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Psychologist Uses Mythology to Get Point Across

An Interview with Jonathan Young, Psychologist and Mythologist

by David McIntyre, Monterey County Herald, 1995

Jonathan Young tells stories. And he is good at it. Some are fairy tales. Some stretch the imagination. Some are prophetic, some humorous and some mythological.

One might wonder, though, what a grown man with a Ph.D. in psychology is doing telling stories like "The Princess and the Frog" to a room full of adults. For Young, it is part of his profession.

Dr. Young organized the Department of Mythological Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute, outside Santa Barbara. A licensed consulting psychologist, Young is in demand as a speaker at educational institutions, at religious centers and in corporate settings.

Using mythology as a base, and inspired by the teachings and writings of the late Joseph Campbell - who he assisted during Campbell's frequent seminars at Pacifica - Young "applies the insight of depth psychology to the varieties of human experience revealed in myth, literature, art and religious traditions."

Young has been on the Monterey Peninsula this week as keynote speaker at the national convention of Religious Science at Asilomar.

One in six children in a conservative religious family which traveled a great deal, his father was an organizer for evangelist Billy Graham.

"I was thinking of a church career and I considered the ministry, but it just didn't appeal to me. I even went to a religious school as an undergraduate. Then I moved into counseling and did graduate work in San Diego where I was fortunate enough to to study with Victor Frankl, Rollo May and Carl Rogers. It was through May that I first learned about the role of mythology in psychology," Young says.

But it was his relationship with Campbell which perhaps has been the largest influence on Young's life. Indeed, upon Campbell's death and the decision by his family to give his papers and books to Pacifica, Young was named as founding Curator of the Joseph Campbell Archives and Library.

"There are three forms of access to mystery," Young says. "Image or symbolism, ritual enactment and mythology. (Through my presentations) I try to help people develop some small skill at the method Campbell used so that they might see, through stories, the figurative connections between ritual elements in stories and moments in every day life."

"Each person has a different viewpoint. Each has a personal mosaic, a collage, of images, rituals, stories, devotional practices, which form a personal spiritual path."

The Princess and the Frog Prince

"I believe people come to hear these talks because they are longing for contact with the sacred and an awareness of the need for a new form of connection. One approach, used by Campbell, is through the symbolic reading of stories," he says.

In the introduction to SAGA - Best Writing on Mythology, due for publication by White Cloud Press this year, which he edited, Young says, "These are the stories of people, like us, making their journeys through life."

He adds, "In a time of individual and social troubles, when there is less certainty about familiar guideposts, we may do well to reach back for the timeless lessons of ancient stories. Every large event which comes along takes us into unfamiliar territory. Mythology helps us face the best moments and the worse. The gift of mythic visions is that it provides us with maps. We do not have to start from scratch. Those who have traveled this way before have left us bits of guidance. "

"By listening closely to the sacred rituals of all times, we become more aware of the symbolism in familiar rituals. The rice and almonds at a wedding symbolize fertility. The light at winter holidays represents the divine spark of the life force. The pageantry of graduation marks an initiate's return from a quest for knowledge. Rituals, sacred images and epic tales fill our lives - once we begin to see with a mythic imagination. We discover that rich meanings have always been operating in our daily lives," he concludes.

August 19, 1995