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Reply To: Myth: The Grammar of Creativity,” with Bradley Olson, Ph.D.”

Bradley Olson

James, you’ve offered a lot here to chew on, and you have already developed a pretty impressive command of the subject. I’m not sure how much I have to add, since many of the people you cited have also been my sources and teachers. If I understand your question, the difference between complexes and archetypes is indeed a subtle one. You, or someone you cited, suggested that at the bottom of a complex is an archetype, and I think that is inescapably true. I understand the difference to be that the archetype’s origins are found in the collective unconscious, that inheritance from the whole history of humankind, while complexes tend to be related to the personal unconscious, and hence their “feeling toned” quality. One is often able to identify what a complex consists of because it arises from a personal experience, even though that experience may be repressed and not initially consciously available. But we are fundamentally unable to know what an archetype is because, as Jung wrote, the nature of the Psyche is inaccessible to us. (Jung, The Symbolic Life (CW Vol. 18) The form of the archetype is filled in as individuals acquire experiences, which is of course why complexes, indeed perhaps all life experience, have archetypal foundations. From a practical perspective in psychotherapy, the analysand needn’t be schooled in this way for therapy to be beneficial, and in fact, this information can be utilized as a defense against the process of individuation. You may recall Jung’s remark about religion being a defense against a religious experience, and much the same thing can apply in this instance. But it certainly makes for a fascinating subject of investigation.

You write, Often a crisis or trauma calls this aspect forth as messenger of the psyche that the individual is compelled and must make the required alchemical adjustments that the large (S)elf as the central or guiding archetype of the entire psyche; (not to be confused with the little (s)elf as ego); must answer. This code or script that is orchestrating this huge life change; (individuation); begins to transform the entire push forward toward resolution within the life process…and I think this is theoretically sound with the exception that the individual does not make the “required alchemical adjustments,” but rather it is psyche (perhaps more properly, the Self) that initiates this change which, at the beginning, is almost always unconscious. The adjustment the individual must make is to accept the fact of, the reality of, the psyche and then place oneself in relationship to that reality. One responds to it like any other fact of nature; eventually we learn if it’s cold outside we take action that will harmonize us with the weather, i.e. we put on a coat. Taking the psyche for real influences one’s behaviors, choices, insight, attentiveness and so on in a similar way.

As for Professor Campbell’s understanding of Jung, it may not have been as encyclopedic or as nuanced as that of a trained analyst, but he was very well versed in Jungian theory. Campbell’s preface to the portable Jung is one such example, and it’s worth finding the book just for Campbell’s preface alone. In fact, you can find on the JCF website here:

Stephen might be the one to add a bit more to the discussion of Campbell’s familiarity with Jung.

So thank you, James, for a very interesting question.