Notes from the blog administrator: These imaginary or fantastic stories were first selected and retold in Indonesian and later translated into English by Celly (pronounced as "selli") Akwan, a Papuan university-graduate who majored in English, mastered Dutch, and has lived in Jakarta since 1980. He used to be an English Instructor in Jakarta but later worked as a Senior English Instructor for Gulf Resources Ltd. in Ramba. Most of his translations were edited by Ms. Becky Simson MA, an American native speaker who taught English together with Celly at American Language Training (ALT) in Jakarta in the 1980s. These and a few others also retold and translated into English by Celly Akwan and some others will be published in this blog.
Friday, April 24, 2009
What happen in dreams may not happen in real life.
Even if they do not, they have timeless meanings.
(I.S. Kijne 1899-1970)
Mythology? That’s a collection of fake, ancient stories believed by the primitives. Anybody from this century who still believes in them is an ignoramus!
Experts in mythology, however, disagree with this prejudice. Though ancient, the truth mythology, particularly, great mythology, reveals is immortal. The Javanese and Balinese wayang (shadow plays or traditional dramas) about mythological characters from the past are still being performed and watched in Java and Bali. Some of the great movies of the last century that have been played on the TV, movie theaters, and at home even into this century and watched by millions of people around the world have mythological contents whose truth can be traced back to that of ancient mythology. They include the ancient, mythological theme of the struggle between good and evil in “Star Wars” and “Star Trek”; the human ability to go back and forth in time and space (as demonstrated by ancient shamans through dream-like states) in “Back to the Future”; tricksy competition and mutually beneficial cooperation (that resembles the ancient divine trickster) in “Tom and Jerry”; and alien visits that evoke fascination and awe (that remind us of the visits of supernatural beings in various myths) in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. Both the producers and those who starred in these movies have financially profited a lot from them. Clearly, mythology has been relevant to anybody since the start of the mythological period in human life.
To be more specific, why do people still need to watch mythology through the wayang and movies? The myths collectively reveal enduring values and meanings they yearn for.
The Legend Continues
The viewers of modern mythology includes the employees of a multi-national oil and gas company where I worked for in Ramba. Ramba, the name of the base camp of Gulf Resources Ltd from Canada (which since early 2002 has become Conoco Philips, an American oil and gas company), is still surrounded by first and second generations of forest. It is located around one hundred kilometers north of Palembang, the provincial capital of South Sumatra.
In 1995, the kung-fu movie enthusiasts of that company were stirred by a serial played on RCTI, a private-owned TV channel in Jakarta: “Kung Fu The Legend Continues”. This was the continuation of its first version. The story was fascinating because it was about a philosophy demonstrated through the heroic actions of Kwai Chang Caine (starred by David Carradine), a kung fu master. I was also captivated by this story and watched it in the afternoon, after working hours. When I entered the recreation room of the company where a large TV set was put on a large desk, I noticed around fifty aficionados, a pretty large number of the employees who worked for two weeks and spent their holidays for two weeks outside the base camp. We watched the serial from its beginning to its end.
Watching this serial was like attending a solemn church service, a formal, religious, awe-inspiring atmosphere. As soon as the movie started, those enthusiasts who had just told jokes, exchanged serious or merry small talks or ambled around the room hurriedly took their seats. There was a sudden hush and we all were soon engrossed by the actions that displayed the philosophy of Kwai Chang Caine for eradicating evil and upholding good. Tongue-clicking, cries of elation, or some other interjections expressing astonishment and admiration were often heard whenever Caine got involved in thrilling, heart-pounding scenes. We all stood up, sometimes clapped our hands, commented upon the movie, or joked again after the show finished while impatiently waited for the next show of the same serial.
Once, a fellow-enthusiast who had just finished watching one of the movies stood up and remarked wryly: "We love being fooled for some time by some movie fantasies." Though he was right in his keen perception, he was probably not aware of the age-long human dreams of the ideal world to drive and pull him toward his future. As a part of these dreams, the modern myth he had just finished watching is indeed a fantasy, a fiction on its surface. Though it is a fiction, it implies timeless truth we yearn for at its bottom: the eradication of evil.
In fact, not only did the Gulf employees appreciate this desire through “Kung Fu The Legend Continues”. Other Indonesian viewers, in larger numbers, also enjoyed the serial.
Answer based on Jungian psychology
Why does Kwai Chang Caine enthrall enthusiasts in Ramba and thousands of others in other parts of Indonesia? The answer to this question is based on Jungian psychology, suitable psychology because it contains thorough study on mythology.
From the viewpoint of Jungian psychology, the serial admirers discover in Kwai Chang Caine a projection of the ancient mythological fantasies they have yearned for. This creative imagination contains mythological values and meanings that also form the “Eternal Dreams” of humankind.
These dreams are also embedded in the hearts of those movie enthusiasts and are fantastically demonstrated through the dramatic actions of Kwai Chang Caine. The kung-fu master is a Buddhist monk and a guru in Oriental mysticism. Through heroic scenes in the movie, he defends and accomplishes the philosophical views of Oriental mysticism. He inherited these views from Master Po, his blind kung-fu teacher. All his dramatic actions are mainly aimed at fighting against evil.
Psychologically, those serial enthusiasts have already brooded over their hatred of evil. They know the evil they watched exists in their daily life. However, they are not able to eradicate it the Caine way. It is a way beyond their own capability. Then, their longing for a super way for getting rid of evil is projected to Kwai Chang Caine. If my manner of exterminating evil were like that of Caine ....
That is the psychical projection of their yearning for good. That also encourages them to faithfully watch the serial from the beginning to the end even though they are fooled by fantasies.
When fighting against evil, Caine’s prowess in the serial usually surpasses the police might in real life. Therefore, the heroic actions of the kung-fu master rarely or never happens in the daily life in Indonesia. The series of actions of Caine are demonstrations of the creative imagination or fantasy – an important feature in the creation of mythology – of the creators of “Kung Fu The Legend Continues”.
The animus and anima
The fantastic actions of Kwai Chang Caine reveal the animus. It is a main archetype – unconscious racial or collective memory – in the personality theory of Carl G. Jung (1875-1961), a Swiss-born, prominent thinker in modern psychology (of the 20th century). Simply said, the animus is the masculine side of the female mind. The animus chooses to identify itself with a man. The man is famous because he is heroic, intellectual, or athletic. The opposite pair of the masculine side of the female mind is called the anima. In other words, the anima is the feminine side of the male mind. The anima, another main archetype, chooses to identify itself with a tender, love-expressing, and love-yearning woman. Each man or woman is a mixture of the anima and animus with the unconscious feminine side in the mind of a woman and the unconscious masculine side in the mind of a man. When lifted to the conscious mind, both sides that still lack the masculine mind in a woman and the feminine mind in a man accompany the movement toward the wholeness of each of them.
The animus expressed by the main star in that serial does not pose a problem to its female aficionados. It poses a problem, however,to its male viewers: do they also have animus? If so, they are effeminate, aren’t they?
There are two possible answers. The male viewers imagine themselves to be Kwai Chang Kaine. What he does on the screen is what they imagine they do. However, there is another possibility about the mixture of the animus and anima in human psyche. Either being already whole because it has been integrated into the anima or lacking wholeness, the animus in the male mind also affects unconsciously the interest of the male viewers in the serial star. In its balanced state, the animus in a male mind does not have to turn a man into a tranvestite.
Whatever the answer is, the animus expressed through Caine’s roles is one that has been developed into its highest level. This is the stage when the animus is the manifestation of meaning. At this stage, an individual becomes an intermediary or a mediator of religious experience and enables man to gain new meanings for his life. As the main role player, Kwai Chang Caine symbolizes the features of animus at its highest level fantastically. As a symbol at this level, Caine is heroic, intellectual, and athletic.
Modern Metamorphoses of Ancient Mythological Figures
It can be said that Kwai Chang Caine as a religious intermediary at his highest level is a modern metamorphosis of any of the ancient mythological figures achieving the same position and meaning. They also symbolize the animus at its highest level of development.
One of those ancient figures epitomized by Caine is Abiyasa from the Javanese wayang. This myth that was influenced by Hinduism is probably centuries old. Also known as Kresnadwipayana, Abiyasa, to a certain extent, represents the animus at its highest level of development. He is the son of Lara Amis; later, Abiyasa became a Brahmin holy man. He is of good character and a mediator between God and man because he taught the holy Vedas, the Hindu sacred texts. Abiyasa is a holy figure who has gained knowledge, spiritual insight, and discernment. These achievements connote wisdom, the highest level a holy man can achieve.
Kresnadwipayana’s nobleness, however, was rather spoiled by a reasonable “sin”. He was concerned that his own people, the Kurus, were on the brink of extinction; as a result, his mother urged him to marry. He finally married the two widows of his brother to save his own people from extinction.
Obviously, Abiyasa did not achieve the highest stage of animus by relying on kung fu like Kwai Chang Caine. Nor was he created through the fantasies or imagination of the creators of Caine as a mythological hero from the 2oth century North America. Yet, both mythological characters fulfill the same basic mythological idea. Both symbolize the animus at its highest level of development. This is the stage when the animus becomes the meaning of life for humankind.
Mythology through Television and Movie Theaters
Kwai Chang Caine would not have revived the ancient mythological fantasies had his roles in “Kung Fu The Legend Continues” been not popularized through electronic media such as RCTI. Largely because of the TV screen, its enthusiasts were captivated.
The TV and movie theaters, both have been types of information technology since the 20th century, are able to show fantastic stories of ancient mythology. This manifestation involves new and attractive ways. Through cinematographic techniques, including its tricks, the movie makers can create on the TV and movie-theater screens the metamorphoses of ancient mythological figures.
The figures transformed did not play their roles in the dim past. They did not use spears, bows, arrows, swords, rode on horseback, lived in caves or ancient thatched houses. Instead, they have used electricity, motor vehicles, and some other technology since the last century. Modern mythological characters such as Kwai Chang Caine live out a different life style from the life styles of ancient mythological figures. Mythological ideas the modern figures reveal have already been enriched and even renewed.
Furthermore, the modern mythological characters are diverse local images. They are provided by certain milieus that stimulate the creativity of the movie makers of modern mythology.
The modern mythological images, however, express universal mythological themes. These are also noticed in ancient mythology. Caine and Abiyasa, for example, are two local but different images but express meanings longed for by humankind.
These universal themes can be observed from several best-selling science-fiction movies made in America. The movies have been watched by millions of people around the world. They include serials such as “Superman”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, and “The Star Wars”.
If examined more closely, these artistic shows actually reveal ancient themes. The themes are articulated by local images through ancient and modern mythologies.
Gatotkaca, the mythical hero who could fly faster than light in the Javanese wayang performance, resembles “Superman” from a modern American literary work and movie. Both have superhuman power man craves for to free himself from the limitations of his life condition.
The ancient Cosmic Man appears in a modern image. He is called Pan Ku in the primeval beliefs of the Chinese, Purusha and Krishna in Hinduism, and Buddha in Buddhism. In ancient Persia, he was named Gayomart. In modern mythology, the Cosmic Man is symbolized by the aliens in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.
Like the Cosmic Man of the distant past, the aliens in “Close Encounters” came from the outer space and showed power that fascinated their viewers. They were highly intelligent, all-knowing, all-loving, and visited the dark heart of man on earth. They illuminated this heart with knowledge, love, and joy. These are the mythological and universal values and meanings desired by the modern man in the USA and in other parts of the world.
The “ Star Wars” saga serial once played on the TV and sold at CD, VCD, and DVD stores in Jakarta and elsewhere in Indonesia revives the age-old mythological theme of the struggle between good and evil. In Javanese classical wayang, this theme is enacted, for example, by the conflicts between Rama and his cohorts (the symbol of good) on the one side and Rahwana (the symbol of evil) on the other side.
Obviously, the mythological themes demonstrated by the different mythological figures do not contain lies. The themes contain symbolic truth gained through interpretation. The interpretation is meant for discovering the inferential meanings or connotations and emotive meanings of the ancient and modern mythologies. Both types of meanings indicate that mythological themes contain the depth, perpetuity, and universalism of symbolic truth.
It is in this context that the quotation from I.S. Kijne at the beginning of this article becomes relevant. This Dutch Protestant missionary who was also a researcher into the mythologies of the Papuans in the northern coasts during the Dutch period came to the conclusion that mythologies are collective or individual dreams with mythological contents of what Jung termed the “collective unconscious”. It is the deeper layer of the unconscious human mind and contains communal or collective experience. The truth of the dreams probably did not, does not, or will not happen in the real life of the mythology owners. In spite of this, mythological truth is perpetual.
What Is Mythology?
So complex is the nature of mythology that a single definition of it cannot be formulated. Probably, there are 160 definitions – with different emphases – about mythology. Therefore, the following definition is not inclusive or comprehensive.
Mythology is a collection of imaginary or fantastic stories. This collection includes myths, legends, sagas, fables, fairy stories, allegories, religious stories, folk tales, and mystical texts. In addition, mythology includes literary and artistic works and movies that contain archetypes.
All these types of stories are interrelated and often overlap one another in their meanings. How are they interrelated? Through related meanings, including synonyms.
Myths and legends
A myth can mean a legend, a saga, a fable, a fairy story, an allegory, a parable, a lore, a mythos, or an apologue. A legend is an old story passed down for generations, especially presented as history but is unlikely to be true – in short, a story which is part history part fiction. A legend can also mean a modern myth or a celebrity. A legend is synonymous with a fable, a myth, a fairy tale, a tale, a story, a lore, a folklore, a folk tale.
A saga is an epic, a story, a tale, an account, history, a legend. Its modern meaning includes a long novel or series of novels, often following the lives of a family or community over several generations. If this modern meaning involves mythology or archetypes, then a modern saga is a part of mythology. A more relevant meaning of saga is elucidated by the Norse saga as a literary genre. This genre is an epic tale in Old Norse literature, usually in prose, and recounts events in the lives of historical and mythological figures from medieval Iceland and Norway.
Fables, fairy stories, religious stories, folk tales, and allegories
The religious tones are heard in fables, fairy stories, religious stories, folk tales, and allegories. A fable is a short story that teaches a moral, especially through animals as characters. A fable can also include myths and legends. A fairy story or fairy tale is a story for children about fairies or other imaginary beings and events, often containing a moral message. The religious overtones of a fable and a fairy story are audible in the moral or moral messages they sound. A religious story is one that has religious overtones and includes fables, fairy stories, and sacred myths. Such a story is different from religious stories of world religions, or specific religions such as Christianity ( a religion that follows Jesus Christ’s teachings), Muslim religion, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism. Followers of these specific religions will not accept the idea that the truth in their belief systems is imaginary or fantastic in the sense that what is held as truth actually contains lies. Yet, Christianity, for example, uses a lot of allegories or parables in the Bible or in certain literary works to convey moral or spiritual messages. A folk tale is synonymous with a tale, a story, a legend, a myth, a fable, an allegory. An allegory is a literary or artistic genre. It can mean a work in which the characters and events represent other things and symbolically express a deeper, often spiritual, moral, or political meaning. A relevant meaning of an allegory is its symbolic expression of a deeper meaning through a story or scene acted out by human, animal, or mythical characters. An allegory can also mean a symbolic representation of something; its synonyms include a symbol, a parable, a fable, a metaphor, an extended metaphor, a story, a tale.
Finally, a mystical text is one that contains a belief in intuitive spiritual revelation, a spiritual system, or a collection of confused and vague ideas. When any of these meanings suggests holiness or otherworldliness, then mythological interpretations can slip in; a mystical text then becomes a part of mythology.
In short, mythology is essentially a collection of tales, stories, or accounts of the ideal world. It is a world of dreams, imaginations, fantasies that man has yearned for since ancient times. This ideal world has been invented through insights into and filtering of the unwanted sides of the factual world, the daily existence, the constant struggles for life of humankind.
According to Jungian psychology, most myths are religious and spontaneous. The myths with these characteristics function as mental therapy for human sufferings and anxieties in general.
Myths are shaped by causes and aims as well as aspirations. Causes and aims are elements of symbolical truth. Both drive man for achieving his Self, a Jungian term for individual wholeness, personal integrity. A cause suggests causality; an aim and aspiration indicate teleology. Causality and teleology imply psychic energy. As psychic energy, causality drives forward while teleology pulls an individual to achieve his Self.
Mythology expresses the human psyche through symbols. These symbols are mainly archetypes. Archetypes are ideas or thought modes inherited to someone through racial experience and are kept in his collective unconscious, and affect his world-view. In addition, complexes (psychic existence beyond the control of the conscious mind), the personal unconscious (the individual unconscious layer above the collective unconscious layer), and consciousness (the top layer of human mind) express the human psyche through symbols.
Mythology also includes symbolic actions. Symbolic actions are rituals. The actions do not always accompany myths, particularly, religious or sacred myths. The symbolic actions can be called dramatized myths.
Mythology contains values and meanings. They are longed for by humankind.
What is mythology then? Mythology is a collection of imaginary or fantastic stories most of which are religious and spontaneous, is formed by causality and teleology, contains values and meanings desired by humankind, and expresses the human psyche through symbols and symbolic actions. This definition is influenced by Jungian psychology.
The Evergreen Mythology from Tropical Papua
The former Dutch New Guinea in the South Pacific that was later split into two separate provinces, Papua and West Papua in the eastern part of Indonesia, is rich in mythology. Various Dutch, European, and American scholars and missionaries documented them in Dutch, English, or some other language. A few of them were published in Indonesian. Others not documented were orally inherited from one generation to another.
This mythology includes myths, sacred myths, fables, legends, fairy stories, and other folk tales. They deal with various mythological figures, such as culture creators, culture heroes, war heroes, and divine tricksters. The themes include the rupture of the primordial unity between man and animals and his environment; the improvement and rebirth of cultures through the sacrifice of culture heroes; the origin of totem animals; the courage and prowess of war heroes; the shrewd planning and accurate anticipation of troubles to be overcome by group or community leaders; the wisdom gained from human folly, particularly, the destructive nature of his lack of self-control provoked by a divine trickster; the transformational power of unconditional love; and the ageless human desire for Utopia. The characters and themes in Papuan mythology can be found in the mythologies of other communities or nations.
Mythology and Movie Criticism
To criticize movies inspired by mythology or affected by mythological motifs from the collective unconscious of humankind, what should a movie critic do? First of all, he has to understand deeply and systematically or scientifically the nature of mythology. Based on his understanding, he then can criticize properly the movies containing mythological influences.
From the diverse number of theories about the nature of mythology, he can rely on the relevant theories of personality in Jungian psychology pioneered and established by Carl G. Jung. Jung can be considered the Western intellectual in modern psychology who made thorough study on mythology. He studied it for around 50 of his 60 years of dedication to modern psychology.
So great is the influence of mythology on his theories that one can say the analytical psychology he spearheaded is characterized by mythological orientation. In addition, no other intellectual in the 20th-century psychology studied mythology as deeply, as rich, and as long as Jung did. For example, Dr. Erich Fromm (1900-1980), another famous psychologist, did not show intensive study on mythology. His only book that deals with myths, The Forgotten Language (London, 1952), is an introduction to the understanding of symbolic languages.
Therefore, neglecting the personality theories of Jungian psychology in the criticism of movies affected by mythology is a great loss to a professional or serious movie critic. For 60 years, Jung dedicated his life to the analyses of the processes inside the human collective unconscious. This deep psychic layer is the source of mythology and its symbols. In addition, the collective unconscious that contains archetypes is a means for understanding the creation processes of mythology and its symbols, a means that Jung had delved into for around half a century. In short, the appreciation or interpretation of movies affected by mythology – such as “Kung Fu The Legend Continues”, “Superman”, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, and “Star Wars” – will not be relevant or appropriate if their critics ignore the collective unconscious and archetypes that underlie them.
Copyright ©2008. All rights reserved. Published with written permission from the author.