Mythology: The textbook of Archetypes

This month we will explore Jung’s ideas on mythology, especially the way he saw them as representing the unfolding of the archetypes in our lives. The following passage is taken from the published notes on his talks on Nietzsche.

There are other archetypes which may produce panics or which warn you perhaps unnecessarily and cause trouble, the archetype of the passage of the ford or pass, for instance…. Now that is an archetypal situation which has occurred innumerable times, it is not just crocodiles, there are enemies waiting to catch you when perfectly helpless in the water. So fords, difficult passes and such places are supposed to be haunted by dragons or serpents, there are monsters in the deep waters, enemies in the woods,  behind rocks and so on. Fording a river then is a typical situation expressing a sort of impasse, so just that archetype is formulated when one is in any dangerous predicament; and therefore many people become quite unnecessarily archetypally afraid: they are caught msreseby a most unreasonable fear. One can say there is no danger – why the devil don’t you go ahead? – but they are afraid to cross even a little brook. Or it can be more psychological, a fear of going through a certain risk in life which is not really dangerous, but they are terrified as if they had to jump over a crocodile, simply because the archetype is constellated. The crocodile is then in themselves, and it is not helpful because it no longer suits the situation. Naturally, to ordinary, normal people, such things would not happen, but if there is a low threshold of consciousness, where the unconscious can easily get across, these archetypal figures come up. Now, there are a number of archetypal situations and the whole of them make up the world of mythology. Mythology is the text book of archetypes, of course not rationally elucidated and explained, but simple represented, like a picture or a story book. But all archetypes were originally real situations.

C. G. Jung: Nietzsche’s Zarathustra: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1934-1939 …, Volume 1 p 23-24

Steven Walker in his book, Jung and the Jungians on Myth has an interesting reflection on this:

To summarize the process through which archetypal images become the basis for mythmaking: the conscious mind reflecting on the psyche may become aware of an archetypal image – put in Jung’s own terms, there may occur in the mind an “unconscious activation of an archetypal image”. So far we are describing a passive process of perception, not an active process of creation. When, however, the creative imagination manufactures out of elements (archetypal motifs) taken form the storehouse of archetypal images, something more dynamic is at work. Mythmaking thus has to be viewed as an archaic form of artistic activity. As the active and conscious elaboration of an archetypal image, mythmaking brings what is relatively timeless (the archetypal image as a representation of the instinctual world of the archetypes) into the world of human culture. Since the archetypal image as archetypal motif becomes represented in a myth in terms of a particular culture and of a particular moment in history, it is improper to consider a myth as ageless or universal as an archetype, since it bears the particular stamp of the specific age and culture that produces it. (p19)