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Carl Jung explained the idea of universal patterns or images that appear in dreams, myth, and art. Each person has a unique pattern of these components of the imagination but the building blocks are shared. Taking an archetypal perspective is looking for these key elements in a story and considering what guidance the images might offer. The symbols in the story mirror the qualities within. Studying these archetypal patterns in myths or movies can help us integrate our energies more fully.
One rewarding exercise is to review favorite stories from childhood. If a girl is drawn to the Cinderella story, she may be somebody who will be able to survive lengthy emotional hardship and find meaning in life. A boy who likes the knights of the round table may have the makings of a dedicated activist against injustice. It is fairly simple to notice which characters have held our interest over the years. Noticing how they manage the ordeals is crucial. Mythic stories help us through the heartbreaking disasters by showing us the way through the dark night of the soul.
Most of my work is with artists and seekers. The classes on the schedule at folkstory.com do qualify as continuing education for health professionals, but many others attend. There is another schedule on the site called Community Presentations that lists the many workshops I give for universities C.G. Jung Societies, Joseph Campbell Mythological Roundtable groups, retreat centers, and conferences. There has been quite a mythic revival since Joseph Campbell appeared on television with Bill Moyers. The resources section at folkstory.com has a list of links to opportunities for further study in the mythic imagination.
Some of the most mythic tales are now being told in movies. The studios were drawn to tell initiatory journey stories after George Lucas adapted Joseph Campbell to the screen in the Star Wars series. Avatar takes us to a place of mystery and shows the way toward meaning. We go on the adventure and, like the key characters, are invited to deep inner change. We are free to open the doors to perception or just take it as an entertainment. Avatar reminds us of the ongoing choice between obsession with control -- and the instinctual life in accord with nature. It is a collective challenge and a personal task. It is not just the greed of giant corporations. We are all tempted to dominate nature, both internally and externally. Much is lost if we indulge in the worship of control. A reflective inner life involves yielding to emotion, intuition, and creativity. That is the path of imagination and beauty.
One big effect of the increase in media options has been a flowering of narrative. We are in a golden age of story. Tales are more available that honor tragic experiences without the fake comfort of tidy answers. With all the emerging channels, there is probably more accessible wisdom than any previous time in history.
Screenwriters got stuck on the Hero's journey for awhile as if the coming of age narrative is the whole of mythology. They are now discovering there are many other forms to be explored. There are several large transitions in a life. In psychology, we call them life-stage crisis experiences. These threshold moments make for good stories. The tale of the young hero is not the only great adventure. Mature stories may include greater nuance and ambiguity, such as the inner radiance we sometimes gain from loss and sorrow.
There is always a new Holy Grail. It is much like the old one. On an internal level, it can be a meaning or purpose strong enough to hold our attention. It may be finding a cause to serve that transcends mere self-interest. If you follow your bliss, it is possible to channel personal energies in a way that bridges selfishness and generosity -- where the activities that are most rewarding are also the most useful to others.
When I was young, Robin Hood seemed like a rowdy guy who stood up to authority. Now, his cause seems more elegant. It is to restore a true nobility of purpose.
Myths, legends, sagas, and fairytales are not mainly children's literature. They were and are wisdom stories for all ages. Telling or reading mythic lore at bedtime is perfect at any stage of life because of the deep connections between the dreamlife and the mythic imagination. Pondering myths is one of the best methods of gaining a greater understanding of the messages to be found in dreams.
My approach is to take familiar stories and discuss them from a mythic perspective. It may be an old tale or something more recent, like Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia. Pondering the images for symbolic significance is the same as one would do with a dream. People who have taken an interest in their dreams are usually quick to notice the figurative dimensions of highly visual stories. Jung thought of alchemy as a system of transformative learning. If we ponder mythic stories seriously, it will change us in unexpected ways. If we choose to serve the larger unfolding stories of our lives -- and our time, we can profoundly deepen the experience of being alive.© 2010 Planetshifter Magazine