What is a Myth?
A myth is an ancient, traditional, usually sacred story that concerns the spiritual journey of an archetypal figure. Every culture has a rich seeding of myths that underpin the history, beliefs and development of that culture. These myths are surprisingly similar; there is much common ground, however diverse the culture, no matter how distant the country of origin from our own.
Through myth, we are attuned to something that seems greater than ourselves. The stories that arise through an exploration of the mythic realms are tales of the adventures of larger-than-life characters: gods and beasts, heroes and demons. Myths take the listener on a journey through the inner self, where we can identify with, rejoice in, or be horrified by, the amplification of the many facets of human nature. Stories have long been used as a tool for educating as well as entertaining. You can become absorbed in a story, can travel through a mysterious realm into a place where myth and magic are real, where fantasies and fears can be played out safely.
Stories can be a guide for life, giving us clues as to how to find our way through the often labyrinthine situations we find ourselves in. You can even view your own life as a myth, for our lives are rich in stories; we all experience tests, trials, struggles, joys, triumphs and celebrations. This quest that we undertake at birth, and continue through to the last breath, is played out against a backdrop of other characters who bring out the best and the worst in us, who challenge or reward us. Ultimately, we create our own mythic life from the materials around and within us.
The words ‘myth’ and ‘mythic’ are sometimes interpreted as implying a sense of unreality, of fabrication, of illusion. We weave myths and legends around the exploits of those who seem too distanced from us to be quite human. The mythical man or woman takes on a larger life, a greater role, than we can perhaps imagine experiencing ourselves, yet their exploits fire the imagination and encourage us to dream and to bring those dreams into reality. Myths act as a reminder of possibilities.
The place of myth in the cultures
The cultures of the world developed with their reliance on myths as a constant reminder of the sacred mystery of life. Myths were also used as moral tales and as a connection between the puzzle of purpose in humanity and the sense of meaning derived from tales of the omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent forces that watched over humankind and sometimes interceded or interfered in human affairs.
The old gods and goddesses are not dead to the psyche, and woe betide us should we attempt to bury them completely. The taboos and laws enforced since ancient times by mythological story, and the spiritual and temporal codes and laws that resulted, created a place for us in the universe. When we lose sense of that place, we lose an essential connection with our spiritual nature.
This is reflected in society as increased confusion, violence, mental illness, and apathy, and an upsurge in the use of recreational drugs or prescribed chemicals that blast open the avenues of exploration without the foundation of wisdom and without guides or mentors. Myth gave rise to morals and to religion, even though the morals of the immortal deities appeared to be questionable at times.
Science and Myth
Science and myth, once considered to reside at opposite poles, are in truth two sides of the same coin. Myth provides a backdrop to science and helps us to find ways in which to explore and explain our inner as well as outer terrain.
Most world myths begin with Chaos – the Void. Within this maelstrom of uncontrollable, unpredictable energy, consciousness stirred and woke, bursting forth to birth the elements of the universe with all its diverse forms. Science, with its theories about the Big Bang, tells a story not too distanced from the myths in terms of sheer extraordinary, unimaginable power. The branch of physics devoted to chaos theory investigates how order emerges in unpredictable, inexplicable ways. Taken symbolically, the ideas are markedly similar.
The seven ‘planets’ (for astrological purposes) visible to the naked eye (the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) embody more than merely a symbolic astrological and astronomical resonance. They are embedded in our culture, bequeathing associations with the days of the week, the musical notes of our diatonic scale, and the original seven stems of learning – grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, music, geometry and astronomy. These subjects were initially understood through their associations with the planets, and nowhere is this now more relevant than in the study of the mind. Our mental states filter down to affect our emotional and physical health and well-being.
Freud surmised that ‘a myth is a public dream; a dream is a private myth.’ Jung took the view that myths are linked to the symbolic language of the psyche that helps us to recognise and integrate the inner wisdom of humankind that has always been there, locked within us. Myths are a key that opens a door into the deep self. The human spirit needs myth for sustenance, just as the human body needs fuel for energy and the human mind needs the understanding of the world and our place in it that the sciences give us.
Excerpt from the book Understanding the Planetary Myths – Tenzin-Dolma
So… what is myth?
Myths are metaphors. Myths are stories. Myths are mirrors of our lives. Today many authors look to myth as a way to develop a story, interweaving mythic tales, symbols, rituals, cultural traditions, and art within their stories, often about modern life. In this way they attempt to explain and explore the unconscious mind within the context of living today.
Many believe that understanding myths will help us to understand more about ourselves. Myth can contain the power to capture the imaginations of individuals, groups, and societies. It also can supply a sense of personal meaning, hope, and direction.
Psychologists, like Carl Jung believe that through myth we can tap into the collective unconscious. The collective unconscious is the term that psychologist Carl Jung used to describe humankind’s inborn predisposition to certain feelings, perceptions and behaviors. The collective unconscious is not dependent on the experiences of the individual but is instead something that we inherit, and perhaps share, as a kind of genetic memory. Consider how a newborn might be born with the concept of the mother already ‘wired-in’, making it easy for a connection to happen.
There are those who believe myths are simply stories. Roland Barthes, French author, equated myth with “the big lie”, a means by which the status quo is maintained.
It is up to you to determine whether or not to explore. Myths. They do have the possibility to help you to look at your life in new ways, and perhaps improve it. Each myth contains different heros, characters, and stories. Some of these may represent actual people, events and situations in your life. In this way these myths can be a mirror of your life, reflecting back to you new ways of thinking about your situation, and new ways to go about your life.