I’d never heard the term before, but realized immediately that Jung’s idea was exactly what I was trying to describe. My most recent experience with this phenomenon. I’m a direct descendant of the Scottish clan Faser, but have never been to our ancestral home near Aberdeen. Last week a friend of mine returned from Scotland with photos and postcards of the land near the North Sea. I just gasped when I saw it. As a child I had a recurrent dream of walking down just such rolling terrain surrounded by dogs and sheep. I always wondered where the dream came from, since I had no experience in life or even from a movie of anything like it. I realized last week that my childhood dream was passed on to me somehow from those who came before. I think you should perceive that the same bit of memory/experience that resulted in Jane Eyre was passed down to you. Now you have to ask, is there some intentionality behind it.

  15. I totally believe in this, but my experiences have to do with writing historical novels and then finding real history that validates what I put in the book. My September book, IN THE MASTER’S BED, is about a woman disguised as a man going to a medieval university. After I had begun the book, I discovered there is a documented case that happened within 50 years of my story, of a young woman attending university disguised as a man for two years! I wonder if I channeled her story from the collective unconsciousness…

  16. Wow, Jennifer! Both stories are wild! Bummer on the inventions, though!! LOL!

  17. Good point, Rosemary…there is always the opportunity to spin it differently!

  18. Well said, Pat! It’s the characters themselves that draw us in, and as long as they are unique, it doesn’t really matter what they’re doing 🙂

  19. LOL! Come on, Heather…all her late night rendezvous with her surly employer??

    Glad you like the new look 🙂

  20. Ooooh! I have chills, Lazarus!!! So cool! Thanks for sharing that!

  21. Oh, wow! What a neat story, Blythe! Thanks for sharing!

  22. Eric Catania says:

    Nicely written, honey! You know I’m a big fan of the collective unconscious. Past, future, present. It’s all good….

  23. I’m glad you thought so, honey! Thanks for reading my blog 🙂

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