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Mythology is psychology misread.””

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    Joseph Campbell said in his book: The Hero with a Thousand Faces, mythology is psychology misread as biography, history and cosmology. The great insight was seeing the connection between mythology and psychology. Of course, Campbell’s interest was mythology, so he accented the mythological aspect of the pair. I believe that an equally valid and rich perspective emerges from viewing psychology as a mythological reading of biology and history. This perspective keeps mythology relevant and current, at par with psychology, an inseparable pair, essential to our lives and not something old that we can ignore. The article that I reference in the link below presents this perspective in more details.

    From Mythology to Psychology – an essay on the Archaic Psychology of Greek Myths



    Hi Juan,

    Thanks for sharing that link. I appreciate that the essay doesn’t mention Joseph Campbell at all (though there are references to his fellow-travelers, Jung and Eliade, who shared that same interest in the resonance between psychology and myth). Campbell’s perspective is important, but not the only way to view myth.

    (I am also intrigued by the author’s mention of some 500 different definitions of myth over 2500 years, which illustrates the shapeshifting aspect of myth.)

    Of course, Western psychology often focuses on Greek mythology, which makes sense (with Jung sometimes referring to the gods as psychological factors, with gods of love, war (anger), motherhood, etc. personifying psychological and/or emotional states). We rarely wander east of Suez, as Campbell referred to it. The Greek pantheon is relatively small; the 20,000 gods in the Hindu pantheon suggest a more complex and elaborate grasp of psychological factors in play.

    Personally, I came to Jung through Campbell’s work; a number of people come to Campbell through Jung’s work – clearly overlap, but different accents, as you note. Curious – did you start with myth, or psychology yourself?


    Thank you, Stephen, for you comment. My gosh, I started with Shirley MacLaine’s “Out on a Limb” in the early 1980s., then, not in that order necessarily, Gurdjieff and Ouspensky’s “The Fourth Way”, The Essene Gospels, Edgar Cayce, Buddhism, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Sufism, sprinkled with my mystic Christian tradition and other stuff. The Power of Myth got me hooked on Campbell and mythology. Then I started reading Jung’s work. More recently I have read some of James Hillman’s ideas. Lately, though, I have become more interested in my own reflections, synthesis and experiences. I have a great deal of respect for the Masters, but at some point one has to let go of their hands and walk, guided by their wisdom still, but now more so by one’s own experinces, insights and intuitions. After all, that is what they did.

    My reflection on Campbell’s insight is like changing the metaphor a little bit. For me that perspective, opens a new dimension for exploration. Maybe it is a thing with men, when we reach certain age, we try to make sense of it all. Oh, well. It is fun, however.


    “Mythology is psychology misread.”

    Campbell talked about this being the most significant difference between Freud and Jung.

    It’s a massive divide, probably why they stopped working together.

    Edward Bernays is the person who most proves Jung correct, if you ask me. And I would toss in Cambridge Analytica for newer.


    It is interesting to consider the other myths emerging from a very different experience-that of non-western cultures. I am a professor of medieval lit and I thought about [in my relationship to Campbell’s work which has guided my own studies ] my encounter with the works of the medieval period as being able on one hand to articulate a western and ecclesiastical sensibility and on the other reject it and articulate rather something more genuine-more expressive of the human experience outside of organized church and society. I find this especially in the very early medieval works like Beowulf or the dream vision poems -i.e. The Dream of the Rood or The Wanderer. The psychological aspect is the dream itself-that is the parts of ourselves that are articulated artistically are for me the connection to the thinking of Jung and by extension Campbell help to understand them more deeply. Here is where I get a richer experience of engaging with these works and where I can give my students some insights into the value of reading such works.

    Beyond Jung, it has been helpful to read the conversations and pieces contributed to these forums in understanding myths from wider perspective. It gives me some impetus to rethink what I think I know about the works I have taught for some years now-refresh my approach to what I teach about them and how to give them insight into why they can still be relevant in our time. I earlier posted something about as Campbell pointed out the need for a new mythology for out time-I still after reading the responses to my post, feel there is something in the myths of ancient times and the literature that followed , that can be integrated into what kind of new myth we might create today. I am still interested in trying to think about how this might evolve.


    Johanna writes

    Beyond Jung, it has been helpful to read the conversations and pieces contributed to these forums in understanding myths from wider perspective.

    Jung is always a good place to begin – as Campbell notes, “Jung gave me my best clues” as to how to read myths. I don’t throw out Jung, but I add to him, by exploring the perspective of post-Jungian (e.g., James Hillman) and non-Jungian (Walter Burkert, Marina Warner, etc.) writers on myths and fairy tales.

    I completely agree with your sentiment, Johanna, that “there is something in the myths of ancient times and the literature that followed , that can be integrated into what kind of new myth we might create today.” In fact, I think it’s inevitable. I am just not sure how conscious it will be. Campbell observed that you can’t determine ahead of time what the new myth will be any more than you can decide exactly what you are going to dream tonight; both emerge from the unconscious psyche.

    But I do believe we see many of these themes emerging in literature. I especially appreciate your approach to works like Beowulf, guiding students into looking beyond the surface to the depths that Jung helps open.

    I know your emphasis is on medieval literature. It does seem the emphasis in popular culture today is shifting from written text to films and carefully crafted television series. I am curious as to your thoughts on whether some of these have a place beside lasting works of literature, or are they all simply fleeting ephemera?


    Hallo Stephen,

    Your question has actually prompted me to think about my lack of connection to popular culture and especially American popular culture. I think you might already know I am from Germany, however, American culture has a very strong influence on what the world is connecting to these days. I am aware that Campbell found connection with the Star Wars movies. When I moved to the US in the 1980’s , I was not impacted very much by this popular series[although the German people loved this films and still do]. I think I probably did not understand the profundity in the underlying story as a retelling of a fundamental myth structure. I only began to view them differently after reading Campbell. I understand this mythic structure now,but since those films, I am not sure I have seen any other films where these fundamental mythic structures inform the story in the films.

    I still find [when i ignore the theology that no longer speaks to me] the energy of the heroic message when I consider the suffering Christ. Mary-you ask me about the power of the image of the suffering Christ. I suspect it is a powerful image for it ability to express that pain that is deep and universal – a realization of vulnerability to abuse, to sacrifice in the name of something greater than ourselves, something we cannot understand but that is real. I make reference to Michelangelo Mensi’s [Caravaggio’] , Crowning with Thorns as an example of a metaphor of transcendence , of conversion in that sense of the apotheosis of the heroic journey-of an encounter with the eternal. It seems to me that this encounter is not simply with a representation of this encounter in the figure of Jesus but also that of the artist himself.  I image [I cannot prove this] that Caravaggio must have been affected by this encounter with the thing he created. Campbell in his own work – a glimpse into immortality, into the profundity of life through the stories  he encountered must have brought him too some transformation-at least how in how I  read, Fire in the Mind.

    So , back to Stephen’s point, I suppose I do not have this encounter with that which is transcendent, that which elevates us to a higher plane of realization about this thing called life through popular culture and while I understand what you mean by not being able to determine ahead of time what that new myth might be, I am not able to see the clues in popular culture that might suggest some of what it might address. Maybe we are not yet ready to re-create that new myth in this time, for no small reason being the speed with change in our  daily lives occurs. The ancients I think might have had time to contemplate the great myths that informed them about life-Campbell also shares this, and yet… oddly this virus has forced us to encounter many things-our mortality, our vulnerability, our human need to question. I am trying to not necessarily understand this all,  but rather to encounter it seriously, in the myths that speak of these matters. Then perhaps we have a chance at something new -a new myth.


    Hello, Stephen and Johanna,

    I didn’t mean to abandon the conversation in my post. I got distracted doing other things for a while. I would like to reinsert myself in the dialogue with the following reflection:

    We all experience psychologically. I would say that alll human experiences are psychological experiences, if I am allowed to make one grandiose statement. The human psychology and experiences of the past are still available to us, but in a different modality of experience: mythological. If we think about it, what we humans experience, and our modes of behavior have not change since the inception of man in nature. This is the context in which I understand the following statements found in the article linked above:

    ‘Myths are “the archetypal model of all creations, no matter of the plan which they relate to: biological, psychological, spiritual. The main function of the myth is that of establishing exemplar models in all the important human actions”.
    Mircea Eliade’

    “This point of view agrees with that of the psychologists Rudica and Costea (2003, p.8): “all great mythological creations describe, at the level of common psychological sense, the entire dramaturgy of our inner life”.

    “Therefore, we can understand better the diversity of dimensions ancient Greek myths have:
    literary (the expedition of the Argonauts)
    historic (The Trojan War)
    esoteric (the orphic mysteries)
    initiatory (the voyage of Ulysses)
    moral (Daedal and Icar)
    psychological (the story of Oedipus)
    philosophic (the legend of cosmogony)
    social (the ages of humanity)”

    When we speak of a new mythology, we should ask ourselves: Is man capable of new experiences, and I do not mean new ways of experiencing love, suffering, cruelty, injustice and so forth, but a new psychological human experience, and are we capable of new modes of behavior, ways in which we have not behaved before that have not being mythologised already? Can we add something new to our collective mythological human biography, history and cosmology, to its gigantic reference library. That is how I understand Eliade’s description of myths as patterns that serve as models for human behavior and that can help us integrate biological, psychological and spiritually.

    Joseph Campbell describes four functions of mythology (Copied from an Internet source).

    “1.  The Metaphysical function serves to awaken the consciousness of its consumers to a reality lying just beyond the veil of normal perception.”

    “2.  The second function of mythology is the Cosmological.  The Cosmological function provides the boundary conditions of the universe, explaining the origins, shape, size, location, and birth and death dates of things such as time, space, matter, energy, biological organisms, and the universe as a whole.”

    “3.  The third function of mythology is the Sociological, dealing with validating the order and ideas of a culture.  Myth can provide a model of social behavior that, when adhered to, makes for a not-so-squeeky cog in the great machine.”

    “4.  The Pedagogical function of mythology serves the psychological sphere of human existence.  By establishing rites of passage into critical stages of life, from dependency to maturity, old age, and finally death, myth provides guideposts and beacons to serve as a reminder that there is a purpose.”

    Notice that the four functions reference the past. Mythology is not about describing or inventing the new. It seems to me that mythology is about adaptation, not discovery. Maybe the question we should ask is not what will the new mythology be, but in what new ways can we engage mytholoy to allow it to fulfill its four functions. And this is a round about way of also addressing your question, Stephen, about the shift in our culture from written text to films.


    I use mythology directly in psychology, healing, and therapy work – of the mind and spirit, and directly in the body.

    These myths and archetypes are conscious and play through each of us in a unique way. So the correlation between psychology and mythology is extremely practical. Goes way beyond the myths and stories of Greece we hear of in the West, absolutely!

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