Myth, Archetype, and the Problem of Freedom


Alan Gullette


University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Honors 2118: Myth

Dr. Nancy Goslee

Fall 1975 (November 26, 1975)


The hope of attaining freedom in thought and act has been destroyed largely due to the efforts of psychologists. Freud, whose theories concerning the cevelopment of the ego from the id were preceeded by Darwins' theories concerning the development of the psychoe in animla life, indicated that instinct plays a considerable role in the psychological live of all men and that neurotic complexes further plague the individual according to influences on his psychic development. Especially distressing is his aphorism "anatomy is destiny." Skinnerian behaviorists following this line of thought have claimed that virtually all thoguths, decisions, and acts are determined by events in the individual's earliest life. If one reflects that the psyche indeed developed from instinctual beginnings, and considers the vast quantity of evidence subjective as well as objectige that thought, behavior, mood, state of mind, etc., have a biological foundation (and hence anatomy indeed seems to determine one's subjective as well as actual life, as least insofar as the sexes have different hormonal systems, and at most insofar as each individual's metabolism is never exactly the same as that of others) if one reflects along these lines, one is likely to become depressed and lose faith in the ideas of free thought and free behavior. Though Freud was pessimistic about complete freedom from neurosis especially to the extent that some repression was necessary if society were to continue it seems that Jung was more optimistic with his aim of individuation. Through consciousness of archetypes operating on us from the collective or individual conscious, psychic growth may be possible. Thomas Mann, in "Freud and the Future," has a similar hope for growing awareness of our humanity through use of myth as a way of life. I will here discuss Jung's and Mann's' ideas in relation to the problem of freedom.

For Jung, archetypes are the contents of the collective unconscious, as distinguished from the contents of the personal unconscious (4). The archetype becomes conscious but not without being altered; for it is "colored" by the "individual consciousness in which it happens to appear" (5). It is expressed in dram symbols, myth and fairytale, the formulae of esoteric teaching, and in fantasy (4-5, 12). Though a content of the unconscious, the archetype is itself only a form, a structure, and is empty of content (13). priori in nature, it is at the disposal of the mind to project upon experience in order to structure that experience and give it meaning by relating it to primordial experience or merely to experience already stored under the particular archetype in the personal unconscious. The main archetype, at least in these respects, is the mother archetype, because the priori psychic structure of human beings is the mother (35). It is the matrix (derived from the Latin meaning "womb," from the Greek mater, "mother") "the form into which all experience is poured" (35-6). But each archetype is both mother and father: both static form and dynamic energy (36). The structure of each archetype would seem to be patterned after the psychic structure as a whole.

Archetypes are "living dispositions . . . that perform and continually influence our thoughts and feelings and actions" (13). The structures that we hold intrinsically are projected outward onto the outside world as well as inward into our thoughts and behavior. Here images come into play: an image or symbol is a derivation of the archetype; e.g., the mother image is derived from the mother archetype (9). The mother image aids in the projection of the mother archetype outward and onto the actual mother, a grandmother or aunt, or onto any woman, etc. The mental picture, I suppose, would change, as one's dependence on a particular figure in one's life would change, but the basic archetype is unaltered and remains the same removed, inaccessible to change. The attitudes of the real mother toward the child, for instance, since they affect his or her psychological growth and adjustment may result sin a neurotic mother-complex. In this, "the child's instincts are disturbed, and this constellates archetypes," a situation in which an image, it seems, binds a cluster of archetypes together (19). Without going into particulars here, it is enough to say that the mother-complex evidently influences one's psycho-emotional life and one's entire personality depending in degree, of course, on the individual case, which differs especially with the sexes. (See Jung's discussion of typical cases, 19-26.)

But the effects of the archetypes even of the "neurotic" mother-complexes are not entirely negative. Jung also discusses "Positive Aspects of the Mother-Complex'" but these either occur naturally and are magnified by recognition of archetype workings, or stem wholly form this recognition. Conscious use of archetypes is an element of "psychic hygiene" (27). Culture is seemly our constant contact or connection with the "primordial images of life" and must not be eliminated from society (27). A great source of energy lies in archetypes evidenced especially in creativity and the appreciation of art. We say that a work of music or art or poetry "strikes a deep chord in our being." Such depth of feeling owes to a primordial past, a body of earliest human or even animal experience even now present in each individual in the collective unconscious, instincts, and archetypes.

Although freedom from archetypes would seem to be impossible even undesirable consciousness of their active influence (on our thoughts and acts) would seem to be at lest less discouraging than is a merely vague notion as to the control that is not ours indeed, this awareness is therapeutic and improves our person. "A complex can be really overcome only if it is lived out to the full" (32-3). The thing needed and desired in the individual is integration of personality, a settling of conflicting desires and wishes, a balance of instincts in a word, what Jung calls individuation: "the unity of consciousness or of the so-called personality" (38). It is desirable to reduce the negative aspects of archetypes and complexes, thereby increasing the positive aspects.

Mann, in "Freud and the Future," speaks only of the glories of myth as a way of life from the very start: "For the myth is the foundation of life; it is the timeless schema, the pious formula into which life flows when it reproduces its traits out of the unconscious" (371). This is a sharp parallel with Jung's form from the unconscious. In myth, which is outside of time, we find depth of feeling by association with other human beings present, past, and future. Our actions, when consciously governed by ritual, become entirely meaningful even sacred because of this association. "Life in the myth, life as a sacred repetition" is not only an imitation of past heroes, etc., but an actual identification (372-3). Lastly, Mann speaks of a "freer" mankind in the future, owing to Freud's therapies and especially to use of myth (375). But the problem of freedom is not solved to my satisfaction: living a patterned, ritualized, repetitive existence, with frequent or continuous identification with those past this is static and bespeaks of an over-affirmation of the death instinct through repetition-compulsion!

Jung and Mann both argue for spiritual or psychic growth, for increased freedom through recognition of controlling factors. Both appeal to the idea I have called depth of feeling: life is made beautiful by the realization that in archetypal acts we are experiencing what all people have experienced. (Herein lies the continuous appeal of the initiation theme, for example, in film and literature.) But in this association, individuality is lost (not that this is undesirable from certain philosophical or religious points of view) the desire for which is what Freud himself called the Nirvana-principle. The only solution to the problem as I see it is that we can only be free in choosing what patterns we will utilize (or will utilize us), which archetypes will be real for us, which myths to live. If Jung and Mann are correct, freedom is a problem indeed; but if the behaviorists and determinists are right, freedom is impossible. As a last measure, we can sing praises of consciousness, trying to convince ourselves how happy we are to be conscious at all.

Another solution to the problem may have been suggested in a recent work. Mann said of man: "If his existence consisted merely in the unique and the present, he would not know how to conduct himself at all; he would be confused, helpless, unstable in his own self-regard, would not know which foot to put foremost or what sort of face to put on" (372). But in the teachings of Yaqui Indian "sorcerer" don Juan presented in the writings of Carlos Castaneda, we can never know which foot to put forward, never know "the ropes," and yet we feel we must appear to have everything under control. To take cover in archetype and myth, in this view, is weak indulgence. If a man cannot stand alone, on his own two feet, and face the void, then let him fall. Nietzsche demonstrated in his works and in his own life that one cannot be free and have security as well; with true freedom everything is left behind, including security.

Perhaps a compromise or dialectic is possible. If one is completely free, then one can freely move between freedom and security, consciously choosing to pattern one's actions and thoughts one moment and to act spontaneously the next moment. The problem is still to attain freedom in the first place, which entails giving up security with no assurance it can be regained.




Castaneda, Carlos. Tales of Power. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1974.

Jung, Carl Gustav. Four Archetypes. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969. Trans., R. F. C. Mull.

Mann, Thomas. "Freud and the Future" (1937). In Henry Murray, ed., Myth and Mythmaking. Boston: Beacon Press, 1968.




Professor's Comments: This is nicely set up and argued. Do you think Mann is repetitive-compulsive" in his novels? I suspect not he uses myth with considerable freedom. In Castaneda, is the role of the sorcerer mythic? Is Castaneda mythic, or does he set up myths and then work beyond them? Grade: A. [Dr. Nancy Goslee]





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