Archetypal and Mythical Approach (Jungian) #
Myth is ubiquitous in time as well as place: it is a dynamic factor everywhere in human society; transcending time, uniting the past (traditional modes of belief) with the present (current values) and reaching toward the future (spiritual and cultural aspirations).
“Myth is what never was, yet always is”, Joseph Campbell
They are collective and communal belonging to the people. Myths reflect the unconscious desires, anxieties and fears of peoples; a palpable projection of a people’s hopes, values and aspirations, representing their deepest instinctual existence. They attempt to express the tribe’s awareness of the meaning of life and its place in the universe. According to Professor Schorer, “they are the essential substructure of all human activity”
“The power of myths lie in their ability to engage our imagination and change our consciousness and to impart sublime inaccessible truths in no other way”, according to Joseph Campbell.
Alvin Boyd Kuhn goes farther to argue that:
“Myth is truer than history as it is the only true narrative of human experience, while history is merely a close approximation of the truth of life”. Myth illuminates, while history merely attempts to explain. Myth was the universal method of teaching in ancient times".
Aristotle also claimed that,
*“The superiority of poetry over history consists in its possessing a higher truth and a higher seriousness”.
Campbell continues: “The deepest truths, the soul, personal meaning, our place in the universe, our struggle to evolve to higher levels of insight and understanding, especially the mystery we call God, can only be described by means of a story (mythos) or by ritual drama. The myth itself is fictional, the timeless truth is not”.
Perhaps this is why Jesus used parables to get his messages across.
Although every people has its own distinctive mythology which may be reflected in legend, folklore, and ideology—although, in other words, myths take their specific shapes from the cultural environments in which they grow—myth is, in the general sense, universal. Furthermore, similar motifs or themes may be found among many different mythologies, and certain images that recur in the myths of peoples widely separated in time and place tend to have a common meaning or, more accurately, tend to elicit comparable psychological responses and to serve similar cultural functions. Such motifs and images are called “archetypes.”
Stated simply, archetypes are “universal symbols.” As Professor Wheel Wright explains in Metaphor and Reality (Indiana, 1962), such symbols are those which carry the same or very similar meanings for a large portion, if not all, of mankind. It is a discoverable fact that certain symbols, such as the sky father and earth mother, light, blood, up-down, the axis of a wheel, and others, recur again and again in cultures so remote from one another in space and time that there is no likelihood of any historical influence and causal connection among them.
Primitive societies had an obsession with, or paranoia with fertility. Any drought, famine or pestilence was seen as a punishment from superior beings. The safety and welfare of the tribe depended on the health and life of a semi-divine or demi-god ruler. A healthy vigorous and virile king ensures natural and human productivity. A sick, maimed or impotent king brings blight and disease to the land and the people. To avert this danger, the man -god must be killed as soon as he shows symptoms of decline or failure and his power transferred to a vigorous successor. Kings eventually sought to have a substitute figure or animal to die in their place.
Some Maya, Inca and Aztec tribes sacrificed a male and female virgin each night to appease the gods just to ensure that the sun would rise. They had enough sense to raid outsider tribes for their supply sources.
Myths are brilliant lies that tell great truths about the human condition.
For myth is at the beginning of literature and also at its end. Jorge Luis Borges
Mythology tends to be speculative and philosophical; its affinities are with religion, anthropology and cultural history – relations to the cosmos, the past other humans.
Every children’s story that works at all begins with a simple opposition of good and evil, of straightforward innocence and envious corruption.
The gist of the classic early books is explicit and intelligent: the lure of the city, of civilization, of style and order and bourgeois living is real.
“All children’s books take as their subject disorder and order and their proper relation, beginning in order and ending there, but with disorder given its due.
… Disorder is the normal mess of life. Order is what we imagine or achieve at a cost, with effort. To stray from built order is to confront chaos. Fables for children work, not by pointing to a moral, but by complicating the moral of a point. The child does not dutifully take in the lesson that salvation lies in civilization, but, in good Freudian fashion, takes in the lesson that the pleasures of civilization come with discontent at its constraints. There is allure in escaping from the constraints that hold you. We would all love to be free.
Having established the significance of myth, we need to examine its relationship to archetypes and archetypal patterns. Although every people has its own distinctive mythology which may be reflected in legend, folklore, and ideology—although, in other words, myths take their specific shapes from the cultural environments in which they grow—myth is, in the general sense, universal. Furthermore, similar motifs or themes may be found among many different mythologies, and certain images that recur in the myths of peoples widely separated in time and place tend to have a common meaning or, more accurately, tend to elicit comparable psychological responses and to serve similar cultural functions. Such motifs and images are called “archetypes.”
Imagination begins in childhood, allowing us to travel to new worlds, to inhabit the voices and lives of new characters. Books allow us to imagine ourselves as other than we are.
Collective subconscious inheritance - what dreams are to the individual. Fairy tales are eternal. Stripped bare of glitter (Walt Disney), blood (Angela Carter), and cultural divides, we identify with them in fundamental ways, returning to them time and again. Good things, bad thing and downright ghastly things happen to children, old people, animals – everyone.
- Cross cultures appear to have common threads; creation, the flood, paradise and mother goddess myths.
- Universal symbols and archetypes which strike some deep chord in human nature.
- Have a powerful profound affect on us – enhance any story with universalism; conditions which we all share.
- Classics portray a kind of reality to which readers give a predictable and perennial response.
- Magical, enchanting, mesmerising, fascinate, cast a spell over us.
- Everyone likes fairy tales because we know they will come right in the end
- Not didactic but have a power to touch us in a special way.
- All good fairy tales expose societal anxieties.
Interpretations of Myths #
Fairy tales are not just harmless, innocent fun. They need to be interrogated. Kathryn Heyman
When children hear stories, they are making sense of the world, and casting themselves in the various roles. That’s one of the reasons girls grow up wanting to be princesses.
Some fairy tales are ‘concerted campaigns to indoctrinate children with an ideological position’.
Carl Jung differed from Freud believing the human psyche exists in three parts; the ego (the conscious mind), the personal unconscious, and the collective unconscious (which included Jung’s ideas concerning Archetypes).
The collective unconsciousness came as a result of shared timeless and universal experiences of all humans. Despite our heritage there are common needs, values and anxieties in all. The human condition is not basically any different from that of Classical Greek, barbaric Mongols or primitive nomads. All basic traits have been transmitted throughout generations of mankind. They may have been implanted on our psyches as Deckhard explains to the replicant - Rachael.
Professor Northrop Frye’s contribution now takes us into the mythological approach to literary analysis. As our discussion of mythology has shown, the task of the myth critic is a special one. Unlike the traditional critic, who relies heavily on history and the biography of the writer, the myth critic is interested more in prehistory and the biographies of the gods. Unlike the formalistic critic, who concentrates upon the shape and symmetry of the work itself, the myth critic probes for the inner spirit which gives that form its vitality, its enduring appeal. And, unlike the Freudian critic, who is apt to see the hawk-chicken phenomenon cited in our introduction as symbolic of some form of sexual neurosis (perhaps the hawk is a father-image, and the coop a womb symbol), the myth critic assumes a broader perspective (he will seek to discover the prototypal hawk in whose image the model was carved and will look beyond our chicken to the primordial egg itself).
Yet, despite the special importance of the myth critic’s contribution, this approach is, for several reasons, relatively new and poorly understood. In the first place, only during the present century have the proper interpretive tools become available through the development of such disciplines as anthropology, psychology, and cultural history. Second, many scholars and teachers of literature have remained sceptical of myth criticism because of its tendencies toward the cult and the occult. Finally,
Myths and fairy tales: #
Ø Collective subconscious inheritance - what dreams are to the individual
Cross cultures appear to have common threads; creation, the flood, paradise and mother goddess myths.
Ø Universal symbols and archetypes which all mankind shares
Ø Have a powerful - profound affect on us – enhance any story with universalism
Ø Magical, enchanting, mesmerising, fascinate, cast a spell over us.
Ø Wisest things they teach is “to meet the forces of the mythical world with cunning and high spirits.” Walter Benjamin – German Philosopher.
Ø Everyone likes fairy tales because we know they will come right in the end. Justice will prevail over evil.
Ø Not didactic, but have a power to touch us in a special way.
Flaws or limitations in Archetypal Approaches #
Despite the special importance of the myth critic’s contribution, this approach is, for several reasons, relatively new and poorly understood.
Only during the present century are the proper interpretive tools becoming available through the development of such disciplines as anthropology, psychology, and cultural history.
Many scholars and teachers of literature have remained sceptical of myth criticism because of its tendencies toward the cult and the occult.
There is a confusion and lack of agreement over concepts and definitions of the Mythological approach.