July 25, 2020 at 7:59 pm #3630
Writer, director, artist, teacher, and mythologist Norland Tellez, author of this week’s MythBlast posted on JCF’s homepage (“The Ripening Outcast,” which you can read by clicking on the link), has graciously consented to join us this week in Conversations of a Higher Order for a discussion of this latest essay in the MythBlast series.
I will get us started with a few questions and comments, but no telling where the conversation will go from there. It will be your thoughts, reactions, observations and insights that expand this beyond just another interview into a communal exchange of ideas – true “conversations of a higher order.” Please feel free to join this discussion and engage Dr. Tellez directly with your questions and comments.
So let’s begin:
Dr. Tellez, I am fascinated by your discussion of living vs. dead myths. So many people today tend to approach mythology as a sort of cafeteria spirituality – take a helping from this culture, another from that, and mixing them all together to form one’s personal spiritual practice – a technique grounded in one of Campbell’s observations:
There are mythologies that are scattered, broken up, all around us. We stand on what I call the terminal moraine of shattered mythic systems that once structured society. They can be detected all around us. You can select any of these fragments that activate your imagination for your own use. Let it help shape your own relationship to the unconscious system out of which these symbols have come.
Joseph Campbell, Thou Art That, p. 86-87
Indeed, that approach has enriched my own life. But, as Campbell notes, though the symbols may speak to you, these bits and pieces are fragments of mythologies no longer active – dead mythologies. He juxtaposes this against the context in which these myths originally came to life:
[E]very culture’s mythology up to date has grown up within a certain horizon, a horizon of common experience which the members of that culture have all shared. And you go to another horizon you have other experiences, and the mythology will have a different complexion, a different quality altogether. (Campbell, from an interview with John Lobell)
When discussing living myths in “The Ripening Outcast”, you add something important to the idea of shared experience:
Living myth is, by definition, a collective manifestation of the archetypal psyche.
For those who may not be familiar with Jung or depth psychology in general, could you expand on this? Is there a simple way to describe what you mean by “the archetypal psyche?” And “collective manifestation” sounds like something more than the members of a society making a conscious choice as to what to believe.
How does that work?
tie-dyed teller of tales
August 2, 2020 at 9:01 pm #3710aloberhoulserJoined: April 18, 2020Participant
Someone “nudged” me in the direction of French philosopher & sociologist Maurice Halbwachs –
Now I can’t “unsee” the idea of collective memory as a social contract. Post modernists and especially deconstructivsts have made an impact on us today, whether we like it or not.
Does mythology suffer at the unsteady hand of modern social constructs? I feel like we are bombarded with so much information in this digital age that many are unsure of what to believe in anymore. Part of that could be rooted in how we use the term “myth” to illustrate falsehoods.
Maybe I’m jumping off a cliff here somewhat, but how do we reconcile the power of myth with the modern notions of collective memory and the collective unconscious?August 5, 2020 at 7:29 pm #3722clemsydiggsJoined: August 2, 2020Participant
Thank you for quite the thought provoking Mythblast! It is, indeed, difficult to grasp what myths are driving us today. I’m reminded of, “We are fish arguing over the existence of water.” But your use of the Hindu caste system is inspired, I daresay. We can only look at our own societal structure by analogy to see how deafening, but ultimately shallow, ‘that’s just the way things are” can be, especially given the nexus moment we seem to be in.
Looking back over the past 70 years we can see how moments of significant societal unrest shifted the narrative toward some degree of progress, but never, seems to me, as much as you’d think the effort and energy should have inspired. That societal narrative, with its mythic elements, is a heavy stone to push along. (Allusions to Sisyphus aside! Though it can certainly feel like that.)
There’s an effort-progress equation in there somewhere.
But there is value in shining a light on the siren song of “that’s the way things are,” and how the economic, ethnic and overall societal narratives are, after all is said and done, outworn artifices with which we deceive ourselves. It’s revealed very clearly by the common reflex response here in the West to criticisms of capitalism or just the mention of Marx. I’m reminded of my favorite quote from Campbell’s Creative Mythology:
For even in the sphere of Waking Consciousness, the fixed and the set fast, there is nothing now that endures. The known myths cannot endure. The known God cannot endure. Whereas formerly, for generations, life so held to established norms that the lifetime of a deity could be reckoned in millenniums, today all norms are in flux, so that the individual is thrown, willy-nilly, back upon himself, into the inward sphere of his own becoming, his forest adventurous without way or path, to come through his own integrity in experience to his own intelligible Castle of the Grail—integrity and courage, in experience, in love, in loyalty, and in act. And to this end the guiding myths can no longer be of any ethnic norms. No sooner learned, these are outdated, out of place, washed away. There are today no horizons, no mythogenetic zones. Or rather, the mythogenetic zone is the individual heart. Individualism and spontaneous pluralism—the free association of men and women of like spirit, under protection of a secular, rational state with no pretensions to divinity—are in the modern world the only honest possibilities…
In lieu of a cultural norm with THAT as it’s center of gravity, we will always be playing catch up, (Oh damn. There’s Sisyphus again. lol), striving against past norms turned into anchors with stagnation waiting for exhaustion to set in.
Never before have I valued the certainty of death as much as I do now. Not from misanthropic despair, which does hide around the corner these days, but from the hope that arrives with each succeeding generation. During my 32 years as a secondary school teacher, I’ve watched, first, the Millennials and then the Zoomers begin to tell themselves a story different than that of their Boomer and Xer parents, and you see this story being told on the streets right now. It’s all very encouraging. There is a shift occurring in this evolving narrative.
I imagine that the pull of the caste system remains in India to some degree. But I don’t think it drives that society as it once did, although they are dealing with their own reactionary impulses as we are here in the States. But positive change is happening, even if we can’t define what’s too close to us to see.
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Joseph Campbell FoundationAugust 12, 2020 at 6:06 pm #3743
Thanks to everyone who contributed to this conversation – and especially Dr. Norland Tellez, for taking the time to directly engage your readers.
Two takeaways from this exchange occur to me:
One is the awareness that mythologizing is always going on, under the surface, both in our individual psyches as well as the collective psyche of the greater society – but these are unconscious processes: we are generally not aware of them. As Norland points out, in ancient India the caste system was shaped by and reinforced through that culture’s mythology, though those who lived inside that bubble didn’t think of their mythology as “myth,” but simply “what is.”
We can look back today and see the central role mythology played in their culture because we live outside that bubble; however, what we don’t see are the bubbles we inhabit: whether in our individual lives, or the culture-at-large, we remain generally unaware of the mythological dynamics driving our bus.
One of Joseph Campbell’s most potent observations is that we don’t live in a culture shaped by one prevailing myth anymore – but that doesn’t mean there are no “living mythologies” in the world today. Islam, Catholicism and other Christian denominations, and even communism, all share qualities of a living mythology among their most devoted adherents (Communism? Well, Campbell made a compelling case that communism, as practiced in the old Soviet Union and Mao’s China, conformed to the pattern of a Levantine mythology – Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam – with its revelations and sacred scriptures, its prophets, it’s linear concept of time with a blissful global utopia at the end [the workers’ paradise] when the forces of Good finally triumph over the forces of Evil, etc.; the only function of living mythology this secular version misses is the first of the four Campbell posits: the mystical or metaphysical function).
Norland subtly makes a compelling case that we, too, are subject to unconscious mythic forces shaping our culture. In the United States this includes the concepts of manifest destiny, American exceptionalism, and an unbridled faith in capitalism and the power of the free market (faith indeed, as we have never experienced a true free market), not to mention the unconscious racial myths that drive our behavior.
Awareness – bringing what is unconscious into the light – is the first step in depotentiating the power of these unconscious forces to compel collective behaviors; alas, that is often a painful and revolutionary process. We experienced a bit of that late spring into summer in the United States in the wake of the George Floyd murder, which triggered a powerful confrontation with society’s collective shadow for so many who had ignored or stuffed these issues in the past.
But that’s just a first step.
My second takeaway from this conversation is the tension between the two poles of the Campbellian universe. There is an academic side to Joseph Campbell’s work, in the best sense (yes, Joe had his problems with the academy, but he also relied on the work of specialists when conducting his research, and did his best to document and reference what he had found: some of Campbell’s best academic work appears in several of the essays in The Flight of the Wild Gander).
But his work also has broad popular appeal – especially in the areas of self-actualization and self-improvement (such as the embrace of the trajectory of the hero journey motif as a road map to life), not to mention in the woo-woo of things-that-go-bump-in-the-night.
At the Joseph Campbell Foundation, that’s a fine line we walk, that delicate balance between the academic and the popular appeals of Campbell’s work. For Joseph Campbell it was not an either / or proposition – and so it is at JCF, where we inhabit that tension: no one side is allowed to capture the flag.
I found a few of the exchanges over the course of this discussion reflecting that tension. That’s not to suggest that any individual post was either right or wrong – far from it – but rather an illustration that there is more than one way to approach myth.
No doubt the conversation will continue, whether tomorrow, or next week, next month, or two years from now when someone new to the forums stumbles across this thread and revives it, adding her or his own thoughts. For now, though, I’d like to thank Norland for his generosity of time and spirit. I have no doubt we’ll see more ripples spreading out from the pebble he has tossed into the pond.
tie-dyed teller of talesAugust 14, 2020 at 3:48 pm #3766
A past JCF Board member drew my attention to an article this morning that examines, in the wake of the choice of the Democratic presidential’s running mate, how the caste systems not just in India, but in the United States, still shape our public conversations, whether or not we are aware of them.
Seemed relevant, so I’m parking a link here to Kamala and Caste: How the crushing hierarchies of India, the United States, and Nazi Germany echoed over a historic vice-presidential selection.
tie-dyed teller of talesAugust 15, 2020 at 3:53 am #3774
Hi James, All
Tonight while responding to another post or remark elsewhere in the forums, I stumbled across this Joseph Campbell quote about the hero from The Power of Myth.
MOYERS: So if my private dreams are in accord with the public mythology, I’m more likely to live healthily in that society. But if my private dreams are out of step with the public –
CAMPBELL: — you’ll be in trouble. If you’re forced to live in that system, you’ll be a neurotic.
MOYERS: But aren’t many visionaries and even leaders and heroes close to the edge of neuroticism?
CAMPBELL: Yes, they are.
MOYERS: How do you explain that?
CAMPBELL: They’ve moved out of the society that would have protected them, and into the dark forest, into the world of fire, of original experience. Original experience has not been interpreted for you, and so you’ve got to work out your life for yourself. Either you can take it or you can’t. You don’t have to go far off the interpreted path to find yourself in very difficult situations. The courage to face the trials and to bring a whole new body of possibilities into the field of interpreted experience for other people to experience — that is the hero’s deed.”
― Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
Here are kind of some side questions:
Do you think covid-19 challenges us all to be a hero of sorts and on the verge of neuroticism?
Could that neuroticism, though, be partially what is responsible for so many people acting so odd in the face of this virus by getting in other people’s faces?
Could it be we are called to the hero’s journey one and all now but how we react to the call will determine what kind of hero we will or will not be? Do we wear the mask or do we not wear the mask: as an answer to the hero with a thousand faces–who will don the mask? Who is illusional seeing windmills as dragons? Who will and who will not breathe fire? Will the vaccine help?–so what will and what will not breathe fire and covid and what and at what numbers will eventually not breathe?
Could it possibly partially be a defiance against their own neuroticism rearing its head and not just defiance against the “rules” that they are thinking interferes with their freedom?
Is it perhaps not that they do not want to admit their own possible physical weakness (mortality, for sure!) but also do not want to admit to their own emotional/mental weakness.?
Also I am all for positive thinking but I do see in some instances where the positivist psychology is misinterpreted by many to think that if you think positive then absolutely nothing can go wrong or against our wishes. Have you ever noticed this in any individuals today and/or see it in the collective?August 15, 2020 at 5:35 am #3775
I love this, what Stephen wrote: “One is the awareness that mythologizing is always going on, under the surface, both in our individual psyches as well as the collective psyche of the greater society – but these are unconscious processes: we are generally not aware of them.” This seems befitting for everything going on also with the “I Can’t Breathe” Mythblast.
I want to include a mention and quote here and also in the reference section, if I may: a book by archetypal psychologist (and as I regard him, mythologist also) James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology. As for mythologizing, he calls it psychologizing, and wrote, “There are Gods in Our Ideas.” He states,
Archetypal psychology the fundamental ideas of the psyche to be expressions of persons–Hero, Nymph, Mother, Senex, Child, Trickster, Amazon, Puer, and many other specific prototypes bearing the names and stories of the Gods. These are the root metaphors. They provide the patterns of our thinking as well as of our feeling and doing. They give all our psychic functions–whether thinking, feeling, perceiving, or remembering–their imaginal life, their internal coherence, their force, their necessity, and their ultimate intelligibility. These persons keep our persons in order, holding into significant patterns the segments and fragments of behavior we call emotions, memories, attitudes, and motives.When we lose sight of these archetypal figures, we become, in a sense, psychologically insane: that is, by not “keeping in mind” the metaphorical roots we go “out of our minds”–outside where ideas have become literalized into history, society, clinical psychopathology, or metaphysical truths. Then we attempt to understand what goes on inside by observing the outside, turning inside out, losing both the interiority of all events and our own interiority as well.
Yet “psychologizing” is only 1/4 of a mythic/polytheistic psychology. For Hillman, the four stages of what he calls soul-making are: 1) Personifying or Imagining Things, 2) Pathologizing or Falling Apart, 3) Psychologizing or Seeing Through, and 4) Dehumanizing or Soul-making. Hillman also makes sure to tell us that a polytheistic psychology (that drives away from egocentric monotheistic ideology) is not a religion, but a psychology that stays with “the soul’s native polycentricity.”
This idea of mythic psychology coincides with Campbell’s thought:
I would say that all our sciences are the material that has to be mythologized. A mythology gives spiritual import – what one might call rather the psychological, inward import, of the world of nature round about us, as understood today.There’s no real conflict between science & religion … What is in conflict is the science of 2000 BC … and the science of the 20th century AD.
–Joseph Campbell, from Thinking Allowed: Understanding Mythology, with Joseph Campbell (and host Jeffrey Mishlove)
So, we “lose our minds” when we lose our myths, pretty much as Campbell said, as has been stated in the forum Mythblasts that in our day the myths are not commonly recognized or even known so much.August 15, 2020 at 9:28 pm #3782
What Norland responded above stands out to me:
This brings me back to Stephen’s wonderful paraphrase which I think is worth repeating:
‘If I understand correctly, you are saying that a living mythology isn’t something one believes in, like choosing a religion today, but is experienced simply as “what is” – part of the warp and woof of a culture – what a member of that culture knows to be true, perhaps akin to the way we experience gravity or know the world to be round.’
I am thinking now about religion, how being a child raised in a religion is then simply a “what is” to that child who accepts that religion because they are told that their religion is true. Many people grow up believing in the religion they were taught/raised to believe in, whatever that religion just so happens to be. So I am thinking about how the “what is” to so many people is a matter of happenstance–until they get older and begin to question things, if they indeed begin to question things and get to wherever that may lead. We often accept the happenstances of our culture–its beliefs and conditionings. Also, I am now reminded of a book on the reading list for a class I took in Complex Theory called The Cultural Complex: Contemporary Jungian Perspectives on Psyche and Society Edited by Thomas Singer and Samuel L. Kimbles that I can highly recommend for this topic in this thread. Below are some key phrases, ideas, and quotes from the book in reference to mythology and living myths:
- […] the inner world of trauma, [and] the outer domain where myth, psyche, and politics intersect”
- […] to illustrate the reality of the collective psyche and the power of collective emotion to generate living myths [or more appropriately here to Norland’s terminology “archetypal psyche”]
- Thomas Singer wrote about how Donald Kalshed (1966) had published his book, The Inner World of Trauma: Archetypal Defenses of the Personal Spirit and how there are not only archetypal defenses of the personal spirit but also archetypal defenses that protect the collective spirit or any traumatized “group soul.”
- These protective archetypal agents are, he says, the daimons.
- These archetypal daimons can be individual, collective, or both; Singer wrote that, “Perhaps they even found their earliest historical expression in group life rather than that of the single person, when the psychology of the individual was less developed and the survival of the group more in the forefront.” The group as the collective might apply here nicely to Norland’s theme here because this quote can help describe how the archetypal psyche can be both individual and collective and not belong to just the individual or a group–it helps demonstrate (for me, anyway–it might not speak to each person here the same way, of course) a difference between what might be regarded as the archetypal psyche as opposed to the collective. As Kevin Lu has said/written, we are all born into a group, implying that the group psyche is already in motion from our earliest days and that thus our cultural complexes have in that sense already begun when we are born into a family that is within a cultural group in the then larger societal culture. This too can apply as Norland says into the types of caste systems of other cultures besides Indian culture. (The paraphrasing I provided of Kevin Lu is taken from an article of his article on a response to Singer and in personal communication–I would need to find that article in order to cite it and my home office is pretty much all packed up at the moment as I am still in transit to my new house.)
Singer also wrote, which is in lieu of this Mythblast,
Jung’s earliest work at the Burgholzli led to the development of his theory of compelxes which even now forms the foundations of day-to-day clinical work of analytical psychology., In fact, there was a time when the founders of the Jungian tradition considered calling it “complex psychology.” Later, Joseph Henderson created a much needed theoretical space between the personal and archetypal levels of the psyche which he called “the cultural level of the psyche.” This cultural level of the psyche exists in both the conscious and unconscious.
- This chapter in the book is chapter one and is written with this description to introduce the purpose of the chapter to to then, elaborate upon Jung’s theory of complexes as it manifests itself in the cultural level of the psyche. There are several examples of this archetypal level of the psyche as pertains to groups in this chapter such as political upheavals and hatred against various cultural groups and even the split between Freud and Jung to help illustrate cultural complexes in which the archetypal defenses (part of archetypal psyche–defenses would be survival instincts and instincts as archetypal) in regards to groups or individuals, since individuals ‘belong in’ or at least live within a group.
- With all the group protectiveness currently operative in group psyches and in individual psyches in our current times (including Stephen’s “I can’t breathe!” Mythblast, I kept thinking of this material that it may be a good read at this time, this book on the cultural complex and how it relates (or seems to, to me) to both Norland’s and Stephen’s recent Mythblasts.
The more I think on this Mythblast and do close reading, closer and closer each time, the more I am getting out of it. It is so rich and layered like the many “levels” or strata of the psyche (for illustrative purposes only, not actual floors of a skyscraper!)
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