Posts Tagged ‘mythology’

The International Association for the Study of Myth held it’s first symposium this September in Carpinteria, CA. A group of us presented who are students in Pacifica Graduate Institute’s Mythological Studies Ph.D. program. Our general topic addressed “tending the soul of the world” (Pacifica’s mission) as mythologists: what does that look like in practice?

Each of the six presenters on our panel shared personal and professional experiences. Here is the list, and links to each recorded presentation:

The Risk of Ego Inflation While Tending to Gaia – Ted Myers, MA, MPA, PhD Candidate

The Importance of Mythology in Community Work – Rosalie Bouck, PhD Candidate

Constellated Mythopraxis: Cannibalism, Consciousness, Aloha, and The Womb – Jessica Giambra, PhD Candidate

Mythological Intent: Tending the Soul of a Sustainable World – Felicia Chavez, Green MBA, PhD Candidate

Lady Justice, Knights in Shining Armor, and the Round Table – Margaret Mendenhall, J.D. and LL.M., PhD Candidate

The Practice of Myth in the Trenches of Life – Joe Elenbaas, M.Div., D.Min., PhD Candidate

The presentations were eye-opening and brought up many questions. Each person clearly illustrated how a mythological perspective illuminates larger patters at work in society. Ted checked our “hero” impulse, a potential pitfall of anyone trying to “make the world a better place,” with a story from his own life and career. Rosalie shared insights into how community organizations can better see into and serve the communities with which they are working. Jessie presented an international, social consciousness perspective, and Margaret illustrated how today’s Western systems of law and justice reflect motifs from the court of Arthur. Joe spoke to the heart of religion, what gets in the way of truly being of service and what supports it, and shared from his wealth of personal experience.

My topic, Mythological Intent: Tending the Soul of a Sustainable World, is a peak into the question, what does it mean to be “a mythologist in service to life, to nature, to furthering a sustainable way of life?” I touched on “wild law,” or “rights for nature,” as an example. My main point is that what counts is the “space of consciousness” at work behind the action.

For the text of each presentation, you may click on the presenter’s name at www.mythopraxis.com. For more information about mythological studies in general, including a forum, visit the  International Association for the Study of Myth (sponsored by the Joseph Campbell Foundation, Opus Archives, and Pacifica Graduate Institute). Finally, in the future we hope to post more content relevant to the topic of mythology-in-practice at our YouTube channel, “The Myth Station.”


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This book, The Earth Has a Soul, is a beautiful compilation of a wide variety of Jung’s writings that touch on–as the title says–“Nature, Technology and Modern Life.” But it’s more than that: it’s a seer’s insight into the psyche of a species in trouble.

The editor, Meredith Sabini, sums up a major point: “In order to develop consciousness, we had to separate from the instinctive base of human nature; however, Jung believed the separation had gone too far…” (p 67). Unfortunately, while the separation from nature has “gone too far,” the level of consciousness remains severely limited.

Jung himself lived in a time when European society was making a dramatic shift from rural to urban life (1875 – 1961), and he lived through both world wars. In addition, his personal experiences mining the depth of his own being, along with his life-long studies of human consciousness as a doctor, lent him a perspective on human nature unparalleled in the history of psychology.

Jung’s perspective on the human interaction with nature–or rather, the nature in humanity–was often poetic as well as empirical. His comment here speaks here of what we today call “biomimicry”:

“For instance, the glowworm represents the secret of making light without warmth; man doesn’t know how to produce 98 percent of light with no loss of warmth, but the glowworm has the secret. If the glowworm could be transformed into a being who knew that he possessed the secret of making light without warmth, that would be a man with an insight and knowledge much greater than we have reached…” (84)

His statements often tread the ground between commonly accepted, materialistic language, and referring to supernatural experiences and phenomena as real. However, his genius comes through most clearly when he illuminates points beyond a dualistic perspective entirely.

“It remained for modern science to despiritualize nature through its so-called objective knowledge of matter. All anthropomorphic projections were withdrawn from the object one after another, with a twofold result: firstly man’s mystical identity with nature was curtailed as never before, and secondly the projections falling back into the human soul caused such a terrific activation of the unconscious that in modern times man was compelled to postulate the existence of an unconscious psyche.” (p 86)

The sad result is, “Modern man does not understand how much his ‘rationalism’ (which has destroyed his capacity to respond to numinous symbols and ideas) has put him at the mercy of the psychic ‘underworld'” (p 97). Moreover, we re-encounter the ‘underworld’ in other people: “Projection is one of the commonest psychic phenomena…Everything that is unconscious in ourselves we discover in our neighbor, and we treat him accordingly” (p 111).

The results are plain and frequently family and friends–as well as one’s self–lament about battles with forces that simply don’t conform to our “conscious” expectations.

“He is blind to the fact that, with all his rationality and efficiency, he is possessed by powers beyond his control. The gods and demons have not disappeared at all, they have merely got new names. They keep him on the run with restlessness, vague apprehensions, psychological complications, an invincible need for pills, alcohol, tobacco, dietary and other hygienic systems–and above all, with an impressive array of neurosis.” (p 127)

This is all quite depressing, but in light of recent (not to mention, historic) occurrences, I truly believe it is of utmost importance to look directly at the reality of human neurosis; one’s own, and mass neurosis. That does not mean wallowing and cynicism, but rather, opening our eyes and choosing to behold the truth, or as close as we can get. The crux of non-sustainability is sighing and looking away, doing our best to block out the haunting memory. In that spirit, let’s go one step further down.

First, Jung highlights the mechanism at work, saying, “Even when we have corrected an illusion, it by no means follows that the psychic agency which produces illusions, and actually needs them, has been abolished” (p 130). He speaks of “psychic agency,” which at times can manifest as a demon in the woods behind your house, or something far worse.

“The fantastic, mythological world of the Middle Ages has, thanks to our so-called enlightenment, simply changed its place. It is no longer incubi, succubi, wood-nymphs, melusines and the rest that terrify and tease mankind; man himself has taken over their role without knowing it and does the devilish work of destruction with far more effective tools than the spirits did.” (p 131)

This is the part in the article when we should expect that “ray of hope”; those uplifting words that shed light on possible solutions to the psychological maze. As perhaps expected, the ray of hope is what we often refer to as “return to nature.” That does not mean a backward slide in consciousness, but rather an embrace necessary to sustain life.

“We all need nourishment for our psyche. It is impossible to find such nourishment in urban tenements without a patch of green or a blossoming tree. We need a relationship with nature. I am just a culture-coolie myself, but I derive a great deal of pleasure from growing my own potatoes.” (p 155)

I can say from personal experience that here Jung is at least partially referring to a quite tangible experience of one’s own life force being nourished by the life force of plants, animals and the planet. It’s something that we all intuit, as evidenced by the growing numbers of people populating favorite hiking spots, for example. But it can also be clearly and immediately felt at a conscious level, and with a minimum of stillness and silence. The challenge is that nature’s ability to recharge and sustain us is reliant on our willingness to make way for her: less pavement and pollution, more trees in cities and clean energy sources.

As Jung summaries, “Real improvement can be hoped for only if there is a radical change of consciousness,” (p 160) and in other writings he explains his perspective that humanity is in a rather early stage in the evolution of consciousness. He emphasizes the utmost importance of individuality, “individuation,” as opposed to the “standardized milieu” (p 155). This in part means the direct look at one’s own neurosis, as mentioned above, so as to avoid–or at least learn from–the demons rising from the depths, or projecting the monsters onto “them.”

Truly, I would be happy to post dozens more quotes from this exquisite compilation, but I am happy to leave some discoveries–perhaps the major ones–to future readers.

–Jung, C. G. The Earth Has a Soul: C.G. Jung on Nature, Technology & Modern Life. Ed. Meredith Sabini. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic, 2008.

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