The Titanic Role of Myth in Modern Scriptwriting

James Cameron said in a letter to the Los Angeles Times, March 28, 1998, the movie, Titanic, intentionally incorporates universals of human experience and emotion that are timeless and familiar because they reflect our basic emotional fabric. By dealing in archetypes, the film touches people in all cultures and of all ages. These archetypal patterns turn a chaotic event like the sinking of an ocean liner into a coherent design that asks questions and provides opinions about how life should be lived.

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The Hero’s Journey is the foundation upon which the vast majority of successful stories and Hollywood blockbusters are based. Some successful writers subscribe to the notion that there is really only one story; what James Joyce named the “monomyth.” Every great story essentially alternates situations and superimposes them over the same structure. The Godfather, Slumdog Millionaire, Brokeback Mountain, Gladiator, Annie Hall, Shrek, The Fighter, The Shawshank Redemption and other successful stories are all one and the same – various situations built on the same foundation. Spielberg, Lucas, Scorsese, Coppola, Nolan, Cameron all use this structure. Shakespeare used this structure. Stories in the Bible, the Vedas, the Torah and the Koran use this structure.

As the late great script writer Stewart Stern said: “Structure is inevitable.” William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President’s Men, The Princess Bride, among others) says it even more strongly. He says: “Screenplays are structure.” Structure is more than simple three or four acts or plot points etc. Structure is a consistent, complex process through which your characters are led that results in their resolving their initial challenges; battling past their historical and personal limitations.

By familiarizing yourself with mythic narratives, you will see character archetypes in action and avoid making caricatures or stereotypes of archetypal images. You will be introduced to enduring mythic themes that showcase the human condition. You will see where these concepts that originated from the study of myths have been utilized in film and how to apply them to your story. Understanding myths helps writers better execute and deepen their stories.

Your story is uniquely yours.  The structure of the Hero’s Journey is a tool.  Tools in the hands of a master create art where the tool is transparent to the viewer. The toolbox then becomes a launchpad for freedom.  In the hands of a novice it can help get your hands around those random ideas and get them on the page. Structure is not a dirty word.  As quoted above “structure is inevitable.”  Your job is to harness it and utilize it to give voice to your story.


Psyche, Eros, and Aphrodite: The Beauty/Soul Connection – Part III

In Part II of this series (Psyche, Eros, and Aphrodite Part II), I explored three of the four tasks demanded of Psyche by her future mother-in-law, Aphrodite, from the story of “The Invisible Lover” which is a chapter in the greater work of The Metamorphoses (also known as The Golden Ass).

Here, I continue my reflections on this myth with the fourth and final task.

Psyche’s success at accomplishing the previous three (seemingly impossible) tasks set before her does nothing to satisfy Aphrodite. Instead Psyche’s accomplishments tend to whip the frenzy of Aphrodite’s wrath into higher intensity.

In the fourth task Aphrodite sends Psyche to the depths of hell to gather a small bit of the beauty of Persephone, the goddess of the underworld, and deliver it to Aphrodite “with all speed.” Many descend to the Underworld, few return.  This fourth task appears to be beyond impossible.

As with the first three tasks, in this fourth task Psyche receives outside guidance.  However, this time it comes from an unusual source: a tower. Previously Psyche’s helpers have been from nature (ants, a water reed, and an eagle). The tower is a manmade object. It tells her how to get to the Underworld.  The Dead find this easy.  For the living, the descent is a demanding task all by itself.  And, of course, the return is rare indeed.  However, by heeding the tower’s advice, Psyche successfully descends and returns to the human realm of the living with the desired potion safely sealed and with a strong edict not to open it.

All the tasks Aphrodite cruelly demanded Psyche was able to accomplish as directed, much to Aphrodite’s chagrin. Now, with this final task, Psyche disobeys the powerful goddess of beauty. She does not deliver Persephone’s beauty cream. Psyche, overwrought that she lacks the divine beauty that the person she loves, Eros, would desire, she does the forbidden; she breaks the seal of the container holding the beauty from Persephone, that even the goddess of beauty, Aphrodite, holds in high esteem.

When the seal is broken, instead of divine beauty, a thick cloud of slumber pours over Psyche and she collapses as if a sleeping corpse. If the story were to end here, we might say that Psyche overstepped her bounds and brought about her own demise. How often it seems we struggle and when we are close to success we give up or give in. The soul’s journey is fraught with obstacles. In this particular myth, these obstacles are set by divine beauty in the path of mortal beauty. And if this is where the story ended, it would seem the soul is not up to what is required of it.

Significantly, this is not the end of the story. Her beloved, Love himself, comes to her aid. He takes the sleep off Psyche and returns it to its container. Psyche continues her return to Aphrodite with the beauty from Persephone as originally required.

In the meantime, Eros marches to Mt. Olympus and pleads to his father god, Zeus. Zeus is swayed and admits Psyche to the halls of the Olympian gods.  Psyche is made immortal making her an acceptable wife in Aphrodite’s eyes for her son, Eros, and accepts her as a legitimate daughter-in-law.

If you recall, during all these trials and tribulations, Psyche was pregnant.  The child’s name that came of the union between Love and Soul (Eros and Psyche) is Pleasure.

This is a sophisticated myth and there are many interpretations of it.  I find it meaningful that it brings together Soul, Beauty, and Love in close familial ties. Aphrodite is not the the beauty of wilderness; that is the realm of Artemis. Aphrodite’s realm is the realm of culture.  Aphrodite is present when we make everyday life more beautiful and more ‘civilized.’  The art of Aphrodite often celebrates the beauty of life and reflects the divine in daily aspect.

This story is a story of Soul’s awakening.  Psyche enters the story as a beautiful but naive shallow untried girl who lacks the ability to discern. Psyche’s tasks represent the transformation of beauty of the natural soul into the beauty of a loving conscious soul.  The soul of mortals may innately be beautiful, but this tale reminds us that beauty is not enough. The soul’s awakening is a process in beauty. Beauty without soul is Apollonic aesthetics (line, form, frame, etc). Soul without Beauty is immature and incomplete. The trials that Aphrodite caused Psyche to undergo transforms the ignorant and naïve girl into a woman who was aware of what love costs and who knows at last the true face of her husband. If you reflect on your own life, undoubtedly you will find examples where your personal growth was comprised of these three elements (soul, love and beauty) making demands that formed and tempered you into a mature balanced whole.

Psyche’s story show us the birth of a new self, forged out of her pain and her growing capacity to disobey. She disobeys mortal and divine laws primarily due to her expanding commitment to love.

An often required component in fairy tales is an injunction not to do something.  If the protagonist is to succeed in many wonder tales, this injunction must be broken.  Here, too, in this myth, disobeying is precisely what leads to attainment of the desired outcome.  I am not suggesting that you go out and find a law to break.  Rather, think about that voice in your head that tells you “It must be done this way” or “Don’t do that”.  What is the origin of that voice?  Is it a parent?; a minister?; a coach?; etc.  Reflect on the relevance of that injunction in your current adult life.  Is it time for you to nurture a “growing capacity to disobey” those injunctions of childhood that are no longer relevant?

For much of this story, Psyche and Aphrodite are prominent and Eros is off stage.  Soul and Beauty are front and center.  One way to view this narrative is as a depiction of the connection soul and beauty have in the growing, maturing, and creative process. The path of balancing this connection of Beauty and Soul is arduous. It requires a commitment to love, a stout heart, and perseverance. The reward is the experience of the divine.

Where in your life are you exposed to beauty in art?; beauty in nature?; beauty in personal care?These are pathways to nurture, soothe or enliven the soul. Next time you are aware of an experience of beauty such as a sunset, fragrance, spa treatment, etc., try to envision it as an opportunity for soul to take flight. (Psyche in art was often depicted as a butterfly or moth.)  Listen to music and dance; abandon yourself to color at a paint store, touch every bolt of cloth at a fabric store. Immerse yourself in an experience of beauty and watch soul’s reaction.


If you are interested in pursuing this myth further, try these sources:
Amor and Psyche by Erich Neumann

The Myth of Analysis by James Hillman

The Golden Ass of Apuleius by Marie-Louise von Franz

The Worlds of Aphrodite, Artemis, and Hestia by Ginette Paris

“The beauty which brings desire is closer to a ‘state of grace’ and is composed more of audacity and charm than by conformity with an external norm.” – Ginette Paris

The Myth Lab: Myth and Permaculture

Activist, Permaculture promoter, and myth maker, Willi Paul, will be presenting his Myth Lab, “Mythic Roundtable: Tools and Inspiration for Creating New Myths” from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Jan. 22 at the Granada Book Store, 1224 State St., Santa Barbara.

I was curious about his method of combining myth with his passion for permaculture. I sent him a couple of questions and he was kind enough to respond. Here is our correspondence:

Question – I hear the word “myth” used more and more frequently. As a term is popularized, it becomes a victim of its own success. Even in Classical Greece, the term had multiple meanings. When you use the term “myth” please clarify what you mean by it and if that meaning is consistent throughout your work?

Willi Paul – Myth is a new, universal story that is generated by issues / crisis of our times like climate change, species extinction and drought. Classic myths support with general structures and motifs like hero, journey and initiation. My myths deal with new community types like the permaculture and Transition movements. But my myth also includes bliss, an alchemic power to see past the hype and empower solutions. I believe that creative mythology, as described by Joe Campbell, is the right overall framework for individuals in these times.

Question – The mythic motif of death and resurrection or rebirth is founded in agricultural/vegetative mythologies (e.g. Aphrodite/Adonis, Jesus the Christ, Ishtar/Tammuz, Inanna/Damuzi, etc). What mythic motifs, if any, are you seeing emerging from the permaculture phenomenon?

Willi Paul – I prefer to use symbols rather than motifs as these are more powerful connections.

Shovel – turning, renewal
Cob bench – community
Pond – water birth, diversity
Sun flower – Nature Steward
Moon – magic, Nature wisdom
Bees – togetherness, eco-business
Lightning – ecoAlchemy – transmutation
Cob feet – dance, new Nature rituals
Broken concrete – reuse – recycling
Butterflies – metamorphosis, freedom

(for more on Willi Paul’s perspective click here: Permaculture Symbols)

Secondly, new archetypes work with new symbols now:

A. Permaculture & Nature Archetype: A love to preserve unique landscapes for future generations. Mistrust of greedy, short-term land and energy developers
Symbols: Tree of Life, Permaculture logo, Yosemite, Seeds, Amazon Rain Forest, US Gulf Coast

B. Permaculture & Nature Archetype: Our hope is to build sustainable systems in our local neighborhoods and towns. Fear of food and fuel shortages; fights for resources between neighbors and governments
Symbols: Crude oil on rails, GMO; Convergence and sharing expo events; neighborhood plans and new rituals

C. Permaculture & Nature Archetype: A deep love for freedom to own fire arms; fear of guns and killing.
Symbols: AK-47, US Flag, Scenes from mass shootings, vigils, pawn shops

D. Permaculture & Nature Archetype: Fear that global warming will destroy all life on Earth. Mistrust of business and goal of short-term profits
Symbols: Rising coastal tides, melting polar ice, coal fired power plants.

E. Permaculture & Nature Archetype: Mistrust of energy privatization and corrupt safety practices. Love of the system and blind faith in corporate responsibility
Symbols: BP, PG&E, Duke Energy

(for more on Willi Paul’s comments on this click here: Permaculture, Carl Jung and the New Archetypes)

Question – I believe humans are hard-wired for story. There is much distress in some groups that Hollywood is dying. It is possible that form of storytelling is in decline, but I doubt if humans will ever be storyless. Please detail your experience in using story to explain, enlist, and engage in expanding permaculture awareness.

Willi Paul – The best place to start in your journey to new stories is Texting Joseph Campbell – Five Methods to Design New Stories & Myths eBook #18:

The Five methods that I have invented to date are:
1. Building a Mythology Generator for the Sustainability Age
2. Mapping Future Myths for the Transition –
Workshop & Video, First Study of Myth Symposium, Pacifica Graduate Institute
3. Myth Lab
4. SCORE: sounds symbols myths
5. Mythic Engine

Thank you Willi Paul for you input on this important issue.  Your creative integration of myth making and permaculture promotion are truly inspiring.

Psyche, Eros, and Aphrodite: The Beauty/Soul Connection – Part II

In my last post (Psyche, Eros, and Aphrodite Part I) I presented an overview of the myth of The Invisible Lover. I continue my reflections on this myth with tasks the goddess of Beauty and Love, Aphrodite, demanded of Psyche.

The Tasks

Aphrodite assigns tasks to Psyche that Aphrodite is confident Psyche will be unable to fulfill. The first task requires Psyche to separate a vast heap of seeds as the first of four seemingly impossible tasks. Seeds imply a masculine principle. In order for soul to come to terms with beauty an ordering of the masculine principle is required. But in this Psyche herself does not participate but is served by the small but energetic industrious and plentiful ants. Psyche neither asks for help nor commands it. She does, however, allow the ants to come to her aid.

The ants act out of pity for Psyche’s plight and objection to the cruelty of Aphrodite. Both the seeds and the ants have an earthly quality. Although Psyche isn’t involved with the activity, this scene represents an alignment with the earth element.

For the second task, Aphrodite requires Psyche to harvest wisps of wool from sheep whose fleeces shine with hue of gold. This time Psyche’s aid comes in the form of advice from a reed of the river near where the sheep graze. Psyche for a second time contemplates suicide by drowning but the reed intervenes. The vegetative advisor tells Psyche that the sheep shine with hue of gold because they borrow fierce heat from the blazing sun. If Psyche delays her approach until after “the sun has assuaged its burning and the beasts are lulled to sleep by the soft river breeze, and gather not the from the sheep directly but rather from a grove where their wool has been rubbed off onto crooked twigs.”

The image of these sheep who borrow fierce heat from the blazing sun and are prone to wild destructive frenzy suggests a powerful solar masculine energy. If Psyche were to approach them directly during the apex of their strength, she surely would be destroyed, which is probably the point the of the exercise from Aphrodite’s perspective. However, through the wisdom of the supple reed, by biding her time until the noon day sun is on the wane and harvesting their fleece from an indirect source, the demands of Aphrodite will still be met without risking harm to Psyche.

Throughout the four ordeals, Psyche is “big with child”. The third task tests “whether you have a stout heart.” Psyche is sent to draw a small urn of water. Like the previous tasks, this is assumed by Aphrodite to be impossible to accomplish, for the waters flow from an inaccessible mountain cliff with dragon sentinels protecting it from anyone’s approach.

To accomplish this task, Psyche is aided by an eagle of Zeus who is allowed to pass by the sentinels because he says he is on an errand of the great goddess. The eagle fills the urn and returns the water to Psyche. Although Psyche is greatly relieved to be able to satisfy the demands of Aphrodite, the great goddess is not appeased.

So far Psyche has been assisted by ants, a water reed and an eagle. Earth, water and air realms are represented. The ants introduce order to the chaos of the heap of seeds. Through the water reed’s advice the ‘fierce and frenzied’ power of fire (the heat of these solar sheep) is tempered. And the third task by means of the medium of air, the water element is delivered to Aphrodite.

If we use this myth as a guideline for the connection between Beauty and Soul, what do these three tasks reveal about that relationship? In each of these three tasks assigned by Aphrodite to Psyche, Psyche doesn’t “do” anything. For the soul to mature, as Psyche assuredly does throughout the myth, beauty must first of all be acknowledged as the divine energy that it is.  The soul must also not turn away from the demands of the power of beauty.

As this myth unfolds, we see Soul with a tendency to be overwhelmed by the enormity or impossibility of the tasks. However, this myth tells us that just by being present to the demands of beauty, those demands will be satisfied on behalf of soul in ways the rational mind could never conceive.

It is often through unpleasant impossible tasks that the soul matures. Its mettle is tested even as unusual resources come to its aid. If you deeply contemplate this statement reflecting on the examples from the myth, you may bring to mind specific examples in your personal life experience.

In my next post, I will present the fourth and final task.

Psyche, Eros, and Aphrodite: The Beauty/Soul Connection Part I

The Beauty/Soul Connection

The myth of Psyche (the word “psyche” means “soul” in Greek), Cupid, her invisible lover (Eros in Greek), and Cupid’s mother, the goddess of beauty and love, Venus (Aphrodite in Greek), illustrates how deeply Beauty, Soul, and Love are interrelated. This relationship can show up in a modern context of the spa experience.  The many spa treatments readily available might be presumed to be merely pampering and possibly even decadent. However, if approached in the right frame of mind, they have the potential to touch us deeply and nurture the soul.


The story of “The Invisible Lover” is a chapter from the greater work of The Metamorphoses (also known as The Golden Ass)

by a Roman, Lucius Apuleius, who is credited with recording it in the second century CE. However, there is no doubt that a tradition transmitted by Plato from six centuries earlier played an important part in shaping the myth.  Although Apuleius uses the Roman names for the deities, in this commentary, I will refer to their Greek names.

The primary character of this story is a stunningly beautiful young daughter of a king, Psyche. Her beauty is so extraordinary that people neglect the temples of the Aphrodite and worship the mortal, Psyche. This enrages the divine Aphrodite who sends her son, Eros to mete out her punishment. Aphrodite commands Eros to cause Psyche to be consumed with passion for the vilest of men; a man who is destined to have neither health, nor wealth, nor honor; one whose misery has no equal. On his way to fulfill this command, Eros is pricked by his own arrow so that he, himself, falls in love with Psyche. This curious triangle of characters sets up a potent story of metamorphosis.


It is not uncommon for the experience of beauty to touch us deeply. These encounters have a tendency to lead us more deeply into soul. There is some quintessential relationship between soul and beauty. In The Metamorphosis (The Golden Ass) by Apuleius, this relationship is personified through the beautiful and mortal, Psyche and the great goddess, Aphrodite.

Aphrodite presides over three primary domains. She is the goddess of love, desire, and beauty. Her dominion over beauty relates directly to the conflict in the tale. This connection between the realm of Aphrodite and her future daughter-in-law, Psyche, exemplifies the relation between beauty and soul.

Beauty is a universal concept; its representation is not.

The representation and personal experience of beauty tends to emerge from a cultural context, historical moment, personal genius and possibly innate predispositions. Various forms and media have been used to represent beauty, yet a precise definition seems to be elusive. Nevertheless, when beauty touches us, the experience is profound and recognizable.

The ingredients in the recipe which describes this experience may include awe, a generous dollop of aesthetic arrest and a pleasant sprinkling of delight. Due to the archetypal nature of beauty, psychic energy may be released when beauty is confronted which may be experienced as sublime.

This essay focuses on beauty’s relationship to soul using a general notion of beauty and Aphrodite as its representation. What does this particular story have to tell us about the nature of the relation between Beauty and Soul?

In the story, the reader meets an enraged Aphrodite. Aphrodite is a major deity in the pantheon with significant power and influence over mortals as well as divine beings. She is also a jealous and vengeful goddess.

The Greek word “Psyche” translates to the English word “soul.” In Greek art, Psyche was frequently depicted as a moth or butterfly. Psyche in this story is worshipped as if she is Aphrodite. There is a natural beauty of the soul. The beauty of Psyche is so striking that people turn to her in worship and in so doing turn away from Aphrodite, the true goddess of beauty. Through this adoration and veneration Psyche did not have her own identity. She was not seen as herself. Nonetheless, it is through the beauty of soul, the extraordinary beauty of Psyche, that the goddess of beauty takes an interest in her. Aphrodite commands her son, Eros, to aim his arrows so that Psyche would love a base and unfortunate man.

However, quite the opposite is what actually happens. Eros himself is pricked by his own arrow and falls in love with Psyche. Out of fear of his mother’s wrath, Eros hides Psyche in a remote area and remains unseen, coming to Psyche only in the cover of night. Psyche is naïve and unquestioning as she lives in a paradise tended by disembodied voices, without care or strife and yet forbidden to look upon her husband.

Although Psyche’s sisters are presented as jealous and mean, it is through their prompting that ultimately sends Psyche on her path. Believing her sisters’ lies that her husband is a monster with a monstrous snake body, she prepares to illuminate this monstrosity as he sleeps and slay him.

In the process of shedding light on him while he is sleeping, she is pricked by the arrow of love and falls in love with Eros. Eros, realizing that Psyche has seen and recognized him, punishes Psyche by abandoning her.

Psyche realizes what fate has befallen her. After a failed attempt at suicide, she destroys the voices that brought her to the disunion with her love. In what appears as acts of vengeance, Psyche sends the voices to their doom.

Don’t we all have voices in our lives we would like to still as effectively as Psyche quiets those of poor council? All of this drama leads eventually to Psyche supplicating herself at the feet of the great goddess Aphrodite. What appears as a circuitous route nevertheless leads Psyche to the house of Aphrodite.

If this myth is a reasonable representation of the relation of soul to beauty, then it can be said that the natural beauty of soul is not an unqualified boon. It is because of this natural beauty that Psyche is introduced to her future husband. So that is a good thing. It is also because of this natural beauty that she finds herself at the receiving end of the wrath of the great goddess, Aphrodite, which is a bad thing. Up to this point in the story, Psyche, or soul, is immature, naïve, or both. There does not appear to be any recognition of the importance of Beauty.

Since Psyche is worshipped as the new “Earth-born” Aphrodite, Psyche, has no identity of her own. However, there is no indication that Psyche attempts to evade the situation of being worshipped as a goddess. At whose temple does Psyche worship?

Later in the story Psyche approaches the place of worship of Demeter and Hera asking for protection, only to be rebuffed. It is only when she surrenders to her situation that Psyche meets Aphrodite. This is no great reunion. Aphrodite is a viper. Even though Psyche is pregnant with the future grandchild of Aphrodite, she shows Psyche no mercy. After physically and verbally abusing Psyche, Aphrodite sets several impossible task before Psyche.

Up to this point in the myth, Love, Beauty, and Soul appear to have a disharmonious connection.  Both Psyche and Eros are living a lie.  Aphrodite is out of countenance and viciously jealous.

Every archetype has a shadow side. This myth begins with these shadow aspects of these archetypal characters.

How honest is love that is hidden in the dark and lives in fear?

How mature is a soul who naively questions nothing?

How unattractive is beauty that is so venomous and myopic?

In my next post I will continue with the tale by focussing on The Four Tasks Aphrodite assigns Psyche.  Until then be alert to the Beauty/Love/Soul connection in your world.  Let me know what you see.