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Living Myths

Dr. Jaime G. Corvalan, MD, FACS

A passage by Dr. Carl Jung regarding the role that mythology plays in the identities of societies and individuals:

Dr. Carl G. Jung
Dr. Carl G. Jung

The primitive mentality does not invent myths, it experiences them.

Myths are original revelations of the preconscious psyche, involuntary statements about unconscious psychic happenings, and anything but allegories of physical processes.

Such allegories would be an idle amusement for an unscientific intellect. Myths, on the contrary, have a vital meaning.

Not merely do they represent, they are the psychic life of the primitive tribe, which immediately falls to pieces and decays when it loses its mythological heritage, like a man who has lost his soul.

A tribe’s mythology is its living religion, whose loss is always and everywhere, even among the civilized, a moral catastrophe. But religion is a vital link with psychic processes independent of and beyond consciousness, in the dark hinterland of the psyche.

Many of these unconscious processes may be indirectly occasioned by consciousness, but never by conscious choice. Others appear to arise spontaneously, that is to say, from no discernible or demonstrable conscious cause.”

The Collected Works of C. G. Jung: Complete Digital Edition, Volumes 1 – 19, Princeton University Press, March 1, 2014

I wish to extend a special thanks to the Facebook Group, “Carl Jung Depth Psychology,” for first finding and publishing this excerpt on their page – excellent work, thank you!

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The Story and the Meaning of the Grail King

What are the Keys to Contentment?

When the stories of Parzival, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were initially written during the Middle Ages, there was a great change sweeping the Western World. The power of The Church was being challenged by powerful new ideas as well as the return of ancient ones like those represented in Gnosticism.

A conflict was brewing between the forces of social order and authority (the Church) and the influence of the individual and the direct experience of love and the divine (the Gnostics). The possibility that one could chart one’s own course, marry for love rather than duty, and experience the love of God directly rather than filtered through the Church hierarchy was considered a direct threat to the Church’s authority, and many who espoused these beliefs were branded as heretics, persecuted and killed.

This notion, however, that “the God within us is the one that gives the laws and can change laws . . . and it is within us” is at the heart of attaining contentment. When we follow our own path, we are participating in a heroic, divine activity that manifests the “God within us.” By living authentically, by listening to the divine within us, we make our own rules and serve the divine in the process.

What this essentially means is that we are Co-Creators with the divine. We create our fate, our destiny, our relationship with the divine. When we live authentically, following our own chosen paths, when we manifest our own unique potential and individual nature, we are serving the divine in the most pure sense.

When Parzival, out of compassion and love, heals the Grail King, he himself takes the throne and becomes the Grail King, the guardian of the highest spiritual values of compassion and loyalty. By choosing to live authentically, from the spontaneity of his own heart and soul, Parzival shows us how we might follow our own path with heart, loyalty and compassion, leading to a life of joy, passion and contentment.

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Transcending the Wasteland – Living Inauthentic Lives

Does Your Life Feel Empty and Meaningless?

Early in his illustrious career, Parzival, the greatest knight of King Arthur’s Court, encountered two fishermen in a boat on a lake. Weary from his travels, he inquired as to where he might find lodging for the night; one of the fisherman – the Grail King – invited him into his castle, if he could find it. Doing so, he was feted by the knights and maidens of the Grail Castle, who prepared a great feast in his honor, for it was foretold that the greatest of all knights would come to the Castle and cure the King.

Entering the Great Hall, Parzival was overwhelmed with compassion, seeing that his host, the Grail King, was wounded and in terrible pain, unable to sit, stand or even lie down. Rather than ask what ailed the King, however, Parzival kept quiet, for the rules of what constituted a noble knight prevented him from doing so. The dinner was concluded and in the morning, Parzival departed – and the Castle vanished, the King still ailing!

Suddenly, the great knight found himself cast out into the Wasteland, living by rules imposed upon him rather than by the spontaneity of his own noble nature, which longed to reach out and heal the ailing Grail King out of his deep compassion. Instead, Parzival is cast out into the Wasteland, and for five long years he searches fruitlessly for the Grail Castle and King.

Trudging aimlessly through the Wasteland is a metaphor for living an inauthentic life. Like Parzival, many people feel trapped and empty, their lives devoid of real meaning; they feel like they’re living someone else’s lives, living by someone else’s rules. We haven’t been able to embrace our passion, or even to feel compassion – to experience and understand the pain of others, and ourselves. In the Wasteland, people are living inauthentic lives.

The Key to Transcending the Wasteland is acting spontaneously from your noble heart – living an authentic life that is truly your own. After years of searching, Parzival finally earns another chance to visit the Grail Castle, and this time he doesn’t hesitate to act out of the compassion of his heart: “What ails you, Uncle?” he asks the Grail King, and this simple act – the spontaneous act of a noble, compassionate heart – immediately cures the Grail King, releasing Parzival from the Wasteland. Search your heart for your own authentic and noble desires, for therein lies your escape from the Wasteland.

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Following Your Own Path

Who’s Rules and Expectations do you Live by?

The Knights of the Round Table would leave for an adventure as a group, but each individual knight would enter the forest “at the point that he, himself had chosen, where it was darkest and there was no path.” (from Joseph Campbell’s lecture, In Search of the Holy Grail: The Parzival Legend). “If there is a path, it is someone else’s path, and you are not on an adventure,” Campbell said.

This was a key component of the Grail Legend – if you follow someone else’s path, you wind up going completely astray, you wind up in the Wasteland. For Campbell the part at which the knights enter the forest at their own points “is a wonderful story: that which we intend, that which is the journey, that which is the goal, is the fulfillment of something that never was on the earth before—namely your own potentiality.”

This emphasis upon manifesting your own potential as an individual was revolutionary in the Middle Ages (when the Parzival stories were originally written), and is still key today (as represented in the work of Carl Jung and Individuation). By following one’s own path, you manifest your true potential, you blaze a trail no one has ever done before, and one that no one will ever do again – this is the process of bringing into being the authentic, divine nature deep within every one of us.

The true value of the metaphor of the search for the Holy Grail is the realization that God – the divine, the sacred, the truth – is in your own heart. So, because the divine is within you – and you are a direct part of that divinity – you must follow your own path! There are no rules, no instructions, you can’t get a map because it would be someone else’s.

“Follow your bliss,” Joseph Campbell says, for therein lies your path, there is where you will manifest your true potential, blaze your own trail, and become the incredible, unique and divine individual you were born to be.

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Loyalty and Compassion

What are some of the Highest Spiritual Values?

One of the most important messages in the story of Parzival (and particularly Richard Wagner’s Opera entitled, “Parsifal”) is the importance of compassion. Wagner’s Opera was influenced by his reading of Arthur Schopenhauer’s work and his understanding of compassion as the only valid basis for morality. It is through compassion for the suffering of other beings that the fool, Parzival, acquires wisdom and becomes a sage.

The metaphysical message of Parzival, based on Schopenhauer’s ideas and having much in common with the Buddhist concept of Samsara (the cycle of birth, suffering, death and rebirth), is quite beautiful, and requires compassion to truly understand: Stop striving, stop denying the Will, accept that suffering is an inevitable part of life and that desires can never fully be satisfied.

All things in this world are impermanent – meeting inevitably brings a parting, every beginning and ending. This is the nature of life – to deny it is to invite suffering. In the light of wisdom, the darkness of ignorance is lifted. All life is precarious; one must always seek a path of salvation and deliverance, the path of wisdom. We learn the importance of compassion from the suffering caused by our attachment to the impermanent – this is why compassion is one of the highest spiritual values.

Toward the end of the tale of Parzival, the great knight is invited to celebrate with King Arthur and his knights after the knights and ladies of the Grail Castle were rescued; he declines the invitation because of his steadfast loyalty to his wife, Condwiramurs, to whom he decides to return instead. His loyalty is immediately rewarded by the Grail Messenger, who shows him the way back to the Grail Castle and another chance to heal the ailing Grail King, which he does. Loyalty, then, is one of the highest spiritual values because it affirms the power of love; fidelity to love is fidelity to the divine, within you and all around you.

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The Call to Greatness

You must select your own path and not follow another on your hero's journey.
You must select your own path and not follow another on your hero’s journey.

In the legend of King Arthur and the quest for the Holy Grail, whenever a knight would come upon a road with footprints, he would stop and take a road not yet traveled. This is a beautiful analogy for our own spiritual journey – you must find your own path; otherwise, you risk the danger of living someone else’s idea of what your life should be – your church, your parents, your society.

We are each called to greatness, and the nature and character of the call we have no control over. Our souls guide us, let us know what is right and meaningful in our own lives. No one else can tell you, you must find what it is your soul desires, or risk losing it!

Mother Teresa was asked why she chose to accept her struggle: “I realized I couldn’t live without seeing people die with a smile on their faces.” What calls you?

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Your Calling Chooses You

A little clearing in the forest is your ego, but your soul spans the entire forest.My known self will never be more than a little clearing in the forest . . . Gods, strange gods come forth . . . and they go back . . . I must have the courage to let them come and go.”
– D. H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers

We spend so much of our early lives focused upon this little clearing in the forest – the ego. The soul is as fertile and magnificent as the entire forest, and ego must come to serve it.

Our souls whisper to us, in symbols, myths and dreams. It is that reassuring voice deep within us, that authentic longing that gently – but firmly – calls to us. Though perhaps not consciously, we often know, deep down, what our souls are guiding us to do, and it may take us in unexpected and thrilling directions one had never planned to go. Nevertheless, we must answer, for that is the way to our joy and fulfillment.

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Myths and the Psyche

Mythology is the fertile ground in which the Psyche flourishes.Anthropologists have shown that common themes in mythological stories repeatedly show up in cultures across the planet and time. The same motifs, ideas and iconography appear over and over, underscoring their transcendent value.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell has suggested that “One explanation [for these similarities] is that the human psyche is essentially the same all over the world … [and] out of this common ground have come what Jung has called the archetypes, which are the common ideas of myths.”

The psyche, in fact, is everywhere; it’s not a thing, but it transcends duality.

Myths form the fertile ground of not only cultural identity but act as a roadmap to deal with the deep, overarching questions that have confronted us from the beginning.

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The Power of Myths

In the 2006 series “Bill Moyers on Faith and Reason,” Mr. Moyers discusses the power of mythology for community and connection. Myths, he argues, have historically worked not only to educate people but to connect whole societies together by affirming the values and ideologies central to the community. Myths play a critical role as symbolic storehouses for the ideals and principles that form the heart of a society and identity of its members.

The Power of Mythology

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The Lament of Icarus

Jacob Peter Gowy's "The Flight of Icarus"
Jacob Peter Gowy’s “The Flight of Icarus”

In Greek Mythology, Icarus was the son of Daedalus, a master craftsman who was imprisoned on the Isle of Crete by King Minos. Daedalus fashioned wings for them to escape, but, according to the poet Ovid, he issued the following warning to his son:

“Let me warn you, Icarus, to take the middle way, in case the moisture weighs down your wings, if you fly too low, or if you go too high, the sun scorches them. Travel between the extremes.”

Out of youthful impetuousness, Icarus defies his father, flies too close to the sun which melts his wings of wax, causing him to plunge to his death in the sea below. Youthful exuberance and energy must be balanced and tempered.