Probably the most infamous connection and possible explanation of mythology is to the human subconscious. In this case, it would be better to specifically say explanation of myths, especially if we in light of the psychological lens consider the individual mythic stories as particular dreams that make up the whole dreamscape reality … a reality that is as complex to comprehend and actually envision through the subconscious as is the whole individual mythological tradition various myths are rooted in.
However, as soon as we consider myths as mere reflections of one’s self or mere dreams, it’s notoriously hard to overlook the position of mythology as something less than the dreamstate. Yet, the myth as dreams theorem paradoxically does not just undermine the potentially far-reaching social, cultural, anthropological traits of myths, it actually enhances their notoriety by trying to understand them as building blocks of one (more or less formalistic, if not structuralistic) way or another … in this case the psyche. All of this is the power of psychology.
Nevertheless, we tend to focus on the “negative”, as the biologically dandy negativity bias presumes. Once the unconscious is let out of the proverbial bag, it’s hard to take the supernatural in myth as serious as in the not so distant past. And not merely that, because the idea of the metaphysics of myth obviously goes beyond both space and time. This is just the modern scientific dogma of thinking we can prove everything and dissect even more than that in order to finally disperse and get rid of anything and everything in connection to the pesky anti-scientific religion … and myth as the religious backbone is indeed the crux of the matter in more ways than one.
Since psychology deals with the mind on the conscious and unconscious level, the issue of behavior, thoughts, beliefs and “truths” can be easily misconstrued, which can and does affect not just one’s conduct, but one’s perception of every single aspect that we can think of. And when you apply that on the larger social level, you easily get enhanced/multiplied versions of thoughts and actions, the reality and factuality of which are far from the main goal. In such a way, the story of a cultural myth is the myth of the story of life, where you play the game of life as best as you can, given your personal biological/cognitive settings.
And before this turns into a tangent about some relativism of life that bears little semblance to the subject matter, the point I’m trying to make is that psychology is – just like every single lens of mythological survey that I’m butchering in this Myth in Theory series of posts – far from perfect in its approach and consequences. It’s not really about perfection as much as about factuality and truth as in any scientific approach, although this fabled … dare I say mythic … notion of perfection is something that I’ve always felt is at the core of psychological examinations. Maybe things get lost in translation, authors in this field express themselves in a particular way or I just don’t get it enough, but when you read especially notorious authors like Freud, you get a sense of grandeur and overwhelming importance at work … whether that is self-imposed or not is another matter.
The other thing is that when I began talking about dreams right off the bat, I was obviously looking at only a certain idea from the immense framework of psychological research. On the other hand, psychological methodology in general to me is extremely diverse and interconnected. From Rank, Peirce, Lacan to Levi-Strauss, psychology and psychoanalysis readily combine with other fields of language study, structuralism(s) and other deconstructive (post)modern theories. Since the mind is at the center of examination and the neural connections between our synapses fire just a bit differently for each and every one of us, it’s actually fantastically ingenious and observant to find concrete and factual connections between us, especially on the “hidden” unconscious level … or on the level of Freudian psychic structures and Jungian archetypes and dreams to circle back.
I would say that the majority of psychological applications to myth stem from influential albeit accordingly quite different researches of Freud and Jung. At least I feel their respective researches have entered the mainstream more than others. I mean, considering popular culture and myth alike, there is plenty of juicy stuff to choose from: from Schrödinger's cat and the paradox of myths as both equally alive as the human condition and dismissed as human religious folly … to Pavlov's dogs as the vague reimagination of Heracles’s (Hellenistic) subjugation of Cerberus’s power which represents nature itself. That’s the juicy stuff that tickles my fancy.
To touch a bit more on Freud and Jung as the psychological yang-yin pairing galore, Freud’s “neurotic” view of religion places myth in the same category of undesired, even primitive stories of the subconscious that hold no academic value, while Jung, on the other hand takes a more holistic and more global approach to myth and religion, reflecting on the issue of dualism, importance of dreams as mythic windows to our world and (equally fixed and fluid) archetypes as the unconscious clues of our understanding of our consequent humanity. If Freud is the conservative straight line in the religious narrative, dismissive to the point of rendering it (scientifically) obsolete, Jung is the sphere that merges oppositions and adds layers to religious understanding. As such, the Trinity for example gets both the Feminine and the Negative principle … and you know that the forced liberals of today gots to love dem apples!
To kind of sum up, if myth (psychologically) indeed happens in the head, it’s a powerful cognitive stimulant that has influenced many a culture and seems to still have intrinsic value for the (post)modern society as well. If myth is a combination of one’s internal world and the greater reality we occupy, it still represents clues of our psyche through which we peer into the mechanism of our very Being. While obviously not all myths are impressive or touch upon the doings of human beings, they were nevertheless written by human authors (looking at the stories from outside of the sacred tradition) and thus reflect human nature in one way or another. Either taking into account the very subjective works of Hesiod, much more meticulous writings of Muslim and Christian body of sacred stories, or the live interplay and enactment of Aboriginal or African myths and rituals, myths are still instructional stories for humans with intricate value … for the mind … and (hopefully) beyond the mind as well.
For reasons of extreme prejudice, the author of this blog wishes to remain anonymous …