Personal Myth and the Path to Individuation:
A Double Journey Into the World and Into Your Story
by Dennis Patrick Slattery, Ph.D.
“The man who thinks he can live without a myth, or outside it, is an exception. He is like one uprooted, having no true link either with the past, or with the ancestral life which continues within him. . .” C.G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation, xxiv.
Years ago I remember reading a response by famed mythologist Joseph Campbell when he was asked: “What is a myth?” He shot back, “other people’s religion,” which I believe he meant to be both witty and true. I have for years been offering Riting Retreats on Personal Mythology in several countries because I became satisfied with the idea that myths are stories, or just stories. Yes, they are, but what is behind the stories we tell, read, watch on film, listen to of others? I believe there are vast archetypal energy fields that help to shape, form, organize, mute and privilege some parts of our histories while they coax us to embellish others.
After years of offering these retreats, I decided to gather the riting meditations that I use as prompts for participants’ writings. They became a book, Riting Myth, Mythic Writing: Plotting Your Personal Story. I discovered in the process that there is something magical and mythic about cursive writing as a way into a meditative state that encourages a deeper reflection on the events of our past. But here is the interesting angle at this juncture: these events by themselves mean little to nothing; they must be imagined and remembered into a shape and into a coherence and one of these shaping actions is riting, which I spell that way to capture something of the ritual involvement in remembering and expressing our past into a coherent history.
In this series of webinars I want to approach the above by offering some ideas on the character and characteristics of a personal myth first, then review through Joseph Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces each of our calls to a destiny and its possible refusal: “I am busy now; call me later.” That is our second journey. Myths call us to a life; then it is up to us to step into it or around it.
Third, I want to explore with you some connections between a living myth and an ancient Greek idea, mimesis. In this imaginative process of mimesis we discover and create something in the outer world that connects to our inner terrain. Some essential ingredient of our creative process is born here, in this marriage between the outer and inner landscapes we inhabit daily, but often overlook. Finally, and thinking of some of C.G. Jung’s observation on two items: the spiral and the nature of analogy, we will explore our own poetics, or own manner of “analogy formation.” We will ask how the power of analogy is operative in the creation of our personal mythology, and through it, to our creative life, without which our souls will atrophy and die. We will also explore what elements in our personal myth have a shelf life that expired long ago. That part of our myth is no longer serving us and might best be let go.
So, to pull it together here with a series of M-words: Myth, Memory, Meaning, Mimesis Imagination. I cheated on the last word, but you see the connective field we will explore. Finally, I want to offer you a riting meditation or two after each webinar for you to explore on your own through a short writing response that I believe will help you uncover some of the lines or qualities of your personal myth. We can give some time to a few of you reading yours, if you like, next webinar. I will encourage you to write these out in long-hand, or cursive, rather than on your laptop. The difference will amaze you. I hope to be working with you soon on this crucial project of knowing our own myth.
Dr. Dennis Slattery presents a four class course on these ideas, for more information go here.