Pic: Raimond Klavins
“Everything in the unconscious seeks outward manifestation and the personality too desires to evolve out of its unconscious and experience itself as a whole. I cannot employ the language of science to trace this process of growth in myself, for I cannot experience myself as a scientific problem.”
-Jung,C.G. (1995), from the Prologue (p.17) to Memories, Dreams, Reflections
In his seminal paper, Jacob Arlow (1961) suggests myths are shared communal fantasies which abet psychic integration and contribute to human development. According to him, they bring the individual in relation to his group and serve common psychic needs, aiding the adaptation to reality. Today, ego psychologists and contemporary Freudians believe that communal myths are not so much an escape from reality as stories that reconcile the individual to reality, what one cannot have or change.
These communal experiences form the safe foundation for building an internal structure of beliefs. But as one travels, mentally and physically in this world, one might internally destroy what was once a safe place and re-build, expand and re-construct because, perhaps, the will to create new structures from old ones is as forceful as the need to stay safe. We move away from what was once home, and sometimes find ourselves, our lost parts in alien lands among strangers, as Jung did. We emerge slowly and cautiously from our collective matrix perhaps because we fear the loss that comes from letting go of those cultural moorings which held us safely.
Jung says in his autobiographical work (1995) :
“What we are to our inward vision, and what man appears to be sub specie aeternitatis, can only be expressed by way of myth. Myth is more individual and explains life more precisely than does science. Science works with concepts of averages which are far too general to do justice to the subjective variety of the individual life.” (p.17).
Jung travelled and gathered the wisdom and knowledge from various parts of the world spanning centuries, which lay hidden in images and carvings in caves and cultures alien to his own, and demonstrated how myths revealed unconscious integrative aspects. He charted his personal journey, the sense he made of events from his inner life and the images that helped him understand his universe.
Bath, Somerset: what lies beneath!
In the Roman temple in Bath, Somerset, below the ground, resides Sulis, the Goddess of the thermal Bath springs. The meaning of Sulis is varied and is traced not just to Celtic Roman origins but also Sanskrit (wiki). Sulis can mean eye or vision.
She is associated with mythic life giving qualities and is also said to have been entreated by the locals, through suggested curses on ancient tablets, to punish the undeserving.
The curses are evocative of the destructive emotions people could express to a powerful goddess, like what is expressed in consulting rooms today. Our professional connection with the past is more directly expressed in a plaque at this temple:
“Those seeking divine help for an illness or affliction might rest overnight in special temple buildings. On waking, priests of the Roman God of healing, Aesculapius, helped them interpret their dreams or visions.”
Is this not what psychiatrists, psychologist and psychoanalysts do to this day?
Istanbul, the Basilica Cistern (Sunken Palace): Medusa!
In Istanbul, the Basilica Cistern (Sunken Palace) is the largest cistern of its kind (wiki) built in the Byzantine period and again, lies below the ground. 336 magnificent pillars stand in water and lead to the far end where Medusa’s face adorns two blocks, one placed sideways and the other, inverted. Some say this was an adjustment made to accommodate a large unwieldy block while tradition says it averts the power of the Gorgon’s gaze. The subterranean location of these powerful goddesses reflect Man’s perception of his inner world and indicate the position of his own powerful, aggressive and repressed parts.
Female goddesses and demonesses/Gorgons -Sulis, Durga, Kali, medusa-signify the power of the retaliatory and powerful mother figure, something that our patients often struggle with internally in their sessions. How many times do we hear our patients say, ‘my mother’s silence’ was terrifying or the way she looked when she was upset. The withholding of love and the pain of separation from maternal figures is perhaps the greatest curse a human being could receive in his or her lifetime.
Objects are arranged carefully in the ancient world and reflect Man’s ‘inward vision’. Psycho dynamically, what appears to be accidental is a manifestation of the unconscious. Such sightings can have a powerful sensory and therapeutic impact on the observer.
Hundreds of visitors file into these underground vaults, unmindful of the weary wait to get in, seeming to partake of this group experience-whether it is Sulis, a Goddess capable of creation and destruction or Medusa, an angry, venomous woman of exceptional power.
Shiva’s Abode: In the Mountains
Far away in India, Mount Kailas towers in the Himalayas, where Shiva, God of creation and death, resides in his mythical abode. This physical placement of an exalted feeling, looking at the sky towards the divine, an outward vision, finds expression here. Nearby lies Mansarovar (mann -mind, sarovar-lake; lake of the mind), a tranquil freshwater lake.
People embark annually on a perilous pilgrimage which sometimes cost lives. Like birds, fish and other animals in the natural world who embark on perilous journeys to reach their breeding grounds, human beings make this journey against the odds, risking even death, to reach a psychic and spiritual abode.
Add, Not Subtract: Spirituality and Mythology to Education in Psychology
As practitioners, an education in scientific enquiry adds strength to our objectivity and rationality but may inadvertently destroy former structures. The re- building of an inner psychic home could mean expanding it to accommodate lost parts and a new attitude, freed from the dogma of blind belief, religious or scientific. Surely, we need to facilitate personal myths, unique to each individual? Like Jung, surely we and our clients/patients are more than the results of psychological assessments? And surely, the wonder of our vast inherited mythology must be anchored more to science where it can enhance our experience of ourselves, as practitioners and human beings, and those connected with us.
Jung, C.G. (1995). Memories, Dreams, Reflections. London : Fontana.
Arlow, J. (1961). Ego Psychology and the Study of Mythology. In Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 9:371-393.