The Magic Mirror

Myth's Abiding Power

By Elizabeth M. Baeten

Subjects: Cultural Studies
Series: SUNY series in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences
Paperback : 9780791430927, 245 pages, October 1996
Hardcover : 9780791430910, 245 pages, October 1996

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Table of contents



1. What Is Myth?

2. Ernst Cassirer's Theory of Mythical Symbols

3. Mythical Symbol, Mythical Sign: Roland Barthes' Semiological Analysis

4. Mythical Space, Mythical Time: Mircea Eliade's Account of the Sacred and the Profane

5. Mythical Self, Mythical Soul: James Hillman's Depth Psychology

6. The magic mirror of myth ...

Conclusion: The Nature of Culture




Analyzes the theories of myth of Cassirer, Barthes, Eliade, and Hillman and offers an alternative original account of myth-making as an essential strand of cultural production.


In this book, Elizabeth M. Baeten analyzes the theories of myth propounded by Cassirer, Barthes, Eliade, and Hillman and juxtaposes the insights of these very different perspectives to form a coherent account of myth. She then shows that these theories perform the same function the authors ascribe to myth itself. Moreover, not only do the theories of myth function mythically; the myth embedded in each theory is the same: the telos of human existence is absolute freedom, an unbounded power to constitute the subjective and objective features of existence. The correlate of this myth of absolute creative freedom, Baeten argues, is that the truly human must transcend natural determinations. Baeten understands this to be a dangerous myth and offers an alternative original account of myth-making as an essential strand of cultural production demarcating the human process within the setting of broader natural processes.

Elizabeth M. Baeten is Assistant Professor of Humanities at Emerson College.


"This is first-rate scholarship. What I like most about the book is its philosophical thesis and argument. The thesis is that myth is to be understood by a patchwork of theories about myth, like a quilt. The argument is an extensive analysis of Ernst Cassirer's theory of myth, with a careful criticism, and then a rereading of this theory and criticism through extensive analytical discussions of the theories of Roland Barthes, Mircea Eliade, and James Hillman. These are four very different and mutually rejecting theories of myth, but each with an important core of truth. Baeten trims and corrects each one, all the while giving the reader an unusually comprehensive and honest introduction to the complex thought of each theorist. By trimming and stitching the pieces together, Baeten is able to present a theory of her own, tying in to the traditions and approaches of all of the thinkers analyzed." — Robert Cummings Neville, Dean of the School of Theology, Boston University

"I like the author's careful and cogent argumentation and the fairness of her analysis. Since this text is essentially a comparative study of the hermeneutical structures of myth across four important systems, the author's analysis of these systems needs to be clear, direct, accurate, and fair. It is. She thus provides an excellent example of a positive postmodern methodology at work." — Lynn C. Bauman, University of Dallas