The Loss of Myth

The Loss of Myth

Medusa by Arnold Böcklin, circa 1878

. . .the individual who wishes to have an answer to the problem of evil, as it is posed today, has need, first and foremost of self-knowledge, that is, the utmost possible knowledge of his own wholeness. He must know relentlessly how much good he can do, and what crimes he is capable of, and must beware of regarding the one as real and the other as illusion. Both are elements within his nature, and both are bound to come to light in him, should he wish — as he ought — to live without self deception or self-delusion (C.G. Jung, MDR, pg 330).

I’ve been thinking a lot this past week of the sixteen dead in Afghanistan, the victims of an obviously disturbed Army sergeant. I am not of the mind that we should resort to cause-and-effect thinking to try and find a rationale for such an act. Something so heinous is unexplainable in anything resembling rational terms. War is hell, indeed, as it has always been. This is not the first such atrocity. History is replete with wartime slaughter of innocent civilians.
I just read a headline, which stated: “Could brain injury have sparked soldier’s rampage in Afghanistan?” In our culture of scientism, the first thought that comes to mind is that there must be a biological or chemical explanation for such evil. This is a shallow response, devoid of deep thinking and contemplation. It is the age-old problem of what philosophers call theodicy. Thinkers have been wrestling with it for two millenia. It’s not going to be that easy to explain. Our simple-solution culture can’t cope with deep problems like this, so they try to materialistically rationalize it away.
What I always try to do is think mythologically when such catastrophes occur. If we are to survive, we must do this, for myths and symbols are the filtering mechanisms the psyche uses to temper the onslaught of the overwhelming tsunami of unconscious forces latent within us. One of the real problems in our world, and especially in our Western culture, is that mythological and symbolic thinking is of little or no importance anymore. This has brought about much suffering in the West.
Is it possible that Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales did not posses significant mythologies and protective symbols that would have allowed him to deflect the onslaught of evil arising within him? It is not uncommon nowadays for people to be totally ignorant of the power of myths and symbols. Such precious knowledge should be taught to our children in our schools. A long time ago, a classical education was remedy to many societal ills. Now, all we study is technology, not to live, but to work and profit our corporate masters. Perhaps Sgt. Bales was overcome by a flood of unconscious evil that he, in his weakened Western malaise, could not control.
This is not something that has arisen recently either. The degradation of mythological thought has been occurring since the Enlightenment. Somewhere along the way, we either lost these treasures of Soul, or we purposely discarded them, exchanging knowledge of Soul for scientific (materialistic) knowledge.
Just as Perseus used Athena’s polished shield to view Medusa’s hideous reflection without being turned to stone, so we reflect upon images and symbols to better understand the evil within us, without giving ourselves over to it. This is the purpose of the Shadow archetype, in Jungian terms. We are protected by the myths; they have a mitigating effect on the power of the unconscious forces. We live without them to our demise.


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2 thoughts on “The Loss of Myth

  1. Powerful post, Mark.

    I also think that our culture has traded in the old archetypal-style myths for “rational ones”. Such as, “Life was an accident of chance chemical interactions”, or, “No, you do have an eternal nature, but it's tainted.”

    Then when atrocity hits, authority figures across the land will say, “HOW did such a thing happen?” What do you mean? It's been drilled into peoples' consciousness since they could speak that their life was either a meaningless accident or else inherently sinful. Where, out of that, was a sense of the sacredness of life supposed to have come?

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