Short Q&A about how Archetypes and Myth Play into Emotional Health

Question by Dylan Hoffman, PhD: How has mythology aided your personal interaction with archetypes? Does the personification of archetypes, specifically in myth, provide access to the psyche in ways that you personally find beneficial? How you engage with myth—perhaps through ritual, active imagination, dance, prayer, art, drama, etc.—and how this deepens your experience of archetypes?

 Diana Deaver: In my emotional health life coaching practice, I use mythical stories to normalize some of the experiences my clients struggle with. Using a recognizable well-known story like the hero’s journey, for example, I assist my clients to identify a certain stage in their life. This helps them see that what they are experiencing is not something due to a deficiency in them that needs to be fixed, but that it is, in fact, a natural human pattern. Myth really helps give our lives context. It puts in front of us a bigger picture, the narrative with a full story. It reminds us that there are different parts of the story, that every hero gets support or aid at some point, that where there are enemies, allies are also to be found. We feel less alone when we go through what others have also gone through in their own way. One of the most frequent image metaphors I use is that of a strong warrior guarding the door that leads to the king (my client). I use this to illustrate the concept of personal boundaries. Some people have weak warriors (boundaries) that sleep on the job and anyone can get in and out. Others have overactive warriors that won’t let anyone in.
I use this visual metaphor for myself as well. I have had many “discussions” with my inner guardian sometimes asking them to calm down and the other times asking them to be more vigilant. Perhaps this active imagination dialogue is the most concrete way I engage with mythical images. Sometimes, if I am scared I imagine my strong warrior standing beside me or walking in front of me.
Dylan Hoffman: Diana, You describe the value of myth beautifully. We never outgrow myth. Or if we do, we do so to our detriment–like a tree growing so tall, it doesn’t think it needs the soil. In any case, whenever we witness someone reconnecting with the psyche, there is always a return of myth–we regain a sense of adventure, of enchantment, or our archetypal role in the story of the world. As I described in the lecture, myth is the primordial language of archetypes, and we find ourselves living this language the closer we get to them. And as you describe, “It puts in front of us a bigger picture, the narrative with a full story.” The language of myth is wholistic, it covers all of life–childhood, rites of passage, rivalries, friends, enemies, romance, sex, loss, work, sickness, weakness, old age, wisdom. Myth no only gives us access to new areas of life, of the psyche, now and going forward. It helps us to recover our past, the portions of our lives that didn’t make any sense to us at the time with the frame of reference we carried. Wholeness doesn’t just cover what will happen, it encompasses what has happened–I can’t be whole without bringing my childhood with me. I remember when I got my childhood back, when I no longer tried to keep it in the past (this is where my warriors stood guard), when I had a way to tell it and tether it to the rest of my life. It’s almost like the warriors won’t let something through unless we have a myth to give them. Trauma is like that. It is kept away from the rest of our lives until it can be storied, narrated. Only then do the warriors let it through to integrate with the rest of our lives. That recovery is essential to wholeness. Since myth is timeless, it is able to retrieve what has already happened. And so we find ourselves finally being able to tell the story of our past too, our whole story. This has to go hand-in-hand with individuation, since individuation entails our ability to consciously realize the whole psyche. If the psyche makes its archetypal wholeness known through myth, we can’t realize that wholeness without becoming conscious of the way that myth is finding unique expression in our own lives and has–whether or not we knew it at the time.