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Reply To: Tossing the Golden Ball,” with mythologist Catherine Svehla, Ph.D.”


Hi James,

Lots of wonderful questions and ideas here. I haven’t had a chance to digest your addendum:)  but will respond to your initial post now. Some thoughts beginning with the significance of metaphor….

Metaphors are more than figures of speech. They are a cornerstone of thought and a vocabulary of meaning. As Jung observed, people think and learn through analogy, that is, we understand one thing by comparing it to something else. A metaphor is a type of analogy but in this case, the comparison goes beyond similarities and into new webs of association. This is the poetic quality of metaphor and its power as a holder of evolving, multiple meanings. A metaphor can bridge the knowable and the unknown, “God” being one example.

Metaphors catalyze imagination. Imagination is a form of thought.

As a symbolic language, myths are comprised of metaphors. You can locate yourself in a story even if the literal details don’t apply (the story is about a princess and I am not a princess) by seeing through the metaphor (if I am the princess, how am I like the princess, have I ever acted like the princess, could I be the princess, how am I not the princess, etc. and what does this mean?).

Approaching myths this way is useful because they open what is otherwise factual, literal, to a wider web of meaning and to the conscious imagination. This change in context alone can alter the experience and lend it value. It can generate questions that lead to insight. It can also deepen your understanding of what is at work and provide options, and as Joseph Campbell says, you realize that you’re not alone. The existence of a story in which you can locate your experience tells you that others have gone through something similar before.

When you see events in your life metaphorically, you discover their mythic dimension. The mythic is always present although few of us consistently look for it. I understand personal myth as a process of discovery. You find out what is at work. How you respond to what you find is a creative process, but I don’t think deciding to craft a personal myth for yourself is fruitful unless you are willing to be guided by what is already present, even if it leads to places that you don’t want to go.

Dreams and major epiphanies are important and yet, the mythic shows up in everywhere. For example, in the mythic pattern readings that I offer, a person’s word choice and mode of thought expresses as much as the factual content of the autobiography. Seeing through or thinking with a story, like the little exercise of “The Frog King” in my essay, can be very revealing. What strikes you about a story, especially the questions that arise, can lead you into the mythic dimension if you pursue them.

I’m so glad that you found “Blisters on the way to Bliss” useful. Thank you for telling me. I’m posting the link to download the pdf here in case others are inspired to check it out.
warmly, Catherine