Book Review: C.G. Jung, Jung on Mythology

ed. Robert A. Segal, Routledge, ISBN 0 415
19944 1 (pbk)

This volume appears in a series of selections from Jung under various titles, such 
as Jung on Active Imagination and Jung on Synchronicity and the Paranormal,
 which seems to be designed to help students through the Collected Works 
thematically. This volume on Mythology has a solid introductory essay by the 
editor explaining the fundamental importance of mythology in Jung’s work and 
offering some helpful comparisons with Freud. It also includes some selections 
from followers of Jung in the final chapter of the book which are particularly useful
 and interesting as developments of his work. The inclusion of extracts from James 
Hillman’s writing in this section brings the volume very much up to date.

The editor has chosen a series of topics under which to marshall passages from the
 Collected Works, such as ‘Myth as a Way of Thinking’, The Origin of Myth’,
 ‘Myths and Primitives’, ‘Myths and Moderns’. The most substantial chapters are on 
’The Origin of Myth’, ‘The Function of Myth’ and ‘Kinds of Myths’, so that although 
a good deal of Jungian theory is covered, there are important areas which are not
 specifically related to myth which are only mentioned in passing or incompletely.
 For example there seems to be no mention of the ‘animus’ and only three passing 
references to the ‘anima’ although the anima is also included under the heading of 
’archetypes’. In fact the archetypes which are covered in this volume are purely 
mythological and in some ways they miss the real psychological importance that
 they have in the context of the original writings. Inevitably, the gain in clarity and 
concision by focusing so strictly on one aspect of Jung’s work is offset by losses in
terms of context and organization.

However, the gain in clarity is very striking at times; the editor has picked passages
 which stand out with exceptional power, sometimes perhaps exceeding the effect they really should have. I am thinking particularly of a passage he selected where
 Jung is talking about Wotan, the Teutonic god, whom he sees as coming vividly to 
life in the Hitler Youth Movement.

“The coincidence of anti-semitism with the reawakening of Wotan is a 
psychological subtlety that may perhaps be worth mentioning.”

But it is inevitable that some distortions should appear when the huge volume of
 Jung’s work is divided up in this way. Other passages appear to very great
 advantage by being so specifically focused upon, especially I felt some passages 
from Jung’s late autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections: “I cannot
 experience myself as a scientific problem.” Having passages which one is used to
 viewing more as reminiscences presented in the context of theory is very helpful 
and interesting.

There are excellent accounts of the mythical archetypes, carried in the passages and 
assisted by helpful introductions and notes. Though not over-academic, this 
volume would certainly be a very useful introduction for a student needing to
 overview the subject. Of course, the extracts tend to be rather short, though there 
is very good coverage particularly of the importance of the Child archetype, and
 (in contrast with most accounts of Jung’s mythological thinking) as much or more 
space is devoted to the Dual Mother as to the Hero – a welcome adjustment.

In spite of the necessary shortcomings of presenting Jung in this rather fragmented 
form, there are huge gains in making his work accessible outside the daunting
 format of the Collected Works. I feel this is a far more useful contribution to the
 study of Jung than any number of explanatory texts for there is nothing so 
challenging and exciting as to read him in his own words.

Mary Montaut.