19 March 1930

Dr. Schlegel: Do you identify the idea of archetypes with the idea of symbols, so that everything which has a symbolical value can be considered as an archetype?

Dr. Jung: No, the symbol is an entirely different conception. I would call an archetype a symbol when it was functioning as a symbol, but it doesn’t necessarily function in that way.

The word symbol has been very much misused. Freud calls things symbolical when they are only semiotic. If he had had a philosophical education, he could not mix up those terms. For instance, railroad employees have a design of a little winged wheel on their caps, and Freud would call that a symbol of the railway, but it is a sign of the railway. If it were a symbol, it would mean that the men who wear it had been initiated into a secret cult symbolized by a winged wheel, and the devil knows what that might mean, perhaps something divine.

One uses the word symbol for something which one can only vaguely characterize. A symbol expresses something which one cannot designate otherwise; one can only approach the meaning a little by using certain designs.

For instance, the Christian faith is symbolized by the cross, which means that the cross expresses something which cannot be expressed in any other terms. The Greek word symbolon means creed, and the term symbol in its original use also meant the creed. The original idea of the creed was not that now God is caught and we know exactly what he means. The actual creed is the nearest approach in a human way to certain institutions and beliefs–the belief that God is the Father and in the same person the Son and the Holy Ghost, for instance. The great mysteries of life and eternity could be expressed only by symbols, and therefore they were always sacred.

The archetype when functioning can be expressive of a situation, and one can call it symbolic inasmuch as the situation is more or less unknown, but the archetype can also function in a situation which is entirely known to you.

For instance, we say a woman suffering from bad temper is like a fire-dragon. That is an archetype, but one wouldn’t call it a symbol; it is simply an exaggerated metaphor.

But when someone makes a peculiar design in order to express something which he cannot express otherwise, and in so doing uses an archetype, you would then call it a symbol.

If a person makes a drawing of a snake, and above that a cross, and above that a moon, and you ask what that may be, you will probably see him begin to stammer, a jumble of words and vague conceptions; there is nothing to do but guess, and then he informs you that it is the only way in which he could characterize his thoughts and visions. Now that is a symbol, and he has used the archetypes of the cross, of the snake, and of the moon, but in this case it is not semiotic, it is symbolic.

That difference was always known in philosophy but Freud mixes up the two. His use of the word symbol is really meaningless.