Jung and the Symbolic Journey by Stephen Foster

Not for a moment dare we succumb to the illusion that an archetype can be finally explained and disposed of…..  The most we can do is dream the myth onwards and give it a modern dress.  (Collected Works, Vol. 9, Part I, p. 160)



In a world where most people seem to pay more attention to the latest football score or sale at Nordstrom’s Rack, its hard to fathom why anyone would be interested in the psychological perspective of the Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung.  But I am sure that you have seen a movie or read a book that has had a powerful effect on you.

Movies like Star Wars, or the Lord of the Rings, or Eat, Pray, Love illustrate certain patterns of human behavior that are mythic, or what Jung called archetypal.  If we are willing to spend a little time alone with ourselves in reflection, or enter into Jungian analysis, we are able to identify some of these themes or patterns in our own lives through the movies or books that hook us. It is as if the movie expresses something within us that we cannot articulate. The projection on the screen is also a projection of something within that is important for us to see, and we are drawn back to it like a moth to a flame.

I remember when I was young my teacher in the small two room country schoolhouse would read from a large green illustrated copy of the Greek myths.  These stories were like movies playing in my imagination, and as I heard the adventures of Jason and his crew in the Argos I imagined that adventure was just around the corner.  The characters in these myths were alive to me.  In the same way, if we review our own personal stories we might see how they reflect an underlying mythic structure. The films or books we are drawn to often complete that part of our mythic journey that we are unable to directly see for ourselves until it is presented on the screen.  The trick is to think symbolically about the images on the screen and imagine them as possible symbolic solutions to our current, often restricted situation.

It is not necessary to act out, or concretize, the fantasy. One does not have to sail around the Mediterranean to feel free. Instead, one can convert it to a symbolic event by asking the question, “What am I looking to satisfy in my desire to have a fantasy voyage around the Mediterranean, and how can I symbolically meet the need in this moment?”  It requires a measure of honesty.  But we all have it in us, and it can save us from some very expensive road trips.