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The Intoxication of Mythology

Red Book

In 1908, Jung bought some land by the shore of Lake Zürich in Küsnacht and had a house built, where he was to live for the rest of his life.

In 1909, he resigned from the Burghölzli, to devote himself to his growing practice and his research interests. His retirement from the Burghölzli coincided with a shift in his research interests to the study of mythology, folklore, and religion, and he assembled a vast private library of scholarly works.

These researches culminated in Transformations and Symbols of the Libido, published in two installments in 1911 and 1912.

This work can be seen to mark a return to Jung’s intellectual roots and to his cultural and religious preoccupations.

He found the mythological work exciting and intoxicating.

In 1925 he recalled, “it seemed to me I was living in an insane asylum of my own making.

I went about with all these fantastic figures: centaurs, nymphs, satyrs, gods and goddesses, as though they were patients and I
was analyzing them.

I read a Greek or a Negro myth as if a lunatic were telling me his anamnesis.”

The end of the nineteenth century had seen an explosion of scholarship in the newly founded disciplines of comparative religion and ethnopsychology.

Primary texts were collected and translated for the first time and subjected to historical scholarship in collections such as Max Müller’s Sacred Books of the East.

For many, these works represented an important relativization of the Christian worldview.

In Transformations and Symbols of the Libido, Jung differentiated two kinds of thinking.

Taking his cue from William James, among others, Jung contrasted directed thinking and fantasy thinking.

The former was verbal and logical, while the latter was passive, associative, and imagistic.

The former was exemplified by science and the latter by mythology.

Jung claimed that the ancients lacked a capacity for directed thinking, which was a modern acquisition.

Fantasy thinking

took place when directed thinking ceased.

Transformations and Symbols of the Libido was an extended study of fantasy thinking, and of the continued presence of mythological themes in the dreams and fantasies of contemporary individuals.

Jung reiterated the anthropological equation of the prehistoric, the primitive, and the child.

He held that the elucidation of current-day fantasy thinking in adults would concurrently shed light on the thought of children, savages, and prehistoric peoples.

In this work, Jung synthesized nineteenth-century theories of memory, heredity, and the unconscious and posited a phylogenetic layer to the unconscious that was still present in everyone, consisting of mythological images.

For Jung, myths were symbols of the libido and they depicted its typical movements.

He used the comparative method of anthropology to draw together a vast panoply of myths, and then subjected them to analytic interpretation.

He later termed his use of the comparative method “amplification.”

He claimed that there had to be typical myths, which corresponded to the ethno-psychological development of complexes.

Following Jacob Burckhardt, Jung termed such typical myths “primordial images” (Urbilder).

One particular myth was given a central role: that of the hero.

For Jung, this represented the life of the individual, attempting to become independent and to free himself from the mother.

He interpreted the incest motif as an attempt to return to the mother to be reborn.

He was later to herald this work as marking the discovery of the collective unconscious, though the term itself came at a later date.

In a series of articles from 1912, Jung’s friend and colleague Alphonse Maeder argued that dreams had a function other than that of wish fulfillment, which was a balancing or compensatory function.

Dreams were attempts to solve the individual’s moral conflicts.

As such, they did not merely point to the past, but also prepared the way for the future.

Maeder was developing Flournoy’s views of the subconscious creative imagination.

Jung was working along similar lines, and adopted Maeder’s positions.

For Jung and Maeder, this alteration of the conception of the dream brought with it an alteration of all other phenomena associated with the unconscious.

In his preface to the 1952 revision of Transformations and Symbols of the Libido, Jung wrote that the work was written in 1911, when he was thirty-six:

“The time is a critical one, for it marks the beginning of the second half of life, when a metanoia, a mental transformation, not infrequently occurs.”

He added that he was conscious of the loss of his collaboration with Freud, and was indebted to the support of his wife.

After completing the work, he realized the significance of what it meant to live without a myth.

One without a myth “is like one uprooted, having no true link either with the past, or with the ancestral life which continues within him, or yet with contemporary human society.”

As he further describes it: I was driven to ask myself in all seriousness: “what is the myth you are living?”

I found no answer to this question, and had to admit that I was not living with a myth, or even in a myth, but rather in an uncertain cloud
of theoretical possibilities which I was beginning to regard with increasing distrust . . .

So in the most natural way, I took it upon myself to get to know “my” myth, and I regarded this as the task of tasks—for— so I told myself—

how could I, when treating my patients, make due allowance for the personal factor, for my personal equation, which is yet so necessary for a knowledge of the other person, if I was unconscious of it

The study of myth had revealed to Jung his mythlessness. He then undertook to get to know his myth, his “personal equation.”

Thus we see that the self-experimentation which Jung undertook was in part a direct response to theoretical questions raised by his research, which had culminated in Transformations and Symbols of the Libido.  ~Sonu Shamdasani, The Red Book, Page 197