Mythologems: Incarnations of the Invisible World
Toronto, Inner City Books, 2004
Reviewed by Stephen Morrissey, The C.G. Jung Society of Montreal Newsletter, November 2004
James Hollis's Mythologems: Incarnations of the Invisible World continues the author's exploration of the importance of mythology begun in his 1995 Inner City Book, Tracking the Gods. Myth, for Hollis, "is perhaps the most important psychological and cultural construct of our time." Mythologems is a term that might be familiar to some Jungians but not found in my copy of the Oxford English Dictionary or Funk & Wagnalls Standard College Dictionary. Hollis defines a mythologem as "a single, fundamental element, or motif, of any myth. The motifs of ascent or descent are mythologems. The hero's quest embodies two such mythologems: the hero and the quest, each of which has a discernible lineage and separable meaning, and yet synergistically enlarge each other." Mythologems are therefore specific motifs found in mythology.
We find in the invisible world the content of both our inner conflict and our psychopathology. Psychopathology is defined by Hollis as "the expression of the soul's suffering". Surely this description is part of the beauty and attractiveness of a Jungian approach to inner work: it turns away from a solely clinical and reductionist description of psychology and restores the numinous, the spiritual, and the epiphanous to the description of the complexity of the psyche.
This approach to psychology is not a flight from science (as it is found in what Hollis refers to as the therapeutic bible, the DSM-IV) or a rejection of the modern but rather it is a continuation of mankind's ancient journey to wholeness and completion. Hollis writes, "To map the psychological terrain of a person is to engage in mythographology, to depict the various scripts which each fragment of the whole embodies... The manifold forms of the child, of father, of mother, and also our relationships to them, play out in the schemes and fantasies of everyday life."
For Hollis, who acknowledges he is only one along with many other writers, it seems "there is a malaise in the soul of modern man" that can only be brought to consciousness by reflection on the inner life. The archetype of the child has been lived out by all of us: Hollis discusses "the child as original form", "the lost child", and "the child god". Parents have an obvious archetypal function in the psychology of their children. It should be noted that others, who are not biological parents, can assume the parental role in people's daily life, for instance anyone in authority, such as a teacher or landlord or police officer, can assume some aspect of the parental archetype.
We know that the father imago is a source of empowerment for the young and when absent can result in disempowerment. Hollis writes, "... whenever we are dealing with our own capacity or impotence, whenever we are serving the imago Dei or questioning its relevance to our actual life, we are dealing with the father archetype in all its many forms." Part of the empowering role of the father is that the child will seek to overthrow whatever symbol of authority is necessary for the child to achieve an authentic life of his or her own.
The mother archetype is, as Hollis writes, "both the source of life and of death." There are positive and negative expressions of the feminine; some mothers nurture their children while others actively discourage the child's individuation. Hollis discusses "the son's enmeshment with the mother"; he writes, "The power of the mother complex to affect the archetypal ground of the son cannot be overemphasized." Men who have been enmeshed with the mother's negative feminine can remain adolescent—what C.G. Jung called the puer aeternus—or express in their personal life destructive "Don Juan" behaviour. Meanwhile, there is also "the daughter's enmeshment with the mother" and Hollis describes the different scenarios women experience from inadequate or destructive mothering.
Another mythologem of importance for us is the "Hero's Task" which includes the work of individuation. The "Hero's Task" requires that we "align our conscious choices with our individuation agenda." There are two other mythologems that should be noted: Catabasis refers to stories of descent to the underworld while spiritual rebirth, ascent, or Anabasis, is "a going up in order to bring the gift to consciousness." It would not be an exaggeration or untruth to say that many of us have experienced both descent and ascent in our life's journey.
The concept of the Divine, as a mythologem, also interests Hollis. He writes, "Looked at archetypally, a god is an image which arises out of a depth experience, an encounter with mystery." According to Hollis, God is not a fixed entity but "always renewing itself". Further, Hollis elaborates,
Gods ignored, which is to say, primal energies repressed, split off, projected, today show up as neuroses. They are the animating wounds manifest in history, acted out in families, public forums or the sundry deformations of the private soul.
Still discussing the mythologem of the Divine, Hollis quotes Canadian archetypal psychologist Ginette Paris: "An ancient Greek whose destiny was going badly would ask which divinity he or she had offended. This questioning was part of what we would call therapy." With regard to the Divine, Hollis concludes, "The gods have hardly departed; they have simply gone underground and reappear as wounds, as inflations, as pathologies..." Finally, Hollis is critical of both science that is divorced from the human soul and fundamentalist religion with its dogmatic emphasis on what is perceived as God's "word". While science and religion are traditionally mutually exclusive, they have something in common when they reduce experience to a rigid set of rules and perceptions.
Contemporary American society appears to have forsaken the invisible world and has become, to use Hollis's word, "sterile". It is a society that can seem hostile to the multiplicity, variety, and complexity of the invisible world. Nevertheless, Hollis states that it is not too late to recover, by examining myth and its disparate mythologems that reveal the mystery and depth of the unconscious mind. Hollis writes, "The archives of our tribe are not so far gone that we do not remember a time when they were connected directly to the gods." Responsibility for our psychology rests inescapably with each one of us, but Hollis's book—written with intelligence and compassion—can help make the inner journey that much more accessible.
Copyright © 2007 The author