Reflection Nebula NGC 1435 (



Myths, Customs & Cosmologies:
Finding meaning through metaphor


Joseph Campbell (1904-1987)

Begins with Bastian's "rational ideation" of 'elementary ideas' and Jung's "most insightful and illuminating" presentation of the 'archetypes of the collective unconscious' as coming from "the obscure subliminal abysm out of which dreams arise". (1988, p.11)

-Following Oswald Sprengler's (1873-1936) identification of 8 "colossal monads" of cultural expression, including:
1) the Sumero-Babylonia, 2) Egyptian, 3) Greco-Roman (Apollonian), 4) Vedic-Aryan or India,
5) Chinese, 6) Maya/Aztec/Incan, 7) Magian (persian-Arabian, Judeo-Christian-Islamic),
8)Faustian (Gothic-Christian to modern European-American), 9) ?germinating Russian-Christian (written ~ 1920)

-Each had it's own mythology - images derived from the local landscape and social needs.

Through the study of myths one can find a "nucleating monad" that is encrusted with culture both behaviourally (ritually) and psychologically (spiritually).

-Specific folk ideas are expressed as various "constellations" as they express the experiences of a group of people at a certain time and place.
-Voraciousness of life -the first elementary idea of the infant feeding on its mother
-Generative (sexual) Urge -is second, seen as Kali-desire, longing (vs. cupid)
-Posessiveness - inciting a new order, launched from the eyes


Myth as metaphor - The Power of Myth

Myths are metaphors for experiencing life as human beings possibly can.

"a mythology is not an ideology. It is not something projected from the brain, but something experienced from the heart, from recognitions of identities behind or within the appearances of nature" (Campbell, 1986, p. 17)

"The life a mythology derives from the vitality of its symbols as metaphors delivering, not simply the idea, but a sense of actual participation in such a realization of transcendence, infinity, and abundance, ..." (p. 18)

-The major role or "first and most essential service" of myths and mythology is
"of opening the mind and heart to the utter wonder of all being"

-The second role played is that it has a "cosmological" service as it represents

"the universe and whole spectacle of nature, both as known to the mind and as beheld by the eye, as an epiphany of such kind that when lightening flashes, or a setting sun ignites the sky, or a deer is seen standing alerted, the exclamation 'Ah!' may be uttered as a recognition of divinity" (1986, p. 18)

The Message of the myth is to experience being alive, being aware and fulfilled. To be "caught" by the myth, the idea or archetype, as Jung said "feeling like fate."

Following a myth and living it is "the soul's high adventure." The goals of nirvana, peace, or bliss can only be achieve with knowing one's centre, as they represent a state of mind without desire, fear or social commitment, not places.

Myths are clues to the spiritual potentiality of human life, they do not explicitly pertain to "meaning". E.g., "God" is an idea or thought, its referent is beyond thought -transcendent.

Mythology can liberate "Faith" to get beyond a metaphor (E.g., Jesus' rebirth or ascent to heaven was metaphorical- actually toward inner space- a rebirth of the spirit
-it is important to recognise the symbolic as poetry not prose, the connotations not denotations, the transcendent not the mundane.
Campbell Video - myth as the mirror of the ego Adolescence

-sometimes people get caught up in the "system" the "machine" like Star Wars, Darth Vader had given in to the system and was urging Luke to come over to the other side.
Better off to "follow your Bliss" find your own myth and cosmology, find your bliss and live it.  kendo.jpg

Common Mythological Themes

Hero with 1,000 faces - is the deed that is done by so many people, one that is marked by doing or achieving something that is beyond the normal range. Giving of life to something bigger than self, other than self.

Hero has learned or found a mode of experience, a super human mode of spiritual life, and has brought it back to communicate it to others. 

It is a cycle of going and a return marking a transformation physical and spiritual


Adolescent search for identity - like an initiation ritual of becoming an adult (or member) one must die to one's infantile psyche and be reborn as an adult.
-go from dependency to self responsibility
-leaving, finding a source of life for a richer more mature way of living
-Going off to university, joining the Armed Forces, Canada World-Youth, etc

The moral objective of the hero is to sacrifice oneself for something better. (But there is no universal judge.) Essentially to fulfill a transformation of consciousness. A gestalt switch, a new perspective on life.

Iroquois Story of the Refusal of suitors falls in love with a magician, taken away, eventually pulled from the water (unconscious) by an upper power. Having to go into the unconscious to find the answer to something in the everyday temporal. It also shows how one may or may not be ready for a mythic adventure.

Forbidden Fruit (thing) - Almost always involves the placing of blame on the snake which is a symbol of life shedding its past (throwing off skin) and being reborn.

-In Buddhism and Hinduism the snake is a positive symbol

-In Christianity the is a refusal of life (rejecting the snake) placing it outside of the divine realm, a division of opposites. The created and the creator are divided. Have women being rejected (also representing life-creation) having us divided

Need for Affirmation of the world - acceptance of "good" and "bad", not to withdraw from "horror", but to realise life and death, good and bad as part of the world.

Slaying one's Dragon is (in European tradition) a symbol for becoming release from Greed. It represent the ego and possessiveness - sometimes our frail or fragile aspects of ourselves. (The Dragon guards Gold and Virgins). "Thou shalt" written on each scale of the Dragon, being slain, erasing anxiety and social pressure and our desires to become what we are not. 

Alan Roland (1988)

Blending psychoanalysis from various sources: Klein, Erikson, Kakar, Doi

Self in Indian, Japan

-Provides a rich historical context against which various cases of self and identity are presented for understanding.

-Uses various selves: We, I, Expanding, relational hierarchies and developmental "chords" of emphasis and importance.

-examined myths in dreams as seen in cultural context 


Brahma - The Creator Archetype. "Called the Grandfather of the Worlds, Brahma is the First Person of the Hindu trinity and is depicted in standing posture with four faces, witnessing the totality of his created universes. It was Brahma's request of Durga-devi that led to creation of the earth, and he always carries a water bowl filled with life-giving Ganges water, symbol of creative fertility. He is the god of wisdom, the bearer of the Vedas, and the consort of Sarasvati." (

Mythology is used today by people like Alan Roland and Beth Hedva to explore the inner reaches of human experience and psychological challenges. Later we will examine how this is done in the context of psychotherapy or counselling.  Searching for archetypes and mythological themes, meaning of self.

Likewise Erik Erikson recognized that finding one's own mythology is finding one's own identity, one's place in the world.


Benjefield, J. G. (1996) A history of modern psychology. New York: Allyn

Campbell, J. (1986). The inner reaches of outer space. New York: Harper

Campbell (1987). The Power of Myth. PBS Television special.

Jung, C. G. (1969). Archetypes of the collective unconscious. Collected works. Princeton: PUP.

Jung, C. G. & Kerenyi, C. (1963). Essays on the science of mythology. Princeton: PUP.

Monte, C. F. (1987). Beneath the mask. New York: Holt.

Rychlak, J. F. (1981) Introduction to personality and psychotherapy. Boston: Houghton.