Before I came up with the “all the myth that’s fit to print” tagline, this blog was subtitled, “giving voice to the world’s dreams.” Pompous-sounding, yes? Yet that’s the impulse that inspired me to begin this blog. So let me explain what I meant by that.
Dreams, according to depth psychologists like C.G. Jung, are fantasies that bubble up from the impulses, experiences, images, emotions, obsessions and memories stored in our unconscious. Dreams often (but not always) interweave these scraps of the “deep” psyche with experiences, nagging thoughts and feelings from the last few days. Dreams don’t make rational sense, because few of those things are rational. When we’re asleep, reason switches off, and we’re free to engage in what we feel, think and are with our whole mind, not just the conscious, rational part.
Most dreams fade soon after we awaken. Yet some stay with us. We remember them years later, because they resonated with us in some deep, visceral fashion that gripped every part of our soul.
According to Jung, myths are the same sort of psychic scrapbooking for a whole community. Mythology builds up like cave stalactites from the shared fantasies, memories and experiences of many people instead of one. Myths don’t necessarily spring from real, historical incidents any more than dreams do; they can be fictional (or, often, a mixture of the two) so long as they “click” with lots of people.
Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are still read and retold today, when our lives have little in common with the Homeric world, because those stories still touch us at a deeper level. For a more recent example, The Lord of the Rings is a story that holds significance for millions of fans. They feel a special connection with some of its characters and images, like the dreams that you don’t forget. In a few generations, Middle-earth may fade into obscurity or continue to resonate in our collective imaginations like the Trojan War. If The Lord of the Rings continues to hold a special place in the hearts — meaning souls— of many, it will be mythology.
Myths are the enduring dreams of the world. Like dreams, they don’t always make sense, but they speak to and from the deepest layers of our souls. We need them as much as ever today, because science and reason can only go so far to explain and regulate our complex and irrational world.
Depth psychology is the attempt to better understand our psychology by studying the unconscious layers of the human mind, those currents that prompt us to act in certain ways and gravitate towards certain things for reasons we can’t explain. We can’t explore these impulses, complexes, and other psychological factors directly, of course, since they’re unconscious. One can’t analyze the soul through an MRI. But we can examine how those unconscious currents manifest in our conscious lives, in our actions and our reactions, in our dreams… and in our mythology.