Through a Jungian Lens

See new site URL –

The Modern Western World’s Sustaining Myth

with 7 comments

I am finding Hillman’s book to be quite challenging and fascinating. He is forcing me to rethink my own muddled ideas about self, and to look at the culture in which I was born and raised. As I read daily in newspapers, editorials and in the social media of Twitter and Facebook, we are, as a culture, caught in a vortex of energy that wants release, wants to escape the messiness of a world we have created. We have “Occupy” movements, we have loud and sometimes violent and destructive protests hoping somehow that we can change the world we have created. But, can we change this bed we have created for ourselves without changing our sustaining myth as a culture? That is the critical question. Certainly, we cannot change that myth if we don’t know what that myth is.

Toby Keith with American troops celebrating a culture of heroes and herosim, celebrating a single-minded myth of the world.

Were we to be interviewed by an aboriginal anthropologist from Australia for our “dream,” our “Gods,” and our “cosmology,” this would be the story we would tell. We would tell of the struggle each day brings to Ego who must rise and do battle with Depression and Seduction and Entanglement, so as to keep the world safe from Chaos, Evil, and Regression, which coil round it like an oppressive Swallowing Serpent. This gives account to our inquirer of our peculiar irrationalities, why we sweep the streets, why we pay taxes, why we go to school and to war – all with compulsive, ritualistic energy so as to keep the Serpent at bay. This is our true cosmology, for Ego, who changes rivers in  their course and shoots to the moon, acts not out of hunger or Gods or tribal persecutions, as the inquiring aboriginal might imagine in his savage mind, so inert and lazy bound to the maternal uroboros, with his “weak ego.” No, our civilization’s excessive activism is all to keep back the night of the Serpent, requiring a single monotheistic single-mindedness, a cyclops’s dynamism of all the God which She and Ego have partaken together at a Western banquet lasting three thousand years and perhaps now coming to it indigestible conclusion as Ego weakens in what we call “neurosis| and the swallowed Gods stir again in the imaginal dark of his shadow and of her belly. Ego and Unconscious, Hero and Serpent, on and Mother, their battle, their bed and their banquet – this is the sustaining myth we must tell to account for our strange ways: why we are always at war, why we have eaten up the world, why we have so little imaginative power, and why we have only one God and He so far away.” (Hillman, Senex & Puer, pp 144-145)


7 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Robert, now you have done it.

    What sustaining myth you ask? Let me propose a somewhat radical, but nonetheless correct, answer to your question. It begins with a simple quote:

    “. . . Every culture therefore lives by myth. Or, if the culture remains mostly unconscious, the culture is lived by its myth. This latter is the case in all primitive and most modern cultures. Their myths go unidentified because they are considered to be ‘truths,’ ‘self-evident facts,’ ‘scientific facts,’ ‘common sense,’ ‘universal values,’ or are quite unconscious.”
    Gerald H. Slusser, in his essay “Jung and Whitehead On Self and Divine, The Necessity for Symbol and Myth,” found in the book “Archetypal Process, Self and Divine in Whitehead, Jung and Hillman.”

    Now, what myth is “living” Western culture? We must be clear here, we are not living a myth, but rather, in our massive unconsciousness, a myth is living us. For me it is clear that the myth living Western(white, Christian) culture is the myth of “The Chosen People.” If you can open your eyes and look around you can see evidence, even today, of its impact. In his book “Chosen People,” Clifford Longley(read a review: traces this concept in English and American history. In reality the idea goes back even further to the 4th century when the Christian church, via the doctrine of “supersessionism,” proclaimed themselves the “Chosen People,” as successors to the Hebrews, because the Jews had failed to keep their covenant with God, see:
    This myth is alive, though rapidly losing its power in Western culture today. The badges of “election, of being chosen” are still with us, they are wealth; and fame/celebrity.

    This subject is worth a much longer discussion, but now I seek only to pose an answer to your question. Keep in mind that Jung’s “Spiritual Problem of Modern Man,” is concerned with these exact issues.

    John Ferric

    April 20, 2012 at 8:22 am

    • John, forgive the delay, but finding the energy to reply sometimes fails me. It is a good thing that comments get saved so that they wait until I am ready to reply. You are right in proposing this myth that is being lived. But that said, there is so much more to say including other myths being lived collectively and individually. As always, I thank you for the depth of your responses and the links to “more.”


      May 3, 2012 at 6:09 pm

  2. Dear Robert and John,

    Thank you both for your very interesting Post.
    Robert dealing with the Mother and John with his (by others) great knowledge of the Chosen People.
    I recall your Post on the day of your birthday last year Robert in which you wrote about the Mother Complex and the picture of the beautiful Dragonfly.
    In the response Post John wrote and revered to the Symbolic origin of the Mother Complex – the Myth of Perseus and Medusa.
    And then John and I continued on the site and John gave his very interesting overview of the Chosen People.

    One time, Jung visited a tribe and he asked the Chief of how he saw the White man.
    Jung wrote (free translation): To my astonishment the Chief told me of indications that I experienced in my psychiatric patients.

    And yes Robert interesting remark about :” …., all with compulsive, ritualistic energy so as to keep the Serpent at bay” – and I like to add, next to compulsive, the word obsessive .

    As you once wrote Robert – we are talking about synchronicity experiences.

    So what about, when what I wrote here above we would melt together for the situation of Robert’s and John’s Post here today – and see what comes out ?!

    This is my response, but of course I am also very interested in the response of Dr. Urspo on the matter and hope that he will write a response.

    Opa Bear

    April 22, 2012 at 9:06 am

    • 🙂 Dear Opa, you have blended well the words and comments of this post and my post of last year. The “Mother” continues to be central to both personal and collective explorations, agendas and eruptions.


      May 3, 2012 at 6:12 pm

  3. Robert,
    Until we can begin to “see” and “understand” the myth that is living our lives for us we cannot even begin individuation. Then, and not one second before, can we begin to “see” and “understand” our own myth; Jung is very clear:

    “Thus it is that I have now undertaken, in my eighty-third year, to tell my personal myth. I can only make direct statements, only ‘tell stories.’ Whether or not the stories are ‘true’ is not the problem. The only question is whether what I tell is my fable, my truth.” MDR, p.3

    John Ferric

    May 4, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    • Again, you find the right words, John. 🙂 Thank you my very wise friend.


      May 8, 2012 at 11:34 am

  4. […] Robert G. Longpré | “The Modern Western World’s Sustaining Myth”  ?  the intrepid educator and psychotherapist on how James’ Senex & Puer “is forcing me to rethink my own muddled ideas about self, and to look at the culture in which I was born and raised.” […]

    Remembering James Hillman

    August 13, 2014 at 1:58 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: