Oedipus on a Pale Horse, Journey through Greece in Search of a Personal Mythology Novelsmithing, The Structural Foundation of Plot, Character, and Narration The Mysteries - Daughter of Darkness  The Mysteries - The Dadouchos 
What to Expect Your Personal Mythology Bibliography
In the beginning... Demeter & Persephone Kadmos & Dionysos The Bacchantes
Oedipus Tyrannus Oedipus at Colonus Antigone Seven Against Thebes
Phoenician Maidens The Suppliants The Frogs Afterward

In this part of the introduction to Greek myth, we’ll explore the original writings: Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides; three Homeric Hymns and other assorted ancient writings that apply to our subject.

We’ll follow Oedipus and his family, which is essentially a single storyline, but it will gather about it considerable information concerning several of the gods and goddesses. All the names will at first come as shock, but ignore those you don’t recognize and read for story. Follow the storyline and gradually the spider web of connections will resolve into something meaningful. Keep in mind that all the ancient writings we’ll read are linked to family. Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey are about male glory and adventure, but the tragic poets wrote primarily about family conflict and how it affected the state. Even the Homeric Hymns are about family, mostly divine families.

We'll start by reading two plays about Oedipus written by Sophocles, Oedipus The King and Oedipus at Colonus. These plays will tell the story of his life from birth to death. Then we’ll read two plays about the struggle between Oedipus’ sons for the throne of Thebes, one by Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes, and the other, The Phoenicia, by Euripides. Following those, we’ll read Sophocles’ Antigone, about the burial Of Oedipus’ two sons. Finally we’ll read The Suppliant Women by Euripides, which is again set at Eleusis, where we started, and concerns the burial of those who supported the losing cause of the one brother who tried to regain the throne of Thebes.

But during the last class, after we bury of the dead, we’ll follow Oedipus’ last descendent into the Aegean to an island now called Santorini but also called, as it was in ancient times, Thera. The island was named for Theras, Oedipus’ last known descendent. The volcanic island is one of the most dramatic landscapes in the world, brilliant white buildings of the modern town atop startling sheer cliffs overlooking the crystal blue waters of the Aegean with steam rising from the black rocks in the center of the volcano. But the island’s history goes back far into the mists of time before the volcano’s irruption in 1628 BC, the most powerful natural event since mankind has walked the earth. Scholars and enthusiasts alike are gradually coming to the almost inescapable conclusion that Thera is indeed Atlantis.

We'll also read one additional play, The Frogs, is a comedy written by Aristophanes, which is interesting because of its relationship to ancient theatre and because Euripides and Aeschylus appear in the play as characters and debate tragedy.

Now on with the ancient writings.

The Laius/Oedipus Myth

Following the death of Pentheus, the throne of Thebes passed to Polydorus, Kadmos’ son. But Polydorus died young and left the throne to Labdacus who also died young which made his son Laius king. But Laius was also but a child, so Lycus, a descendent of the Sparti, became regent. Because of unrest in the city, Laius was sent to Pelops in the Peloponnese [Pelops’ island] to be raised. While there Laius fell in love with Pelops’ son Chrysippus. When Laius left for Thebes to take over the throne, he kidnapped and raped the young boy, Chrysippus, who committed suicide from shame. For this Laius’ descendents were cursed for three generations. 

Laius took Jocasta, also a descendent of the Sparti, to wife, but they had no children. Wishing for a male heir, Laius went to Delphi to see why he and Jocasta had no children. Apollo told him that he should have no children by Jocasta, because if he did, the son would grow up to kill him. This was punishment for his homosexual rape of Chrysippus. Laius returned to Thebes and avoided sleeping with Jocasta for a while, but one night after becoming intoxicated with wine, he could no longer resist her affections, and they slept together. As a result Oedipus was born. Three days after his birth, Laius pinned the baby’s feet to keep him from walking even in the Afterlife, and had him exposed on Mt. Kithaeron.  

The shepherd who took little Oedipus from his mother’s breast couldn’t stand to see the child die and passed him off to another shepherd who took the child to the king of Corinth, who had no children. Oedipus was raised as the king’s son. When as a young man, Oedipus was told by a drunk at a banquet that he (Oedipus) was not the king’s son, Oedipus went to his father and asked about it. The king assured Oedipus he was his son. His doubt persisted, and Oedipus went to Delphi to resolve the matter. But Apollo didn’t answer Oedipus’ question concerning his parentage instead saying that Oedipus was destined to kill his father and marry his mother. Oedipus then refused to return to Corinth and instead struck out across country toward Phocis. At a crossroads, he met a man in a carriage and a dispute over the right-of-way ensued. Oedipus killed the man, who was in fact Laius, the king of Thebes and his father. Oedipus then went on to Thebes where the city was under siege by a Sphinx, a beast half-lion and half-woman. Every day the Sphinx sat at the gate to the city and asked the following riddle: What goes on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three at evening? When she didn’t get an answer she devoured one of the young men of Thebes. Oedipus encountered the Sphinx but knew the answer: man. As a baby he crawls on all fours, as a man he walks erect, as an old man he uses a cane. The Sphinx then killed herself. Since the throne was vacant and the queen’s husband recently killed, Oedipus was given both the throne of Thebes and the queen for his bride. Of course, the queen was his mother. 

All this has already happened as the play Oedipus Tyrannus begins, but the story is recounted during the action, and we hear in Oedipus’ own words how he killed his father. We also hear it told in the words of the only man to survive from Laius’ entourage. Plus we get to hear Jocasta’s description of she and Laius pinning the baby’s feet and sending it to its death on Kithaeron. 

At this point, it would serve our purpose well to note the similarities between the lives of Oedipus and Dionysus. Both were born at Thebes and “twice-born.” Sophocles will even call Kithaeron “Oedipus’ mother,” his second mother. Both were sent from Thebes to be raised and returned to receive their glory. Oedipus also has a dual nature. He was the prince of Corinth but also a native of Thebes. More similarities will become apparent when we study Oedipus’ life in succeeding plays. 

Teiresias: the most famous seer in all antiquity. 

One of the primary characters in Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus is the aged, blind seer Teiresias. He holds a primary thematic position in the story as the man who reveals the future and the will of the gods. Prophecy is the cornerstone of this story, if not all Greek tragedy, and Teiresias is the most skilled at his craft. So who is this guy Teiresias? Why is he blind and how does blindness affect his prophecy? 

Teiresias was another descendent of a Sparti, Udaeüs. Teiresias is one of the most interesting characters in Greek mythology, yet we have no tragedy where he is the protagonist, though he plays a part in many. We do know that the goddess Athena blinded Teiresias when he was just a young man. The legend of Teiresias’ blinding is contained in a Callimachus hymn, On The Bath of Pallas, [Athena was also called Pallas] which I’ve attached. Callimachus was a 3rd century BC poet and teacher of grammar and poetry in Alexandria where he was librarian. I provide the story not only for its telling of the blinding of Teiresias and him receiving the gift of prophecy in recompense, but also because it tells about Athena and Teiresias’ mother, Chariclo.

The student should now read the On The Bath of Pallas.

Teiresias saw the future by listening to the sounds of bird fight, and frequently we hear of his bird observatory there at Thebes. Teiresias also had a daughter, Manto, who led her father by the hand. Among the other oddities concerning the life of Teiresias is that he lived for seven generations, about 175 years.

Therefore, he is the one person whose life spans the time from Kadmos to that of Oedipus’ grandsons. During the last class I’ll speak of Teiresias’ death following the destruction of Thebes and show you where he died. His legend continues, even after death, for Odysseus, while trying to find his way home after the Trojan War, visited Teiresias in the Underworld because he was the only mortal to retain his wits after death. 

Creon: the man who comes and goes as regent of Thebes. 

Creon, Jocasta’s brother, is regent at Thebes following Laius’ death and is also the one who gave the throne to Oedipus following his encounter with the Sphinx and the one who gave his sister to Oedipus to be his wife. After Oedipus learns that he is the murderer of his father and has had children by his mother, Oedipus abdicates the throne and Creon again becomes regent, this time for Oedipus’ sons. We’ll hear from Creon many times as the story of Thebes unfolds in coming tragedies. 

Ancient Corinth: the city on Isthmus. 

Corinth lies at the headland of the Peloponnese, on the Isthmus to the mainland, and was one of the most important commercial and military cities in antiquity. All overland traffic from north Greece and Attica had to pass through the Isthmus. Sea-lanes radiated in all directions by virtue of its two harbors, one on the Gulf of Corinth to the northwest that gave access to the Ionian Sea and Italy and the other on the Saronic Gulf to the southeast providing access to the Aegean. Oedipus was raised at Corinth as the son of king Polybus and his Queen Merope. 

The ancient city resides at the foot of a mountain, the Acrocorinth, which was the domain of Aphrodite, goddess of erotic love. Corinth was famous the world over for its worship of Aphrodite and its brothels. From the top of the Acrocorinth you can see across the Gulf of Corinth to the white buildings on the side of Mt. Parnassos that are the Oracle at Delphi. When Oedipus left Corinth and ended up at Thebes, he left the city of Kamos’ wife’s mother (Hermione was Aphrodite’s daughter) and went to the land of her father, Ares. Corinth is famous today because St. Paul visited the city in 52 AD. While there he preached in a synagogue at first and later in a private home. He stayed with Aquila and Priscilla, a Jewish couple recently expelled from Italy, and wrote Romans and Thessalonians I and II while there. After he left Corinth, he also wrote two letters, now known as Corinthians I and II, to early Christians there. 

Delos: the most sacred island in the Aegean. 

The story of the birth of Apollo is contained in the first part of The Homeric Hymn to Apollo on the island of Delos. The second part of the hymn is about the founding of his oracle at Delphi. Delos is one of the smallest islands in the Aegean, yet it was recognized during antiquity as being one of the most sacred. The island is less than three miles long and only 0.8 miles wide. The Hymn to Apollo tells us that Apollo was born there but his twin sister, Artemis, was born somewhere else. Yet according to other traditions, Artemis was born there first on the hill Cynthus. Several temple about the island attest to it being also sacred to the goddess. 

One other reason for the island’s fame is that Theseus [who we’ll study in the next session] visited the island after his trip to Crete to kill the Minotaur. 

Delphi: the most sacred Oracle in all antiquity. 

The second part of The Homeric Hymn to Apollo is about the founding of Apollo’s oracle at Delphi. Kadmos visited Delphi while searching for his sister Europa, as did Laius and Oedipus. Delphi sits on the side of Mt. Parnassos, and its location is of singular importance in mythology. Zeus, wishing to find the center, the navel, of the world released two eagles, one at the eastern edge of the earth, the other at the western. They flew toward each other and met at Delphi where their descendants circle to this day. Why would they call Delphi “the navel?” Delphi contained a passage way between the gods and mankind. Therefore, this is where the ancient Greeks went to get guidance from Apollo who spoke the will of Zeus. 

In the beginning, the site was sacred to the earth goddess, Gaia, and guarded by her sacred serpent. Apollo, divine son of Zeus, came there shortly after his birth, killed the serpent and took the Oracle for himself vowing to “prophesy for men the unerring will of Zeus.” But since the oracle was originally in the hands of the earth goddess, a priestess, the Pythia, always spoke Apollo’s prophecies for him.  

From Aeschylus’ The Eumenides. The scene before the temple of Apollo at Delphi great doors at the back lead to the inner shrine and the central altar. The Pythian prophetess stands before the doors: 

First of all Gods I worship in this prayer

Earth, the primeval prophet; after her

Themis the Wise, who on her mother’s throne—

So runs the tale—sat second; by whose own

Accepted will, with never strife nor stress,

Third reigned another earth-born Titaness,

Phoebe; from whom (for that he bears her name)

To Phoebus [Apollo] as a birthtide gift it came. 

The Pythia was purported to be an old peasant woman over fifty and pious, a nobody who was thus beyond reproach. According to some she was dressed in the attire of a young virgin as she mounted the golden tripod of Apollo which spanned a fissure in the mountain. (Perhaps she had her virginity restored, as did the goddess Hera every year at the spring in Nauplion.) The Pythia would breathe fumes from the fissure, chew laurel leaves, become entranced, convulsed, then mumble incoherently. The male priests interpreted her words and wrote down the oracle in hexameter verse. But others claim the Pythia maintained her composure and experienced no frenzy. She spoke quite clearly and directly to the consultant, her words needing no interpretation by Apollo’s priests.  

Whatever the truth, the Oracle enjoyed immense popularity and respect throughout the Mediterranean. Cities as well as individuals consulted it, many seeking advice in times of war, Alexander the Great among them. Plutarch [45-120 AD], one of the most famous and trustworthy writers of ancient times, was a priest of Apollo at Delphi for a number of years. 

The student should now read the Homeric Hymn to Apollo.

But Apollo wasn’t the only god who resided at Delphi. His brother Dionysus stayed there during the winter months, and his priests sang dithyrambs to awaken him. The Titans had dismembered Dionysus there, and Dephians believed his dismembered remains were buried at the temple. Apollo, also the god of healing, found the dismembered, suffering and mad Dionysus and put his pieces in a leather sack. Dionysus’ female devotes at Delphi lay within the tomb where Dionysus’ limbs were kept. When they woke, they reenacted his winter rites, reliving his life by running wild like the stormwinds in an inexhaustible frenzy on the mountain. They screamed with their head flung back, leapt as if to take flight, bodies powered by some all-consuming fire. 

Dionysus was not simply tolerated by Apollo. Apollo with his order, logic, and stability needed Dionysus, the god of madness whose realm was eternally appearing and vanishing. Together the two gods signified the whole truth. This is very much at the heart of the meaning of Euripides’ Play, the Bacchantes, and further illustrates what the ancient Greeks saw as the necessity for representation of the two philosophies within society. 

The Cleft Way. 

Midway between Delphi and Thebes in Focus deme and at the crossroads to Thebes and the small town of Daulia is where Oedipus killed his father, and Mt. Parnassos looming to the west. Oedipus had just come from Delphi and received the oracle that he would one day kill his father and marry his mother. He then refused to return to Corinth and followed the road east instead where he had a confrontation over the right of way. The place is called the Cleft Way and resides at the foot of Magus Hill. At this narrow gap between hills, Oedipus would not give way to an oncoming chariot, so Laius struck him with a two headed goad and Oedipus flew into a murderous rage, killing not only Laius but three of his four companions.

When I was there (see Pale Horse, Corinth), I stood on a dirt trail. Across a small ravine, up the opposite slope, was a small square patch of golden grass, a patch of alfalfa with a lone olive tree growing in its middle as a quiet simple symbol of peace. The field was on fire with dying sunlight. The dirt trail, a path really, wound around the mountain close to the bottom of the ravine, the very path where Oedipus and Laios met. The trail was cluttered with tracks and dropping of sheep and goats. To the north, the hill rose lush with brush. I could see white speckles of sheep on a far slope. I felt a cool breeze on my bare arms and heard the dull clank of goat bells in the distance. The place had a sacred quality to it. 

Remember this pathway from Delphi through the Cleft Way to Thebes because years later, Teiresias and the other refuges of Thebes will flee to Delphi along with same path, but in the opposite direction, when the city is finally burned. 

Before reading Oedipus Tyrannus you should have an idea what the palace at Thebes looked like. We have no actual description of it but do have another of the same time period from Homer. Odysseus describes it: 

Through all the rooms, as far as he could see,

tall chairs were placed around the walls and strewn

with fine embroidered stuff made by the women.

Here were enthroned the leaders …

drinking and dining, with abundant fare.

Here too were boys of gold on pedestals

holding aloft bright torches of pitch pine

to light the great rooms and the nighttime feasting.

And fifty maids-in-waiting of the household

sat by the round mill grinding yellow corn,

or wove upon their looms, or twirled their distaffs,

flickering like the leaves of a poplar tree,

while drops of oil glistened on linen weft. 

During my own visit to Thebes (see Pale Horse, Thebes), what impressed me most was not what a marvelous site it was for the legend of Laius and Oedipus, but what an agricultural center it is now and must have been then. Their lives must have been concerned with commerce, agriculture, the affairs of state and the household. We hear nothing of this in the myth. And that tells us a great deal about myth, what it is and what it isn't. This passage from Homer gives us a glimpse of what women did with their lives, but we don't see much of the mundane tasks of men. 

At the opening to Oedipus Tyrannus, a plague has besieged Thebes. This plague sets the tragic action in motion. Apollo was the bringer of plague, its victims seen as falling from Apollo’s arrows. Since Apollo must have sent the plague, Oedipus sends Creon, his brother-in-law, to get word from the god. From the Delphic Oracle, Oedipus learns that a murderer, the murderer of the previous king Laius, is on the loose in Thebes. Delphi has said that bringing the murderer to justice will end the plague. Oedipus has no choice but to follow the trail of the murderer no matter where it leads. In addition to the play being about the dual nature of all human beings, it is also about the pollution of the state caused by the pollution within the individual. 

At the time Sophocles wrote Oedipus Tyrannus, Athens was in fact still recovering from a plague, just such as that described in the opening to Oedipus Tyrannus. The play is almost certainly a response to events of that time period. Pericles, the head of state of Athens at the time, died of the illness that swept through the city. The question is, did Sophocles see Oedipus as a representation of Pericles? Thirty-two years before Pericles and Ephialtes were the joint heads of state, who brought about democratic reforms ushering in the freethinking period of unparalleled intellectual and artistic energy. But Ephialtes was murdered and, though Pericles was accused of the crime, the actual murderer was never brought to justice. Was Sophocles using Oedipus as a means of saying something about Pericles’ past and the cause of the plague in Athens? No one will ever know for sure.   

The student should now read Oedipus Tyrannus.

Discussion of Oedipus Tyrannus

Oedipus Tyrannus has long been recognized as the dramatic masterpiece of Greek theatre. Aristotle himself in the 4th century BC stated as much. It is a brilliant example of plotting, and Aristotle used it to explain the nature of tragedy. Since then, every great thinker has had his go at it. It is to literature what the Mona Lisa is to art. It was the one volume the poet Shelly had with him when he drowned off the coast of Italy. 

Perhaps the reader to have the greatest impact on the interpretation of the play was the psychologist Sigmund Freud, the inventor of psychoanalysis. To Freud, the story represented the underlying psychology of modern man. He coined the phrase “Oedipus complex” to explain the hatred of the father and desire to join with the mother. But it also represents mankind’s search for identity and purpose in life. In the Homeric Hymn to Demeter we saw a goddess in search of her daughter who ultimately was her own maiden self. Demeter’s search is the feminine form of the Oedipus story and ends, not in discovering the identity of a murderer, but with the attainment of eternal life. Such is the difference in the myths concerning the nature of men and women.  

Oedipus Tyrannus is the story of a man in search of himself. We, the audience, know the story in advance but are still fascinated with this man who doesn’t know his own identity. Whereas The Bacchantes is set outside the gates of Thebes, Oedipus Tyrannus is set inside. The Bacchantes is about the different modes of constructing reality and the illusionary nature of Dionysus’ realm as it pertains to the community. Oedipus’ life is still within the realm of Dionysus but is concerned with what goes on inside human beings. Oedipus’s life was all an illusion and yet very real.  

So Oedipus was the man who doubled back on his own life to beget children. Oedipus has shrunk time and become his father, himself and his own children. Jocasta, as a descendent of the sown men, a union of the dragon’s teeth with Earth, is a manifestation of the goddess Earth. According to Hesiod in Theogony, after Earth, the source of zoë, was born from Chaos, she gave birth to Ouranos. Then she coupled with Ouranos, her own son, to beget many children. Thus Ouranos is the first to couple with his mother. This is a characteristic of Earth, that she begets children from her own children. Jocasta is closely related to Earth because she is a descendent of the Sparti, the sown-men who were born from the union of Earth with the teeth of the serpent killed by Cadmos.  

Oedipus’ problem bears a relation to that of Pentheus, in The Bacchantes, who saw only half of Thebes. Oedipus sees only half of his own life. Dionysus was the twice-born god, Oedipus the twice-born man. Oedipus can see without but not within, his second world. Teiresias tells Oedipus (page 28, line 413/4) “You have your eyes but see not where you are in sin, nor where you live, nor whom you live with.” Similarly in Euripides’ The Bacchantes (page 10), when Pentheus says, “Of a truth I seem to see two suns, and two towns of Thebes…”), Dionysus responds, “…now thine eyes behold the things they should.” Clearly Oedipus is working within the realm of Dionysus.  

We also might compare this to Teiresias, his blinding, and Athena’s gift of prophecy, external blindness, internal sight. Oedipus is one man on the inside and another externally, as are all human beings. We have our external persona and our internal truth. This is the dual nature represented by Dionysus. Then Shakespeare’s lines, “all the world is a stage and we but players on it,” takes on new meaning. We all live the great myth that is the discourse of human existence.  

Freud and Oedipus

To Freud, the man we meet on the road is always our father. The woman we marry is always our mother. The story of Oedipus is about a man in search of himself. Before we spoke of the dual nature of Dionysus, and the god is a reminder that we mortals have a dual nature. When we don’t recognize that we are doomed to live a second, a parallel unconscious life beside the conscious one we do know about. The second life is underneath the persona and, as Teiresias says, requires internal sight to recognize. The recovery of this second self is in many ways what psychotherapy is all about. The need to recover this part of ourselves becomes crucial as we go through midlife, and the person who comes out the other side is frequently much different that who went into it.  

Sophocles, in writing Oedipus Tyrannus, stumbled into one of the archetypes of human existence.  

Archetypal Psychology  

Carl Jung was the father of what is known as analytical psychology, so called because its principles were derived from experimentation. Jung was a Swiss-born psychologist and a student and collaborator of Sigmund Freud until they had a falling-out, after which Jung founded his own school in Zurich. Jung placed emphasis on “the will to live” whereas Freud placed it on “the sex drive.”  

Archetypal psychology, an outgrowth of Jungian theory, is deliberately affiliated with the arts and culture. As archetypal psychologist view it, the archetype, as a part of what they call the collective unconscious, is accessible to the imagination and presents itself as an image. The image is not viewed as a mental construct but as the basic unit of the psyche and therefore irreducible. Archetypal images are the fundamental patterns of existence and come and go of their own will. They are transcendent to the world of sense. Archetypes are the primary forms that govern the psyche, and thus archetypal psychology is linked with culture and the imagination rather than medical and empirical psychologies. The primary and irreducible language of these archetypal patterns is the metaphorical discourse of myths.  

Jung describes the archetype as it occurs in literature:  

The primordial image, or archetype, is a figure—be it a daemon, a human being, or a process—that constantly recurs in the course of history and appears wherever creative fantasy is freely expressed. Essentially, therefore, it is a mythological figure. When we examine these images more closely, we find that they give form to countless typical experiences of our ancestors. They are, so to speak, the psychic residua of innumerable experiences of the same type. They present a picture of psychic life in the average, divided up and projected into the manifold figures of the mythological pantheon. But the mythological figures are themselves products of creative fantasy and still have to be translated into conceptual language. Only the beginnings of such a language exist, but once the necessary concept are created they could give us an abstract, scientific understanding of the unconscious processes that lie at the roots of the primordial images. In each of these images there is a little piece of human psychology and human fate, a remnant of the joys and sorrows that have been repeated countless times in our ancestral history, and on the average follow ever the same course. It is like a deeply graven river-bed in the psyche, in which the waters of life, instead of flowing along as before a broad but shallow stream, suddenly swell into a mighty river. This happens whenever that particular set of circumstances is encountered which over long periods of time has helped to lay down the primordial image.

The moment when this mythological situation reappears is always characterized by a peculiar emotional intensity; it is as though chords in us were struck that had never resounded before, or as though forces whose existence we never suspected were unloosed. … At such moments we are no longer individuals, but the race; the voice of all mankind resounds in us.

This is what Sophocles dipped into when he wrote Oedipus Tyrannus. Jung describes the profound effect this can have on the reader:  

The impact of an archetype, whether it takes the form of immediate experience or is expressed through the spoken word, stirs us because it summons up a voice that is stronger than our own. Whoever speaks in primordial images speaks with a thousand voices; he enthralls and overpowers, while at the same time he lifts the idea he is seeking to express out of the occasional and the transitory into the realm of the ever-enduring. He transmutes our personal destiny into the destiny of mankind, and evokes in us all those beneficent forces that ever and anon have enabled humanity to find a refuge from every peril and to outlive the longest night.

 

… The creative process … consists in the unconscious activation of an archetypal image, and in elaborating and shaping this image into the finished work. By giving it shape, the artist translates it into the language of the present, and so makes it possible for us to find our way back to the deepest springs of life.

 

THE UNCONSCIOUS

During a child’s development, ego-consciousness (as the center of awareness) is subjected to disturbances from the external world. These “collisions” between ego and the world can be positive in that they stimulate ego development in the directions of stronger problem solving and autonomy. But also other collisions occur within, between the ego and “objects” occupying the vast unconscious psychic space. Jung termed these “objects” complexes. These are psychic entities outside consciousness that cause ego disturbances from within. They constitute the contents of the unconscious. These complexes are the gremlins and inner demons that catch us by surprise.  

The core of each complex is dual, consisting of an image, or psychic trace produced by trauma, and an innate archetypal component closely related to it. Trauma is the creating force behind complexes. Prior to trauma the archetypal piece exists as an image and a motivating force but does not have the anxiety-producing quality of the complex. But trauma provides the emotionally-charged memory that becomes associated with the archetypal image, the two welding in the processes. The complex then becomes enriched by similar experiences. Complexes are so emotionally laden that they can erupt spontaneously into consciousness and take possession of the ego. We are rarely aware this is happening. The ego is deceived into believing it is acting autonomously. This is shown diagrammatically.

The part of the complex caused by trauma is personal and composed of forgotten and repressed personal experience. This forms what Jung called the personal unconscious. The other part of the complex contains an innate, primitive archetypal component and is termed the collective unconscious. Each complex is an image, and image defines the essence of the psyche. Dreams are made of unconscious images and behave as a stranger in the sphere of consciousness. When activated, a complex makes us feel as though we’re in the grip of an alien entity. As might be expected, the archetypal images of Mother and Father are the giants the unconscious. Archetypal components are inherited and not acquired. They belong to us by virtue of being human and are not derived from culture. Culture is derived from them.  

Coming back around again to the Oedipus myth, Oedipus’ dual world is that of the outward-facing persona and the inward-facing anima/us which sees the archetypes of the collective unconscious. The anima/us is the inner seeing which Oedipus lacks until he blinds himself.  

THE COLLECTIVE UNCONSCIOUS  

The deepest layer of the psyche is the collective unconscious. It is a combination of universally prevalent patterns and forces, “archetypes” and “instincts,” that constitute nature’s gift to each of us. Jung put it this way:  

Man “possesses” many things which he has never acquired but has inherited from his ancestors. … he brings with him systems that are organized and ready to function in a specifically human way, and these he owes to millions of years of human development. Just as the migratory and nest-building instincts of birds were never learnt or acquired individually, man brings with him at birth the ground-plan of his nature, and not only of his individual nature but of his collective nature. These inherited systems correspond to the human situations that have existed since primeval times: youth and old age, birth and death, sons and daughters, father and mothers, mating, and so on. Only the individual consciousness experiences these things for the first time, but not the bodily system and the unconscious. For them they are only the habitual functioning of instinct that were preformed long ago.  

The most important part of the collective unconscious is the inherited archetypal images. They attract the psychic energy and are the origin of culture.  

… the archetype appears in the form of a spirit in dreams or fantasy products, or even comports itself like a ghost. There is a mystical aura about its numinosity, and it has a corresponding effect upon the emotions. It mobilizes philosophical and religious convictions in the very people who deemed themselves miles above any such fit of weakness. Often it drives with unexampled passion and remorseless logic towards its goal and draws the subject under its spell, from which despite the most desperate resistance he is unable, and finally no longer even willing, to break free, because the experience brings with it a depth of fullness of meaning that was unthinkable before. 

Archetypal images are beyond direct human grasp and form a realm of the soul. Standing before this realm, the collective unconscious, is a “presence” called the “anima” in men and the “animus” in women. The anima/us provides access to the archetypal images.  

All this takes on new significance when developing your own personal mythology. To do that, you must develop the story of your life. In doing so, you recreate your past by selecting bits that provide a consistent, mostly linear storyline that is satisfying emotionally. This is the essence of myth. Your life then becomes myth, or as some would have us believe, we’ve uncovered the natural essence of our lives, the myth we’ve unconsciously lived.
 


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