Freud and Mythology: Two Sides of a Coin

"It may perhaps seem to you as though our theories are a kind of mythology and, in the present case, not even an agreeable one. But does not every science come in the end to a kind of mythology?”(Freud, 1950)

This is how Freud addressed Einstein at the near end of his life. It seemed like an issue that tackled him through his whole life: the relation between psychoanalysis and mythology. They are the same, they both deals with the irrational, and both have to interpret metaphors. Nonetheless, Freud has used the story of Oedipus and Narcissus in his theory of practice, which proved to be so useful. So, what is this relation that Freud saw between psychoanalysis and mythology?


Mythology is the study of culture and myths that deal with different aspects of the human bring such as good and evil, suffering, traditions, life and death, and the afterlife. It tells the story of Gods and the origin of human beings. Mythology has taken an important part in many fields, such as philosophy and others, but its role in psychoanalysis is shaded.


Three-level of myth. (n.d.). [Image]. https://ejop.psychopen.eu/index.php/ejop/article/view/351/html


At the first level, "the myth as a story", it is important to narrate the story from the beginning to the end. The second and third levels are what is important for psychoanalysis, where the analyst gets the evidence from the story on "the myth as an evidence", and goes beyond the myth borders on "the myth as a truth" and analyze the psychological truth of the human and myth.

When Freud used Oedipus' myth in his work of Interpretation of Dreams, he justified that by saying that myth gives vent to the repressed fears of humankind. We feast on Oedipus' crime because he represents our suppressed feelings, desires, and we feel relief when he is punished because of our feeling of guilt. There is something of us that we relate to in the Greek myth, something that Freud saw and decided to work on.



Freud. (n.d.). [Image]. https://news.cnrs.fr/freud


Carl Jung, Freud's heir, saw that mythology is essential for psychoanalysis too. He wrote for Freud saying that "we shall not solve the secrets of neurosis and psychosis without mythology and the history of civilization."(Princeton University Press, 1974) But that attitude has driven the two men apart. Jung did not see mythology as a branch of psychoanalysis, instead, he saw psychoanalysis as a small branch of the old tree of mythology. He distanced himself from Freud's theory saying that:


"There is no longer any question whether a myth refers to the sun or the moon, the father or the mother, sexuality or fire or water. All it does is circumscribe and give an approximate description of an unconscious core of meaning. […] Not for a moment dare we to succumb to the illusion that an archetype can be finally explained and disposed of. Even the best attempts at explanation are only more or less successful translations into another metaphorical language (indeed, language itself is only an image). The most we can do is to dream the myth onwards and to give it a modern dress." (Jung 90 and 94, italics in original)


By then, Freud had felt betrayed, so both of them had separated their ways and went on different paths. Later on, Freud would come to accept the major part of mythology in psychoanalysis as we had noticed at the beginning of the article.


In his Totem and Taboo (1912-13a), Freud masks mythology through the end of the book as he speaks of "The Return of Totemism in Childhood". Freud dictates his last book to Moses and his myths in the Bible. He called it Moses and Monotheism (1939a [1934-1938]), where it is a quest of transition and winning over sensuality.


Later on, he speaks about Christ's sacrifices. He explains how Christ sacrifices himself for the sake of freeing everyone of the original sin. However, Freud's original sin is of an Orphic origin, which is the pre-Olympian myths. He uses that to support his theory by saying:


'The beginnings of religion, morals, society, and art converge in the Oedipus complex. This is in complete agreement with the psychoanalytic finding that the same complex constitutes the nucleus of all neuroses, so far as our present knowledge goes" (1912-13a, p. 156).


Freud saw that religion was only a wish-fulfillment or a delusion, that's why he never took it seriously. To him, they were another myth that he needed to discover and relate to his psychoanalysis. for that, Freud didn't see sexuality as a sin, but as a right put to the man by god.


Sources:


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