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Reply To: The Boundary-Blurring Nature of Myth,” with Bradley Olson, Ph.D.”

Bradley Olson

    Hi, James

    You wrote, “Each of us has a story, and Joseph’s idea of a ‘personal myth’…” and it’s in this “each of us has a story” business that boundaries really start to blur and adds to the stew of confusion regarding the self. The story isn’t clear at all, and often there are many (and many conflicting stories) that we hold at once that seem to tell us who we are. And personal myth is something that I’ve written a lot about over the years. It’s something I think Campbell gets right, but it’s not generally understood this way in the myth community. Personal myth is, in the final analysis, the working on us of the archetypal. The archetypal begins deep within, in the unconscious aspects of the psyche, and moves (and moves us) out into the world through symbol, metaphor, and (often bitter) experience. Often people talk about archetypes, but they don’t speak to the archetypal, and instead speak in stereotypes, which come from the generalized outside into the particular inside of people. The stereotypical is much too bounded an experience. The archetypal begins with a barely defined form, a mere skeleton that is filled in by experience, self-reflective thinking and personally resonant images. The archetypal images and the personal mythology that results from them are generally not found by the individual experiencing them to be very “sexy,” nor do they generally tell our story the way we would like other people to see us. For instance, the densely muscled bodybuilder ego, for instance, might like to identify with Herakles or Adonis or Achilles, but in reality the muscle serves as armor to protect a weaker, lamer, inefficacious, yet sensitive and creative Hephaestus-like nature.

    This may have been a bit of the mark as it addresses your response, and I’m so sorry to hear of your family’s experience with depression and suicide. Things are, as you say, getting better, but there is still so much stigma and self-loathing attached to these kinds of illness that we don’t encourage and help the suffer to learn how to see in the dark (as you have done, by the way) and let go of the idea that we need to be whole and unbroken. We become more whole when we are able to accept our brokenness; and we can then begin to build the ladders and supports that help us when we find ourselves in these places from time to time.

    Warm regards to you, James.