Psychoanalytic Approaches to Myth: Freud and the Freudians

Psychoanalytic Approaches to Myth: Freud and the Freudians

Psychoanalytic Approaches to Myth: Freud and the Freudians

Psychoanalytic Approaches to Myth: Freud and the Freudians


This book surveys the history of psychoanalytic treatments of myths variously as symptoms of psychopathology, as cultural defense mechanisms, and as metaphoric expressions of ideas that may include therapeutic insights.


In the nineteenth century the model for myth was science. Nineteenth century theorists, of whom E.B. Tylor and J.G. Frazer are the clearest examples, saw myth as the “primitive” counterpart to science, which was assumed to be exclusively modern. Myth, it was assumed, was about the physical world and functioned either to explain events in the world or to control them. In the twentieth century, myth has been regarded as almost anything but a counterpart to science. The subject matter of myth has been taken to be human beings, individually or collectively, and the function of myth has been taken to be other, or at least more, than explanatory.

The psychoanalytic study of myth, beginning with Freud's analysis of the story of Oedipus in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), evinces this twentieth-century shift. In psychoanalysis-here Jungian psychology as well as Freudian-the model for myth is not science but dream. Initially, the aim was to show how close to dream myth is. How myth came to be seen as distinct from dream is one of the ways in which Dan Merkur charts the development of the psychoanalytic study of myth.

Merkur brings unusually varied expertise to his task. He is professionally trained in folklore, religious studies, and psychoanalysis. His wide-ranging expertise is conspicuously demonstrated in the work at hand.

Merkur starts with Freud but then traces the course of the psychoanalytic approach to myth through its many permutations. He considers all of the main figures in the movement who have focused on myth: Abraham, Rank, Róheim, Kardiner, Kluckhohn, Arlow, Devereux, Boyer, and Dundes. He devotes much attention to the neglected Herbert Silberer, who, like other early psychoanalysts, paid the ultimate price for originality: ostracism. Not all of the figures whom Merkur considers were or are psychoanalysts by profession. Some were or are anthropologists or folk-

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