“Just as dreams do not conceal something already known, or express it under a disguise, but try rather to formulate an as yet unconscious fact as clearly as possible, so myths and alchemical symbols are not…allegories that hide artificial secrets. On the contrary, they seek to translate natural secrets into the language of consciousness and to declare the truth that is the common property of mankind.” “C.G. Jung. “The Philosophical Tree,” CW 13, par. 395.
Myths are sacred stories about our relationship to the gods, the origins of the world, and how people and landscapes became the way they are. Usually set outside of historical time and at a distance from the every day, their themes, characters, plots, and symbols are archetypal. In the communities in which they’re told, they’re generally considered sacred and deeply true. They validate social norms and help individuals understand how the world works and one’s place in it.
Fairy tales are also folkloric stories with archetypal themes, characters, symbols, and plots. They contain magic and are set in enchanted, otherworldly times and places. Unlike myths, they are not believed to be literally true about real people, gods, and events. Fairy tales are an especially versatile and imaginative form of story-telling that every culture uses to instruct, caution, entertain, and inspire. Some fairy tales reinforce the status quo, others incite rebellion.
Because they’re archetypal, traditional myths and fairy tales resonate with us all at some level. Beneath the highly imaginative differences between cultures—every religion has its own myths about the Sacred, while the earliest known version of Cinderella originated in China and more than 500 versions have been found—they describe the fundamental patterns of our souls.
But what is the soul? Nobody knows for sure, of course, but here’s a description from Patrick Harpur’s brilliant, The Secret Tradition of the Soul, that rings especially true:
“Imagination is reality itself…It is synonymous with soul….not only an Otherworld but the reality behind this world….[and a] whole ‘inner universe’ whose study [has become] depth psychology.” pp.33-35.
There we have it! Depth psychology is the study of our innermost, imaginative lives—the aspects of ourselves that define us as individual parts of a vast, interconnected, universal archetypal One. I find this concept mind-blowing. It means that you and I dwell in two realms: an outer biological, instinctual, physical body, and an inner imaginative, non-corporeal, psychological body that we call the soul.
What’s more, it means—and this is the most important point I want to make—that to dismiss our imagination in favor of the highly valued rational reason of Western society’s institutions, is to divide and separate us from our souls. It turns out that the only way to understand and heal ourselves is to use our imagination! And no matter how we use it, it is an essential part of our essence.
“Myths are public dreams and dreams are personal myths.” ~Joseph Campbell
Using our imagination to explore our unconscious is the key to living a meaningful life. This is why depth psychologists take dreams seriously. Why they examine the symbols and images and ask us about our associations with them. It’s also why they take myths and fairy tales seriously. And why we need to do the same. We need to know the secrets our unconscious holds to a meaning-filled life. We need insights into the forces that drive us, (we certainly don’t drive them). We need to know what our dreams and waking fantasies want us to know about our true selves.
That’s why I researched and wrote all my books, includingThe Soul’s Twins. I want to understand my myth. To acquire clearer images of the archetypes I have imagined as being associated with my feminine and masculine sides. I want to know what happens when I integrate them. Writing has helped me imagine new ways to fulfill my dreams about my the life and the legacy I want to leave.
This is why I believe using imagination to learn the underlying meaning of our stories and write our own myths in accordance with our souls’ unconscious facts is absolutely crucial for our welfare. And ultimately for the welfare of humanity. When we truly know our own myth inside and out—whether it’s about Cinderella, the motherless, unfairly treated orphan, or Persephone, who was cruelly abducted and raped by the god of the underworld, or Hephaestos, the lame Greek god of metallurgy who, although he was ridiculed, found his life’s passion in creating beautiful sculptures and works of art, or Dyonysius the Greek god of sex, passion, and wine—we begin to heal our wounds and become healthily confident in the pursuit of our hearts’ most secret dreams.
I’m still writing my myth—this blog is one manifestation of that opus. I sure don’t know how it will end. But what I do know for certain after years of striving to know the facts of my soul, is that my imaginative journey has benefitted me, my family, and my life in ways I could never have…ahem…imagined! I wish the same for you.
What dreams have you had that have been, or are are being, fulfilled? How has your imagination influenced your life’s journey so far? Where do you want to go from here?
Image credit: Art by Igor Zenin. http://www.duskyswondersite.com/human-ingenuity-category/images-plus-imagination/
Paper and E-book versions of The Bridge to Wholeness and Dream Theatres of the Soul are at Amazon. The Wilbur Award-winning Healing the Sacred Divide can be found at Amazon and Larson Publications.com. Jean’s new Nautilus Award-winning The Soul’s Twins, is at Amazon and Schiffer’s Red Feather Mind, Body, Spirit. Subscribe to her newsletter at www.jeanbenedictraffa.com.
Friends, my blog has a problem. I’m not getting your comments for some unknown reason. Aladin wrote me on Facebook to tell me he got a message saying his comment had to be checked out first and it never showed up. My Webpage person, Chad, is trying to fix it but no luck yet. I’m hoping when it gets fixed your comments will show up. Don’t give up on me!!
This is a test comment from Chad. I am not logged in to WordPress. Please let me know that you got it.
I got it.
I think the dubiety of who my biological father was hung over me most of my life and was a major driving factor in me putting pen to paper, finger to keyboard. I was determined to make “something” of myself, not in the sense of societally, job, house car etc. but in literally constructing and exploring who I was at my core. The fact of dna testing and finding real half sisters, a confirmed bio father took some of that drive away for a while as I found myself settling into a new story.
Now, with new relationships, I find old certainties being shed but the writing is back and from a personal viewpoint more relaxed and knowing of who I am, although, as objectively as I can be, maybe not so good or allowing of a way in to the reader.
What is still there is the acute awareness of the multiplicity of meaning, and my attempt to pull disparate threads simply together and still leave room for the space between words.
This is my second comment the first being lost in the ether, and I’m sure completely unrelated to each other. Must remember to copy and paste before trying to post!
It’s a fascinating insight that the mystery of your paternity was a driving factor that gave you the libido (psychic energy) to develop your imagination and use it to create something original and uniquely you: your poetry. The lesson I draw from this is that our psychic wounds—our sufferings—are the very things that awaken our genius, or daimons. This totally changes our perception of suffering. Instead of seeing it as a curse, we can use our imagination to see it as a gift that helps us connect with our true selves and begin the soul-satisfying work of our opus.
Something very similar happened to me in mid-life and I responded in exactly the same way. When I earned my doctorate after a particularly painful three years, I spent the whole summer writing poetry. It was terrible, but that’s not the point. The point is that it was creative and exciting and restored the psychic energy enough to approach my teaching that fall with enthusiasm. By the time that energy began to wane, I had discovered Jungian psychology. The confidence and insights I gained from working with my dreams in imaginative ways renewed my energy once again. It gave me the courage to quit teaching (which I no longer enjoyed) and start writing full-time.
I love it that by viewing your life through the eyes of imagination, which automatically connects your inner life with your outer life, you have found meaning in your old story. That meaning has, in turn, refreshed your libido, which empowered you to move into a new story. Esther Harding, a follower and close friend of Jung, wrote a particularly illuminating book about psychic energy called, fittingly, Psychic Energy: Its Source and Transformation. I highly recommend it.
By the way, at your recommendation I’ve almost finished Gaston Bachelard: An Elemental Reverie on the World’s Stuff. Mind-blowing stuff!
Thank you for persevering with this glitch, Brian. You’ve made my day.
P.S. Synchronistically, I just ran across this quote from Jungian analyst, Murray Stein on the Instagram site of jungsouthafrica, Cape Town. It’s about the suffering we’ve been talking about: “Perhaps some degree of pathology is needed, in fact, in order for a person to feel strongly enough motivated to set out on a spiritual quest to begin with.”
I wonder if you’ll get this. I’ll give it a try. I feel like I’m writing about Monarchs because they say something about my life myth I haven’t yet discovered. Yes, they’re amazing, but why am I so fascinated and obsessed? I learned a lot from re-reading ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ from Robin Wall Kimmerer and understanding how living on this land for nearly 50 years and knowing the trees by name is now going to another level of reciprocity. The land gives to me and I help save those who depend on it. Sending you love in the wild world of computer chaos and the equally wild world of digging ever deeper for our personal myth.
I got it! Yay. I was away from my computer for a day but am back now and most everything is fixed now.
I’ve just responded to your comment on my latest post and noted there that from my perspective, the myth about Psyche and Eros (with her symbolism of soul and the butterfly representing transformation) must surely be related to your fascination for your Monarchs. Vic’s cancer and death took you through a profoundly spiritual transformational underworld experience. But after that you persevered and found your writing voice. And now look what you’ve done since then!
I remember when we first met back in the early 90’s when you and Vic came to the Winter Park Jung Center to talk about his book. We went out to dinner afterwards and you told me about the physical training and nutrition you were teaching then. You expressed a strong desire to do something more with your life, something that was yours alone and far more meaningful and fulfilling than what you were doing at the time.
You’ve surely done that, and in a very big way. Your book and blog posts and Tedx talk have been of help to who know how many people who’ve had similar experiences of devastating loss, grieving, and growing. You’ve rewritten your life just as Psyche did, changed it from tragedy to transformation, and you’ve manifested the stages of your own transformation not just in your writing but also in nursing and protecting your beloved Monarchs (the symbol of your own soul) and the land you and Vic have loved and protected all these years. Isn’t this all about your life myth? Haven’t you, like Psyche given birth to a measure of Pleasure and Joy?
I’d say you’ve learned and lived your life’s myth in a way that few people ever do. And I admire your opus very much. Well done, dear friend.
I do know what you would choose, and I would have done the same.
Relief and sorrow often accompany each other, don’t they? I think the sorrow comes from the irreparable losses we’ve suffered and the relief comes from finding your story, experiencing the pleasures of its life-affirming and healing meaning, and realizing nothing that happened was your or Vic’s fault. Nor was there any way you could have changed it. It’s simply the story you were given to live. So you did the only thing you could do if you you were going to continue to evolve in this vale of suffering: you listened to your soul and followed its guidance. And sure enough, it led you to far greater heights than you ever imagined. That sounds an awful lot like crone wisdom to me! 🙂 I look forward to reading your Monarch book one day.
PS. Remember that I wrote a prayer/blessing to Ganesha about your book and placed it under the silver reclining statue/sculpture/image of him on a shelf in my bedroom? We were asking for guidance from this god of writing that you would finish Leaning Into Love and it would be published and a success. Sure enough, it happened. So now I’m going to do the same thing for your Monarch book. Might not help, but couldn’t hurt!