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Modern Myths

Psychology and Myth

How did Freud use myths?

For Freud, myths—including those of God—were “primitive” expressions that reveal essential human neuroses. In Totem and Taboo (1913) he went so far as to suggest that the beginnings of myth and religion and society can be traced to the “Oedipus Complex.”

The Oedipus Complex is a modern myth created by Freud. It concerns Freud’s belief that the boy child has a natural subconscious sexual desire for his mother and a natural hostility toward his father, his rival for his mother’s love. The theory takes its “plot” from the myth of Oedipus, the Greek hero who inadvertently murdered his father and married his mother, the story most famously told by Sophocles in his play Oedipus the King.

Neo-Freudians have used the term “Elektra Complex” to describe what they see as the girl child’s love of the father and rivalry with the mother, a situation referring back to the Oresteia, the trilogy by the Greek playwright Aeschylus in which Agamemnon’s daughter Elektra drives her brother Orestes to kill their mother, who had herself murdered their father.

Freud also created what might be called a psychological “myth,” complete with characters. First, there is the “psyche,” which we tend to speak of as if it were a tangible reality, much as we might discuss the “soul.” In that psyche Freud saw three important characters, which have themselves become active beings in our common vocabulary. These are the ego, the superego, and the id. According to the Freudian model of the psyche, the id is our instinctive aspect; the superego our moralistic side, taught us by parents and society; and the ego is the mediating character between the conflicting impulses of the other two.



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