myth and poetry

Scholarly Essay


What Is Myth? -Stephanie Pope

Terry Matheson, in his book, Alien Abductions: Creating a Modern Phenomenon, speaks to the elements and features of myth and their relevance to society. Quoting Martin S. Day of the  University of Houston, Matheson concurs that those criteria  necessary for myth include widespread belief in the validity of the story and the awareness that the myth cannot be reconciled with "phenomenological facts" (284). Why then, is myth a relevant social concern? Matheson says that a culture's mythic stories reflect their concerns, preoccupations,  and also the things they fear (285). Quoting the philosopher Gadamer, Matheson affirms that a myth eludes both refutation and confirmation (287).

I should like to add to the above notion of the relevance of myth to culture the idea of Joseph Campbell that myths serve four basic functions. Along with social and pedagogical functions myths open our minds to the recognition of the mysterious thing that life is and put us in proper relationship to that mystery through the function of our art (Creative Mythology, 4-6).

Another important idea concerning the mythic images themselves  is offered by Carl Jung in his writings on images that focus on the characteristic of roundness. Such an image as symbol expresses the totality of the individual and represents the Self-archetype. It embraces the god-image and unites the personality (v10 CW 326-29).  

What does Jung mean by archetype? Archetypes are like structuring principles/numionous fields/forms of indefinable content which, when manifest, will express that content through symbol (image). Jung affirms the symbol as grounded in the unconscious archetype while their manifest forms are shaped by the ideas harboring in the conscious mind (the "I" value). The archetype, therefore, is a structuring principle that is itself without a structure. (This is why the notion of a field works well with archetypes.) In itself the archetype is empty and, consequently, irrepresentable. Only when it enters into relation with the conscious mind does it fill out. Then, it is made perceptible.  " In this sense," Jolande Jacobi writes, "Jung defines the symbol as the 'essence and image of psychic energy' can never encounter the 'archetype as such' directly, but only indirectly, when it is manifest in the archetypal image...symbol...complex or symptom" (Complex 75).

Summarizing as to what a myth is, I can now say that a myth is  an artistic achievement relevant to the society through the functions it performs (Campbell), essential to the psychic wholeness or well being of humanity (Jung), reflective of a culture's desires, fears, preoccupations, and concerns (Matheson), and elusive to either confirmation or refutation outside of itself (Gadamer).

One can never encounter the archetype of the Self 'as such' directly, but only indirectly where it manifests in the image. In poetic form, therefore, I offer one such image of Self not 'as such' but imaginally, 'as if' such as to say that Self seems now to require a boundary-less view to accomplish its expression. That, at least, is my hypothesis. Here is the poem.

                                 The Assumption

For as much as she belonged to Earth
To a Heaven's just she belonged
And to separate her from her
(A self like that)
Was to upset
The order of the universe
Afar. The universe afar
THAT wilderness
Where heavenly travelers
Weary of encirclings
Let go of stars and make-believe
Because they have seen that Earth-From-Space
Have seen that welcome deeply stirred
Wet, and silvery, and blue. You, too
Might see and might not
Fear black-time and space
Might know a presence there
Like a miracle
And, so
Go awake
Toward the very small
Anticipate her
With reverence
As you would
A sacred grove or
A blessing


                                 Works Cited

Campbell, Joseph. The Masks of God: Creative Mythology.      New York: Penguin Books, 1976.

Jacobi, Jolande. Complex, Archetype, Symbol in the Psychology  of C.G. Jung. Trans. Ralph Manheim. New York: Princeton University Press, 1974.

Jung, C.G.. Civilization in Transition: Flying Saucers and The      Undiscovered Self. 2nd ed. Vol. 10 Collected Works. Sir      Herbert Read, et al. Trans. R.F.C. Hull. Princeton, New Jersey:      Princeton University Press Bollington Series XX, 1978.

Matheson, Terry. Alien Abductions. Amherst, NewYork: Prometheus Books, 1998.

James Hillman is the author of a number of books including  Healing Fiction and Dream and the Underworld.

Additional Links:

What Is Myth -interactive web forum discussion

What is Myth - Leigh Melander, The Imaginal Institute

What is Myth, 2006 -Maggie Macary, Myth & Culture

Extended Reading:Essays (also, by Maggie Macary, PhD)

Transcending The Leaky Vessel

The Dominant Fiction

A Depth Perspective In The World

The Misuse of Myth

Myth-Making In America

Poetic Basis of Mind

The Mythos In the Logos

The Poet In Culture


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Ghost Flowers
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