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Article # 105

Author: M.W. Bro. Fabio Venzi, M.W.Grand Master, Regular G    Posted on: Saturday, September 11, 2004
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M.W. Bro. Fabio Venzi, M.W.Grand Master, Regular Grand Lodge of Italy

During the moral crisis that affected Europe in the early 20th century, the revival of myths, archetypes and the collective unconscious was announced by the revaluation of Theosophy and the oriental religions, as well as by the marked expansion of Freemasonry.

Myths are a highly complex cultural reality that can be analysed and interpreted from several different and complementary perspectives. Anyone approaching myths for the first time will face a dilemma, i.e. whether it is preferable to study myths in awareness that the study must, in the ultimate analysis, promote the acceptance of mythology, “drinking at the source” (to quote the words of Kerényi), or knowing that the study must be completed through the “explanation” of why mythological matter has been moulded into special forms.

The second, strictly rationalist approach to myths is ironically criticised by the advocates of the other theory who claim that: “those who break down myths to understand their function, thus hoping to explain their nature, are at an even lower level than the simpletons who dismantle a radio to discover which piece produces the sound”. We believe the two approaches do not necessarily exclude each other, since both the “acceptance” and “explanation” of myths can be useful in understanding their nature and meaning.

Before attempting an analysis of myths in their protean aspects, we will offer a definition to use as a guiding thread throughout the process, i.e. Mircea Eliade’s definition of “myths” in his “History of Religions”: “Any myth, of any nature, enounces an event that occurred illo tempore, and sets an exemplary precedent for all the actions and “situations” that replicate the event as from then.

Any ritual, or any meaningful action performed by man is the repetition of a mythical archetype; The consequence of repetition is the abolition of profane time and the projection of man into a magic-religious time that has nothing to do with duration in the strict sense of the word, but which is the “eternal present” of mythical time”. [i]

Moving from Eliade to the studies of C.G.Jung, it is clear that the latter does not try and “explain” myths as a more or less pathological feature of the mind; instead, he illustrates how myths, in the manifold expressions taken on in different societies, are simply the concrete and substantially uniform expression –notwithstanding the many differences and variations- of a timeless structure of the human unconscious. According to Jung: “The collective unconscious appears to be made up of images and mythological patterns, which explains why popular myths truly represent the collective unconscious”.[ii]

Unlike the Freudian school that claims myths are deeply enrooted within a complex of the personal unconscious, for Jung, the timeless origin of myths lies within a formal structure of the collective unconscious. Though Freud never acknowledged the congenital autonomy of the mind and of the unconscious, Jung instead revealed the existence in the latter of an innate collective dimension with autonomous energy vis-à-vis the Ego.

Archetypes of the collective unconscious tend to become conscious in the course of their phylogenic and ontogenetic development; in other words, they are acknowledged and integrated by the conscious into a new and wider totality. The archetypes have a compensatory dynamism vis-à-vis the conscious, and affect the latter, either normally or through pathological expressions, in order to achieve a more complete personality, both at conscious and unconscious levels. The dynamism of the archetypes of the psyche is regulated, stimulated and conditioned by a central archetype that, in monotheism, is predominant over the mental structure. It is the archetype of the Self, or the archetype of totality, for by rallying the unconscious to the conscious, it leads to the accomplishment of a more complete personality.[iii]

We believe the same peculiarity is observable also in Freemasonry which is undeniably related to the “sacred”, though it is not a religion. In Freemasonry, the archetype of the Self returns to the conscious, thus satisfying man’s pursuit of transcendence in order to consciously accomplish his own totality. Masons search for expressions of this archetype within themselves so as to integrate them in the conscious and offer them individual solutions, while the Self becomes the divine component of personality which in gnosticism and in the Kabbalah was the spark of light demanding its conscious realisation. The acknowledgement of the unconscious in Freemasonry is the modern transposition of gnosticism, the Kabbalah, alchemy, Hermeticism.

Freemasonry is not a religion, but an opportunity to experiment transcendence, even for those who no longer find it in the revealed creeds. The archetype of the Self, projected into the skies, has thus returned to the unconscious it came from originally. It is only by returning to the conscious that it can offer the new faith in transcendence that is so badly needed by man nowadays. [iv] The cornerstone of the Freemason project is the conscious self-accomplishment of one’s personal totality, set within the different historical contingencies; it will continue to be proposed in the present and in the future.

We previously recalled the thread linking phenomena such as alchemy and the Kabbalah, to Freemasonry. Remaining in the field of analytic psychology, what is the relation between Freemasonry and alchemy? Alchemy is obviously also marked by a strong need for the self-accomplishment of human totality unconsciously projected into the matter. In fact, the Philosopher’s stone is nothing but integrated personality, the accomplishment of the Self. In Freemasonry, the pursuit of self-accomplishment is no longer in the mirage of alchemical gold, but in a philosophical project clearly influenced by alchemical tradition. Instead, the influence of the Kabbalah on Freemasonry is noticeable in its fundamental concept, the need to integrate the religious, divine, in other words “sacred”, and the human dimension, in an alliance between God and man in the continuum of creation and the consequential improvement the latter.

Bearing in mind the preliminary remarks, let us define “myths” as external manifestations of the elaboration of a profound psychic identity, defined by Jung as the “collective unconscious”; in other words, all the innate essential life-experiences conceived, in this dimension, from the impersonal perspective that applies to every individual, at any time. The previously-.mentioned experiences are reproduced in mythological and “sacred” allegories and symbols that represent the fundamental knowledge of life, but also the a priori of knowledge itself, in other words the archetypes defined by Jung, i.e. the fundamental contents of the collective unconscious.

Some archetypes are also useful for emphasising civilisation differences, and the peculiarities of the various cultures and of the men they represent.

“Myths”, in other words the development of one of the archetypical images, are stories that self-represent the constitution of a civilisation and of its energetic and spiritual foundation.

Personal experience is the interpretation - in the contingent language of the time - of the eternal archetypical images; myths enter history through personal interpretation. This is why it is wrong to offer a rigid or absolute interpretation of the symbols and allegories of the Masonic “Myth” in Masonic rituals, instead the latter must be adapted to the context. In fact, if the pursuit of ethical purposes falls under a project characterised by special anthropology, the Masonic anthropology, applications will undeniably differ in the various historical periods of mankind.

Here is where the relation between the ideal and philosophical levels (the conception of man), and the concrete and historical levels (multiple applications) can be observed. Authentic comprehension of Freemasonry can only be gained if both the philosophical and historical levels, and their reciprocal relation are rendered explicit.[v]

Though the unconscious archetypical images are normally projected in myths and religion, in the event of a collective crisis, they return to the unconscious they originally came from, thus causing disorder and spiritual confusion. As mentioned previously, Jung underlined the archetype of the Self, perceived as the centre of both the conscious and unconscious personality, opposed to the Ego, which is the centre of the conscious. This archetype wants the conscious to accept the unconscious, by establishing a synthesis between the conscious and the unconscious, in order to achieve a more complete personality. In the presence of a spiritual crisis, when the external values of the revealed creed collapse, the archetype returns to the psyche, while man must regenerate his sense of the sacred with greater determination.

If the purpose of Freemasonry is the pursuit of improvement by means of an innate transcendental commitment, the displacement of the psychic centre of the Ego (the centre of the conscious) to the Self (the centre of the conscious and unconscious personality), the sine qua non condition for achieving such a purpose is the subordination of the Ego to the Self, in a transcendental project. However, such a project must be based on both psychological and religious (sacred) experiences.

The idea of transcendence is “represented in Freemasonry by the Great Universal Architect whose precise role is to guarantee the objectivity of the values shared subjectively, which is where the very idea of man’s ethical improvement is descended from. The pursuit of ethical purposes occurs with the help of initiation modalities, in other words with the Rituals and symbols that give Freemasonry the typical features of an initiation society”.[vi]

Thus, Freemasonry can be defined as “a conception of man that includes the pursuit of ethical ends aimed at transcendence, in accordance with initiation modalities”, from a philosophical viewpoint based upon the common definition of Freemasonry as “a special moral system, veiled with allegories and illustrated with symbols”.

What Jung defines an “individualisation process” can therefore be found in the Mason’s pursuit of improvement, in other words the conscious accomplishment of the yearning for completeness and, therein, for individuality, the fact of being different. The opening of the Self almost always gives rise to a religious (or sacred) experience, and it is the synergy of both conscious and unconscious aspects that broadens personality.

We believe that the importance of Jung lies in the equivalence between the aspiration towards conscious self-accomplishment of the personality and religiousness (or the quest for sacredness). The path to the accomplishment of one’s individuality is part of a wider transcendental project.

Let us now consider “Myths” from an elitist viewpoint. Jung offers the following definition of the collective unconscious: “A part of the psyche that appears as the negative of the personal unconscious, because, unlike the latter, its existence does not stem from personal experience, it is therefore not a personal acquisition. While the personal unconscious is essentially made up of events that used to be conscious, but which disappeared from the conscious after having been forgotten or repressed, the contents of the collective unconscious have never been part of the conscious; they have therefore never been acquired individually and their existence is exclusively owed to heredity. The personal unconscious is essentially made up of complexes, while the content of the collective unconscious is mainly formed by archetypes”.[vii] “Archetypes” would therefore prove the existence in the psyche of particular forms that are present always and wherever, in other words, “pre-existing forms”. Jung explained the concept as follows: “My theory is therefore the following: in addition to our immediate knowledge, which is by nature completely personal and which we consider as the only strictly empirical psyche (even if the personal unconscious is added as an appendix), there is a second psychic system that is collective, universal and impersonal, and which is identical in every individual. This collective unconscious does not develop individually, but is inherited. It is made up of pre-existing forms, archetypes, that can become conscious only later, and confer particular forms to some contents of the psyche”.[viii]

However, if archetypes simply define the contents of the psyche that have not yet undergone conscious elaboration, therefore representing a still immediate psychic data and an unconscious content that has evolved through new awareness, the very fact of their having been perceived also emphasises the awareness in the individual that will bring them back to light.

It is precisely in this phase of new awareness and consciousness that elites exploit their own inclination for myths and all the symbols involved. In other words, myths and symbols, the fundamental components of archetypes, are considered by the Jungian school as fundamental and exemplary categories that existed before human history, yet are impressed in the unfathomable depth of the human mind; they are destined to emerge in the conscious of few individuals, taking on form and substance in the mind of the “conscious” person.

Mircea Eliade agrees that a privileged access to myths is generally speaking reserved to elites, and says: “In archaic societies, acting mythological traditions was the prerogative of a limited number of individuals. In some societies, the actors were chosen among the shamans or medicine-men, or among the members of secret confraternities… That is to say that the role of creative personalities must have been greater than one can imagine”.[ix] Eliade concluded by saying:” In other words, when privileged religious experiences are conveyed through impressively fantastic scenarios, they can impose models or sources of inspiration to the entire community”.[x]

Therefore, myths and symbols belong to the generality of individuals, yet only few are able to gain full awareness of them. Following the definitions offered by Eliade and Jung, we will now dwell upon the interpretation of “Myths” according to Malinowski’s anthropological version, within the context of so-called “experienced mythology”.

According to Malinowski: “Myths in primitive societies, in other words in their original living forms, does not simply consist in the telling of stories, but of true experiences. Not the kind of inventions found in novels, but real events that are believed to have occurred in primordial times, and that still relentlessly pour onto the world and human destiny… These stories are not kept alive by mere curiosity; they are considered to be neither invented nor true stories. For the natives, they are the expression of a superior reality of utmost importance that determines the lives, destiny and current activities of mankind, they offer inspiration both for ritual and moral acts, and for the best way to put them into practice”.[xi]

In Freemasonry, we can notice the peculiarity of the “experienced Myth” in the “Legend of Hiram”. Hiram was the builder of king Solomon’s temple; he was killed treacherously by three of his companions who wanted to steal the secret of the builder’s craft, and who made his corpse disappear.

Every Mason admitted to the Third Degree ceremony is identified with Hiram who dies and rises again; thanks to his resurrection, he rises to the high rank Master Mason. In the rebirth ritual, the repetition of Hiram’s death is “authentically” experienced by the Mason aspiring to the rank of Master Mason.

A truly traditional society such as Freemasonry can be identified in the mythical structure made perpetual through its rites and mysteries. The loyalty of Freemasons to the extra-temporal word is guaranteed by the central “Myth”: Hiram’s “Word” that is reborn in every new Master.

In Malinowski’s conception of “Myths”, rituals are the “narrative resurrection” of a primordial reality, and are therefore the only ones that can actually ensure moral and spiritual regeneration. However, Malinowski also denies the essentially symbolic feature of “Myths” – i.e. symbolising something different than they are –, and says: “Myths” primarily and directly express what they depict, i.e. a fact dating back to the primeval era.”

On the same issue, Kerényi objects: “such a fact, in turn, does have something to express: something more universal, something from the real world where a reality is manifested in a mythological form; this is something that Malinowski has not considered”. [xii]

Kerényi’s work as a mythologist consists in the pursuit of the approach to this “something more universal”, which has lead him to what we believe is the most organic interpretation of “Myths”. This interpretation emphasises how “Myths”, conceived and manipulated for political purposes, are nothing but degenerations, or, better still, pseudo-myths. In fact, according to Kerényi, a distinction must be made between “Genuine Mythology”, in other words the spontaneous and disinterested elaboration of contents that surface spontaneously from the psyche, and “”Technicalised” Mythology”, the evocation and elaboration for personal finalities of material that can serve a specific purpose.[xiii]

The distinction proposed by Kerényi between the genuine epiphanies of “Myths” and the “technicalisation” of those very “Myths” (pseudo-epiphanies) helps us grasp the most important distinction between the two manifestations of “Myths”. For instance, Kerényi pinpointed the obvious “technicalisation” of “Myths” during the Fascist period, when the existence of an extra-human substance revealed in man and in history was denied, while mythology was claimed to be a mere representation of human life.

In the “technicalisation” of “Myths”, Kerényi perceives the doctrinal assumption for a social and political use of “Myths” with the aim of blocking and subjugating man faced with impending extra-human forces – in other words, manipulators ; that is to say, aimed for personal interests at the exact contrary of “broadening the conscious”, the fundamental assumption of Freemasonry.

In fact, the Masonic approach to “Myths” is part of a spatial and temporal context that is substantially different, with diametrically opposed assumptions and purposes. Space is considered “sacred”, which necessarily entails the abolishment of profane time. As Eliade recalled: “The desire of being perpetually and spontaneously in a sacred space corresponds to the quest for perpetual life, thanks to the eternal repetition of the archetypal gestures. The repetition of the archetypes expresses the paradoxical desire of reaching an ideal form (archetype) under the very conditions of human life, of being inside duration without bearing its weight, in other words without facing its reversibility”.[xiv]

Other authoritative scholars, such as Ernst Cassirer and Walter Otto, also addressed the issue of “Myths”. Cassirer perceives “Myths” as nothing but a way of thinking, and affirms the following: “In the time between WWI and WWII, a radical change in the forms of political thought took place. The most alarming and important feature in the development of modern political thought is perhaps the rising of a new power: Mythical power”.

On the contrary, Walter Otto claims: “”Myths” are neither a way of thinking, nor a representation, not even the product of brilliant and profound imagination, but the actual revelation of human beings; in other words, “Myths” affirm man in his completeness and depict his attitude in life”.[xv]

In any case, conceiving “Myths” as a way of thinking means that such a distance has been taken that we are no longer capable of contemplating them as they appear to our sight.

At the conclusion of this excursus on Myths, the thesis according to which the opposition between “Myths” and “Democracy” is so evident that demonstration is needless, no longer applies. The assumption underlying such a thesis is the organic nexus between “Myths” and “Totalitarianism”: democracy is in its very nature opposed to the policy of myths since the latter characterises totalitarian regimes; correspondingly, totalitarian regimes make use of political myths in order to defeat democracy and prevent its revival.[xvi]

The assumption implies that in totalitarian systems, the archetypes that pre-exist unconsciously in the collective memory condition the unaware masses, though they are the bearers of the same original models, making them accept the directives issued instrumentally by elites. The symbols and models proposed by the latter to the masses as examples draw their capacity of persuasion from ancestral memory and from the liberating power of myths and of what they evoke. Thus, the observation of rules becomes a requirement of the spirit, a prospect of liberation. Compliance with the law, the expression of power, is total, as it offers the guarantee of power and self-accomplishment.

Yet, if, as we ascertain, the myths used by totalitarianisms are nothing but pseudo-myths, and if the emancipation of man, through the inclination for an authentically mythical view of life, cannot but clash with mass policies and the standardisation of consciences, then the axiom according to which “Myths” equal “Totalitarianism” is inevitably overturned in the principle that perceives any totalitarian form as a negation of “Myths” themselves.

Therefore, “Myths”, in their “genuine” version, cannot but be self-revealing for man along his pathway towards the progressive conquest of authenticity and his sacred dimension, the very bastion of freedom.


[i] M. Eliade, “Trattato della Storia delle Religioni” (The History of Religions), Turin, 1986, page 446.

[ii] C.G. Jung, “Gli Archetipi dell’Inconscio Collettivo” (Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious), Bollati Boringhieri, 1977, p. 11.

[iii] G. Tedeschi “L’Ebraismo e la Psicologia Analitica” (Hebraism and Analytic Psychology) . Giuntina, 2000, p. 12

[iv] G. Tedeschi, Ibid, p. 16

[v] G. Di Bernardo. “Filosofia della Massoneria” (Philosophy of Freemasonry), Marsilio 1987, p7

[vi] G. Di Bernardo, Ibid, p. 3-6

[vii] C.G. Jung, Ibid, p. 69

[viii] C.G. Jung, Ibid, p. 70

[ix] M. Eliade, “Mito e Realtà” (Myth and Reality), Doria, 1988, p. 179-180

[x] M. Eliade, ibid

[xi] K. Kerénya, Prolegomeni allo studio scientifico della mitologia . Bollati Boringhieri, 1994, p. 19

[xii] K. Kerényi, Ibid, p. 19-20

[xiii] F. Jesi, Mito (Myth), Mondadori, 1989, p. 80

[xiv] M. Eliade, Trattato di storia delle religioni, Bollati Boringhieri, 1996, p. 422

[xv] W. F. Otto, Essays sur le Mythe, p. 24

[xvi] R. Esposito, Micromega 1/92, p. 203

M.W. Bro. Fabio Venzi, M.W.Grand Master, Regular GM.W. Bro. Fabio Venzi, was installed as the M.W.Grand Master of the Regular Grand Lodge of Italy on April 6 th 2002 by M.W.Bro.Dr.Giuliano di Bernado. He will hold office for three years period 2002-2005. M.W.Bro Fabio Venzi is an erudite Masonic scholar and a well read intellectual. He has delivered numerous lectures and presented many papers in Research Lodges and Masonic Societies. He has graciously granted us permission to post his lectures and articles in our web site. R.W.Bro. Bruno Gazzo, the illustrious webmaster of the Premier Masonic web site Pietre Stones Review of Freemasonry had kindly helped us to obtain the gracious permission of M.W.Bro. Fabio Venzi. We are very much beholden to both of them and profusely thank them.

Click Here To Post Your Comment

Sai wrote on Sunday, September 12, 2004:

Subject: Freemasonry and Analytical Psychology

This article is very informative of the various theories of Carl Jung, Fraued and others. It makes a heavy reading, nevertheless, it provides lot of knowledge and information. W.Bro.D.Seshaasai

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