Who knows what lies beneath the surface of the psyche? Peer deeply into this image. Does it suggest the human psyche? It does to me. Already, I can see dream-like figures rising up. But it’s not. No one’s ever seen the psyche. In fact, this is a photograph the Cariana Nebula found somewhere deep in space. The human mind–so they say–is wired or structured to recognize patterns. Although not very reliable, mine does at least sometimes. Maybe if we could see it, that’s what my psyche [or yours] might look like.
But what’s inside that psyche? Criminal lawyers have an idea. So do forensic psychiatrists. Every day they try to fathom the blood-soaked minds of the criminal. And then there are the so-called ‘normal’ psyches. Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell both know a lot about neurotic psyches which include those of normal functioning human beings.
With crime, fiery emotions so often erupt into the apparent ‘normality’ of everyday life like some demented creature we scarcely recognize as human. The law tries hard and does much to maintain our ordered calm. Science tries to analyze and understand. We prize that vision of a bright and shiny surface, but we are tantalized by the prospect of what lies beneath. The eruption of its opposite surface fascinates us. ‘Madness’ we call it. Of course, it exists in others but not in us—so far as we are aware.
Most of us go from day to day in the ‘normal’ tangible world, acting as if that is all which exists. We have our families, our houses and our cars. We go to the office, the mall, the movies and out to restaurants. But deep down, we recognize, somewhere in us, that there is much more to us and to our lives than meets the eye. Every day, the newspaper tells us so. Frequently, we read that last night, a man raped an elderly woman and stole ten dollars from her purse and a mother took the life of her child. There must be a whole other dimension to life, but not ours. Thank God!
Joseph Campbell, an author, scholar and teacher of mythology, whom I greatly admire, talks about the connection between our everyday lives and myth. He said that,
“The latest incarnation of Oedipus, the continued romance of Beauty and the Beast, stands this afternoon on the corner of Forty Second Street and Fifth Avenue, waiting for the traffic light to change.”
Oedipus? You know, the one who lent his name to the mother complex. What on earth could Campbell have meant? Simply this: that each and every one of us [whether or not we are conscious of it] is acting out all the great mythological themes and dramas in our own lives–today and everyday.”
Joseph Campbell has influenced my writing on many levels. First of all, he emphasizes the importance of our stories as a way of expressing what it means to be human and secondly, because of the themes he considers, such as the power of the unconscious mind. Acquaintance with such ideas has made me think of characters and events as multi-layered and complex. Joseph Campbell wants us to think about our lives and what they mean and so do I. I search for that in our lives and in writing novels about artists and creativity.
Campbell has devoted his life to writing about myths from all different cultures all over the world. The conclusion? Whether we live near the Arctic Circle or in the Amazon jungle, we all tell ourselves the same sorts of stories. Underneath we are far more similar than different and our stories are the life blood flowing in our veins to bind us together.
Another writer, Karen Armstrong writes on the topic of myth and compassion. She points out why we tell our stories. There are two aspects to our minds and spirits. The first, which dominates our western world, is the rational mode of thought. We need that in order to build our cities, make our discoveries and grow our food. These are our scientists.
The second is mythos and it’s just as necessary. Without that aspect of ourselves, how would our creativity, our ideas and our feelings be put to use. But what is its use? This is where and how we dream of bettering our lives and ourselves—and where we create our many forms of art. It is where the spark catches fire.
Sometimes you hear people arguing—especially about religion and whether God exists—that we must only consider what we can see and verify with our senses. That is the rationalist speaking. On the other hand, some people argue that just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. We may sense it in other ways which we don’t really understand. So the rationalist sits in his corner and the believer sits in hers. It’s the old argument science vs. religion
But Karen Armstrong argues in her book A Short History of Myth that all of us need both—the rational frame of mind and the mythos sense—working together harmoniously. The two aspects don’t conflict. Does this mean that the conflict between science and religion is beside the point or even worse— futile? The two complement each other and for us to be whole or complete we need to use both aspects.
So—to pull it all together? So much seems hidden from us in the dark, unplumbed depths of the psyche. There is so much to learn. Yet the stories are so similar that we might conclude that, at least underneath, we are so very alike no matter what the culture, geography or religion.
Finally, the question is really, why waste time with false debates? The mythos is the root or engine of our creativity and the rationalist mind puts the great ideas into effect. And when the two work smoothly together—maybe that’s where genius comes in.
Rather like writing a story! The characters and plot flow from down below in the writer’s psyche and then the writer’s rational mind sharpens its pencil and gets to work.