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Strictly speaking, a myth is a historical document.


Analytical Psychology: Notes of the Seminar given in 1925 by C.G. Jung (Collected Works of C.g. Jung)

Question 2: Can myth be equated with a collective dream? If so, are we to assume that a historical event either precedes or follows it?

Dr. Jung: Here you must define more precisely what you mean by myth.

Strictly speaking, a myth is a historical document.

It is told, it is recorded, but it is not in itself a dream.

It is the product of an unconscious process in a particular social group, at a particular time, at a particular place.

This unconscious process can naturally be equated with a dream.

Hence anyone who “mythologizes,” that is, tells myths, is speaking out of this dream, and what is then retold or actually recorded is the myth.

But you cannot, strictly speaking, properly take the myth as a unique historical event like a dream, an individual dream which has its place in a time sequence; you can do that only grosso modo.

You can say that at a particular place, at a particular time, a particular social group was caught up in such a process, and perhaps you can so to speak condense this process, covering it may be several thousand years, and say this epoch historically precedes such and such, and historically follows such and such.

This is a very troublesome undertaking.

What precedes the myth of Osiris, for example?

The Osiris myth goes back to approximately 400o B.C.

What preceded it?

Total darkness.

We just don’t know.

And what followed it?

The answer to this is of course much easier: the Osiris myth was followed by the Christ myth.

That is perfectly clear, even though theologians assure us that remarkably enough the mental outlook of the New Testament has nothing to do with Egyptology, or precious little; but it is simply that people know too little, that’s all.

I will give you only one example.

As you know, Christ’s genealogical table in the New Testament consists of 3 x 14 names.’

The number 14 is significant, because at the great Heb-Sed festival of the ancient Egyptians, celebrated every thirty years to reaffirm Pharaoh as God’s son, statues of 14 of his ancestors were carried before him at the procession, and if 14 ancestors couldn’t be found, some invented ones were added—there had to be 14 of them.’

Well, in the case of God’s son Christ, who was of course infinitely more exalted than Pharaoh, there had to be 3 x 14 generations, and that is a Trishagion, the well-known triple formula for “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Sabaoth.”

This triple repetition is simply an expression of the numinosity of the “Thrice Holy.”

Here, then, we have one such trace [of Egyptian influence].

If you carefully study the statements about Christ that have been handed down historically, you will find they are mythological statements intimately connected with the myth of Osiris.

That is why Christianity spread into Egypt without meeting the slightest resistance.

The country was Christianized in no time because all the necessary precedents already existed.

Take for example the fish, the fish attribute of Christ: it was swallowed by the Egyptians without question because they already had a day on which a certain fish might be eaten and on other days not.

All this quite apart from the spiritual content of the Osiris myth.

Now it is the case with most myths, when you examine them more closely, that the historical event can be established post festum but not ante festum, because the more numinous these mythological statements are, the further they recede into the dim bygone of human history.

We at any rate are in the fortunate position of late epigoni, who, looking back on three Platonic months, three aeons of conscious history, can demonstrate that these myths form a continuity.

Thus the Osiris myth was clearly superseded by the Christ myth.

This is one of the finest examples of mythological continuity.

It is as though in the course of the millennia slow upheavals took place in the unconscious, each new aeon being as it were ushered in by a new myth.

The myth is not new, it is age-old, but a new version, a new edition of it, a new interpretation characterizes the new epoch.

That is why, for the ancients, the transition from one age to another was an important event.

For instance Hammurabi, the famous Babylonian lawgiver, felt he was the Lord of a new aeon; he lived around 2000 B.C.

That is roughly the time when the Jewish tradition began.

Think, also, of the Augustan Age another two thousand years later, which began with Divus Augustus, whose birth was regarded as the birth of a savior.

And if you recall Virgil’s 4th Eclogue,’ you will see that the child who ushers in the coming age is a bringer of peace, a savior, who was naturally interpreted by the Christians as Christ.

The date of Virgil’s poem is pre-Christian. For him it was certainly the birth of Augustus that was meant.

At that time there was a tremendous longing for redemption in Italy, because two thirds—please note—two thirds of the population consisted of slaves whose fate was hopelessly sealed.

That gave rise to a general mood of depression, and in the melancholy of the Augustan Age this longing for redemption came to expression.

Therefore a man who knew how to “mythologize,” like Virgil, expressed this situation in the 4th Eclogue.

Thanks to this prophetic gift he is also the psychopomp in Dante, the guide of souls in purgatory and in hell.

Afterwards, of course, in the Christian paradise, he had to surrender this role to the feminine principle [Beatrice], and this is naturally highly significant in view of the future recognition of the feminine figure in Christianity.

But all that was in Dante’s time.

Then, as you know, it was six hundred years until the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was promulgated by Pius IX,’ and another hundred years until the promulgation of the Assumption. ~Carl Jung, C.G. Jung Speaking – Interviews and Encounters, Pages 370-373.

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