The podcast reviewed here is the 14th in Bett’s series on Jungian Analytic Psychology and freely available here. In this episode Betts begins an analysis of fairy tales! Betts goes into some detail about why he is analysing fairy tales arguing that they represent the collective unconsciousness and that they are historical stories that have stood the test of time. He argues that fairy tales are repeated across cultures and contain manifestations of archetypes as well as representing the process of individuation. He distinguishes between fairy tales and myths in that with the latter ‘myths are archetypal encounters’ where the archetype is unconstrained. Betts also shows us how a person’s functions can be used to interpret the stories including thinking for understanding structure, feeling for values and intuition for putting it all together. He suggests that the listener reads the myth of Gilgamesh, this being the oldest known myth (dating back to 2600 BC and more information being available here). He goes on to contrast between the saga in which the stories are firmly located in an identified time and space such as the Icelandic Sagas before describing some of the material from ‘The European Folktale. Form and Nature’. The intriguing interpretation of European Folk Tales is that the main character does not express the range of emotions that the reader might expect when encountering unusual creatures. There are other features which are also interesting such as the equal weighting that characters are assigned and the simple way in which characters and objects are identified. How can such an analysis relate to psychiatry? Well it must be said that the link is rather tenuous. Obviously the theoretical basis for this analysis was created by one of the most prominent psychiatrists of the 20th Century – Carl Jung. He argued with Freud that psychoanalytic theory should draw on a much broader knowledge base. From an evolutionary perspective we could argue that if there are recurrent themes within folkelore they may offer us insights into our nature – why would such themes recur otherwise?. Jung would say as above that they invoke archetypes and these in turn could be fundamental biological constructs. If this is indeed the case, then this would tell us something about how our biology shapes culture. It can also be argued that Jung’s intuition if correct might be expected to offer a first approximation to the underlying constructs which would need further exploration using other (biological) methods. This knowledge in turn could be useful in relevant disciplines particularly psychotherapy where the narrative plays such a prominent role.
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