Myth and politics: behavioral archetypes in ancient Iran and persistence in power and politics

Our minds are shaped by human history, and the thoughts of our forefathers certainly exercise undeniable influence on its structure. On this ground, when carefully analyzing our mental processes, we might need to examine how other people thought in the distant past. Today, we cannot overlook the importance of the man’s history to explain some of his/her thought processes. The notion of myth is inevitably tightly linked to the issue of power and identity. Its role in Iran is no exception as the given territory has always been the provenance of various myths. The political and politics occupy the same situation and have never been separated from mythology. Myths sustain and reproduce a certain behavior, especially through collective archetypes which persist throughout history and are preserved in a nation’s historical memory and consciousness. Ancient texts such as the Avesta are affected by the myths on the one hand, and produce newer forms of them in the realm of life as well as power on the other. For example, archetypes like hero, wise old man, anima and animus, etc., have affected the politics in different historical periods of Iran and played a role in changes thereto. Along the same lines, today, politics and identity are immensely influenced by myths which flow through collective memory. It seems that impact from myths has been more severe in case of Iran.


This study is a descriptive research which relied on the available textual materials. Focus on the text is crucially significant, especially in the mythology because it maintains a stationary position as a first-hand source. Eastern texts usually begin with an introductory statement that is regarded as the closing argument too. Interpretation of the text turns into a matter of great concern, especially with regard to a work such as the Avesta, which we do not even know in which of the Iranian languages it has initially been written. Our mentalities are indisputably the result of thousands and perhaps millions of years of thinking and a long history lies behind each of our statements. That is to say, the words uttered by anyone represent indeed a vector for a great many of historical symbols worth examination. Therefore, each text must be understood in itself, and comparison should be used as a second resort. Hence, the Avesta text is a complete and effective example that can still be investigated in this regard.

Jung maintains that races, tribes and nations, like typical humans each call for their specific psychology and pathology (Ovdajnyk, 2008, 101). One way to explore the psychology of such nations and peoples is to refer to their prevailing myths. The myths can be received as a whole; namely, they do not get meaning from a sequence of events and the historical circumstances cannot efface their very essence. Therefore, myths are only critical in their entirety (Lancaster, 2010, 1057). As quoted from Brückel and Durkheim, myths involve images which manifest the general state of affairs which means they subsume the set of concepts build by all members of a certain group (Tudor, 2005, 82). The mental universe of man is never devoid of myth. Even when it dispenses past mythological heroes, it replaces them with more recent ones. For instance, the conventional story of Siavash might be substituted by the life account of another one among Iranian (Bahar, 2015, 362). Today’s man is still captured by “powers” that cannot be easily controlled. The gods and Satan have merely assumed alternative names(Jung, 2009, 118).This process has equally been extended into the realm of power and identity as for the specific form of Iranian mythical structures. Unification of the myths and the rise of totalitarian states of the twentieth century in terms of legends by Cassirer, the emergence of myths in terms of ideology and culture according to Barthes, and demystification as myth by Eliade represent brilliant descriptions the overall origin of which goes back to Jung. Jung explained the rise of fascist regimes in the collective memories as archetypes. As Jung purports, psychic inflation and deflation do not fade from collective unconscious and shared memories keep their lives on. Accordingly, the history of Iran can be witnessed as an ancient follower of eternal archetypes and collective unconscious myths. The Avesta and ancient texts have also been instrumental in mystification or continuation of myths. Samuel Kennedy (2014) in the The King is Dead seeks to prove the hypothesis that actually Alexander’s invasion to Iran represents an attack to the Iranian myths and gods which later turned into an impetus among them to defeat Greeks. Mojtabayi (1974, 12) quotes, if someone wrongly relied on the throne of the kingdom in ancient times, did not observe the religion and oppressed his people, s/he was perceived as the devil’s agent. The Avesta also came into being in association with its pre and post mythological entities. As cultures mix together, myths  also combine to generate novel forms or sometimes displace (Amuzegar, 2015, 5). The era of mythology is chaotic such that all issues appear intermingled. The world of mythology remains time and space free. In this unstable situation, no intellectual and philosophical system can be devised, and a unity reached. Even if established, it is either transient and temporary. Therefore, the social structure that can handle the society with a political philosophy or a political system seems absent in the chaotic world of myth, because their universe comprises a pluralistic one. Plato’s formulation, i.e., transition from myths, transformed him into the chief source for systematic philosophical thinking and political philosophy in Greece. He moved the pluralist and unstable world of myths into philosophy and philosophical scheme. Though bonds between the ancient Greek and East might have prompted the creation of Greek philosophical system, this incident did not happen in Iran. So, mythological thinking persisted in the latter case. Despite the assumed role of Zoroaster in promoting unity, he served as a source for new myths at the same time. In other words, no new coherent philosophical system emerged from his perspectives which could later define the essential core of philosophy and modern political philosophy. Hence, the pluralistic world of myths fell flat to bring about a philosophical and political unity. Possible attempts at integration of power and politics, especially during the Sassanid Empire, also failed as political leaders foundered to provide uniformity to previous myths or overlook them. Apparently, without relying on archetypes, politics could be tolerated in Iran's collective unconscious. In fact, the collective unconscious which turns into a unified timeless and placeless whole carried out a leading role in shaping their identity and power.

Politics, as a dynamic and unstable issue is a function of various natural and social forces, including myth, religion, modern wisdom, etc. Among other factors, myth has been one of the most effective forces over politics and power in ancient Persia which has its effects on the present day Iranian politics too. Dimensions of such impact are passed by the archetypes like the anima and animus, hero, wise old man, religious mysteries, shadows, persona, etc. Like other members of the community, politicians have not usually been able to escape from this archetypes as the political issue has been dominated by the collective unconscious and behavioral archetypes. It seems that this has often yielded negative consequences for the power relations in Iran; namely, power has not been seen as political authority directed to society, but as a secondary and less important issue. The Avesta and other post-Sassanid texts have had an undeniable effect in the development and enhancement of myths. Because these texts have not been compiled as an efficient and systematic system for thinking, their meanings and effects have always been controversial. The political has pursued a similar vain. Since collective memories have been associated with historical inconsistency and volatility, power has turned to the focal point of fluctuations, which means that and power are often influenced by myth rather than wisdom. They have shaped the unconscious collective and behavioral archetypes to play with politics in the form of collective eruption and inflation. When people in the power sphere have sought to escape this situation, they themselves become the victim of collective unconscious in the paradox of the political and the myth. This has never came up with a satisfactory result; hence, power has always been frail and ineffective in the face of the archetypes of collective unconscious.

Article Type:
Research/Original Article
Journal of The Iranian Studies, Volume:18 Issue: 36, 2020
239 - 267  
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