"A Response to

Stephen Larsen's Book,

The Mythic Imagination"


by Eric Miller, 2019,

Chennai, south India




This piece of writing presents and discusses some ideas that animate my counselling work.


This piece of writing is a companion to my essay, "Giving Training in -- and Practicing -- a Form of Storytelling Therapy, In-person and via Videoconference", which describes my counselling work in other ways.





1) Introduction.

2) Quotes from The Mythic Imagination.

3) Commentary.





1) Introduction.


The Mythic Imagination (1990) is especially addressed to people who do not believe in any supernatural figures. 


The book's author, Stephen Larsen, encourages such people to cultivate their relationships with their individual and collective unconsciouses -- including through the use of symbols from dreams and myths. 


Dreams are a key source of symbols from one's unconscious.


Supernatural figures of various cultures can also be very valuable and useful symbols of aspects of one's own personality, of the human personality in general, and also of aspects of the rest of nature.


The author points out that the development of an individual is not just internal to that person, nor is it limited to that person's family, acquaintances, or even community.  Development of an individual also relates to the entire human race, and to all of the rest of nature.  Ceremonies and symbolic representations utilising various media are needed to facilitate individuals' healthy and satisfying growth and maturation processes.





2) Quotes from The Mythic Imagination:

"Mythic and Dream Symbols" and

"Creative Mythology Exercises."



"Mythic and Dream Symbols."


Dreams break into this world.  (Page xix.)


One needs to find one's mythic roots.  (Page xxv.)


Something from this world could marry something from the mythic world.  (Page xxvii.)


Knowledge of myths gives one a richly-furnished chamber of the psyche.  (Page xxvii.)


Awaken to the presence of mythic themes in your life.  (Page xxxii.)


Break out of an isolated human adventure, and participate in a larger social, cultural, historical, and spiritual ecology.  (Page 5.)


An archetype is an identity larger than oneself.  When one consciously plays an archetype, one enters an eternal role.  (Page 3.)


Mythological symbols communicate and touch one beyond vocabularies of reason.  (Page 4.)


We often repeat mythic patterns.  (Page 11.)


Construct an authentic psyche -- one that is broad, integrated, and creative.  (Page 14.)


Become the unity that embraces all of the possibilities within oneself.  Give coherence and unity to one's component parts.  (Page 15.)


Develop symbolic compendiums of soul-vitalising forms.  (Page 16.)


Myths are symbols that contain emotions and ideas.  (Page 25.)


Emotions and behaviors are made meaningful by recognising the stories that surround them.  (Page 27.)


Seek to discover the secret workings in everyday life of gods, heroes, and demons.  What emotions, thoughts, and experiences of yours are associated with these symbolic figures?  (Page 28.)


What unknown, secret script -- and what underlying logic -- seem to inform one's emotions and behaviors?  At times a sense of helpless participation in a timeless drama may come over one.  (Page 30.)


To what god or goddess is a certain passion sacred?  (Page 31.)


In traditional cultures, mythological themes are presented at points of life development -- at stages of emotional, physical, and social transition.  These moments are marked by corresponding rituals, which provide a mythic tissue of transformation for the growing psyche.  (Page 33.)


Symbols of transformation help us transform.  (Page 35.)


A myth may have a magical impact on layers of the psyche which cannot be reached by intellectual talk.  (Page 42.)


The mythically awake imagination sees through the ordinary-seeming surface of everyday life to discover the "secret cause," the mythic and archetypal patterns underneath.  (Page 50.)


In psychotherapy, the therapist often traces a destructive personal belief-and-behavior-complex back to an event, or series of events, and "exorcises" the destructive pattern through emotional release.  However, I believe a belief-and-behavior-complex must be understood both in terms of its experiential origin and its mythic meaning for it to be truly worked through and transcended.  (Page 61.)


In myth and dream, "impulse is transduced into image and symbol, and an internal plight is converted into a story plot" (Jerome Bruner.)  (Page 70.)


"To understand the psyche, we have to include the whole world" (Joseph Campbell.)  (Page 95.)


"The human personality is always on a journey of soul-making" (Joseph Campbell.)  (Page 97.)


The psychological task of the hero is "to retreat from the world scene of secondary effects to those causal zones of the psyche where the difficulties really reside" (Joseph Campbell.)  (Page 98.)


"A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder.  There fabulous forces are encountered and a decisive victory is won.  The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man" (Joseph Campbell.)  (Page 98.)


The self is to be entered as the fairy realm of myth and folklore.  The dragons and ogres encountered there are aspects of ourselves.  The kingdom, lying under its wicked enchantment, is the world as we have come to see it in our regressive and self-induced trance.  (Page 105.)


The individual soul plunges into the depths of his/her own psyche in search of renewed meaning and a sense of belonging.  (Page 108.)


Images of animals can be living sources of power within the psyche.  It can be a therapeutic encounter to enter into dialogue with imagined animals and discover what they need.  Some may be sick, caged, or neglected, for examples.  (Page 113.)


By failing to recognise our inner as well as outer ecology, we modern folk have cut ourselves off from our sources of life.  (Page 114.)


To have a richness of outer experience requires an inner wealth of symbolic forms: this is both the legacy and the invitation of the mythic imagination.  (Page 114.)


Actualising an underlying pattern or myth into life can be called incarnation (page 117.)


Modern humanity is in search of a soul.  (Page 117.)


One cause of "Soul sickness" is being cut-off from one's natural and healthy psychic environment.  (Page 122.)


A woman had an impaired relationship with her own instinct and intuition.  Her dreams were helping her improve her relationship with her unconscious.  (Page 166.)


A symbol connected her with her energy source.  (Page 174.)


The mythic world guides and interfuses events in the everyday world.  These events become (in one's perception) timeless, luminous, or intensely meaningful.  (Page 181.)


One needs to get in touch with the spiritual principle that gives meaning to the entire adventure.  (Page 206.)


A theme in Jung's approach is to recognise the ancient gods and offer them "hospitality" in modern life.  (Page 214.)


In our depths lie transpersonal wisdom figures and an inexhaustible creative life force.  (Page 223.)


Humanity needs a new sense of mythology, geared to the creative life of the individual who seeks his/her own way in the world and who, through following his/her own path, develops a relationship with the archetypal and mythical powers that inform life.  (Page 227.)


It is this individual path to the mysteries, not necessarily the collective participation enjoined upon us by all of the religions, that may well constitute the ultimate human adventure and the achievement of personal wholeness.  (Page 228.)


The modern mind still thirsts to drink at the well of mythic meaning.  It yearns for experience of the world made sacred.  (Page 232.)


The responsibility of the conscious mythmaker is to construct an appropriate "frame of reference" into which the powers are invited to show themselves (page 233.)


A function of a mask is to unite the wearer (and the observer) with a mythic being (an archetypal power.)  A mask can enable a concentration of psychic energy, and offer dialogue between ego and other.  (Page 236.)


Mask-making and -wearing can be signs of a covenant between the supernatural realm and the human, natural, and social worlds.  (Page 241.)


When a Navajo sand painting healer places his patient in the mandala he has worked hours or days to prepare, he is trying to align psycho-spiritual forces in the patient, in himself, and in the universe.  (Page 242.)


Humans are truly free only when they are at play.  Play enables the energies of the psyche to be released and transformed.  (Page 287.)


In a hero's/heroine's quest, the hero/heroine encounters important aspects of him/herself.  (Page 317.)


What does the world need?  (Page 318.)


What does the hero/heroine need?  (Page 318.)


Does the hero bring something back?  Is anything different in the world because of what the hero/heroine has done?  (Page 318.)


A personal awakening and transformation can be achieved.  (Page 327.)



"Creative Mythology Exercises."


Ask for a dream or vision, and wait.  (Page 25.)


Act out a dream to accomplish the healing.  (Page 25.)


Construct a container, a ritual form, to hold the mythic energy.  The energies can then be safely and reliably invoked, summoned, confronted, and pleased.  (Page 30.)


Projective technique: present ambiguous stimuli and invite the client to make additions.  (Page 32.)


Find images of the universe that bring meaning into the soul.  (Page 94.)


Imagine yourself at your own funeral, when you are leaving this life and looking back upon it.  Deliver your own eulogy (speech about your life.)  (Page 141.)


I invited him to find his inner guide to see what he advised.  He said, "I find him in a cave."  (Page 219.)


Help the patient regenerate the life force deep within him/herself.  (Page 243.)


A ritual must be structured enough to contain and shape psychic energy, and loose enough to allow it to flow freely from its own deep sources.  At every step one could dialogue with the images as they emerge.  The images carry emotion and are protean; they metamorphose as one tries to hold them.  (Page 247.)


Create an imaginary universe, and then live in it.  (Page 259.)


We can play at confronting what terrifies us most.  We can, in play, open the cages and prisons that lock up parts of us.  (Page 282.)


Create a space into which the mythic may be invited.  (Page 296.)


Go through your body, part by part.  (Page 304.)


Imagine your mind to be a blank screen on which images may appear.  (Page 304.)


Look into a deep well.  (Page 304.)


Look into a mirror.  (Page 304.)


In a dream, what is the feeling?  Seek to identify and describe colors, objects, perceptions, and themes.  (Page 304.)


Fantasies may involve wish fulfillment, compensation, anxiety, etc.  (Page 306.)


Does the fantasy recur?  Does it seem stuck, or is it going somewhere?  (Page 306.) 


Does the dream present an impasse (difficulty)?  If yes, in what ways could the impasse be resolved?  (Page 306.)


Meet an inner guide.  Meet an ally.  Meet a shadow.  (Page 306.)


Stand before a doorway.  (Page 308.)


Stand at the top of a spiral staircase that goes down.  Go downward, spiraling seven times, to meet your guide.  (Page 308.)


At the bottom of the staircase of seven spirals, look into the eyes of the person you find there.  Ask this person, "Are you my guide?"  Wait for confirmation or contradiction.  If the answer is no, ask, "Could you take me to my guide?"  (Page 309.)


Tell your guide what your challenging situation is, and ask, "What should I do?"

"May I visit my shadow?"

"May I visit a deceased ancestor?" 

"May I visit ...?"  (Page 309.)


Perhaps bring a gift for the person you would like to visit.  (Page 309.)


When ready, ask one's guide, "May I go back to the ordinary world?"  (Page 309.)


If you cannot follow your guide's advice literally, try doing so as a symbolic enactment.  (Page 310.)


Imagine walking in a beautiful garden.  There are many plants and flowers.  (Page 310.)


If animals are there, move like an animal you see.  (Page 312.)


Cross a river.  Come to a sacred grove.  (Page 314.)


Ask whoever you meet, "Is there anything I could do for you?"  (Page 314.)


Describe the first dream you have had.  That is, the earliest dream you can remember.  Describe the room and the bed in which you had this dream, and what you were doing and how you were feeling at that point in your life.  (Page 316.)


Re-dream a dream, and have it go differently this time.  (Page 316.)





3) Commentary


Stephen Larsen's thinking as a therapist, healer, and facilitator is very much in the Carl Jung - Joseph Campbell tradition, as is mine.  I am very grateful to Stephen Larsen for presenting these ideas.


The Mythic Imagination states, discusses, and illustrates ways people working with symbols in dreams and myths (and in stories they themselves might create, I would add) can help people to connect with themselves, society, culture, history, and nature.


Using these symbols can help one to achieve a sense of belonging, and to see the larger picture and one's place in it.


This is finally about helping people to find themselves, and to discover the meanings, purposes, and directions of their lives.


However, we are living in a perilous moment --


As the old cultures recede in time, and as physical and linguistic traces of those cultures disappear, it seems fewer and fewer people are digging into history, immersing themselves in ancient cultures, and learning about ancient myths. 


The study of the Liberal Arts, the Humanities, is dwindling.  Mass media tends to be sensational and fleeting.  In the realm of mass media, memory of the distant past, and background and social-context, are secondary considerations.  Much on the Internet is self-promotional.  Education is more and more designed to prepare people for vocations, to manage and service systems -- not to question, modify, reject, and create belief-systems.  It seems most young people, and people in general, do not like to read or write for more than a minute or two.


Biological, cultural and linguistic diversity are all dwindling. 


Forests are being cut down.  This has been going on for a long time, but it seems we are now arriving at the end of the process.  Forest vegetation is being replaced by mono-crops.  Wild animals and plants are simply disappearing.  One million species of animals (out of nine million) are on the verge of extinction.


As a result, we humans are ending up cut off from the rest of nature, and isolated -- on physical as well as psychic levels.


All of this seems to be leading to the production of individuals who might have shallow, under-nourished psyches -- not "richly-furnished chambers of the psyche."  People in this deprived, uncultivated condition may be relatively unaware (culturally-speaking) of where they came from, who they are, and where they might be going.


In leading Creative Writing workshops for teenagers, I feel some glimmer of hope when students express interest in the "occult" and the "paranormal" (ghosts, etc.)  At least they are searching for something under-the-surface.  I was heartened the other day by a teenage student who included in a short story of hers the Goddess of the Forest known in Ancient Greece as Artemis, and in Ancient Italy as Diana.