Dissertation Title:

Re-Discovery of the Chthonic: Jane Harrison’s Unearthing of Submerged Strata of Greek Religion and Parallel Developments in Depth Psychology


Robert Stroup

Date, Time & Place:

July 28, 2021 at 4:00 pm


In this dissertation I bring into conversation the different understandings of the origin of religion put forward by Jane Harrison in her Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, with those of foundational figures in the simultaneously emerging field of depth psychology: Sigmund Freud and C. G. Jung.

Harrison and depth psychologists sought not only for the origins of the religious impulse, but also its evolution, death, and rebirth. Harrison located the birth of religion in the embodiment of emotions such as fear, first as inchoate, aniconic beings, later theriomorphic, and finally anthropomorphic gods, whereas Freud saw the origin of religion as pan-cultural neurosis originating in conflict with the father, complicated by repetition compulsion and repression. Jung identified possible positive functions for religion. Harrison recognized that even as the Olympic stratum of Greek religion was dying, newer religious forms such as the mystery cults and Orphism emerged to replace it through the revival and transformation of previously submerged strata: the chthonic deities and the primordial goddess.

Harrison’s understanding of the primacy of goddess religion parallels the great importance attributed to the mother in Freud’s psychology. Harrison’s ideas about the suppression and incomplete overshadowing of the chthonic stratum of Greek religion and of the goddess by the later Olympian religion parallel Freud’s understanding of the Oedipus complex, how the repression of the child’s early bond with its mother plays a key role in the creation of the unconscious. Jung, too, identified the reintegration of the feminine aspect of the psyche as fundamental to what he calls individuation, a conviction that deeply informs Harrison’s writings.

Finally, I suggest that, while in contrast to Kerényi and Otto Harrison did not view the Greek gods as existing independently of human beings, and unlike Jung or James Hillman she did not consider them to be real in even a psychological sense, I detect in the Prolegomena that to her surprise she experienced something of the numinous and the uncanny in the early strand of Greek religion that overwhelmed her commitment to purely intellectual and aesthetic understanding.

  • Program/Track/Year: Mythological Studies, I, 2015
  • Chair: Dr. Christine Downing
  • Reader: Dr. Robert A. Segal
  • External Reader: Dr. Zina Giannopoulou
  • Keywords: Jane Harrison, Greek Religion, Mythology, Ritual, Goddess, Theater