Psychologists look for meaning in dream, myth, and fairy tale symbols because, as products of the unconscious, they compensate for the narrow visions of our egos and show us what we need to know to grow and thrive. Reflecting on the metaphorical meaning of our stories educates, encourages, and empowers us.
Here’s an example of what we can learn from fairy tales. The initial situation in a fairy tale represents the conscious state of affairs in a culture or individual. Leaving the original setting and going into the forest opens up the possibility for new insights lacking in the conscious orientation. What happens to those who enter the forest depends on their attitudes. The one who is indifferent, self-centered, self-righteous, proud, or disrespectful; the know-it-all who does not listen to advice; the person who must take charge, dominate, or control; the one who refuses to change: these people fall by the wayside or return home in disgrace. Such characters represent the weak and immature ego which does not easily acknowledge the significance of otherness. As the fairy tales illustrate, this attitude is ultimately destined for failure.
The hero or heroine in fairy tale and myth is always the one who succeeds because s/he has the correct attitude — the same attitude of humility, alert attention, trust, reverence, and respect that characterizes the deeply religious — toward the strange and magical beings encountered in the forest. This theme reflects a very profound truth. According to Jung, acquiring a religious outlook is an essential component of the journey to wholeness. By “religious” Jung did not mean believing in specific creeds that reflect personal or cultural biases. Rather he meant having reverence for every form of life including the unconscious, unknown otherness in the world and ourselves.
Religions try to develop religious attitudes by teaching their devotees to revere the symbols and themes of their myths and find spiritual meaning in them. Meaning is a human necessity. With it, there’s nothing we can’t bear; without it, there’s nothing to live for. There is nothing logical about meaning. We cannot see it, explain it, measure it, or prove it to anyone’s satisfaction. Nevertheless, it is a profound reality. If we have it, we know it because we feel a sense of purpose and vitality that was formerly lacking. Meaning is the “Aha!” of understanding; the “Eureka!” of discovery; the light bulb that turns on with a new insight or idea; the joy of finding the purpose of our lives; the blissful participation in eternity when we’re absorbed in work we love; the awed awareness of the miracle of being alive and knowing we are known and loved by something beyond ourselves.
The Greek myths provided sacred meaning for people in the Golden Age, but as the world changed and people grew more conscious they no longer found meaning in the old myths. The same is true of many people today for whom the myths of Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, or Islam are no longer tenable. While losing faith in our religious traditions can be devastating, it is a signal that we are ready for a newer, more personally meaningful and experiential spirituality. We receive this gift from Sophia, our spiritual mediatrix and mother, by looking within, listening to our hearts, discovering our true selves, and following our bliss: in other words, by creating and living our own myths.
If you seek a deeper, more fulfilling spirituality, listen to what nourishes your soul with meaning. That’s Sophia talking and you can trust her. She knows the way home to your Self. May you experience more of her gift during this holiday season.