Orphan Quest: Finding One’s Myth

As we delve into the “Once Upon a Time” series about myths, I’ve thought a lot about the meaning of myths, how they function, how they give a person a point of reference, a perspective. In our first drawing class Sunday night, our instructor showed us just how essential right perspective is. He set a still life before us–pitcher, jar, dish, paint brushes–and gave us 20 minutes to draw it. We eleven students produced drawings of varying degrees of proportion to what sat before us. Afterward, the instructor drew the still life that he saw. His perspective was correct and beautiful because it was proportional to what was there. His trained hand had the ability to reproduce the image on paper, and his artist self drew the still life in his own style. We saw art created, and we saw myth happening, too, because our instructor showed us something of his culture of self.

When Jung and Freud talked about myth, although they had different approaches to the inner life of the human being, they referred not only to the stories of specific cultures, but also to myth as a fundamental aspect of human consciousness. The traditional anthropological view of myth is as a collection of stories, often supernatural or paradoxical in nature, that incorporate the beliefs of a given culture. Myths provide a container for the supernatural and the paradoxical or conflicting elements that the modern mind dissociates and denies.

Much of my life’s work has surrounded orphans, both actual and archetypal. I read some adoption blogs and do a lot of thinking and living surrounding adoption. Everywhere I see orphans. When I hear their cries or see their twisted, halting gaits, I know they are wounded and I want to help. I also know that on some levels I cannot help.  I know that Jung was correct when he wrote, “I am an orphan, alone,” because orphanhood is at the heart and core of every human being. Still, I am sympathetic to actual orphans, children who have been separated from not only their biological parents, but their histories, nationalities, cultures, and myths as well. I’m sympathetic to their plight as adults who are often barred from knowing the truth about their own histories. Anyone who has lost his or her history for any reason has suffered a substantial loss. The task of recovery is immense, and not for the faint of heart.

This afternoon I watched Matter of Heart, a film from the Jung Film Project (1975-1981) with interviews of many of Jung’s colleagues, two of his grandsons, and of Jung himself. One particular excerpt from an interview with Jung had me riveted, and I wanted to reproduce it here because it speaks to the heart of what I’ve been writing about:

A man is not complete when he lives in a world of statistical truth; he must live in a world of his biological truth. Man has always lived in the myth, and yet we think we are able to be born today and to live in no myth, without history. That is a disease! It is absolutely abnormal, because man is not born every day. He is once born in a specific historical setting with his specific historical qualities, and therefore he is only complete when he has a relation to these things. It is just as if he were born without eyes and ears when you are growing up with no connection to the past. From the [perspective] of natural science, you need no connection to the past; you can wipe it out–and that is a mutation of the human being (C. G. Jung).

What Jung said is true on several different levels. It is true of a culture that denies its actual history and replaces it with revisionist versions, and it is true in personal situations in which people are cut off from their own myths. Every relationship has its culture, every family, every work place, every community. When parents deny history to their offspring, the myth begins to die and the culture is not transmitted. On a larger and more crippling scale, when we worship science and declare that God is dead, we participate in a sort of spiritual genocide in which we act as though we actually can be born every day, as if we created ourselves. We can’t seem to look past one generation–that of our parents–into the distant past and see that we have carried a treasure of inestimable value to this present time, the one that was handed down from generation to generation and into our hands. Into our hands so that we could turn away from the magic our ancestors sat around the fire and talked about, the courage that kept them alive so that we could live, so that we could blog and blab and talk about. . . what?

What, indeed. There are blogs, and then there are blogs. There are those where honest people tell their stories. They are telling their stories and connecting themselves with their own myths, their family myths, looking for clan connections along fiber optic cables. There are those that are neurotically attached to not seeing, to remaining blind, to projecting their stuff out there so that they never have to own it, never have to be responsible, never have to have a connection between their inner cause and an effect. Those who are perpetual victims, who insist there is no light for them because of what someone else did.

I don’t believe in perpetual victims. I believe that God is one who seeks and saves that which is lost, regardless of what has actually happened to a person. God is after you, you His one and only. While it is wrong to have your history cut away, wrong that someone took it and hid it, wrong that someone failed to transmit it, wrong that for a million reasons you’ve lost your way; still, there’s a way home to your true self and you can find that way. You can find it through your dreams and your spiritual life, and the act of cutting a person off statistically does not negate his inner cosmology. Truth runs in the cells and in the spirit: there’s always a way home, even if we don’t know that we know the way.

This is my intention in writing about the myth of Venus first, because Venus is a type of Eve, who was the first created woman. She is the mother of all who have been driven from the garden; and she knows the way home.

Finding Their Way Home

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17 responses

  1. Your understanding of the orphan archetype was helpful to myself and husband, co-artists. We are working on a series of art pieces representing the feminine archetypes. Tomorrow we have a model shoot focusing on the hero and orphan archetypes. I’ll let you know when we finish these pieces. Bob & Donna Sellers

  2. My husband and I are artist working on feminine archetypes. As we have a shoot tomorrow with a model to photograph images for two archetypes, the hero and the orphan, we both found your discussion and quote from Jung to be very helpful. Thank you.

  3. Pingback: Recommended reading on Jung and archetypes « The Hannibal Blog

  4. Judy, yes, I re-read the Aenied last year, although I have to admit I’m fuzzy on details. I love what you wrote here and hadn’t made the connection; but you’re right, of course. He is a sort of an orphan because of the new home he must establish.

    And yes, it fascinates me that Venus is his mother. What a connection! Thanks for your comments!

  5. I am fascinated by the conversation, and felt that I had to jump in. I was wondering if you had read the Aeneid. Its hero Aeneas is the archetypal orphan in many ways, if not in a literal sense. He has been stripped of his home and country by war. His sense of himself has also been lost, for all he knows of himself now is that he was a warrior who failed. He let his city fall, and yet didn’t fall with it, as an honorable warrior must. As he struggles to obey the gods’ commands to find a destined new home for the Trojan refugees and lay the foundations for what he is told by oracles and portents will be the greatest city in the world (what will eventually be Rome), he is forced to face a future from which the past has been broken. Somehow he has to make sense of the relationship between his own past – of failure, grief, and loss – and a future that only the voice of religion promises will be filled with glory. The problem for him is the same as for most of us – he can’t possibly know with certainty that he’s doing what he’s supposed to do. He can only do what he believes is right, and have faith. And given his past, he’s none too sure of anything, particulary the gods’ choosing him as the founder of this glorious new city.
    Eventually (and with some supernatural help), he is allowed a glimpse of the future generations that are waiting for him to do his part, and he recognizes the truth – that his “part” is the part every individual plays: every human being is a link in the chain connecting the past to the future, and connecting self and family to society, to the world, to the cosmos. It’s an extraordinary book. And by the way, Aeneas’s mother is the goddess Venus. Interesting, no?

  6. You’re welcome! Sadly, the last sentence of what you quoted from my comment also encapsulates one of the reasons I don’t go to religious services. I’ve not found anything so far that doesn’t seem to be just parroting. Maybe that’s a reflection of my own shallowness. I’m not sure.

  7. While I wouldn’t describe them as profundities, the light bulb did go on, so to speak.

    For me, the church has been such a source of comfort. I really like the idea of having the kids experience the rites of passage and having them have a sense of community outside of our family nucleus. All that being said, I still wondered how important, if at all, these things are when raising children. It cleared my thoughts when you spoke of a “spiritual genocide.”

    On another note, when you spoke of the orphan, it really opened up a new venue of understanding my husband. His relationship with his parents and siblings was strained at best when growing up. When his dad died, they hadn’t spoken in over a year. He has no relationship whatsoever with his mom or siblings. He has no sense of family history. He doesn’t even know his grandparents names.

    It was so interesting to read about the orphan archtype and to know it is not a “death blow”.

    There is so much more, but I’m afraid this comment is too long already.

  8. Deb, absolutely, we are more than our pasts. I feel a lot of pity for people who have been cut off from their pasts and who think this is the death blow. It’s as if they can’t possibly become whole or individuate without it.

    This is not true; but it is very easy to believe because the way to a home village from which one can leave on the quest is just so hard to find.

    I think that when you wrote “try to understand” you were correct. We can only do our best and trust God to give us the rest (or whatever it is beyond us that we trust).

    Also interesting, what you wrote about the stories you choose not to tell, and how you deal with them. Of course, “discretion is the better part of valor” (Shakespeare). Finding and cultivating relationship with that inner kind parent is essential to one’s well being. It has taken me the better part of a lifetime to find those inner parents, and I still lose them in the grocery store frequently.

  9. Hen, this blew me away: “For a long time now, Western culture has denied the need for relationship other than on the physical level, hence the emphasis on sexuality instead of love, acquisition instead of generosity, and nationhood instead of universality. And the attention we do give to the past is on a superficial level, parroting tradition without really penetrating its meaning.”

    Brilliant, simply brilliant. I’ve been thinking some swirling thoughts along these lines and you came along and encapsulated them. I’m going to copy, paste, and ponder this. Thank you.

  10. Alida, I hope you come back and let us know what profundities you came up with.

    Tiv, it’s just a blog. It’s the stuff that’s in my head all the time. I’m doing my 1% minority thinker part for the blogosphere for all the weirdos. Haha!

  11. I agree that we are part of the time and family we are born into but we are also more than that, we can transcend that, it is within us. It’s good to know your history but it’s not the only thing we need to move forward, we also need to be willing to let go of things to move forward. We can’t undo the past, we can look at it, try to understand what happened and to learn from it but it is not our future or even our present.
    Does that make any sense?

    For me, telling my story is a way of understanding it. Once I get it out of my head I can more easily see it for what it is, can view it more objectively. I’m also learning to do that inside my head which is helpful because there are some stories I choose not to share and I have found a kind parent inside of me who is gentlely encouraging me to do better, to be kinder to myself.

  12. “I am an orphan, alone.” I’m reminded by the original Fall in the Garden, and the Fall we each experience when we first have that frightening sense of individuality after being merged with our mothers.

    The quote from Jung resonated with me as well. I am reminded of what Rudolf Steiner said many times about Christ being the archetypal human being in balance between spirit and matter. We can’t completely succumb to either natural science or spirituality. We need our myths and our past, but we also need our reality and our present.

    For a long time now, Western culture has denied the need for relationship other than on the physical level, hence the emphasis on sexuality instead of love, acquisition instead of generosity, and nationhood instead of universality. And the attention we do give to the past is on a superficial level, parroting tradition without really penetrating its meaning.

  13. Wow! This is powerful. I’m just going to pour myself another cup of coffee, since I’m going to be up all night thinking about this.

  14. Very interesting Eve. I especially relate to what you say in the last couple of paragraphs, about people who own their stories and making their connections, and those who refuse to see the links because that allows them to be victims.

    This especially “Those who are perpetual victims, who insist there is no light for them because of what someone else did” resonates for me. I have one in my life and I am at the point of no longer listening to how badly she has been treated (which she was) because she’s taking no responsibility for her possible part in it.

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