Carl Jung’s schism with Sigmund Freud centered on Jung’s rejection of Freud’s assertion that the unconscious is entirely sexual. Jung dedicated much of his later work to his attempts to find what energy, other than sexual, fueled the unconscious and its manifestations. Jung eventually turned  to mankind’s greatest stories and mysteries, the myths and religions of the world. Joseph Campbell, a self-described disciple of Jung, took up that same torch where Jung left off. Exploring myths and religions offered Jung and Campbell a doorway into the human psyche; finding the similarities between disparate ethnicities and societies left them with a baseline by which to formulate a constant set of images and conflicts that fundamentally shaped our modern minds. But, because of the elusive nature of mythology and religion, much of Jung’s later work and certainly the work of Joseph Campbell is often panned as “non-scientific” or at best, not scientific enough. But does that mean the life’s work of these two men holds no value for those interested in serious psychology?


Jung’s explorations into world mythology and religion led him to the hypothesis of the collective unconscious. In this hypothesis, Jung stressed that some fraction of our unconscious is impersonal and genetically inherited. This impersonal, or collective, unconscious housed what Jung called archetypes. These archetypes served as categorizations of basic human behavior and experience. In his excellent study on this topic, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Jung argued that the same basic identifications – the shadow, the anima/animus, the persona – exist within the minds of all people, regardless of their individual experiences. Although a good deal of these archetypes do operate within a sexual dynamic, Jung’s point and problem with Freud, was that there was more than just the sexual dynamic, something beyond.


Jung further developed the archetypes by introducing identities commonly found in mythology and religion. Archetypes like the hero, the wise old man, and the trickster, could be found all over the world in the most sacred myths and rituals of very different societies. The reason for this is twofold: one, many of these archetypes come from everyday human experience and repeated interaction with a finite set of human behaviors. Two, these figures or identifications represent fundamental positions of the psyche as it is comprehended by itself. Jung used the mythological or religious figures as a metaphorical structure by which to interpret the multifaceted unconscious.


Joseph Campbell went a step further and discovered similarities not only in the characters of world religions and mythology, but in the very stories they tell. His groundbreaking work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, chronicles the fundamental, primordial journey of the “hero” and the way the hero interacts with the other archetypes. Campbell referred to this journey as the monomyth, the one story that, in various guises, can be found throughout world mythology and religion.



Campbell is often criticized for simplifying the vast and variegated mythology and religion of the world. But Campbell does not denigrate the local character of each particular story; in fact, few people have ever been so knowledgeable of and sympathetic to the individual detail of cultural mythology and world religion. The monomyth provides a foundation by which to explore the psyche by its deepest and most sincere expressions. Campbell’s monomyth should be read as an allegory. It is the soul’s journey, the individual’s struggle through this life that he seeks to elucidate.


Another criticism often leveled against Campbell and sometimes even Jung, is that of “New Age-ism.” To think that Campbell’s studies of world culture fall in the same category as power crystals, magnetic healing, and various forms of pseudo-mysticism is to vastly undervalue a serious, academic study of mythology, religion, and the (collective) unconscious whence they sprang. Campbell does not deal in mysticism, though he may cover mysticism as a topic. Like Jung, Campbell saw myths and religion as a doorway into an almost unknowable psychic realm, and his writings are just as valuable to the not-totally-sexual view of the unconscious as Jung’s.


In his book Mythic Worlds, Modern Words Campbell looks at the work of James Joyce as a modern interpretation of the monomyth. Both Campbell and Jung were connected to Joyce in some way. Campbell helped developed one of the first and best ancillary texts to Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Jung himself tried to help Joyce’s daughter Lucia. This is no accident, because if Jung or Campbell’s theories hold any water, they must also be applicable of that modern set of mythology known collectively as literature.  Campbell. In Mythic Worlds, Modern Words, shows how his idea of monomyth and Jung’s idea of archetypes still apply even to some of the most groundbreaking modern literature of the 20th century.


To answer our initial question, does the work of Jung and Campbell have value for serious psychology, the answer has to be yes. Whether or not one believes that the unconscious is completely sexual, one cannot deny the fundamental artistic expressions of the psyche, nor their import when trying to interpret the hidden ninety percent of the psychic iceberg known as the unconscious. In fact, Jung and Campbell’s work serve two purposes – exegesis on mythological and religious texts, and insight into the engine that constructed them. There is great value in Freudian/Lacanian psychology and eventually the reader must decide on which side of the debate he or she falls, but one can value both Freud and Jung simultaneously, for they both offer a richness of thought in their respective spheres of study.



Mark Brendle is a writer living in Oregon. His short fiction is available on the web and his movie critiques are available on Et Tu, Mr. Destructo?




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