NUMBER 974 • 2 JUNE • myth
The first problem which somebody will face trying to study ‘myths’ will be the difficulty of the experts in arriving at an acceptably shared definition. The relevant bibliography is impressively huge. The number of definitions is rather bigger than the number of fields which are preoccupied with myth and sometimes the plethora of all these definitions obscures rather than illuminates.
In this farrago of definitions it is possible to forget the initial meaning of the word. It is worthwhile to keep in mind that in the beginning the meaning of the word was ‘logos-speech’, which means ‘without the distinction between true and false’, as we find it in Homer and Aeschylus. It also meant ‘word of mouth’, that is, something which is contained in verbal speech in contrast to ‘action’. The Latin word fabula has the same meaning. According to Aristotle (Poetics), ‘myth’ also refers to the plot of a tragedy. Since the time of Pindarus the word began to lose its initial meaning and, unlike logos, began to mean both ‘false stories’ and ‘historical narration’ of the mythological years (Mitta, 1997, p.18).
Mythology, according to Kerenyi (1941) means an ancient experience of the world, which is irreplaceable for the man of the present, something like a language through which one can discover one’s position in the world. Kerenyi also compares mythology with music. The right attitude towards mythology, he says, emerges through this combination. Myths have a ‘musical appearance’ and like music, are full of meaning. ‘Let the myths speak and just listen to them’ (Jung and Kerenyi, 1941, p. 9)
The present paper does not aspire to define the various versions of myth, as this would not be feasible. We shall try to discuss this issue by focusing on the use of myths in psychotherapy and, more specifically, we will discuss a clinical application of mythology in psychotherapy, the Mythology Group.
The use of myth in psychotherapy
There are many who think that as psychotherapists, we are preoccupied with the stories or myths of our clients on a daily basis, and that in a way, we have often invented other stories (occasionally ‘mythical’) in order to respond to their needs. Tsegos believes that psychotherapy, like every other kind of apprenticeship, represents a meeting of two myths: the myth of the therapist or teacher and the myth of the patient or student (Tsegos, 2002, p. 22).
Freud, who considered that myths were ‘deposits’ from unconscious processes, began his preoccupation with mythology by formulating the theory of the Oedipus complex. He borrowed myths or mythological characters in order to describe psychopathological conditions (eg. narcissism) and sometimes arrived at exaggerated and extreme interpretations of various myths. As a result, he was accused as being himself a myth-fabricator. In Wittgenstein’s words: ‘psychoanalysis is a powerful mythology’ (Wittgenstein, 1938, p.52).
Foulkes comments on myth and psychoanalysis as follows:
‘The therapists are roundly accused of amassing their data to test, not operational hypotheses, but analogies, and more often than not, mythologies. It is not sufficient to claim that a patient behaves in approximately the same way as King Oedipus of Thebes; one must be able to make hypotheses about him which are testable. Otherwise the statement remains, at best, an elaborate and colourful description giving ancient support to thin, modern ideas.’ (Foulkes and Anthony, 1957, p.148)
Jung considers myths as ‘original revelations of the preconscious psyche’ and he argues that ‘myth originates and functions to satisfy the psychological need for contact with the unconscious’ (in Segal, 1998). The psychoanalytic notion (Freudian or Jungian) was followed later by many theoreticians who accepted the etiological character of mythology, i.e. the belief that myths explain or interpret human conditions, historic periods etc.
However, there is also the very opposite side of this etiological approach. Bronislaw Malinowski (1926) refers to the social function of mythology. He initially rejects the symbolic and afterwards the etiological character of the live myth, believing that myth is not an interpretation which can be used in order to satisfy scientific curiosity, but is the awakening of a primitive reality in a narrative form. In his discussion of myths of the Trobriand Islanders, Malinowski argues that the islanders look to events in the distant past to guide their present behaviour. Ancient myths are known to everyone, and are regarded as indications of the right and proper way to behave. Thus they have the sociological function of organising social behaviour, and demarcating what is right and what is wrong. Malinowski calls this the ‘normative influence of myth on custom’ (Malinowski, 1922, p. 328). Kerenyi agrees with Malinowski and adds:
Mythology provides a basis, lays the foundations. It does not have a reply to the question ‘why’ but ‘from where?’. In fact, mythology does not indicate the ‘causes’ (‘reasons’), but the ‘beginnings’. It is the ‘beginnings’ from which springs and to which returns everything that is individual and separate, while them, they remain eternally young, inexhaustible and lasting. The same science which has closed the road to Mythology through its interpretations, the same science is obliged to open it’ (Jung and Kerenyi, 1941, p.13).
Several kinds of art have been used as therapeutic means in different settings and especially in therapeutic communities. The Mythology Group, which we are going to describe is, as far as we know, and as concerns its activity, an original group which started in January 1985 on the initiative of Mrs. Eleni Morarou in the context of the Daily Psychotherapeutic Community. A second one has been functioning within the Fortnight Psychotherapeutic Community since 1998. In these specific groups we approach mythology not through reason or interpretations, but through pure enjoyment, following the belief that:
‘every myth has a basic element of poetry and creative fantasy. Only if one overlooks the issue of truth, then one is able to enjoy myth, or to wonder and start thinking’ (Burkert, 1979, p.21).
NATASSA KARAPOSTOLI, ELEFTHERIA ASSIMINA, DIAMANDO DOGRAMATZI, CHRISTINA TERLIDOU & ELENI MORAROU
Karapostoli, N., Assimina, E., Dogramatzi, D., Terlidou, C. & Morarou, M.(2003). Enjoying myths in psychotherapy. Therapeutic Communities, 24(4), pp.289-291