top of page

The Importance of Myths and Fairy Tales

Jung diverged Freud when considering that the myth of Oedipus, the most famous of Freudian psychoanalysis, was only one of the numerous myths that portrayed the complexity of conflicts of the human mind. Jung launched the search and study of myths and fairy tales of several origins and times, always with the incessant collaboration of Marie Louise von Franz.

Philosophers of antiquity, such as Socrates and Plato, used myths to illustrate their philosophical thoughts, for example, the famous Myth of the Cave, and several other myths. Jung understood that myths and fairy tales had archetypal motifs, as the hero journey, the redemption, the death of the old King, the absence of the mother, the presence of the witch, the divine child, all of them representing archetypal motifs inherent to the human condition.

Jung noted that some myths endured through time, and developed the concept of collective unconscious, where behavioral patterns are Universal, repeated in various nations of various culture, even if they have not interacted among themselves.

Mito da Caverna Platao

Mito da Caverna, Platão

Jung recognized that several motifs observed in dreams, drawings, paintings and delusions of their patients treated at Bürghölzli’s Hospital had a correlation with myths coming from ancient cultures, which their patients could not have prior knowledge. These symbolic images, when studied, brought sense to the disconnected delusions of their patients, helping to understand the patients and the treatment for the clinical cases, so often considered incurable.

Carl Gustav Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz

Marie Louise Von Franz & Carl Gustav Jung

Hospital Burgholzli

Hospital Bürghölzli

The narrative of schizophrenic patients resembled the narrative of myths and fairy tales, and the symbolic images presented by those narratives are manifested within the patient’s unconscious contents.

Patients told a story, their own history, but in a symbolic way, and the comprehension of that story could be done only by the symbolic amplification of the images and mythic motifs presented by them. This demanded an extensive research on myths and ancient cultures, evolving since then, the depth study of the importance and meaning of these symbols, for the comprehension of the archetypal material presented by the patients.

 Myths and fairy tales began to have a crucial importance in understanding the patients, as well as the expression of the images of the unconscious by the meanings of drawing, painting, sculpting and so on.

The expression of the unconscious by images is largely practiced around the world, and Nise da Silveira, a Brazilian psychiatrist, is one of the representatives of this work.

Perhaps the practice of storytelling is the oldest between the civilizations worldwide. Gatherings around the campfire, or in front of the fireplace, or even placing chairs on the sidewalk in a Midsummer night to talk with the neighbors, are all characteristic behaviors of human beings throughout history.

Storytelling, true or not, has always been an approach not only for entertainment, but also as a manner for social inclusion. Yet these days, we keep the same habit. The daily ritual of checking and exposing ourselves on social networks is partly very similar to our ancestors, as we continue to tell stories that mix fiction and reality, such as myths, fairy tales and folklore have always done. Real facts are complemented, adorned, exaggerated, featured, and receive a large load of emotional content, in order to entertain entertaining and complete someone’s life. The stories narrated on social networks, even though related by fragments, will weave the individual myths within each one of us, and may even help to draw a profile of this individual, both psychological and social, becoming a great marketing tool as well.

Marie Louise von Franz devoted her life to the study and research of myths and fairy tales, comparing the various versions that arose and incorporated with each other, being able to analyze and identify historical and cultural moments in which they had been created and modified.

Von Franz observed during several years of collaboration with Jung, that the myths and fairy tales that perpetuate in our imaginary are those who have symbolic material, which need to be adapted for a given culture or a given historical moment.

The study of a nation’s folklore, myths, tales and religious rites are a key for understanding the individual, since every individual is at the same time an integral part and a representative of a specific culture.

We have the illusion that some cultures are more "pure" or intact than others. However, ever since the world came to exist, individuals migrated for several reasons, getting in contact with other people and cultures. Individuals, who were geographically isolated from other people, no longer considered the existence of other people and cultures or even about life after death.

Many religions were created through conception of myths in an attempt to explain the origin of life on Earth, developing rites and myths, trying to connect with a superior divinity or with the deities of their religious pantheon.

The characters of these mythological stories, or rather, archetypal stories, illustrated various behaviors, creating and solving conflicts. They are not models to follow, but an invitation to the analysis of our own lives and behaviors. Our lives are often standardized, less "individualized" or special than most of the desired objects of consume we have.

Every human being wants to feel unique, and really is, but for exercising fully this individuality, as Carl Gustav Jung described as individuation process, it is necessary to leave the programmed way of life, as a pilot who needs to control the airplane, and not only leave it in automatic control.

Clients do not only bring neurotic problems to analysis, they also bring existential crisis. A brief discussion about a particular behavior could release them from a standard unconscious behavior, perpetuated only by the habit, a kind of “inertia of movement”, borrowing an expression of Newton’s First Law, “Law of Inertia”.

In the same way, we should not follow the myths and fairy tales literally, but analyze the historical moment and cultural values of the time that this was created, in relation to the moment we live in.

When analyzing a myth, we need to observe the details of the action, the intention, the plot, the scenario, the problem presented, the course of action and the conclusion, as we do in interpreting dreams. Myths and fairy tales, as well as in life, always have a part of the story that is mysterious and needs to be unveiled.

Life displayed on social networks may be our modern myth, our current fairy tale, since witches, princesses, villains and heroes are at our disposal every day, and each one of us chooses to follow the archetypal symbolism that is more suitable for our individuation process.


Solange Bertolotto Schneider


(All rights reserved)

bottom of page