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The King Who Saved Himself From Being Saved” with Bradley Olson, Ph.D.”

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    Bradley Olson, Ph.D. – writer, depth psychologist, editor of JCF’s MythBlast essay series, and host of Pathways with Joseph Campbell, the flagship program in JCF’s MythMaker Podcast Network – is once again joining us in Conversations of a Higher Order to discuss this week’s MythBlast: “The King Who Saved Himself From Being Saved” (click on title to read).

    Though I’ll start us off, please keep in mind this is not an interview, but an opportunity to share your impressions, questions, observations, and insights about the MythBlast with Dr. Olson.

    Brad – Thank you for another thought-provoking piece that looks beyond the action-figure conceptualization of the hero that dominates the popular imagination today.

    Rather than just posing a question, I’d like to begin this conversation by sharing a couple thoughts your insights stirred.

    I confess I’m not familiar with “The King Who Saved Himself From Being Saved,” the satirical verse you cite, though that calls to mind this brief clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail –a satire on the Grail Quest – wherein Sir Lancelot, in full-tilt hero mode, slaughters a number of innocent, peaceful, unarmed wedding guests; on a less satirical note, that title also evokes an apocryphal quote (and potent metaphor) attributed during the Vietnam War to an Army officer at the battle of Ben Tre: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”

    And then there is this poignant series of images – again, a satirical take on the fallout from the Hero’s Journey, referencing the George Lucas film that owes so much to Joseph Campbell’s work:

    Storm Trooper Dad

    Heroism is not so black-and-white as one might think. Perhaps, as you point out, that’s because our default assumption is that the Hero’s Journey takes place within the field of time and space, where the laws of duality and causality apply.

    That’s an easy assumption to make. A journey, after all, implies travel and action. (Ironically, the term “hero’s journey” appears nowhere in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the work where Campbell first identified this recurring story arc).

    But this sentence from your essay is the key take-away for me:

    Crossing the threshold means using one’s imagination as a vessel to explore the universe without and within.”

    That’s a realization about myth repeated in endless variation throughout Campbell’s work:

    The entire heavenly realm is within us, but to find it we have to relate to what’s outside.” (A Joseph Campbell Companion, 190)

    The three stages that Campbell identified as comprising the Hero’s Journey (Separation/Departure; Initiation; Return) are drawn from Arnold van Gennep’s 1909 Les rites de passage, the classic examination of coming-of-age rituals in primal cultures. Oddly enough, there is little to no travel involved in these initiation rites, and very little in the way of physical deeds, apart from endurance.

    In several indigenous cultures in North America this involves a “vision quest” – a lad considered of age leaves his village to stay in an isolated location for as many days and nights as it takes to encounter their spirit animal, sometimes in the real world, but often in a significant vision or dream (sometimes this involves fasting, sleep deprivation, and/or the use of teacher plants, and sometimes not).

    In many other primal cultures, youths of an age where they are getting a bit unruly are abducted by elders disguised as monsters, frightened, beaten, forced to fast and to dance for days on end with little or no sleep, coupled with a pointed physical ordeal that permanently changes their body (circumcision, subincision, scarification, tattooing, knocking out a tooth, or such), while having impressed on them the mythological heritage of their society (often in the form of songs, stories, or dances that re-enact the deeds of heroes whose experience mirrors, metaphorically, what they are going through).

    These various physical, external rituals are intended to foster an intense inner transformation, a transition from the psychology of childhood, to that of an adult. This isn’t an intellectual realization that can be put into words, but an immersive experience felt in body, being, and soul (or psyche, from the Greek).

    So even back in the day when these related myths were believed to be true, their real value lay in the way they acted on the psyches of the youths undergoing initiation, through the association of what’s outside and the “heavenly” (or mythological) realm within, which to me resonates with the insight you share.

    And one further thought: as you imply in your MythBlast, one can’t simply apply for the position –”hero” is not a career. When a character in a story believes him/herself to be the hero, with a cluelessness in proportion to their arrogance, there is no doubt comedy afoot (I can think of a few Coyote tales that illustrate this dynamic).

    In most hero tales, the hero is not conscious that s/he is a hero, at least not as their story unfolds. Arthur has no ambition to be King of the Britons – he just wants to save himself a few steps and a bit of time while fetching a sword for his step-brother; Gilgamesh wants to bring his dead best friend back to life; Heracles does not think himself a hero when he undertakes those herculean Labors – he is performing penance for the murder of his wife and children while in the throes of madness; and Vasilisa encounters the terrifying Baba Yaga as the culmination of a series of tasks assigned her by a cruel stepmother. None know they are heroes – but what all have in common is a focus that is not on fulfilling their personal desires, along with a willingness to brave the unknown.

    But many of the critiques of Campbell I’ve read in recent years don’t seem to grasp this sense of the Hero’s Journey – this moving beyond, into the unknown, seeking neither glory nor self-aggrandizement, just living an authentic life out of the still point at the center of one’s being.

    In contrast, a number of respected critics nevertheless seem to assume a hero has consciously decided to be a hero; they often vociferously voice their opposition to what really is their own understanding of Campbell’s description of the Hero’s Journey as encouraging people to set themselves up as saviors – as if “hero” were a title. Some criticism gets that all tangled up with privilege and power dynamics; thinking it’s an ego trip, their issue is with a common stereotype of the hero, rather than an archetypal pattern that will manifest no matter what we call it.

    Forgive my blunderbuss approach – your essay triggers so many thoughts and reactions that I figured I’d just toss all the pasta at the wall and see what sticks (which clearly includes mixing my metaphors). Feel free to respond in brief or at length any way you’d like, whether addressing one of the tangents I’ve raised, or following up on whatever stirs in your imagination.

    Bradley Olson

      Thanks, Stephen, for your always thoughtful comments.

      Let me take up the inner/outer distinction first; perhaps for the sake of clarity I’ll try to address your thoughts in the same order in which you’ve laid them out here.

      Inner and outer are subjective distinctions we make, usually about the world as we, ourselves, experience it, and which are to a surprising degree, arbitrary. M. Merleau-Ponty, in Working Notes argues that “Meaning is invisible, but the invisible is not contradictory of the visible: the visible itself has an invisible inner framework, and the invisible is the secret counterpart of the visible.” And James Hillman makes this observation in his book, The Soul’s Code:

      Your visible image shows your inner truth, so when you’re estimating others, what you see is what you get. It therefore becomes critically important to see generously, or you will get only what you see; to see sharply, so that you discern the mix of traits rather than a generalized lump; and to see deeply into dark shadows, or else you will be deceived.

      So, one may begin to understand what I mean when I suggest that the distinction between inner and outer is subjective and arbitrary. The great deeds that are accomplished in the dimensions of time and space often pale in comparison to the achievements of becoming who, as Nietzsche put it, one is. And who one is, to elaborate on Hillman above, makes oneself known in the world, has real world consequences–for good or ill.

      I think your remark, Stephen, about the hero not knowing he’s a hero is really important. Fundamentally, the hero is in service to something greater than itself. The Greek word that we’ve borrowed for therapy is therapaeia, which means “to wait upon” in the same way a nurse or a tender care-giver attends to suffering: with a watchful, compassionate presence; not doing too much or too little, and trying to avoid contributing to the suffering. Perhaps this is the animating sentiment of the hero, one is moved to act out of compassion. But once you have decided that you’re a hero, that only you have the answers and the power to implement them, the idea of service takes a back seat and it becomes about you and your heroism. An inflated identification results, and heroism becomes a profession rather than a calling, a service. As you know, Stephen, I was once a police officer, and if I happened to do anything remotely heroic, it was simply out of my own unconscious instinct for survival. I think heroism is generally accidental; “It seems that destiny has taken a hand,” as Bogey says in Casablanca.

      I wasn’t entirely conscious of it before I wrote that last sentence, but perhaps Casablanca is the movie we should be watching right now. It’s impossible to ignore the events of the past several days, which show us a Mr. Putin who apparently believes that he is acting in an heroic manner, but like Ciardi’s hero, he is saving the Ukraine in two. Berthold Brecht wrote in his The Life of Galileo, “Unhappy is the land that needs heroes.” Because the land that needs a hero suffers on two fronts, first from the circumstances that evoke its cries for deliverance, and secondly, large portions of the land and its people themselves will suffer from the Hero’s acts of “saving them.” The hero business is always a rather messy one. For people like Mr. Putin, and Mr. Trump who is unabashedly cheering him on, looking inward is apparently an act of which they are not constitutionally capable. Their own inner space is the place at which their courage falters; the inner world of such men, true to some degree of all humankind, is the place that holds all the dangers, the dragons, and the paralyzing terror.

      There is an old Islamic proverb, “If thou can’st walk on water, thou art  no better than a straw. If thou can’st fly through the air, thou art no better than a fly. Conquer thy heart that thou mayest become somebody.” (Anasari) In Japan there is an old saying, “He stands on a whale, fishing for minnows.” These adages suggest that it is extraordinarily difficult to see ourselves or our situations with any sort of clarity or objectivity, or have the courage to do battle with our own demons. That inner space is really the place that requires our measure of heroic courage.

      Lastly, putting on my psychoanalyst’s hat, it’s easy to forget how seductive power is. Henry Kissinger once remarked that power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, and if one is confident one has the power to act heroically in the world, it may be safe to say that one isn’t likely to act heroically, but is rather acting out in the world a destructive, unconscious auto-erotic fantasy.


        Hello Bradley, so wonderful to have you back with such a great metaphoric example of the how the hero and its’ many manifestations are so often misunderstood in real everyday life. I loved how you utilize humor in prying open how we all have a tendency to visualize the journey of transformation of: ” the King who saved himself from being saved” and turned it into a pulling back of the curtain to reveal what’s really going on with the normal implied expectations usually taken for granted of the hero’s job; (which as Stephen also pointed out is “not” a career).

        When Joseph asks if we know: “what is really pushing us from inside and what our personal myth is when we lose everything”; when we look back over our life and see the driving themes he is asking if we recognize what these things are. (And most of the time as you hint, we really don’t because the alchemy required is in the doing itself, and not the romantic tale that it is often clothed in as a motif.) I often wonder if many people think there is some kind of “Hero Manual” that tells you what to do and when to do it; (like: “I guess it’s time for me to go on my adventure and slay my dragon”); when much of the time it’s actually during a time of personal crisis where we are backed into a corner where we have to face ourselves which is where the “real” dragon lives. I realize my explanation may sound a bit convoluted, so I’ll attempt to use a couple examples to try and help clarify what I’m getting at.

        I’ve been reading a lot of Daryl Sharp’s books lately which has really been helpful for me to get at what’s been working on me so I will leave a short link (here) for anyone who wants to look up his terminology for references; but my main purpose is to quote his own particular experience so there can be no ambiguity; (and yes; he specifically utilizes Joseph’s idea concerning the Hero and the transformation quest so there is no doubt as to its’ relevance to what I’m attempting to describe).

        In his book: “Jungian Psychology Unplugged- My life as an Elephant” he quotes several moments where he hit rock bottom and it was only then that he understood what was taking place within him and what he needed to understand.

        Starting with the preface and during several other chapters he talks about his early beginnings and training to be a Jungian Analyst and early on he was struggling with his own personal crisis and having doubts about who he was and if he was on the right track, and what analysis is really all about because this particular book was written toward the end of his large series of works and that his main purpose was to make Jung understandable to others. In the following excerpts he talks about his confrontation with this realization and how it brought him to his knees.

        On pages 100-101 he explains he was starting his session with his analyst by describing the usual things about how his previous week had been; and he said: “It was a good week. I lied.” he began wondering if he should tell him about all the secret things that had really been bothering him; (you know those things we never tell anyone because we don’t want to look bad, and desperately need their acceptance), those deep dark things you would never tell anyone. Then forcing a smile, he said: “Nothing special.” He read from his journal, his usual routine, diligently recording the days’ events – edited to make him look good – followed by the dreams that night and his associations to their bizarre images. He amplified the themes from mythology and religion and reflected at length on their psychological meaning. Then he said: “No doubt about it, I was a prize student. I did everything I was supposed to. I could not be faulted on procedure.”

        “And what else?” asked my analyst. “What else what?” I asked.” “What else occurs to you. What else about this woman; (something he had mentioned earlier), this unknown female who asks you for a dance?”

        “Well, she is my anima, isn’t she?”

        “I don’t speak Greek,” said my analyst. “Explain please.”

        Then he said leaning back confidently: “The anima is my inner woman.” I said. “Everybody knows that. Apparently she wants to get closer to me. Well,” I laughed, “I wouldn’t mind.” (Here comes the important line in the conversation.) The analyst leans forward and asks: “Why are you here?”

        He then powerfully recounts: “I cringed. Tears stung my eyes. I opened my mouth and nothing came out. I cried uncontrollably. I also had hiccups. I wiped my face. “Sorry about that,” I said. “I don’t know what came over me.”

        My analyst looked quite stern. I felt naked and stripped to the bone. I hung there, expecting to be banished. Please God, I thought, do not tell me I’m unworthy. Then he smiled, openly, full face, a rare occurrence that to me sang of acceptance. and then he said: “Now we do analysis; if that’s what you want.”

        From there he talks about how that was a turning point followed by others where he said there was now trust where there hadn’t been before. I broke down and it was okay; and after that I left my persona at the door.


        This was followed by one more session I think is important to mention on the same page 101; where he mentions he found a hat: “Once I found a dead ringer of a Clint Eastwood hat, right out of “Fist Full of Dollars”. “It’s so wonderful,” I said. “All my cares disappear. I feel at one.”

        My analyst said: “Ah…one,” he said, slowly rolling his words. “What exactly does that mean?” “Peace,” I replied gamely. “Bliss…no conflict, no pain.” He nodded. “I see—swallowed by the great maw. You feel good just being.” (Another critical sentence here.) “It relieves you of having to become conscious.”

        Then Daryl finishes this thought by saying: “Then I got to work, and yes, things did get worse before they got better.”


        So, on page 107 he starts to describe the point about the Hero Journey motif:

        “Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the day I entered analysis I embarked on a heroic adventure. To understand what this means involves thinking symbolically or metaphorically rather than literally.

        Being crippled is an apt metaphor for those who find themselves in a psychological crisis. Broken in spirit, unable to function in their usual way, they are on their knees”: they want to pull themselves together, get back on their feet. Meanwhile they limp along.

        On page 108-109 again Sharp approaches and dives deep into this archetypal image of the hero and the journey/transformation process he/she must undergo that Joseph is so often referring to throughout the spectrum of many of the cultural forms this theme is ever found throughout human history.

        “Symbolically, the hero’s journey is a round, as illustrated opposite; (in a picture on the opposite page taken from: “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” on page 245). Among other things, it involves a dangerous trial of some kind, psychologically analogous, writes Jung, to “attempt to free ego-consciousness from the deadly grip of the unconscious. (Jung’s Symbols of Transformation, page 539). It is a motif represented by imprisonment, crucifixion, dismemberment, abduction–the kind of experience weathered by sun-gods and other heros since time immemorial. Gilgamesh, Osiris, Christ, Dante, Odysseus, Aeneas, as well as Pinocchio, and “Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz”. In the language of the mystics, it is called the dark night of the soul. In everyday life, we know it as a feeling of despair and a desire to hide under the covers.


        Sharp goes further in describing the ways the hero undertakes and accomplishes this mission, but winds up describing the purpose by saying on page 110: “Few choose the hero’s journey. Who would be willingly leave the comfort of home and hearth for a whale’s belly? Who would want to face dragons? But when something in us demands the journey, we are obliged to live it out. whether we like it or not.

        Analysts cannot save people from the hazards to be faced nor should they even try. What nature has ordained, let no one interfere with. The hero’s journey is an inner imperative that must be allowed to run its’ course. The most analysts can do is to accompany their charges and alert them to some of the dangers along the way.


        I’ll wind up this up here for it’s gotten pretty long, and I’m sure has seemed to ramble a bit along the way. But the point I’m attempting to establish is that much of the time when people think of this idea or concept, they have a tendency to think of it in terms of a kind of stereotypical pattern or motif that can lead one away from what it’s trying to communicate. Your “MythBlast article – The King Who Saved Himself from Being Saved” achieved this realization masterfully. And I hope my humble attempt compliments it without wandering too far away from its’ intended purpose. Thanks for reading, and again, welcome back.


        Bradley Olson

          James, thank you for your warm welcome back!

          Thank you as well for your thoughtful comment. First, on the issue of the Hero’s manual, yes I think that many people are only able to think in terms of check listed steps or formulae, which result in living the kind of bureaucratic life that Campbell was appalled by. When one has a checklist, formula, or a blueprint already laid out, one lacks the adventure element of the journey. After all, the unexpected, the sudden twist in fortune, the intrusion of overwhelming forces, are what offer the opportunities for heroic responses. Developing algorithms to minimize surprise or randomness seems to corporatize heroism. Unfortunately, I think The Hero With a Thousand Faces has all too often been used as just such a manual, and people become obsessed with understanding what stage of the journey they’re in rather than experiencing the adventure organically.

          I really enjoyed your references to Daryl Sharp and his work, someone with whom I’m not familiar and seems to, like Hillman, value the human experience more than theoretical orthodoxy. Not wishing to be conscious is, it seems to me, the default setting for being human. The job of the analyst is much like that of Virgil guiding Dante through the Inferno: “Wisdom is earned, not given.” In other words, don’t get lost in your own story, you want to contextualize and understand your trauma rather than erecting memorials to it, and don’t forget this is, in some important way, a game, and that you are already what you seek.

          Thank you again, James, for your kind words and warm welcome. It is a pleasure and an honor to be able to offer something that resonates with a reader.


          I, too, appreciate James’ recommendation of Daryl Sharp, who has been mostly off my radar. But I’d like to follow up on a reflection from your earlier response:

          It’s impossible to ignore the events of the past several days, which show us a Mr. Putin who apparently believes that he is acting in an heroic manner, but like Ciardi’s hero, he is saving the Ukraine in two. Berthold Brecht wrote in his The Life of Galileo, ‘Unhappy is the land that needs heroes.’ Because the land that needs a hero suffers on two fronts, first from the circumstances that evoke its cries for deliverance, and secondly, large portions of the land and its people themselves will suffer from the Hero’s acts of ‘saving them.’ The hero business is always a rather messy one.”

          Thank you for going there, Brad!

          All eyes seem riveted on the tragedy unfolding in eastern Europe. But rather than focus on the faux heroic mantle Putin assumes (which brings to mind his American disciple’s claim that “I alone can fix it”), I’d like to turn my attention to Ukraine, very much an unhappy land sorely in need of heroes.

          And heroes there are, in droves! Not individuals on a seemingly abstract psychological journey, but people in the flesh engaging in literal, real world heroics – not celebrities or sports figures, nor characters in a film or other work of fiction, but so many living lives just like us, exhibiting in deed and act courage beyond the ordinary, even in the face of certain death, on behalf of family, friends, country, and the idea of democracy and freedom – all playing out in real time across our screens.

          No wonder songs have been sung and stories told about heroes from time immemorial! It is so incredibly affecting  to observe a true act of heroism. The example of Volodymyr Zelensky (who shares the same first name as Vladimir Putin – which ironically means “to rule with greatness” or “renown prince”), who knows that he and his family are targeted for elimination but nevertheless declined the offer to evacuate to lead his people (“The fight is here; I don’t need a ride – I need ammunition!”), outgunned, outmanned, and outspent, against an enemy bent on destruction, has proven contagious. His heroism galvanized an entire population, and even persuaded several European leaders to change direction and take dramatic and drastic actions at great risk to their own economic well-being. (Heck, even Switzerland has dropped their longstanding neutrality!)

          Zelensky, a comedian whose prior governing experience consisted of playing a president on TV, had been no great shakes as a leader up to this point. He hadn’t been able to get a handle on the corruption he promised to end, didn’t stand up to Trump’s strong-arming, and seemingly went out of his way to avoid antagonizing Putin, ending up with approval ratings below 30% as of December – but with the invasion he heard the Call, and rose to the occasion.

          Would the Ukrainian people have held firm if he had followed the example of previous presidents who fled when the proverbial sh*t hit the fan?

          The plight of the the Ukrainian people has awakened my compassion, just as it has so many around the world. But it’s not just sorrow I feel in solidarity with their pain and loss. I can’t help but also be uplifted and inspired by such real world heroism, large and small, magnified many times over.

          There are no doubt archetypal forces in play.

          In the Jungian model of the psyche archetypes are unable to directly access, or to be directly perceived within, mundane reality — but when patterns that evoke an archetype arise in an individual’s life, a complex set of behaviors are constellated, in effect adding flesh to the archetype as it comes to life in the individual, compelling actions that the conscious ego would never contemplate. Indeed, two weeks ago it seemed inconceivable, possibly even to Zelensky himself, that a professional comedian and past winner of the Ukrainian Dancing With the Stars contest, so far out of his depth, wouldn’t flee the country, under the rationale of “leading a government-in-exile” – but, as he tells it, this “accidental hero” had no choice but to stay and stand with his people.

          Just as these intense and shattering circumstances constellated the expression of the Hero archetype in Zelensky, the same for his people – and, indeed, that archetypal energy seems to have rippled out across Europe, reaching our shores and elsewhere as even nations previously aligned with Russia take a stand.

          Heady times, this rare measure of nearly global consensus.

          Will that be sustained once the crisis is past? Who can say?

          Most heroes, once they come back down to earth, turn out to have feet of clay; it takes many years of sustained tempering to forge the soul of a Nelson Mandela or a Martin Luther King. Should he (and Ukraine) survive this ordeal, Zelensky the War Hero may still turn out to be a mediocre chief executive, and Europe may yet settle back into the status quo.

          But then again, strong winds are blowing. Could just be an illusion created by the numinous feel of those archetypal energies, but I can’t shake off the impression that a night-sea change is underway.

          Maybe you are on to something when you quote Bogey in Casablanca, as indeed,

          It seems that destiny has taken a hand.”



          Bradley Olson

            Very well put, Stephen.

            You’re right to focus on the Ukrainian people, everyday folks for the most part, who are rising up against overwhelming odds. It does illustrate the “accidental” nature of heroism, which I think is rising up and facing existential threats squarely. It is, as I mentioned earlier, an artifact of the will to survive. But there is a catch here, too. I think that one’s own physical survival is less important than the survival of one’s dignity, honesty, one’s sense of justice, one’s sense of the humane. How we live is more important than that we live. At least that’s how I see it. Dignity, compassion, humility, and all those qualities of a noble life may well be the only aspects of a human life which are eternal. The refusal to have those elements of life stripped away is as good a reason as one can have for which to die; these qualities and their safeguarding are what give birth to true heroism.


              I’d like to add something to the point about understanding who a hero is and how one becomes a hero in their own life; (which I also think has a great deal to do with: “The King who saved himself from being saved”); which in the larger sense is: “making the unconscious conscious”, a central theme in Jung’s cosmology.

              Now I think there are two aspects at play here that might be helpful to examine. One is the social idea or image; and two, is the individual psyche which is looking inward as well as outward in its’ response. For example, when on page xiii; in the “Power of Myth”, Bill Moyers mentions Joseph talking about seeing the latest incarnation of Oedipus, the continued romance of “Beauty and the Beast” standing on the corner of Times Square on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue, waiting for the light to change; or, as he mentions later Luke Skywalker overcoming his Shadow impulse of the Dark Side by not killing Darth Vader; (his father); and being willing to die for that and becoming who he was meant to be. (That is to say his “true” self), not the societal image of someone wearing a mask or living a role inappropriate to who that is, and he has won the “internal battle” which is the most important one and the one that myth continually informs us about of making the unconscious conscious.

              As Joseph continually reminds us, these mythic images and themes live in us, and we are to “awaken” to this dimension that lies deep within and to bring it to life by becoming aware of it. Individuation is “all” about this process; but at the same time recognizing our dragons and integrating them; (not necessarily destroying them but embracing that “otherness” that lies within); that aspect that tells you that: “you and the other are one”; no matter who they are. In other words: “loving your enemy as yourself” doesn’t necessarily mean accepting evil; but understanding it’s the other side of the duality that lives in all of us. It’s a war and you have to choose a side, but you do it with discrimination within the choices you make and (how) you “participate” in the game or Grand Opera that hurts.

              Putin is really who is causing all this death and destruction, not the Russian people. And like Donald Trump in our country is attempting to manipulate this situation because he has been seduced by the Dark Side, which is what “The Emperor” in Star Wars represents which is total power not accountable to anyone but himself. As the old saying goes: “Power corrupts, total or absolute power corrupts absolutely”. So, in this instance perhaps a more proper question might be: “How can I awaken this dimension within myself?” Thereby, like in fairy tales like: “Sleeping Beauty”, Arthurian romances like: “Persival”; Epics like Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”; or any number of other ones Joseph mentions; by awakening the landscape in which I am enclosed and attempting to turn a nightmare into something not only that I can live with; but joyfully participating in by helping to relieve some of the suffering of others as well as oneself. Of course, I’m not saying everybody should get in a circle and sing “Kumbaya”, but the central issue; (at least to me); seems to be that of transformation of consciousness; that is to say the internal darkness within your own participation in that landscape. This is a rather clumsy attempt at what I’m trying to get at; but hopefully makes some sense in getting my point across.


              (I want to add a short addendum about what I’m attempting to clarify concerning my posts. Jung said: “the world hangs on a thread”. And Putin has his finger on nuclear hardware that can bring about the destruction of the entire planet. So, the forces contained within the human psyche are not “abstract”. They may not be visible; but they have been driving human consciousness throughout man’s earliest beginnings; and we must be able to learn what they are within each individual and how to control them or civilization as we know it is lost to oblivion along with the world of which we are a part.)

              Here is a post from this morning’s newfeeds from the President of Ukraine.



              You write

              In other words: “loving your enemy as yourself” doesn’t necessarily mean accepting evil; but understanding it’s the other side of the duality that lives in all of us. It’s a war and you have to choose a side, but you do it with discrimination within the choices you make . . .”

              Well said! I’d like to mentally bookmark this passage, and hope you will return to this theme in our COHO discussion with Kristina Dryža next week. Her upcoming MythBlast focuses on compassion, which is extremely relevant at the moment – perhaps even more so as Kristina currently resides just a few miles from the Russian border in Lithuania, which, as President Zelensky noted in the link you shared, is also in Putin’s crosshairs.


                Thank you for the compliment, Stephen; you are most kind. Certainly, I will be more than happy to join in and contribute whatever I can to the coming discussion with Kristina. I’m so sorry she has to endure this horrific nightmare tragedy.

                Speaking of which I want to mention something that I think has much to do with all the toxic animosity that has been making everyone so miserable for a long time that bears watching looking ahead. To me one of the greatest contributors to hatred is willful: “misinformation”. Not only has it cost lives here in the US concerning the Covid pandemic but has been used as propaganda to spread lies and change perceptions across a number of platforms for a very long time. Russia in particular has been notorious in weaponizing this as a political tool since the cold war; and of course, the Nazi regime as Joseph mentioned in POM turned people from a “thou into an it”. Especially treacherous considering the slaughter of millions of Jews in gas chambers back during the Second World War. The US along with many other nationalities turned African people into slaves for several centuries; and the recent rise of White Supremacists bears witness that racism has returned across the planet in a big way, (especially given the recent rise in immigrant populations of which this new war is going to contribute).

                For me I think this issue in particular is going to be huge in the coming years ahead because climate change is going to negatively impact the world’s ability to feed itself. (That, and all the destruction that’s going to be caused by violent weather events because the global environments are now all very out of balance. Melting polar ice caps, warming sea currents, huge temperature shifts and increasing moisture in the atmosphere along with more and more carbon emissions polluting the air and rising sea levels are going to cause masses of populations to relocate.

                Everything in my view is going to hinge on the world’s ability to come to civilized agreement on how to meet these needs and demands. Perception of whether someone is your friend, or your enemy is going to be a major factor in combating these coming crisis situations looking ahead. Think this is mere speculation? Watch your news feeds and look at all the violent protests across the planet right now. Joseph said the world is a mess and will always be a mess and you are not going to change that reality. (But he also said: “you participate in the mess that the world is with compassion”.)  I very much look forward to participating with you and Kristina on this topic next week. And thank you very much for asking. Sorry to veer so far off topic.


                  Bradley, I wanted to thank you for your kind and generous response to my post and also to ask your thoughts on the current global reactions to the Ukrainian crisis since it’s already come up. Let me expand on this for a moment and attempt a connection to your topic because I saw a piece this morning on my newsfeed that I think connects the dots.

                  Because events regarding Ukraine are happening so fast and affecting the world’s ability to absorb them with any kind of unified assessment; I say this from a cultural point of absorption, not necessarily an emotional one. “Most” people agree this is a horrific event; but they also interpret this from different vantage points; or put another way through the prism of their own lens. In other words, they “project” their own bias and meaning in the way they see this calamity and many of these different points of view definitely conflict. Leaving the political aspect aside for the moment I think this is a good insight into reflecting how people all see things from their own window of view but have problems getting on the same page even when the visual clearly illustrates what is happening.

                  In your piece you use the metaphoric story of the: “King who saved themselves from being saved” as an example of how humans tend to interpret things in a certain way and take for granted this view of their reality is also shared by others when nothing could be farther from the reality they are accessing; namely that there may be something “at work under the hood” they may not be aware of that may need attention. In other words, projecting their own inner contents onto something that is out of sync with what is actually in play. (I’m doing my best not to make this convoluted so please bear with me.)

                  Joseph talked often about how people see a myth and concretize it, such as a religion, and should instead see it metaphorically to understand it’s references and message. But in places like the Middle East for instance you have huge differences of interpretation of mythic themes that are responsible for wars and killing people all the time because these various interpretations are not in agreement. In short, people project and we know this as a given in Jungian parlance, but in everyday human intercourse not so much and causes huge communication problems throughout much of human existence since time began. I look at someone and attempt to access if I like them or if they are friendly or not, in a sense I’m projecting my thoughts onto them in my evaluation process.

                  Okay, now to the piece which is a very quick read; about 2 minutes if that. And it concerns: “Media bias between Western and Eastern Journalists“. I’m curious if this article rings any kinds of bells concerning how you see what we’ve been talking about in our conversation. Again, thank you for sharing your time and thoughts with us and I hope this request does not steer us too far off course.


                  (A short addendum if I may. I’m asking this from “both” a Jungian/Campbell point of view and a personal perspective for this may mean putting on and taking off your analyst hat.

                  Bradley Olson

                    Hi, James

                    Yes, projection is an inescapable phenomenon, and of course you’re right in your assessment of its influence. We humans look out at the world, believing ourselves to be capable of objectively understanding and describing the material world. The reality is, because of the mechanisms of projection, we only see ourselves reflected back to ourselves by the world. Only experience, coupled with the awareness that we might not be correct about what we see, helps us to refine our seeing, and with each successive seeing, more clearly define and expand our understanding of the external world. We always come to the world with a perspective–a pre-existing lens which shapes and colors the way we view the world, just as Ciardi’s Hero comes into this little, peaceful kingdom, with an a priori judgment/perspective that every kingdom with a king is run by a tyrant. “All over his head was his helmet, And in his head was a fight.” We always discover what we expect.

                    Now myth, and all great literature really, is the antidote to projection. I know that may sound odd or counter intuitive, but hear me out. The literature of myth asks us to understand itself as metaphor. We tend to literalize myth–concretize it, as you said–so it doesn’t always (ever?) work this way in practice, yet the metaphoric point of view is what myth relies upon, it opens myth up. The metaphoric point of view is skeptical, and skepticism urges a deeper, closer, reading. A metaphoric perspective is threatening to established narratives or interpretations precisely because it is in this way so destabilizing. Metaphor reminds us that the ice we walk on, as Louis Menand says, is never not thin. Metaphor may be seen as the via negativa because the nature of metaphor is to deconstruct anything substantive, assuming that what is meant is more than, or other than, what the words literally say. Thinking mythically (thinking metaphorically) has a built-in feature that serves to remind us to question our own expectations, biases, and assumptions–what reportage on the Ukrainian conflict fails to consider.

                    Another thing the projections obscure is the very nature of Mr. Putin himself. He has always told us who he is, and apparently few listened. Addressing parliament back in 2003, he stated,

                    A country like Russia can live and develop in its existing borders only if it is a great power. In all periods when the country was weak – politically or economically – Russia always and inevitably faced the threat of collapse.

                    Functionally, Putin operates like the head of an immense mafia family rather than a head of state, and he seems to greatly enjoy it, as any successful Don would. One can reasonably conclude then, that Mr. Putin felt Russia was somehow becoming weaker or perhaps irrelevant, and he had to move to consolidate political power (perhaps with the goal of reconstituting the old Soviet Union) and stave off political and economic collapse.

                    Of course, we can never escape projection, but if we are able to remind ourselves that we are always projecting we can become more adept at withdrawing those projections and see deeply into whatever we might be experiencing or observing. To put this in Platonic terms, there is no such place as “outside the cave.” Myth, philosophy, psychology, even life itself, boils down to working with shadows.

                    Thanks for such an enthusiastic engagement on my little essay. I’m very grateful for you and the time you spent engaging Stephen and myself, and for your support of the Joseph Campbell Foundation.


                      Bradley, the work that you, Stephen, Michael, and the rest of the foundation is doing is so very important right now. Thank you for your kindness for this place has meant the world to me over the years and I will always be grateful to have had it in my life. (Btw, I sent a private message with a link to Daryl Sharp’s Bookstore – “Inner City Books”, a Jungian website which I think you might find of interest.)

                      The explanation you posted was magnificent. Thank you for sharing such wonderful insights. All the best to you.

                      Tiago Alves

                        Hi Stephen,
                        I would like to apologize for asking a question, which may not be about the central subject of this topic. However, the research I did, on the Forum, brought me here.
                        The question that brought me here is about the term “Hero’s Journey”. As you yourself pointed out, it is not used in “A Hero With A Thousand Faces”. I would like to know when it is incorporated into Campbell’s theory and started to be used to refer to the structure of the monomyth and in which Campbell’s work the term appears for the first time. Thanks to you and Bradley for the incredible discussion on The King Who Saved Himself From Being Saved, and the relationship of the archetypal heroic trajectory to current events that arise with the spirits of our times.


                        Tiago – a great question, but one of interest far beyond the topic of this thread (frankly more relevant to The Works of Joseph Campbell forum, where it is likely to be seen by more eyes) so I answer it in a new thread I’ve started here. Click on the link, and drop a brief reply to that post there so I’ll know you’ve seen it.

                        Hope that helps answer your question.

                        Tiago Alves

                          Yes, ny qustion was completely out of topic!
                          Thank you so much for anwser on The Works of Joseph Campbell forum!

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