“Everything in the unconscious seeks outward manifestation and the personality too desires to evolve out of its unconscious and experience itself as a whole. I cannot employ the language of science to trace this process of growth in myself, for I cannot experience myself as a scientific problem.” – Jung, from the Prologue to Memories, Dreams, Reflections
Mythology shows us, through sculptures and images, how our ancestors lived before the advent of science – what they found difficult, how they came to terms with it, what was joyous and how they celebrated it. But when mythology became more associated with religion and its fundamentalist and violent face, it declined and science came in its wake. The scientific movement was a welcome alternative to religious and mythological explanations of the phenomena around us. Science was rational, objective, fact based and distanced itself from flights of fancy or emotion. For those disillusioned by myth, science provided a more realistic solution. If rains did not fall, instead of pleading with the gods, science produced rainfall through laboratory innovations. Science had a following and it was quick to proclaim itself independent of religion and myth.
Such splits, though necessary for creating new identities and definitions, also spell an impoverishment of the human world which seeks to connect with its past and be understood more than as a sum of facts and rational solutions. Perhaps the greatest contribution that Freud and Jung made to the world was to separate myth from religious dogma and integrate it with science, or psychology. Freud explained neurosis with the help of myth, for example, the Oedipus complex, whereas Jung encountered the unconscious as a gradual revelation – a psychic integration of lost or unrepresented parts. In his unique style, dismissive of science after writing exhaustive psychological findings, Jung says in his autobiographical work:
“What we are to our inward vision, and what man appears to be sub specie aeternitatis, can only be expressed by way of myth. Myth is more individual and explains life more precisely than does science. Science works with concepts of averages which are far too general to do justice to the subjective variety of the individual life.”
Jung travelled and gathered the wisdom and knowledge from various parts of the world spanning centuries, which lay hidden in images and carvings in caves and cultures alien to his own, and demonstrated how myths revealed unconscious integrative aspects. He charted his personal journey, the sense he made of events from his inner life and the images that helped him understand his universe.
In what he termed as his earliest dream from childhood, Jung recounted “entering a hole in a meadow” which led to a stone stairway into a hallowed space. Here he encountered a strange subterranean vision. Reflecting on the dream he said “… much later did I realise that what I had seen was a phallus, and it was decades before I understood that it was a ritual phallus. ”
Interestingly, Jung’s travels took him to India where he encountered phallic symbols and integrative images. He was particularly interested to observe how the East integrated evil and good. He said, “I saw that Indian spirituality has as much of evil as of good.”
In their interpretation of patients’ and their own dreams, both Freud and Jung paid attention to the position of objects. In the above example, Jung ‘enters a hole in the ground’ which seems to indicate an entry into a submerged, repressed part of himself. In a similar way, the physical world begins to make more meaning when one explores the choice of objects, how they have been arranged and what route an inner journey takes in its quest for psychic integration.
It is not just Jung who enters a hole in the ground in his dream. Thousands of tourists embark on such journeys, possibly unknowing of its inner purpose. In the Roman temple in Bath, Somerset, below the ground, resides Sulis, the Goddess of the thermal Bath springs. The meaning of Sulis is varied and is traced not just to Celtic Roman origins but also Sanskrit. Sulis can mean ‘eye’ or ‘vision’. She is associated with mythic life-giving qualities and is also said to have been entreated by the locals, through suggested curses on ancient tablets, to punish the undeserving. The curses are evocative of the sort of destructive emotions people could express to a powerful goddess. Our professional connection with the past is more directly expressed in a plaque at this temple:
“Those seeking divine help for an illness or affliction might rest overnight in special temple buildings. On waking, priests of the Roman God of healing, Aesculapius, helped them interpret their dreams or visions.”
In Istanbul, the Basilica Cistern (Sunken Palace) is the largest cistern of its kind built in the Byzantine period and again, lies below the ground. 336 magnificent pillars stand in water and lead to the far end where Medusa’s face adorns two blocks, one placed sideways and the other, inverted. Some say this was an adjustment made to accommodate a large unwieldy block, while tradition says it averts the power of the Gorgon’s gaze. The subterranean location of these powerful goddesses reflect Man’s perception of his inner world and indicate the position of his own powerful, aggressive and repressed parts.
Objects are arranged carefully in the ancient world and reflect Man’s ‘inward vision’. Psychodynamically, what appears to be accidental is a manifestation of the unconscious. Such sightings can have a powerful sensory and therapeutic impact on the observer. Hundreds of visitors file into these underground vaults, unmindful of the weary wait to get in, seeming to partake of this group experience – whether it is Solis, a Goddess capable of creation and destruction or Medusa, an angry, venomous woman of exceptional power.
Far away in India, Mount Kailash towers in the Himalayas, where Shiva, God of creation and death, resides in his mythical abode. This physical placement of an exalted feeling, looking at the sky towards the divine, an outward vision, finds expression here. Nearby lies Mansarovar (mann -mind, sarovar-lake; lake of the mind), a tranquil freshwater lake. People embark annually on a perilous pilgrimage which sometimes cost lives. Like birds, fish and other animals in the natural world who embark on perilous journeys to reach their breeding grounds, human beings make this journey against the odds, risking even death, to reach a psychic and spiritual abode.
In his seminal paper, Jacob Arlow (1961) suggests myths are shared communal fantasies which abet psychic integration and contribute to human development. According to him, they bring the individual in relation to his group and serve common psychic needs, aiding the adaptation to reality. Today, ego psychologists and contemporary Freudians believe that communal myths are not so much an escape from reality as stories that reconcile the individual to reality, what one cannot have or change. These communal experiences form the safe foundation for building an internal structure of beliefs. But as one travels, mentally and physically in this world, one might internally destroy what was once a safe place and re-build, expand and re-construct because, perhaps, the will to create new structures from old ones is as forceful as the need to stay safe. We move away from what was once home, and sometimes find ourselves, our lost parts in alien lands among strangers, as Jung did. We emerge slowly and cautiously from our collective matrix perhaps because we fear the loss that comes from letting go of those cultural moorings which held us safely.
As practitioners, an education in scientific enquiry adds strength to our objectivity and rationality but may inadvertently destroy former structures. The re-building of an inner psychic home could mean expanding it to accommodate lost parts and a new attitude, freed from the dogma of blind belief, religious or scientific. Surely, we need to facilitate personal myths, unique to each individual ? Like Jung, surely we and our clients/patients are more than the results of psychological assessments? And surely, the wonder of our vast inherited mythology must be anchored more to science where it can enhance our experience of ourselves, as practitioners and human beings, and those connected with us.
Smita Rajput Kamble is a Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist in private practice. She teaches the Advanced Theory and Clinical Issues seminar in WPF Therapy, London and has presented papers in Middlesex, Birkbeck Universities and at Freud Museum in collaboration with Roehampton and UEL. Her next workshop Jung and Shiva: Encounters with a Subterranean God – an innovative and exciting day of creativity and dance – explores the struggle to understand oneself better outside the social restrictions and labels of gender, sexuality, race and culture. It will be held on 30th January 2016, at WPF Therapy, London. To find out more about it please click here.
Jung, C.G. (1995). Memories, Dreams, Reflections. London : Fontana.
Arlow, J. (1961). Ego Psychology and the Study of Mythology. In Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 9:371-393.