One of the crucial sequences examined by a number of scholars is the mythic journey of the hero in myths and literature over the ages. The most famous and well known study of the hero's journey is Joseph Campbell's Hero With A Thousand Faces. The legendary mythologist was better prepared than other investigators to examine sequence because mythology (unlike symbolism) is greatly concerned about the sequence of events in stories.
Through his research, Campbell discovered a basic sequence in the journey of the hero in mythology and literature. This is well shown by the outline of the book:
The Adventure of the Hero
The Call to Adventure
Refusal of the Call
The Crossing of the First Threshold
The Belly of the Whale
The Road of Trials
The Meeting with the Goddess
Woman as the Temptress
Atonement with the Father
The Ultimate Boon
Refusal of the Return
The Magic Flight
Rescue from Without
Crossing of the Return Threshold
Master of Two Worlds
Freedom to Live
Notice that the adventure of the hero involves three major stages, or sequences: departure, initiation and return. Within this three-stage structure is the critical aspect of separation embodied in the departure of the hero. Initiation cannot take place without this departure or separation.
Sequence of Historical Consciousness
One of Joseph Campbell's key insights was the discovery of this sequential pattern common to heros in literature and mythology. However, it was more in the province of others to suggest that Campbell's hero was symbolically consciousness of mankind. In this sense, the hero of stories and mythologies is really the emerging consciousness of the both the individual and culture. Sequence is therefore given a psychological and historical dimension and the journey of the hero becomes both an ontology and phylogeny.
One of the key books relating to these concerns to symbolism is The Origins and History of Consciousness by Erich Neumann. This milestone in twentieth century thought explores the relationship between psychology and mythology with the bold hypothesis that individual consciousness passes through the same archetypal stages of development that marked the history of human consciousness as a whole. As Jung notes in his introduction to the book, Neumann is the first to place the concepts of analytical psychology "on a firm evolutionary basis."
The stages begin and end with the symbol of the Uroboros or tail-eating serpent. The intermediary stages are projected in the universal myths of the world creation, the Great Mother, the separation of from the world parents, the birth of the hero, the slaying of the rescue of the captive and finally the rescue and deification of the hero. In Origins, Neumann shows Campbell's hero is really the evolving ego consciousness. The sequential progression of the individual life is shown to be strikingly similar to the sequence shown by cultural development through the ages. Apart from locating the hero inside the personal consciousness Neumann also locates the hero in the collective unconscious.
The book is divided into two major sections. The first section explores the sequential archetypes of myths. The second section explores the psychological stages in the development of personality. The outline is fairly extensive but important enough to reproduce here.
Mythological Stages in the Evolution of Consciousness
- The Creation Myth
The Great Mother
Separation of World Parents
Principle of Opposites
- The Hero Myth
Birth of the Hero
Slaying of the Mother
Slaying of the Father
- The Transformation Myth
The Captive and the Treasure
Transformation or Osiris
Psychological Stages in the Development of Personality
Looking at Neumann's stages, one can see a close similarity to the stages within Campbell's Hero With A Thousand Faces. The revolutionary aspect of Neumann's book, though, was to link individual psychological development with historical psychological development. Both pass through the same sequences, the same order. This is the crucial point and this point often gets lost in particular dates and events of history. The dates and events matter far less than the sequence.
In The Origins and History of Consciousness Neumann provides an interesting concept called "sequence-dating" (abbreviated S.D.) from Flinders Petrie author of the relatively obscure book The Making of Egypt. This system was established for Petrie to investigate the early history of Egypt. It allowed for the priority of sequence over dates and denotation of a "before" and "after" without knowing the temporal correlation. For example, S.D 30 comes before S.D. 77, although this does not tell us what dated period we must assign to S.D 30 or 77, or how great an interval lies between them.
As Neumann notes, one needs to make do with sequence- dating in dealing with the archetypal stages. In this sense, the uroboros comes "before" the dragon fight. An absolute correlation in time is impossible because "we have to consider the historical relativity of individual nations and cultures." Using a method like sequence dating allows for a comparison of sequences in various cultures. In fact, the stage of sequence of cultures, their relative alignment or misalignment of sequences between cultures, may prove to be one of the most revolutionary methods for understanding the differences between cultures and civilizations throughout history and in the emerging millennium.
For instance, Neumann suggests that Greek mythology is largely a dragon-fight mythology of a consciousness struggling for independence, a struggle of decisive spiritual importance for Greece. This development in Greece was between 1500 and 500 B.C. but in Egypt the corresponding process took place long before 3300 B.C. This Greek sequence was already complete in the Egyptian myth of Osiris and Horus. Neumann points out that the "identification of the king with Osiris is proved as far back as the First Dynasty" but this is not to say that it did not occur until then.
In 1912, at the age of thirty-seven, Jung published Transformations and Symbols of the Libido. In 1952 it was revised and republished as Symbols of Transformation. It is a milestone in the Jungian system because it marked Jung's divergence from the psychoanalytic school of Freud. Soon after it was published it became his most widely known and influential book.
As Jung notes in the Forward to Symbols it is an extended "practical analysis of the prodromal stages of schizophrenia." The subject of the analysis was a one of Jung's patients named Miss Miller. Jung makes clear that context is a key concern in the book's Forward noting that he is attempting to "establish the meaning of the archetypal context." The stages explored are the following:
- Transformation of Libido
- Origin of the Hero
- Symbols of the Mother and Rebirth
- Battle for Deliverance from the Mother
- The Dual Mother
- The Sacrifice
Again, one can see the close relationship of the stages of the "Miller fantasies" and Campbell's mythological hero and Neumann's ego consciousness and collective hero.
Jung returned to a full investigation of sequence towards the end of his life with the monumental Mysterium Coniunctionis and Aion. This time, though, the sequential appearance of symbols was placed in the context of the medieval symbolic system of alchemy and the symbolic system of astrology. Interestingly enough, with Symbols he started from the personal and worked outward. With Mysterium and Aion he starts with systems and works toward the personal. In effect, Symbols was an investigation from content to context while Mysterium and Aion are investigations from context to content.
But what led Jung to the study of alchemy? Why should a person turn in the middle of the twentieth century look back in time almost five hundred years? Jung provides a good partial explanation in the essay "The Alchemical Tree" from his book Alchemical Studies where he said we "must turn back to those periods in human history when symbol formation went on unimpeded, that is, when there was still no epistemological criticism of the formation of the images, and when, in consequence, facts that in themselves were unknown could be expressed in definite visual form. The period of this kind closest to us is that of medieval natural philosophy."
Mysterium again is outwardly a book about the correspondence of symbols in alchemy with psychological development. But again, underneath this, it is really a book about the sequential appearance of symbols within the entire process of alchemy. Mysterium is arguably the most important yet least accessible book Jung ever wrote. Many have read this in a careful manner yet come away with the realization that something extremely important has been said but understanding little of what exactly this was. It needs to be remembered that it was written after Jung's near fatal illness in the 1944 when Jung was simply concerned with working out his own thoughts and caring less who might understand them.
Fortunately, there is a type of "Cliff Notes" for Mysterium in the publication of a lecture series given at the Jung Institute of Los Angeles by one of the foremost Jungian scholars Edward Edinger. There are two volumes in this series. One is a relatively thin little unobtrusive volume called The Mystery of the Coniunctio: Alchemical Image of Individuation. The second is the larger "Cliff Notes" called The Mysterium Lectures. The first book relates Mysterium to the Rosarium Cycle discussed below. The second is a chapter by chapter analysis and explanation of Mysterium. Both are published by Daryl Sharp's Inner City Press of Toronto, Canada.
As Edinger notes in The Mystery of The Coniunctio, Mysterium "revealed that the arcane practices of alchemy were a profound reflection of transformations that take place in the personality on the journey toward wholeness, and that the same imagery turns up in modern dreams." As Edinger explains, the coniunctio "is the end result of the alchemical procedure when the opposites are successfully united." The psychological parallel to this, is "the broadening of consciousness that goes hand in hand with the process of individuation."
Alchemy offers a type of visual representation of the dreams of the scientists of the 15th century. The materials they used were part of this dream. As Edward Edinger notes in The Mysterium Lectures, "The alchemists were fired with the beginnings of the modern spirit of inquiry, but yet, as investigators of the nature of matter they were still half asleep. So, in their zeal to investigate those newly opened vistas, they projected their fantasies and dream images into matter." As Edinger remarks, "In effect, they dreamed a vast collective dream using operations and materials as imagery and subject matter for that dream. Alchemy is that great collective dream, and what makes it so important for us is that it's the dream of our ancestors."