The Healing Power of Myth

In describing myth, Kwame Scruggs, PhD likes to quote a kindergarten student, who astutely noted that “myths are stories that are false on the outside, but true on the inside.” Scruggs, who received his master’s and doctorate in Mythological Studies from Pacifica University, founded and runs Alchemy, a non-profit based in Akron, Ohio.

“The concept of our program is to create a safe space and a sense of community to assist in the development of urban adolescent males through the telling, discussion, and analysis of myths, stories, and fairy tales told to the beat of an African drum.” In the program, youth start in 6th grade, with 22 weeks of in-school meetings per year until 8th grade.  From 9th-12th grade the youth meet 10 months out of the year, four hours per session.  Scruggs, along with two others co-facilitators lead the youth through a fairy tale or myth, stopping periodically to elicit reactions from the participants, or to ask them to engage the material through questions that invite the young men to reflect on their own lives.

Dr. Scruggs’s work with Alchemy has received considerable attention in recent years. In 2012, the organization was one of 10 recipients presented with the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, the nation’s highest honor for after-school and out-of-school programs. Scruggs, along with an Alchemy youth, accepted this award at the White House. And last year saw the release of a documentary about Alchemy entitled “Finding the Gold Within,” by award winning director Karina Epperlein.

Scruggs is doing something important and far too unusual, in my opinion – he is taking Jung’s insights out of the consulting room, and into the world, where they can work their transformation magic. Of the 30 young men in the original core group of participants, 28 graduated high school on time, and 26 enrolled in college. Most of us who are passionate about Jungian thought know how beautiful and personally meaningful these ideas are. If we are clinicians, we have likely had the honor of seeing these ideas transform the lives of the individuals with whom we work. Alchemy is putting these ideas to work in the service of social change.

In advance of Dr. Scruggs’s upcoming workshop in Philadelphia at the invitation of PAJA, I got a chance to speak with him briefly. In our conversation, he shared with me a bit about his discovery of myth and its healing power. Scruggs was introduced to Jung during an African-based rites of passage experience in 1993. Through Jung, Scruggs became interested in the work of Joseph Campbell. When he read Michael Meade’s Men and the Water of Life, he knew he had found something of great personal value. At the time, he was counseling high school drop outs. He found that getting them to talk was like pulling teeth. When he shared with them stories such as The Water of Life, the youth engaged and opened up, allowing themselves to become vulnerable.

I asked Dr. Scruggs what about myths make them such effective tools for reflection and healing. “When you tell someone a story,” Scruggs explained, “it removes them from the situation. It gets around a person’s defenses.” One Alchemy student, reflecting on the power of myth, had this to say about how it works: “Because it’s not real but then again it is real. So instead of directly telling us how to become well and get better you kind of do it indirectly which gets into our minds better or in a different way.”

Alchemy’s program of mentoring youth through myth helps the young men to have a relationship with something greater than themselves, develop a sense of purpose, and become the heroes in their own stories. Powerful stuff, indeed. I can’t wait to hear more about it at Dr. Scruggs’s workshop in Philadelphia on October 9.

To buy tickets to this event, please go to

To learn more about Dr. Scrugg’s work visit his site at


Lisa Marchiano is a licensed clinical social worker and certified Jungian analyst in private practice in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She received her MSW from New York University and completed analytic training at the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts. She is also a mom. Lisa is on the faculty of the Philadelphia Jung Institute. She is Co-Creator of This Jungian Life podcast. Her writings have appeared in Quillette, the journal Psychological Perspectives and in PSYCHED Magazine. She blogs on parenting for Psyche Central at Big Picture Parenting, and on Jungian topics at Lisa is building an online community where mothers can explore the profound changes that motherhood brings. Please come by and visit at

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