Myth & Justice (“Image is Everything”)

Are you questioning my authority?!!?One of the objectives of Mythfire is simply to build a deeper appreciation for what myth is. Another objective is to show how the combined study of myth and application of psychology contribute to a fuller picture of human nature. As Mythfire embarks on a series of entries on how myth and psychology might be applied to the contemporary understanding of justice, it may be good to first reiterate one or two ideas basic to the project:

“Nothing could be more mistaken than to assume that a myth is something ‘thought up.’ It comes into existence of its own accord, as can be observed in all authentic products of fantasy, and particularly in dreams. It is the hybris of consciousness to pretend that everything derives from its primacy, despite the fact that consciousness itself demonstrably comes from an older unconscious psyche.” *


“The forms we use for assigning meaning are historical categories that reach back into the mists of time [. . .]. From whatever side we approach this question, everywhere we find ourselves confronted with the history of language, with images and motifs that lead straight back to the primitive wonder-world.” (CW 9i, para. 67)**

The first quote is included as a reminder – in light of the last couple blog entries – that “myth as fiction” does not mean that myth is “thought up” or “made up” by our conscious mind. Such a belief is ultimately reflective of the ego’s own hybris, or arrogance. Rather, myth is a product of the unconscious mind as it tries to address and adapt to the questions and challenges posed by reality. Myth is a necessary fiction required for self-preservation.

The second quote repeats this truism while at the same time it zeroes in on some of the fictional devices used by the myth-making self-preserving unconscious mind. Jung calls these devices “historical categories” and “forms we use for assigning meaning.” More commonly we know these mythic devices as language, images and motifs – a fact Jung also notes.

So – when Jung observes that “image is psyche,” (CW 13, §75), or James Hillman writes in this context that “According to Jung, the sine qua non of any consciousness whatsoever is the ‘psychic image,’” (Anima: An Anatomy 95), both men are not just saying that “image is everything” but also that everything is image.” At any moment we are surrounded by language, images, and motifs created by the unconscious fantasy or myth-making mind (a.k.a. the “psyche” or soul) in its need to understand, make order out of, and create meaning for everyday existence.

When applied to the ideas of justice and jurisprudence, certain phrases, images and motifs have been generated by and taken root in the myth-making imagination or unconscious of the public. In “Myth and the Modern World,” the first chapter in The Power of Myth series of interviews Bill Moyer did with mythologist Joseph Campbell, Campbell mentions one of the best known such images:

“When a judge walks into the room, and everybody stands up, you’re not standing up to that guy, you’re standing up to the robe that he’s wearing and the role that he’s going to play. What makes him worthy of that role is his integrity, as a representative of the principles of that role, and not some group of prejudices of his own. So what you’re standing up to is a mythological character […]. When someone becomes a judge, or President of the United States, the man is no longer that man, he’s the representative of an eternal office; he has to sacrifice his personal desires and even life possibilities to the role that he now signifies.” (12)

This quote may be returned to later in the blog series in the context of the Roman Polanski case presently in the public eye. If the judge who was involved the first time around over thirty years ago engaged in half of the activities attributed to him in the documentary film Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, then he certainly was acting more from personal desires and prejudices than from the integrity expected of judges in their mythological role. To what extent this violation of sacred office should be taken into consideration as Polanski’s case moves forward is one of the questions waiting (and needing) to be answered.

In the U.S.A., other mythic images, motifs, and language associated with the justice system range from the phrase “no one is above the law” to that which is inscribed on the walls of many if not all courtrooms: “In God We Trust.” This phrase or motif lends a mythic sense of righteousness and ultimate authority to the proceedings in the same way as the judge in his robe.  This very same mythic sense is also behind the news stories and court proceedings in recent years concerning whether or not plaques inscribed with the Bible’s Ten Commandments may or may not be located at properties belonging to executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.

The problem in this last case, of course, is that the mythic sense has become literalized (and even literally “writ in stone”) so that mythic sense and concrete stone are confused as if they were one and the same. Again, this is reminiscent of Campbell’s analogy mentioned in an earlier blog of confusing the menu with the meal. Here, the plaque with the Ten Commandments is the menu representing something deeper and more substantial, namely the mythic image of righteousness and authority originating in the psyche. If we say that the Ten Commandments have a hold on the public imagination (or at least on certain members), what this means is that something deep in the psyche has for a time put on the Ten Commandments as a necessary fiction just as the judge puts on his robe. Authentic mythic awareness means in no small part to be able to see through the Ten Commandments  to the seminal energies at their heart, to see through the robe of the judge to the idea of authority and righteousness, to see through the menu to the meal it really represents.

This is all to say, then, that the awareness of the power of myth (i.e., ofthe psychological underpinnings of mythic images, motifs, and language) facilitates distinctions such as that just made between the image-making unconscious and its concrete mythic expressions. The next blog entry will continue in this never-ending endeavor at the same time that it looks at an as yet unmentioned mythic image and how it reflects the way we perceive and practice justice.

*Jung, CW 10, “Civilization in Transition,” pp. 437-55.

**see 10.08.09 blog for entire quote

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