Monday, 28 October 2013

Accessing C. G. Jung 4. Jungian Mythologists

of Athena wearing a helmet decorated with Skylla
hurling a stone and Herakles wrestling the Nemean lion
Image courtesy  of Classical Numismatic Group Inc.
"They are all given here, in these volumes, with many clues, besides, suggesting ways in which they might be put to use by reasonable men to reasonable ends -- or by poets to poetic ends -- or by madmen to nonsense and disaster"
Joseph Campbell, On completion of The Masks of God .

I could not possibly start an introduction to Jungian mythologists with anyone other than Joseph Campbell. Not only is he the most accessible of all mythologists, but it was through his work that I first became became familiar with the works of Carl Jung.

There are two outdated and erroneous ideas about the nature of mythology that still linger on in popular opinion and even in the minds of a few academics: that mythologies are based on historical events, but they are so changed over time that they contain no truth, or that they are a sort of primitive science which tries to explain nature. The very word "myth" is most commonly used to label misconceptions (apparently, people are unfamiliar with the word "misconception"). These opinions are not merely saved for cocktail party chatter but extend as far as trying to plot the voyages of Odysseus trying to return home to Ithaca.  Granted, the places described by Homer might, in part, be based on actual locations, but the subject usually misses the point of the stories: Odysseus is hero and husband idealized; Penelope is the perfect wife and Telemachus the perfect son. But it goes beyond that -- to achieve such states, one must have "wrestled with the Nemean lion" -- faced one's own demons in the depths of the unconscious. How could the story have such currency if that were not the case? Yet it is rarely a known metaphor -- we are drawn to it because it contacts the upper levels of the unconscious -- it is quite literally, part of us. Yet, most westerners, understanding this, stop at the point of metaphor as if it is only a convenient explanation. Read this Wikipedia account of the Lankavatara Sutra, which includes:
"On the contrary my teaching is based upon the recognition that the objective world, like a vision, is a manifestation of the mind itself..."
Essentially, we discover that the objective world is really the subjective world. This thought carries through to our time in the discussions between Jung and Pauli that I quoted in an earlier post, and in an interview with Louwrien Wijers in On Creativity (Routledge Classics) p. 141, David Bohm said: “We have got to see that thought is part of this reality and that we are not merely thinking about it, but that we are thinking it”.

The scope of Campbell is vast: from the Palaeolithic to James Joyce; from East to West, he covers it all, but The Masks of God first brought me to Jung, and it is his defining work.

The second Jungian mythologist is Carl Kerényi. Others might well place him first as he actually collaborated with Jung in Essays on a Science of Mythology. besides that title. I highly recommend Dionysos: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life. In addition to being the most detailed work on Dionysos, its Introduction is an essay: Finite and Infinite Life in the Greek Language, which is on the subject of bios (βίος) and zoë (ζωή) -- two words, which stripped of their psychic import and those wonderful nuances that are the Greek language have come down to us (in a pedestrian fashion), in the two English words, biology and zoology.

Finally, although there are many other Jungian mythologists, I have to mention Jung's wife, Emma. Carl Jung once said that he would not cover the Celts as that was an interest of his wife. He was not talking about the pre-Roman La Tène Celts, I believe that I am the only person who writes on their mythology -- Miranda Aldhouse-Green focuses on the, later, Roman period. Jung was not referring to that either, but the even later Welsh stories included in The Mabinogion (Penguin Classics). For thirty years, until her death in 1955, Emma Jung researched and wrote The Grail Legend, which was finished by Marie-Louise von Franz, the greatest of all Jungian psychologists and a scholar who wrote (just to mention this topic) on the Jungian analysis of fairy tales.


  1. Hello, I am an Italian student, I would like to ask you when or where did Jung say that he would not cover the Celts because it was Emma's interest. Can I find that information in any seminar? Thanx a lot,

  2. Hello Francesca,

    It specifically refers to the Grail legend and its connections to alchemy, which would have taken him at least back to the early Welsh stories, if not further back to the Irish cauldron of Dagda, and even the Gundestrup cauldron. Jung was, of course, very thorough!

    He says, in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, (my 1965 edition, p. 215, but in the chapter "The Work" above Note 16:

    "Also the major work on the Grail legend, which my my wife had made her life's task was not completed. (16) I recall how often the quest for the Grail and the fisher king came to my mind while I was working on the ichthys symbol in Aion. Had it not been for my unwillingness to intrude upon my wife's field, I would unquestionably have had to include the Grail legend in my studies of alchemy."

    Note 16, by Anelia Jaffé, cites the later publication of the Grail Legend by Emma Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz.

    In her Foreword to the Grail Legend, Marie-Luise von Franz says:

    "The connections between the Grail legend and alchemy are so abundant and so profound(1) that it may well be asked why Professor Jung did not include them in his researches into the psychology of alchemy. The reason was that Mrs. Jung had been engaged on the Grail legend for thirty years and was planning an extensive publication on the subject. Her labours were cut short by her death in 1955 when, in response to Professor Jung's wish, I undertook to bring her work to a conclusion.'

    Note 1. This was already known to R. Palgen, Der Stein der Weisen: Quellenstudien zum Parzival. Cg. also J. Evola, Il misterio del Graal and Fanni Bogdanow, The Romance of the Grail. Cf. also "Les romans du Graal," in La Littérature des XII et XIII Siècle.

    Emma Jung actually did reference the Gundestrup cauldron and its figure of Cernunnus (which she wrote as "Kerunnus") in The Grail Legend, and also the Irish Dagda. It is a shame that C. G. Jung did not also write about Celtic mythology. In the light of my latest topic, I wonder if he would have connected the Gundestrup cauldron to Dionysos, as he was was very interested in that god.

    All the best,