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Sterba, R. (1944). Myth and Folk Tale: Géza Róheim. Amer. Imago, II, 1941, pp. 266–279.. Psychoanal Q., 13:127-128.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Myth and Folk Tale: Géza Róheim. Amer. Imago, II, 1941, pp. 266–279.

(1944). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 13:127-128

Myth and Folk Tale: Géza Róheim. Amer. Imago, II, 1941, pp. 266–279.

Richard Sterba

In this study Róheim first points out the difference in content and structure between myth and folk tale. In myths we find divine actors, acting in a definite locality. The myth is a part of the creed believed by the narrator, mostly connected with a ritual. The folk tale seems to be purely fiction; it shows the dramatis personoe as human beings, the actors are nameless, the scene can be anywhere. But the contents of both myth and folk tale show their common origin, namely the unconscious conflicts around the Oedipus complex.

Róheim has collected a series of folk tales which were told him by the members of a primitive tribe, the Aranda, in Central Australia. The hero and heroine of these stories are always a beautiful couple. Their antagonists are giants with big penises and testicles; the females have enormous genitals and breasts. All narratives show the giants as cannibalistic, either attempting to devour the human beings, or actually doing so. They never show the humans retaliating in kind. The end of the folk tale is always happy. Róheim believes that the demons in the central Australian folk tales may represent the past of the native civilization, since they are pictured as more unbridled in lust and aggression than the central Australian natives of today. The institution of marriage is entirely absent in the folk tales and totemism is

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hardly mentioned. Though the tales may represent the warfare between cannibalistic and noncannibalistic tribes, between lower and slightly higher cultures, according to Róheim they concomitantly reflect actual infantile experiences. Baby eating is still customary among the central, southern and western Australian primitive tribes, either every second baby being eaten or, irregularly, some of the babies being devoured whenever the mother is seized by an irresistible craving. Since the surviving children are brought up almost without any inhibitions, the result is a marked ambivalence towards the parents which finds expression in the folk tales.

Róheim states that the difference between folk tale and myth lies in the difference of the superego influence on these mental products. Whereas folk tales picture the fight against 'superego precursors' in the form of 'wicked parents' imagos in a merely fictive fashion with a happy end, myths are tragedies based on a strong father identification. The myth tries to link up fantasy and reality and is tied up with society and with group activity in the form of ritual.

Róheim concludes: 'In the folk tale we relate how we overcome the anxiety connected with the "bad parents", and grow up; in the myth we confess that only death can end the tragic ambivalence of human nature. Eros triumphs in the folk tale, Thanatos in the myth.'

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Article Citation

Sterba, R. (1944). Myth and Folk Tale. Psychoanal. Q., 13:127-128

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