Thanks for bearing with my request for clarification about what you mean by the archetypal psyche (hardly fair to ask that you put it in the simplest way possible – trying to define the archetypal is akin to stapling one’s shadow to the wall).
Your response exceeded my expectations:
In line with Jung’s original idea, I want to broaden our view of the psyche as an encompassing reality well beyond the confines of an individual consciousness.
Despite a congruency, Jung’s term – the collective unconscious – strikes me as a touch inadequate today: I find any discussion of these concepts among those unfamiliar with Jung (and even with some who are) often needs to begin with the caveat that the unconscious is not deaf, dumb, directionless and blind, but is called such because consciousness (in my case, me – my waking ego, if you will), is unconscious, at least directly, of its workings.
The archetypal psyche is a term unladen with that baggage – nor, as you point out, is it tethered to an individual consciousness. Yes, there are individual expressions of the archetypal psyche that manifest in each life, in the same way you can taste the ocean in a single drop, but the focus of your essay looks beyond that single drop to the entire sea:
. . . the manifestations of the collective psyche are in spectacular display everyday on the broad stage of history, not necessarily always hidden in the bowels of an individual consciousness.
That distinction is my key takeaway – and I find that refreshing. When we think of Joseph Campbell today, the hero’s journey is what most often comes to mind: how do I apply the elements and trajectory of that oft-recurring motif to understand and improve my own life (or write a compelling screenplay)? I don’t intend to sound cynical about the hero’s journey, as it is a part of his legacy that has made a difference in so many lives, including my own – but Campbell did not focus exclusively on the Hero archetype alone. His rich and detailed Masks of God tetralogy is an historical survey of so many living mythologies when they were, indeed, “alive”
. . . which brings me back to your essay. If I understand correctly, you are saying that a living mythology isn’t something one believes in, like choosing a religion today, but is experienced simply as “what is” – part of the warp and woof of a culture – what a member of that culture knows to be true, perhaps akin to the way we experience gravity or know the world to be round.
This really stands out for me when you point out the “harshest aspects of true myth.” Besides your example of the treatment of dalits and other members of the śūdra caste in India (which continues to varying degrees on parts of the subcontinent today), I think of the “suttee” burials of whole courts in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt (and the evidence, which Campbell raises, of ritual regicide before that), or the ubiquity of human sacrifice in Mesoamerican cultures. We shudder today at these examples of man’s inhumanity to man – yet the kings who sacrificed themselves every 8 or 12 years (depending on the orbit of either Venus or Jupiter), whether in ancient Egypt or 18th century Rhodesia, appear to have submitted voluntarily.
And why not? A living mythology informs the perceptions and experience of one’s role in the universe: if one knows, as certain as I know the sun is yellow and the sky is blue, that death is just a transition that releases one to a better realm, or allows one to return to put on another body and live life anew, and every ruler before me, or every captain of a team sacrificed at the end of a ritual ball game in the Yucatan, has experienced the same, then maybe it’s not perceived as quite the tragedy it would be for you and me.
And that brings me to aloberhoulser’s question above, about anchoring this to the NOW. When Joseph Campbell spoke of how there is no active mythology today (at least, not one universally embraced by First World cultures), he was often asked about whether there could be a new mythology. Some who ask seem to think of myth as something to be consciously created and adopted; Joe, no surprise, generally responded that it doesn’t work that way:
[M]yths don’t come into being like that. You have to wait for them to appear. We cannot predict the next mythology which is coming, for mythology is not ideology. It is not generated by the brain, but from those deep creative centers below the human psyche.
I juxtapose that with the conclusion of your essay:
The equation of horrible social oppression with the functioning of a myth that sanctifies it should not escape our eye. It is a kind of transcendent union of physical and metaphysical violence which has been produced by a fierce antagonism that has raged in the collective unconscious from time immemorial. Violence is constitutional of any nation state; rather than being some kind of glitch in the system, such violence underpins its very functioning, the capacity to produce and reproduce itself and its relations of power. As ruling ideology, therefore, real myth casts and recasts the heart of a society, throwing its deep historical shadow into the darkness of human existence.
Mythologizing is always going on, beneath the level of consciousness. How can we say this dynamic is not already in play today?