The HPedia: Allegory

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Allegory is one of several ways that naturalistic traditions have historically interpreted myth.

Mirriam-Webster defines allegory as:

the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence

The Stoics, for example, read Greek myths as referring to natural phenomena: Zeus to sky, Hera to air, Poseidon to water, etc.

Jungians distinguish between allegory and symbol (see “Symbol”, below), as elucidated in the following chapter by David and Sharn Waldron:

Jung clearly differentiates between symbols and archetypes embedded in culture and consciously constructed forms […]  According to Jung, consciously constructed images are allegories and signs that give reference to psychological archetypes deeply buried in the unconscious mind.  They do not represent the archetypes themselves and are thus not symbolic as such.  Allegories and signs have a conscious and known meaning whereas a symbol must  always and necessarily be an unknown quantity.  If a symbol can be totally explained or rationalized within the confines of the conscious mind, then it ceases exercise the power of a symbol and becomes an allegoric reference.  From Jung’s perspective, symbols represent those unquantifiable aspects of the unconscious that have a numinous quality, creating meaning for the individual or the collective.  They play an illuminating role, revealing the hidden aspects of the psyche.  However, when a symbol becomes a consciously apprehended and constructed image, it ceases to be a symbol and, although it may masquerade as a symbol, it becomes a representation of the personal.  Therefore it ceases to be a union of opposites and becomes a collaborator in the suppression of the shadow. (Waldron and Waldron, 2008).

See also “Metaphor” and “Symbol.”

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One Comment on “The HPedia: Allegory

  1. Jung’s terminology is often problematic. He distinguished signs from symbols and symbols (also called “archetypal images”) from archetypes. This is how I understand it: Signs are fully known (like a literal sign — the meaning of s stop sign is known). Symbols/”archetypal images” are only partially known (like the image in a dream or myth of a mother or goddess figure). Archetypes are completely unknowable in a direct way, and can only be known through their manifestation in archetypal images. We Pagans often confuse mere signs for symbols and symbols for archetypes.

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