“Jung’s cases pick up many colorful but extraneous threads. They don’t make as thrilling reading as Freud’s just because his [Jung’s] plot has less selective logic and therefore less inevitability. Only when it is cast, or when we read it, in the model of a heroic quest or a pilgirm’s progress does the individuation plot grip the reader. But that is only one archetypal mode of individuation, one mode of selective logic.”—James Hillman, “The Fiction of Case History” in Healing Fictions (emphasis mine)
Yeah, I know, forgive the title; this post isn’t making such a strong claim. I’ve just watched the latest Mad Max movie, which reminds of Thunderdome, which reminds of Tina Turner…you get the idea. Pretty soon, I’m looping back to Hillman and thinking about the herculean-martian heroism that introduces a brittleness into our narrative alloys. It seems like the sort of post that is good for the interim.
Folks like to talk about how magic is or isn’t (Jungian) psychology, but to the extent that we should be talking about (Jungian) psychology in magic, Hillman here points out one of its most critical components—story. Generally, in magical circles, we’re going to talk more about a specific set of stories called myths, so I’ll define that tightly in this post.
What I am calling a myth is a story that serves as a magical code, packing into its frame distinctions that serve a ritual function. I’m willing to define that function broadly. It can be a code (1) in the sense of a rebus, serving as a map of ritual elements, but it can also be a code more broadly, (2) a symbolic world unpacked through attention (not necessarily visualization). For a magical practitioner, those distinctions open a space into which the practitioner insert themselves, through which they become part of the magic.
Myth and ritual structure a (magical) plot that serves to amplify the effects of a ritual, channeling them and intensifying our engagement with them. The really big and fancy magical workings tend to make this easy enough to see, but we are telling ourselves stories about our magical life every day, not just in ritual. When we think about the long arc of our lives, those quiet stories will be more important than most any specific ritual story we summon.
The quiet stories we animate in our hearts will often touch more of our lives than any other. They will shape our relationships, how and who we interact with as friends, acquaintances, strangers, and lovers. The personal story you tell yourself about your magical work is one of the avenues spiritual forces will have for operating on your life. It should be contemplated, divinations should be taken to clarify its suitability to your subtle destiny, and effort made to bring the two into sympathy.
To do that, you need a repertoire of stories that illuminates a full society, that opens toward the diversity of roles available. The hero’s story is only one among many, bowdlerized pop–Joseph Campbell notions to the contrary. We don’t all need to find our inner hero. Even for those who do, there is a proper timing for that work, a point at which their fate and destiny are ready to receive and develop the heroic seed myth.
For many, many people, the hero’s journey is a toxic magical model, one that inhibits their spiritual and magical development. Don’t live the hero’s journey unless it is your journey and it the time for you take the journey. I was probably a little lucky to have come across Robertson Davies’s Fifth Business in my formative years. That book, along with the rest of the Deptford trilogy, modeled how diverse myths fed into diverse lives.
As magical workers, when we think about the course of a life, we should expect the structure of our stories to sometimes change according to magical needs, according to an invisible logic rather than a narrative one. We might consciously work with a single sort of story for years and then need to abandon it in order to carry on our magical work with another, perhaps entirely unrelated, story.
Sometimes, too, it means learning to tell new stories or to expand a minor story into fuller expression. Sometimes it is one of the figures along the sidelines of the heroic journey that provides the proper key to unlocking your destiny. Asking after their story outside the heroic narrative can form the basis of that.
The story is the tool that aids the work, not the substance of the work itself. The destiny that we carry is not a story but a potency which storied operations help us to activate. One of the ways it does that is by providing an interface between destiny and fate. Composed of the contingent stuff of fate yet subject to the subtle force of destiny, story provides a mixture of stability and flexibility that amplifies and focuses both sides.