it’s a complex story:

complex in fairy tale and myth

Myth and folklore reflect and often reveal the processes of psyche. Here, we consider how such stories can help us develop our understanding of the workings of the personal complex by studying a few stories from across the ages.

It’s a Complex Story
Complex in Fairy Tale and Myth
Part 1 of a 4-part series
  1. Introduction
  2. The Monster at the End of this Book
  3. Erisichthon
  4. Pasiphae and the Minotaur

Myths and fairy tales are fascinating way to explore the nature of our complexes, helping us understand not only the traumas that create them, but also providing lenses on the way they play out in the world. With these understandings, we may be better able to spot our complexes and begin to befriend them.

What is the connection between myths, fairy tales, and complexes?

One common approach to myths is to suggest that they offered ancient peoples a way of understanding their experiences of the world. For instance, we might see a myth the sun and moon gods crossing the sky in great chariots — hence we experience the sun and moon moving across the sky. But Carl Jung suggested another alternative. He believed that myths are original revelations of the preconscious psyche, involuntary statements about unconscious psychic happenings.[2] Put another way, myths tell the story of the psychological life of humanity, our conflicts and fears, our strengths and our flaws.

In this way, we can understand the characters of myths to represent parts of ourselves, our relationships with others, and how we experience and resolve inner and outer conflicts.

archetypes, myths & complexes

Interestingly, both complexes and myths can be understood as archetypes dressed in era-specific ‘clothing’ — of one’s life experience (in the case of complexes) or culture (in the case of myths). Zeus, for example, is not an archetype, but rather, is a form of the Sky Father archetype as he appeared in Ancient Greece. Many cultures feature a Sky God in their mythologies, likely because he corresponds to an important and fundamental part of the human psyche. When we study mythology — our own, that of other cultures — we are learning about ourselves, the many things we have in common, and how those things manifest differently when they appear in one culture versus another.

The archetypes that underlie myth and fairy tale are the same archetypes that sit at the heart of our complexes. These stories, then, are symbolic re-tellings (or pre-tellings) of the narratives which unfold as our complexes interact with us, with each other, and in our relationships in the larger world.

how do we begin?

It takes time, and a certain familiarity with mythology, to begin to unpack the worlds of our complexes in this light. One good way to start is to select a story that holds a certain significance for us. Maybe it was a fairy tale we loved as a child, or a myth that fires our imagination. If we take the time to read though such stories carefully, we may begin to see pieces of ourselves and our families — of our patterns and challenges — playing out in the narrative. Is there someone in the story that we ‘love to hate’? If so, there is a good chance we have a complex that takes this form. Are the characters enacting one of our bad habits? Do they share a significant fear of ours? If so, we may find they also offer suggestions for understanding our complexes and working our way out of our difficulties.

All of this may seem a little vague in the abstract. It may be easier to learn the technique with the use of examples. Here are a few:

The Monster at the End of this Book

If you’re new to this technique, this is a good place to start.   in Part 2


The tale of a greedy, heartless man, a sort of Ebenezer Scrooge on steroids.   in Part 3

Pasiphae and the Minotaur

A look at how the griefs and unlived longings of parents can get passed down to their children.   in Part 4

⌅   references for this article