We should, indeed, follow Joseph Campbell’s approach here. When it came to exploring the underlying reasons behind the existence of universal mythic themes, he focused on two fundamental reasons, both equally important: the first was acausal in nature – the depth psychological hypothesis of archetypes, the representations of which included the myths of the local cultures. But, even though these themes were clothed differently depending on culture and time, they all expressed a critical aspect of the same archetype. Such recognition is particularly aided by thinking mythically and imagining into the cultures and the lands around them. The second was causal in nature – that universal themes were formed by the sharing of information and traditions as a consequence of trade, conquest, migration, etc. This causal explanation was called diffusion. Here, one analyzes the facts on the ground, data obtained through archaeology, researching rigorous histories of the cultures, times, places, etc. The analysis here is primarily through the gathering of facts and through its literal and causal interpretations. Here, Campbell learned to develop a sense of when to bring in mythical thinking and when to employ literal and/or analytical thinking.
Crucially, one has to know when to bring in this so-called “higher order.” To do so prematurely may result in a beautiful picture whose mythical articulation is impressive and which interpretation feels good, but in the end provides no deep insight into the dynamics on which one is focused. The key here is knowing when to think mythically. I have found that thinking mythically is far more helpful after the legwork has been done in gathering the facts and reflecting on those facts. The unconscious seems to respond with far greater depth and clarity (not to be confused with logically) when consciousness has done its job – when it has made its unique contribution. Then the mythical imagination takes on a far more precise shape with images which often go to the heart of the matter. And a real partnership is built along the way.