March 25, 2008


Image courtesy of wikipedia.

The theme at Goat Rope lately is myth and what it means. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts. You'll also find links and comments about current events.

One of the most popular psychological theories of myth is that of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung (1875-1961). Once a close associate of Freud who was designated as the "crown prince" of psychoanalysis, Jung broke with Freud's theory of the centrality of libido or the sex drive as the major force of human motivation (see discussion of Freud's view of myth yesterday).

While Freud concentrated on the personal unconscious, Jung believed that some aspects of psychic life had an "impersonal" or objective quality that cannot be derived from an individuals past experiences. He believed that this pointed to the existence of a collective unconscious shared by all people. (He also at times dabbled in the notion of a national unconscious for different ethnic groups, which damaged his reputation and brought on accusations of being a Nazi sympathizer.)

The collective unconscious contained certain primordial images or archetypes, an idea he derived from

the repeated observation that, for instance, the myths and fairy-tales of world literature contain definite motifs which crop up everywhere. We meet these same motifs in the fantasies, dreams, deliria, and delusions of individuals living today. These typical images and associations are what I call archetypal ideas.

The archetype was

an irrepresentable, unconscious, pre-existent form that seems to be part of the inherited structure of the psyche and can therefore manifest itself spontaneously anywhere, at any time.

Jung believed that the similarities between various myths are the result of the influence of the collective unconscious. Myths therefore originate in the psyche and allow people to experience the unconscious. He believed that the decline in the centrality of myth in the modern age contributed to the psychological problems of many people:

Among the so-called neurotics of our day there are a good many who in other ages would not have been neurotic--that is, divided against themselves. If they had lived in a period and in a milieu in which man was still linked by myth with the world of the ancestors, and thus with nature truly experienced and not merely seen from the outside, they would have been spared this division within themselves.

While still enjoying great popularity, Jung's ideas are miles away from the drift of modern scientific psychology. Likewise, many scholars of mythology shy away from grand theories which not only over-generalize but also pass over the uniqueness of different mythological traditions.

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