Psychologists look for meaning in dream, myth, and fairy tale symbols because, as products of the unconscious, they compensate for the narrow visions of our egos and show us what we need to know to grow and thrive. Reflecting on the metaphorical meaning of our stories educates, encourages, and empowers us.
Here’s an example of what we can learn from fairy tales. The initial situation in a fairy tale represents the conscious state of affairs in a culture or individual. Leaving the original setting and going into the forest opens up the possibility for new insights lacking in the conscious orientation. What happens to those who enter the forest depends on their attitudes. The one who is indifferent, self-centered, self-righteous, proud, or disrespectful; the know-it-all who does not listen to advice; the person who must take charge, dominate, or control; the one who refuses to change: these people fall by the wayside or return home in disgrace. Such characters represent the weak and immature ego which does not easily acknowledge the significance of otherness. As the fairy tales illustrate, this attitude is ultimately destined for failure.
The hero or heroine in fairy tale and myth is always the one who succeeds because s/he has the correct attitude — the same attitude of humility, alert attention, trust, reverence, and respect that characterizes the deeply religious — toward the strange and magical beings encountered in the forest. This theme reflects a very profound truth. According to Jung, acquiring a religious outlook is an essential component of the journey to wholeness. By “religious” Jung did not mean believing in specific creeds that reflect personal or cultural biases. Rather he meant having reverence for every form of life including the unconscious, unknown otherness in the world and ourselves.
Religions try to develop religious attitudes by teaching their devotees to revere the symbols and themes of their myths and find spiritual meaning in them. Meaning is a human necessity. With it, there’s nothing we can’t bear; without it, there’s nothing to live for. There is nothing logical about meaning. We cannot see it, explain it, measure it, or prove it to anyone’s satisfaction. Nevertheless, it is a profound reality. If we have it, we know it because we feel a sense of purpose and vitality that was formerly lacking. Meaning is the “Aha!” of understanding; the “Eureka!” of discovery; the light bulb that turns on with a new insight or idea; the joy of finding the purpose of our lives; the blissful participation in eternity when we’re absorbed in work we love; the awed awareness of the miracle of being alive and knowing we are known and loved by something beyond ourselves.
The Greek myths provided sacred meaning for people in the Golden Age, but as the world changed and people grew more conscious they no longer found meaning in the old myths. The same is true of many people today for whom the myths of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, or Islam are no longer tenable. While losing faith in our religious traditions can be devastating, it is a signal that we are ready for a newer, more personally meaningful and experiential spirituality. We receive this gift from Sophia, our spiritual mediatrix and mother, by looking within, listening to our hearts, discovering our true selves, and following our bliss: in other words, by creating and living our own myths.
If you seek a deeper, more fulfilling spirituality, listen to what nourishes your soul with meaning. That’s Sophia talking and you can trust her. She knows the way home to your Self. May you experience more of her gift.
You can find Healing the Sacred Divide at this Amazon link and at Larson Publications, Inc.
Ego and God-Image: Part VI
[T]he most important relationship of childhood, the relation to the mother, will be compensated by the mother archetype as soon as detachment from the childhood
Was it Campbell who offered the archetypal myth example…..
A dragon plagues the kingdom and the king is too old to fight it. So the eldest child, a great warrior, goes out to kill it and is killed in a battle of force. The second child, the cleverest in the land, goes out to kill it and is killed in a battle of wits.
The king looks down in the courtyard, sees his youngest child playing innocently with a group of children, and sighs a terrible sigh, knowing he must send his favorite off to certain death. And so off goes the thrid child, with no discernible skills, to kill the dragon and does so in a series of accidents that in retrospect appear to have been fated from the beginning.
Campbell’s conclusion: The hero is the one who is not doing anything when the turning point arrives…..
Thank you, Jeanie! Your consistent inquiry into our collective symbol-making is inspiring!!
Happiest of Holidays to You and Yours!
A great story! It does sound like Campbell. I think he’s saying that true heroism does not arise from a proud, determined, ambitious ego, but from innocent authenticity: simply being open to life and true to who you are. And, of course, that’s the most difficult thing in the world for the average ego, which always thinks it has to rise to great heights and impress everyone and work and struggle like crazy to become something it’s not!
I do so love this work of exploring and writing about the mystery of the human psyche and its symbols! And, like the egos I’ve just written about, I always thought having this interest and loving what I love wasn’t enough. What a joy it is to have discovered that it is more than enough.
Wishing love, joy and peace to you and your family in this holiday season.
Interestingly, it was also Joseph Campbell, who when asked “What is the meaning of life?” during a seminar long ago said, “There is no meaning of life. There is only an experience of life.” This was the one statement of his, which I could never accept in my own thinking, and I remember clearly exactly where I was in my car when I heard it on the tape.
Somehow, this piece was picked up on my paper.li this morning, so I am in the process of republishing it. Very useful thinking as usual Jeanie.
Of this apparent paradox I think that it doesn’t have to be either one or the other; rather it’s both. Meaning is an experience of connecting with the Sacred. It’s an inner event that shifts our ego’s perspective from being at the center of the universe to being a valuable part of a much larger whole. It changes us, provides more comfort, hope and peace than we had before. Thanks for writing, Skip.