Why Is Myth Important In Our Modern Lives?

Dr. James Hollis


Photograph by: Raymond Gehman, www.raymondgehman.com

Shaku Selmakuvar

What is Myth and why is it important to us in this day and age?

Dr. James Hollis begins his book, Tracking the Gods: The Place of Myth in Modern Life, by suggesting that what makes us human is “the endurance of such questions [as]…Who are we? How did we get here? Where are we going?” These are questions of MYTH. Contrary to the pejorative definition often ascribed to it in our culture, MYTH refers to our deepest desires to locate ourselves in the “great rhythms of change and continuity.” While it may be possible that there is no inherent meaning in these rhythms – they may simply be – as human beings we are structured at our deepest psychological level to stand in meaningful relation to them through posing these mythological questions.


How do we each discover our own myth?

Myth operates not just at the cultural level but also on the personal. Dr. Hollis puts the task of identifying one’s own guiding myth squarely on the shoulders of the individual. In a recent interview about his latest book, Hauntings (conducted by Shaku Selmakuvar) Dr. Hollis suggests, “people have to understand that if their life has to have meaning, they are the ones who have to find it. The question in the end is who is the person you face in the mirror when there are no other distractions. Can you tolerate this person? You have to ask what is the ‘real story of our lives?’” 


Where do we look for our own myth?

In this latest book, some of the content of which will be interlaced into his presentations on myth, Dr. Hollis discusses how the search for one’s own myth takes one into the deepest canyons of the psyche. This is the place of the soul, the wellspring of mythological guidance. The soul is relentlessly suggesting the mythological energy streams (ormythologems) that locate each of us in the ebb and flow of life, but we are often understandably unwilling to make the journey into these deep psychic recesses. Even if we venture forth, we may be resistant to attending to the messages offered by these energy streams.


Why is it important to listen to the psyche in order to discover our myth?

In the same interview cited above about his latest book, Hauntings, Dr. Hollis suggests, “The psyche is never silent. It is always speaking. It speaks through the body, dreams, symptoms, and intuitions. It keeps knocking on the door. When you don’t listen, it has to escalate through physical and psychological symptoms. When you are in a hole and the only tool you have is a shovel, the hole gets deeper. (As one person facing the summons to recovery recently told me, ‘This isn’t working for me, but I have learned to do it well’). Then you know you have to look elsewhere. You know that the methods that you are using to manage your life aren’t working. So you have to go back to the drawing board. When I was 35, I went into depression. I went to see a Jungian analyst and that was the beginning of the second half of my life. Depression is the autonomous refusal of the psyche to cooperate with our current choices. It begs the question, ‘What does the psyche want from me?’”


What haunts us that makes it difficult to find our myth?

“Intrapsychically, we are a sum of voices that are in conflict with each other. My job as an analyst is to look at patterns, dreams, symptoms, and the zones of conflict. ‘Psychotherapy’ actually means, ‘listening, or attending, to the soul.’ It is the bleeding of the soul, the disconnect from renewing springs of meaning, that is the deepest distress of our time. Listening to the soul means we have to identify, and ultimately abandon destructive mechanisms from the past. How many people stay in bad relationships or bad jobs because they are threatened by blocking fears, or are intimidated by the challenges of change, ambiguity, uncertainty, and necessarily moving outside their comfort zone? And yet, what is the price paid if they do not? ”

“You have to ask what is the ‘real story of our lives?’ Are they all real or all unreal? There are different kinds of hauntings. Some are cultural; some are from our experiences of our past and some by our own impunity. We live most of every day on autopilot. We cope through a plethora of addictions and distractions numb us so we cannot hear the distress of the psyche. Another great haunting is the unlived life — what we are capable of but cannot reach because of both internal restrictions and conscious decisions. (One of the signs of a complex is the ready access of rationalizations to justify the status quo). You must ask; ‘What task is my neuroses helping me avoid?’ That task is first growing up, and secondly, not allowing our choices to be governed by fear.”


So Myth is important because…

It suggests the direction in which we can move in life towards “a relationship to what transcends narcissism, namely what is worthy of my service, my sacrifice? We all know at the deepest level what is right and what is wrong for us. The second half of life is an opportunity to recover this integrity, to align ego choices with the intentionality of the self. When we do so, we may still have conflict and suffering, but we also find our journey meaningful and enriching.”

Portrait of Don Streit, LCSW

James Hollis, Ph.D.is a Zurich-trained and internationally acclaimed Jungian analyst and author in private practice. Dr. Hollis is the Executive Director of the Washington (DC) Jung Society as of September 2014, and former Executive Director of the Jung Educational Center of Houston. He is also: professor of Jungian Studies at Saybrook University, San Francisco; retired Senior Training Analyst for the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts; first Director of the Philadelphia Jung Institute; and President Emeritus of the Philemon Foundation. Among his many publications are numerous articles and fourteen books (some of which have been translated into sixteen languages) including The Archetypal Imagination, The Eden Project: In Search of the Magical Other; Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life; What Matters Most: Living a More Considered Life; and his most recent book, Hauntings: Dispelling the Ghosts Who Run Our Lives.


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c/o Richard Chappell
P.O. Box 669
Hallandale FL 33008

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As a Not-For-Profit organization we exist because of the generosity of our friends, volunteers and donors. None of the work that we do would be possible without you.