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Slochower, H. (1970). Psychoanalytic Distinction Between Myth and Mythopoesis. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 18:150-164.

(1970). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 18:150-164

Psychoanalytic Distinction Between Myth and Mythopoesis

Harry Slochower, Ph.D.


Insofar as the concept of adaptation connotes conformity, it is undistributed, that is, lacks scientific precision to the degree that the function of myth in ritual and religion is extrapolated as applying to mythopoesis. The "state of adaptedness" (Hartmann) holds primarily for those historic scenes where the ruling powers are in

a position to impose acquiescence to and identification with their special interests. This situation pertains to primitive societies, some Oriental kingdoms, and to subsequent varieties of totalitarian regimes.

As noted, Freud (1921) speculated that the myth may also be the step "by which the individual emerges from group psychology" (p. 136). Max Stern (1964) may have this in mind when he writes that while myths provide the group with its identity, they "dialectically foster in members—via identification with the hero—the emergence of personal identity" (p. 91). Mythopoesis discloses such emergence in characters who violate basic social taboos. For this, the hero is punished. Yet, the artistic sympathy with which he is drawn constitutes an aesthetic justification of the rebellious act. The function of our eminent mythmakers is not to support social "concensus," which makes for idolatry. The quest of the heroic character is not merely "to explain" the world, but to change it by cleansing its stables and awakening its slumbering creative powers.

Mythopoesis exemplifies the process of "a change in function" in its relation to mythology. What in mythology is a defense against instinctual drives develops here a degree of autonomy, which can, as in psychoanalysis, set a goal in its own right with the hero participating in the labor to transform the old tradition (Hartmann, 1939). In this way, mythopoesis takes the pivotal step by which magical and religious reality is transformed into symbolic and psychological reality. It should be noted, however, that the function of the old mythology is not eliminated. Mythopoesis maintains contact with the tradition in which it is rooted. Freud (1913) pointed to this phenomenon when, citing Wundt, he noted that a stage in mythology which has been surpassed "persists in an inferior form alongside with the later one" (p. 25). And, to repeat, it is such change of function which renders the hero in mythopoesis at once tragically guilty and redeemable.

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