Applied Psychoanalysis > Mythology

Psychoanalysis and Mythology

By J Jones

Generally speaking, Freud applies to the interpretation of myths and symbols the same theories as those applied to the dream analysis and psychotherapy. 

Myths are for Freud only spontaneous creations involving the same psychic forces and processes as neurotic symptoms. A primordial place in the formation of myths occupies the Oedipus complex (the hatred towards the father and the desire to possess the mother) and also the castration anxiety, the birth with its cloacal theory, etc.

It is noteworthy, even though the treatment of myths in this psychoanalytic way seems to us to be reductionist, that only by Freud we admit that myths have a sense apart from being veiled memories of the protohistoric events in the evolution of humanity or pure fictions (lies as stated by Plato) aiming at inducing pleasure. So myths have sense and meaning, they repeat forever the main themes of human mental dynamics.

An example of the psychoanalytic treatment of a mythical image is Freud's article Medusa's Head (1922).

In short, the horrid sight of the beheaded head of the Medusa is reduced to the castration anxiety. Here is what Freud says: "The terror of Medusa is thus a terror of castration that is linked to the sight of something. Numerous analyses have made us familiar with the occasion for this: it occurs when a boy, who has hitherto been unwilling to believe the threat of castration, catches sight of the female genitals, probably those of an adult, surrounded by hair, and essentially those of his mother."

This interpretation seems convincing if we do one more equation: head = penis. The cut head becomes the amputated penis.

In the Dreams in Folklore (1911) article, we find precise indications of another well-known equivalence: feces = gold/treasure. Freud rightly signals the role of the child's affection for his feces in producing gold dreams.

Here's an example of a dream quoted and commented by Freud:

A certain man related in company that he had dreamt he had found gold. Thereupon another man capped it with this story. (What follows is quoted verbatim.)

"My neighbour once dreamt that the Devil had led him to a field to dig for gold; but he found none. Then the Devil said: <It is there for sure, only you cannot dig it up now; but take note of the place so that you may recognize it again by yourself.>

When the man asked that the place should be made recognizable by some sign, the Devil suggested: <Just shit on it, then it will not occur to anybody that there is gold lying hidden here and you will be able to recognize the exact place.> The man did so and then immediately awoke and felt that he had done a great heap in his bed."

(We give the conclusion in summary.) As he was fleeing from the house, he put on a cap in which a cat had done its business during the same night. He had to wash his head and his hair. "Thus his dream-gold was turned to filth."



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