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(1962). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. IX, 1961: Ego Psychology and the Study of Mythology. Jacob A. Arlow. Pp. 371-393.. Psychoanal Q., 31:416.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. IX, 1961: Ego Psychology and the Study of Mythology. Jacob A. Arlow. Pp. 371-393.

(1962). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 31:416

Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. IX, 1961: Ego Psychology and the Study of Mythology. Jacob A. Arlow. Pp. 371-393.

The author states that one purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how our knowledge of ego psychology may enable us to establish a frame of reference for the psychoanalytic study of mythology.

The myth emerges from unconscious fantasy thinking, which is one level of the ego's integration of the instinctual demands of the id, as well as from a matrix common for the creation of dreams, symptoms, and fantasies. In each individual's fantasy life there is a hierarchy which reflects the vicissitudes of his individual experience as well as the influence of psychic differentiation and ego development. With the passing of the Oedipal phase, the unconscious fantasy life becomes more or less organized and the individual's fantasy systems tend to remain constant. The derivative expressions of unconscious fantasy show the increasing effort of mastery by the ego of the underlying instinctual wishes. Also, one set of fantasies may serve to screen out defensively another repudiated set of fantasies. A myth is a ready-made communally acceptable fantasy involving wishes heretofore expressed in guilt-laden private fantasies. While helping the individual to ward off feelings of guilt and anxiety, the myth brings him into relationship with members of his cultural group because of certain common needs, thus constituting a form of adaptation to reality and to the group. Crystallization of identity and superego formation are influenced by the myth.

Arlow uses Jack and the Beanstalk, the myth of Prometheus, and the Bible story of Moses receiving the Law on Mount Sinai to illustrate three mythological variations of the child's wish to acquire the father's phallus by devouring it. In each case the hero of the story ascends and returns with some token of power, wealth, or knowledge. The wish-fulfilling tendency in childhood, in which the contribution of the superego is minimal and the fear of retaliation is disposed of omnipotently, is found in Jack and the Beanstalk. The myth of Prometheus corresponds to that stage of psychic development before the renunciation of the Oedipal wishes and the institution of the superego. In the story of Moses, what was originally a crime of defiance and aggression against God becomes an execution of God's wishes. Identification between a mortal and God (father and son) results in sublimation with concomitant shifting of the gratification to feelings of narcissistic omnipotence, reflecting the type of ego organization associated with the beginning formation of the superego. All myths afford instinctual gratification through the medium of identification with one or more figures.

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Article Citation

(1962). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. IX, 1961. Psychoanal. Q., 31:416

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