The Secret Language of Great Stories – Part One

by James Bonnet

In the previous article I talked about the creative unconscious self, the important role it plays in the creation of great stories and the important role it plays in our lives. In this story course article, I will continue this discussion and talk about the secret language that empowers a great story while it reveals the wisdom inherent in the creative unconscious self. I will also begin describing the extraordinary things the great stories are telling us about ourselves.

If the great story is one of the ways the creative unconscious communicates with us, how does it manage that?  By using special and unique story metaphors. When sorted into story structures, patterns and motifs, these unique story metaphors are revealed as the secret language of great stories. Guided and prompted by the creative unconscious self, the hidden wisdom that is stored in the creative unconscious as energy is transformed in our imaginations into visual images, characters, actions and events that reveal intriguing details concerning who we really are and passages that we can follow to achieve the higher states of being and awareness.

Metaphor literally means to “carry over,” to substitute one thing for another. To describe one thing by means of another. To describe something that is unknown by the use of things that are known. In this case, to use every day, visible, real things that are artistically treated to describe these invisible, unconscious patterns of energy. Which is to say, story metaphors are made of real things that have been taken apart and artistically rearranged to represent these hidden truths.

A certain Chinese dragon, for instance, which represents some of these unconscious creative energies, is made up of bits and pieces from a variety of other real animals. It has the head of a camel, the horns of a deer, the eyes of a rabbit, the teeth of a lion, the ears of a cow, the neck of a snake, the belly of a frog, the scales of a carp, the claws of a hawk, and the padded palms of a tiger. The same is true of all fantastic creatures and real characters that we meet in story. They are all made of real things that have been taken apart and artistically rearranged to represent these hidden truths.

The unique combination of these real things when brought together create the characters, gods, Shangri-las, haunted houses, and real people, etc. which express different attributes and dimensions of the hidden energies. The natural world is taken apart and rearranged in our imaginations to reveal the supernatural, unconscious, hidden wisdom that could guide us to higher states of consciousness.  This is what makes a psychological connection. When these visual images correspond to the structures and patterns of this hidden energy, you get a story of extraordinary power.

For example, the human mind has the unique ability to look ahead into the future. If you wanted to reveal this unique ability in a story using visual metaphors, how would you do that? The stories evolved by the Greeks to express this phenomenon used Prometheus, which in Greek means forethought.

Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to man. And for this he was severely punished. The god, Zeus, had him chained between two high cliffs and every morning a large eagle came and gnawed on his liver. During the night, the liver would heal. But then the following day the eagle would return and gnaw on his liver again.

Forethought, the ability to look ahead into the future and foresee the benefits and potential dangers of fire’s use, had a major role to play in humankind’s discovery of fire. This discovery simply would not have been possible without forethought. Forethought was an important evolutionary step. But certain unpleasant side effects evolved along with it, among them, worry. The ability to look ahead means that you can anticipate certain unpleasant possibilities in the future and worry about them. A bird gnawing on the liver is an excellent way of expressing how worry behaves. But even serious worries can heal or be resolved during the night. Then when you wake up the next morning, you look toward the future again and discover new things to worry about. The bird returns. The truth hidden in the Prometheus stories reveals not only the nature and importance of forethought but  the relation of forethought to worry and the nature of worry itself.

Prometheus remains in his miserable condition for a very long time, until he is finally set free by Hercules, who shoots the eagle with an arrow and smashes Prometheus’ chains with his incredible strength.

This part of the story tells us that the unpleasant side effects of forethought will keep us in a chronic state of anxiety and worry until sometime in the future, when we have accomplished the psychological ordeals of the passages (Hercules’ twelve labors) and everything we see in the future is something that we have come to understand and can deal with. Then the chronic stress brought on by all of the anxiety and worry we suffer, because of our ignorance concerning the future and our disconnection from our creative unconscious selves, will fall away and forethought will become the psychological asset it was really designed to be.  Other good story metaphors for forethought and afterthought (Epimetheus) are the crystal ball, the time machine, the seeing stones in The Lord of the Rings, and Dumbledore’s pensive.

The creative unconscious self plays an important role in this storymaking process because, as I’ve mentioned, it governs the positive and negative intuitive feelings that influence our creative decisions. We are encouraged by these intuitive feelings to either select or reject a particular idea that has popped into our imaginations – to take a little bit of this real thing and a little bit of that real thing and creatively treat them using the artistic tools of the imagination – i.e. to idealize or exaggerate this, minimize or vilify that, keep this and discard that, and so on until a comprehensive picture of the hidden truth is revealed.

If we listen carefully to these intuitive feelings, the creative unconscious self will become a creative partner and help us fashion our story characters, actions and events into metaphors that express the different dimensions and dynamics of our hidden psychic selves that evolved during our evolutionary journey and reside in our creative unconscious as lost or forgotten hidden treasures. The closer our creative choices and decisions come to these extraordinary hidden truths the more powerful our stories will become.

Continue to Part 2: The Secret Language of Great Stories – Part Two