The Psychology of Terror, American Exceptionalism, and the Greek God Pan


  • Sukey Fontelieu Pacifica Graduate Institute



This study strives to contribute to a better understanding of contemporary anxieties in American culture by applying meanings derived from mythology to panic inducing cultural phenomena. It asks if the Greek god Pan and his retinue of
nymphs metaphorically exemplify an archetypal core within an American cultural anxiety complex. The principal technical device used is Jung’s method of amplification, rendering cultural material at a more psychologically substantial level.
This hermeneutic research views primary sources for and commentaries on the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the American reactions that followed. A faulty belief in American exceptionalism is examined for its contribution to the
reactions by the American government and its citizens. Some consequences of American exceptionalism, as seen in reactions to 9/11, are clarified through a correlation with a metaphoric reading of Pan, the Greek nature god. Pan’s compulsion into life is considered to be a symbolic expression of an archetype that was once alive in the bold spirit of America, but has rusted into paralysis due to a lack of initiative towards contemporary problems. It was as if the government of the Unites States, starting at the top, had decided that the terrorist outrages of September 11, 2001, meant that law, custom and decency had all been suspended sine die. (Hodgson, 2009, p. 127) History …is a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken. (Joyce, 1961, p. 34)