Term Paper: Fairy Tales in Post Jungian Psychotherapy

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¶ … Thereby Hangs a Tale

How do we come to understand our own lives? This is a question that is surely as old as our species, and perhaps even older, for some level of insight and inquiry surely existed before humanity. Philosophy offers some answers to this question, as do the world's many religions. So, over the past century and a half or so, have psychology and psychiatry. Just as different religious traditions offer up different models of the meaning and purpose of life, different psychological and therapeutic models also offer up different models and tools for understanding the way in which we make our lives, and make them meaningful.

This paper examines one particular method for examining and understanding the human mind and possibly the soul as well -- a point to be taken up later. Jungian analytic psychology offers a very specific method to help therapeutic clients come to a better understanding of their interior landscapes and, having gained this understanding, to make thoughtful, conscious choices about how to move forward with their lives. To understand why Jung turned to a variety of enduring stories, including the kind of fairy tale that is the focus of This paper, it is necessary to provide a thumbnail sketch of his concept of the archetype, probably his most important contribution to the then still-infant practice of psychoanalysis.

Jung's view of the human unconscious was very dark in large measure although he was also insistent on the fact that the darkness in people's live (for Jung, the "Shadow") was both necessary and quite often a necessary element of healing. One of the most important uses for him of myths, folklore, and fairytales for him in terms of their therapeutic value is that they provide us with steppingstones into our own unconscious. Along with dream analysis -- more properly the realm of Sigmund Freud, Jung's one-time mentor -- analysis of fairytales and other traditional narrative forms allows individuals to come to deeper understandings of the ways in which our individual lives are linked to the larger narratives of the human psyche.

Jung argued that the individual psyche is not shaped only or perhaps even primarily by the individual's experiences, but by the shared racial collection of archetypal stories. He argued that the field from which each individual could draw upon for cognitive, psychological, and emotional tools to help guide his or her own way was a much broader one and encompassed the range of human literary and artistic production. A broadly and deeply educated individual, Jung understood that certain characters, relationships, and motifs occur and recur in stories told in widely varying cultures across the entire time-span of human history. He believed that these recurring images -- these archetypes -- are the ones that are the most powerful tools that an individual can use to help understand one's demons and so to move beyond their power.

Many of what Jung identified as central archetypes occur in fairytales. Scholars have long recognized that traditional fairytales are hardly child's play. Rather, fairytales are told to children because they contain such culturally and psychologically important and powerful concepts that adults believe it to be important that children be exposed to and begin to absorb these ideas when they are as young as possible. Jung, and those post-Jungian analytical and depth psychological psychologists who followed him, argue that the human mind is not in fact the tabula rasa or blank slate that other schools of psychology in the twentieth century adopted.

Instead of seeing humans as being sent into the world without cognitive templates, Jung argued that part of our neurological evolution as humans, part of the neurological toolkit that is the birthright of every human is the ability to generate and recognize the patterns that he called archetypes: For Jung, an "archetype is the introspectively recognizable form of a priori psychic orderedness" (Jung, 1985, p. 140). Archetypes only take on full existence, full three-dimensionality, when filled in by an individual's personal experience and culture. But no matter how variable that individual's experiences may be, those experiences will be trimmed to fit into the structure and order of the archetype.

Before I turn to an analysis of a specific fairy tale and its central motifs and archetypes, I would like to emphasize the important distinction between the personal unconscious (that is peopled with the experiences of an individual's life and past) as imagined by Freud and the collective unconscious (that is peopled with characters drawn from racial memories) as imagined by Jung.

The aim of this two-part article is to demonstrate the efficacy of the objective or archetypal interpretative approach to fairy tales. In the Preface to her revised edition of the Interpretation of Fairy Tales, MarieLouise von Franz writes that "in many so-called Jungian attempts at interpretation, one can see a regression to a very personalistic approach" (von Franz, 1996, p. vii). By a "personalistic approach" she means the reduction of the archetypal figures and dynamics in fairy tales to the complexes and processes of the personal unconscious. (Odajnyk, 2004, p. 10)

Fairy tales, von Franz goes on to write, are populated by characters that are relatively flat and predictable, almost stereotypical and "appear to have hardly inner psychic life" (Odajnyk, 2004, p. 10). The characters in fairy tales do not develop psychologically, remaining the same from beginning to end. This attribute, von Franz argues, marks the characters in fairy tales as representing archetypal entities rather than people and that as a result fairy tales "address transpersonal difficulties, developments, and dangers and not the neurotic complications of an individual" (Odajnyk, 2004, p. 10).

I turn now to a fairy tale that is probably not known by very many Americans who are not of Armenian descent. The story of Akhtamar is the story of star-cross'd lovers. It is the story of a young woman named Tamar and the youth who loves her. They meet in secret on an island, until Tamar's father discovers their trysts and sets a trap for the youth. He manages to escape, but he is mortally wounded and cannot swim across the lake. As he dies, his last action is to whisper her name across the water.

A poem describing their fate ends like this:

The words fly forward-faint they are-

"Ah, Tamar!"

And in the morn the splashing tide

The hapless youth cast out,

Who, battling with the waters, died

In an unequal bout;

Cold lips are clenched, two words they bar:

"Ah, Tamar!"

And ever since, both near and far,

They call the island Akhtamar. (Armenian poetry).

Of course, even if one does not know the particulars of this story, one still knows this story. It is the tale of great woe of Romeo and Juliet. Or Heloise and Abelard. Tristan and Isolde. Hero and Leander. Troilus and Cressida. Lancelot and Guinevere. Venus and Adonis. Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl. Layla and Majnun. Helen and Paris. The list could be continued across more continents and more centuries, which is one of the clearest ways in which one can recognize it as an archetype. This story of lovers parted by family and fate is a story that has resonance for people in all cultures.

The characters in this story, as well as the story arc itself, are good examples of the archetypes that Jung sees as key to therapy and analysis. Jung supplied guidance as to how individuals should interpret certain images, whether these images came to them in their dreams or spoke especially clearly to them from myths or stories (Walker, 1995, p. 4). However, Jung also acknowledged (or warned) that there is no strict one-to-one interpretation in which each archetype meant exactly the same thing to each person. While he emphasized that certain motifs and symbols tended to mean essentially the same thing to different individuals because of the ways in which these archetypes arise from our shared collective consciousness, he also emphasized the fact that there is always room for individual nuance and variation (Walker, 1995, p. 6).

One of the reasons that there is some significant variation in how a particular story is that different individuals will relate to different aspects of it. So, in the fairytale that we are examining here, one of the central archetypes is that of the ocean. Generally, Jung argues, the ocean is an archetype of the mother, of the vast nurturing presence from which all life and each life arises and is nurtured. But how one relates to this symbol of the universal mother varies depending on one's personal experience. If one sees oneself primarily as a daughter, the archetype has one set of meanings. But there are different sets of meanings if one views oneself primarily as a son, or a mother, or an orphan (Walker, 1995, p. 8).

Jung argues that an attention to archetype is essential because it is one of the only way in which an individual can connect to her or his own unconscious. A Jungian, archetypal reading… [END OF PREVIEW]

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