What Is Myth? -Stephanie Pope
Terry Matheson, in his book, Alien Abductions: Creating a Modern Phenomenon, speaks to the elements and features of myth and their relevance to society. Quoting Martin S. Day of the University of Houston, Matheson concurs that those criteria necessary for myth include widespread belief in the validity of the story and the awareness that the myth cannot be reconciled with "phenomenological facts" (284). Why then, is myth a relevant social concern? Matheson says that a culture's mythic stories reflect their concerns, preoccupations, and also the things they fear (285). Quoting the philosopher Gadamer, Matheson affirms that a myth eludes both refutation and confirmation (287).
I should like to add to the above notion of the relevance of myth to culture the idea of Joseph Campbell that myths serve four basic functions. Along with social and pedagogical functions myths open our minds to the recognition of the mysterious thing that life is and put us in proper relationship to that mystery through the function of our art (Creative Mythology, 4-6).
Another important idea concerning the mythic images themselves is offered by Carl Jung in his writings on images that focus on the characteristic of roundness. Such an image as symbol expresses the totality of the individual and represents the Self-archetype. It embraces the god-image and unites the personality (v10 CW 326-29).
What does Jung mean by archetype? Archetypes are like structuring principles/numionous fields/forms of indefinable content which, when manifest, will express that content through symbol (image). Jung affirms the symbol as grounded in the unconscious archetype while their manifest forms are shaped by the ideas harboring in the conscious mind (the "I" value). The archetype, therefore, is a structuring principle that is itself without a structure. (This is why the notion of a field works well with archetypes.) In itself the archetype is empty and, consequently, irrepresentable. Only when it enters into relation with the conscious mind does it fill out. Then, it is made perceptible. " In this sense," Jolande Jacobi writes, "Jung defines the symbol as the 'essence and image of psychic energy'...one can never encounter the 'archetype as such' directly, but only indirectly, when it is manifest in the archetypal image...symbol...complex or symptom" (Complex 75).
Summarizing as to what a myth is, I can now say that a myth is an artistic achievement relevant to the society through the functions it performs (Campbell), essential to the psychic wholeness or well being of humanity (Jung), reflective of a culture's desires, fears, preoccupations, and concerns (Matheson), and elusive to either confirmation or refutation outside of itself (Gadamer).
One can never encounter the archetype of the Self 'as such' directly, but only indirectly where it manifests in the image. In poetic form, therefore, I offer one such image of Self not 'as such' but imaginally, 'as if' such as to say that Self seems now to require a boundary-less view to accomplish its expression. That, at least, is my hypothesis. Here is the poem.
For as much as she belonged to Earth
Campbell, Joseph. The Masks of God: Creative Mythology. New York: Penguin Books, 1976.
Jacobi, Jolande. Complex, Archetype, Symbol in the Psychology of C.G. Jung. Trans. Ralph Manheim. New York: Princeton University Press, 1974.
Jung, C.G.. Civilization in Transition: Flying Saucers and The Undiscovered Self. 2nd ed. Vol. 10 Collected Works. Sir Herbert Read, et al. Trans. R.F.C. Hull. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press Bollington Series XX, 1978.
Matheson, Terry. Alien Abductions. Amherst, NewYork: Prometheus Books, 1998.
James Hillman is the author of a number of books including Healing Fiction and Dream and the Underworld.
What Is Myth -interactive web forum discussion
What is Myth - Leigh Melander, The Imaginal Institute
What is Myth, 2006 -Maggie Macary, Myth & Culture
Extended Reading:Essays (also, by Maggie Macary, PhD)
Transcending The Leaky Vessel
The Dominant Fiction
A Depth Perspective In The World
The Misuse of Myth
Myth-Making In America
Poetic Basis of Mind
The Mythos In the Logos
The Poet In Culture
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