There is more to mythology than myth. I was always taught that mythology was just an ‘attempt’ at explaining nature and life. Yeah, like the people before us were that stupid! The general stance was that mythology was something that children come up with who don’t know anything about life. As a result, these stories were ‘made up’ because they had no other way to explain life. This point of view is a result of Christianity (and its downplay of pagan religions) and science (which, of course, had a ‘better’ explanation of the world). These explanations cannot be looked at too seriously as their intent was to degrade mythology, not to understand it.
QUALITIES OF MYTHOLOGY
In general, mythology is a ‘tale’ or story describing the way things are and qualities in life. It has certain qualities such as:
- The existence of “beings”. These are generally non-existent beings and could be things like gods or spirits. They are representations of aspects of nature and life.
- A story or tale.
- It explains the way things are.
- It is believed.
- It is demonstrated before you in the actions of life.
- It has an authority. That is to say, it’s not just something said.
- It has a relevance in life.
A “real” mythology is more than a story, though. It is ‘living’. That is, what it is about is being demonstrated in life everyday. It is seen in the seasons, the storms, and other things in life. It’s not just an abstract thing that ‘makes sense’ on reflection. I speak of this quality as ‘living mythology’. A ‘dead mythology’ is nothing but a story. To be ‘living’ requires that it is believed. Without belief mythology is ‘dead’ and, basically, useless.
A “real” mythology must also be demonstrated before you. There are two ways this is done:
- Demonstrated in nature and affairs of life. Mythology explains aspects of life and nature. When we see these aspects we see mythology “in action”, so to speak. This makes it more than a story. It make mythology “real” and “relevent”.
- Demonstrated by representation. Older cultures would often demonstrate their mythology in festival, dramas, and other celebration, all to make mythology “seen”.
These forms of demonstration take mythology out of the realm of just an ‘idea’ or ‘story’. It is much more than that . . . it becomes “real”, reflecting a truth and fact in life.
Mythological “truth” has a ‘life-relevancy’ to it. In fact, it is the relevancy of mythology that gives mythology its great power. This is because mythology explains life on a ‘human level’, NOT in an abstract, philosophical, scientific way. What this does is makes mythology very ‘human’. In some ways, there is no more of a ‘human’ explanation than mythology.
Mythology gets to the ‘depth’ of humanness by portraying things in a dream-like way, with symbols and various representations. This shows that mythology hits very deep into ones mind, into area’s we don’t have immediate access. This makes mythology a “depth explanation”, so to speak. As a result, mythology can often ‘drag’ intuitions, awareness, and other things from the depth of our minds. In some cases, mythology is the only way they can manifest themselves.
THE MYTHOLOGICAL WAY OF LIFE
For years I thought mythology was nothing but “myth”, meaning an illusionary story that isn’t true. Over the years, though, I began to feel differently. From my own experience I began to see that mythology generally described an insight into life and nature. This insight, though, is taken from a specific perspective and way of life. It is a product of that way of life. Mythology is not a ‘generic explanation’, such as science dishes out, of simple facts and figures that anyone can use. It takes a specific way of life to not only bring out but to make it useful. This is the mythological way of life.
The mythological way of life is unique in that it is rooted in ones ‘inner self’. The dream-like quality of mythology are demonstrations of this ‘inner self’. This is because the ‘inner self’ uses symbols and representations to manifest itself, NOT abstract concepts and philosophy.
Not even organized religion has this connection to the ‘inner self’. This is because organized religion plays more upon belief and the maintenance of belief. The beliefs that are contained in organized religion are often based on a mythology centuries ago but, due to history and the fact that organized religion must “maintain a belief”, the mythology has become ‘solidified’, so to speak, into a specific, and often, unchanging way, making it so that the connection to the ‘inner self’ is lost and, generally, forgotten. As a result, organized religion becomes too ‘rigid’ making it so that nothing like a “real” mythology can be created and, as a result, cutting off connection to the ‘inner self’.
Cultures based on logic, philosophy, and science have very little connection with the ‘inner self’ if any at all. This is generally quite apparent, as is seen in Western society. Instead of an ‘inner life’ they end up worshipping how one views things and if they can ‘prove’ it. Under these conditions a connection to the ‘inner self’ can never be achieved.
These show the importance of way of life with mythology. If the way of life is not there then mythology just ‘dies’ and is forgotten. When this happens the power and effect of mythology disappears.
THE CONDITIONS OF THE MYTHOLOGICAL WAY OF LIFE
Mythology is a reflection of a specific way of looking at things created by a specific condition of living. Conditions that seem to create it include:
- A small group of people.
- Living in the midst of nature.
- A strong connection with ones ‘inner life’.
- A poetic disposition and expressive ability.
Mythology seems to be primarily a result of small groups of people living in the middle of nature. In other words, mythology is created when nature is staring you in the face. The more removed or protected you are from nature, the less ‘mythological’ you become and the less you understand it. This shows that, really, the creation of mythology is a product of a specific way of life lived in the midst of nature. It also shows that mythology is related to the number of people as well. When there is a lot of people, such as in modern society, a mythology can’t be developed that well. This shows that mythology is really a reflection of a ‘group mentality’ and in order for this to work the group must be ‘manageable’ and ‘unified’ . . . conditions only found in small populations. This makes mythology into something like a ‘collective psych’, a reflection of a groups experience and reality.
When people live in the midst of nature ones reactions and beliefs toward it become much more ‘real’, and with greater ‘authority’, than when one is living distance from nature (as in mass modern society). This is because ones perspectives is “pitted” against the awesome reality of nature. A person is literally relying on their intuition and impressions of things for life. These intuitions and impressions become, in a sense, a matter of life and death, making them something like the center of life . . . not the casual reflection or philosophizing we do nowadays. Because of this, their intuitions, impressions, and beliefs are very much ‘alive’ and ‘real’. This helps make their mythology a ‘living mythology’ and with great authority. Because we are not living in these conditions we cannot really understand and see how powerful and ‘alive’ this conditions makes ones mythology and belief. We are so protected from the awesome reality of nature, nowadays, that any intuition, impression, belief, and mythology is somewhat ‘watered-down’ in comparison, even though we may think otherwise.
Because of the nature-in-your-face condition, and the seriousness of ones intuitions and impressions, a person tends to be much more connected with ones ‘inner life’. This is because this nature-in-your-face condition requires all of you to survive. It requires all your abilities and resources, including the depths of ones minds. This makes it so that one intuitions and impressions, with all its manifestations, have a great “stamp” of authority with it. This “stamp of authority” is an important quality of mythology as it takes mythology out of the realm of just a story to an “authoritative explanation” of the world. This is one reason why many mythologies are viewed as ‘coming from god’.
Under the nature-in-your-face condition it appears that mythology is a naturally appearing phenomena. It just happens. Even people who are placed in life and death survival conditions time will often develop a ‘mythology’ of sorts. This is particularly true when it lasts for a long period of time. This fact, I think, shows how mythology is, in a way, a survival tendency. It shows that there is a strong association between the ‘inner self’ and nature-in-your-face survival. This would make sense, as when humanity began to grow and civilization appeared, humanity became more protected from nature and the world. This would lesson the nature-in-your-face condition which, in turn, would lesson the connection with the ‘inner self’.
It’s also interesting to point out that civilization, as we all know, did not necessarily bring a utopia. It brought many horrors with it, such as war, overpopulation, etc. I have always been struck how, though mythology seems to naturally develop in the nature-in-your-face conditions, it does not naturally appear in the humanity-in-your-face condition. In other words, mythology is rooted in ‘nature’, being in the face of the ‘beyond human condition’. This, no doubt, is why it requires our ‘depths’ (the ‘inner self’).
I was also amazed how this great “survival intuition” generally does not appear as a philosophy or a ‘learning’ or some practical knowledge. Being a reaction to survival against nature you’d think it would be some form of knowledge that can be used (such as how to build a fire). This fact is very revealing and shows the power behind mythology. Anyone who knows about survival knows that the most important thing in survival is not necessarily know-how . . . it’s attitude. Mythology, really, sets the stage for an attitude toward the realities created by the nature-in-your-face condition. It gives us a ‘footing’ in nature, by giving it meaning and purpose and place, in a way we can understand. It makes nature ‘human’ and ‘relevent to us’, placing it on a human level. The power of mythology shows that this attitude of placing something with awesome power over us on a human level is, itself, a tremendous strength for us, surpassing know-how and skill. This quality, this attitude, is the base of any survival in life. Mythology then takes our existence and places it in nature and on a human level, giving us the attitude to survive.
This shows the power and importance of having things on a human level.
Mythology is reflective of an ‘inner self’ projected onto the world. By so doing ,it makes nature ‘human’, and in a way that the ‘inner self’ can understand. In other words, mythology tends to be personal, making the world reflect personal aspects of oneself and ones reality. This makes it different than, say, science or philosophy which looks at everything abstractly and as if there is only one explanation. This ‘personalness’ of mythology is why there are so many forms and how it tends to change. Without this quality of ‘personalness’ with mythology it would not be very effective. This ‘personalness’ is also why it is strongest in smaller groups of people, reflecting the ‘personalness’ of the ‘group psyche’. As the group grows this ‘group psyche’ is lost and so goes the ‘personalness’ of the mythology and, subsequently, its power, to be forgotten or remembered as a ‘story’.
Because mythology is reflective of an ‘inner life’ it uses the means of the ‘inner life’: symbols and representations, much like a dream. It makes it so that mythology is a ‘language’ that ‘speaks’ to ones ‘inner self’ and is understood by the ‘inner self’. Because the ‘inner life’ is interior it is generally understood on a deep level in a ‘living mythology’ (where people belief the mythology), often requiring no thought. It reflects not a thought or idea but a way of life, a specific way at looking at the world and reality. As a result, no one sits and ‘analyzes’ their mythology and what it means.
By projecting the ‘inner life’ upon the world through mythology it makes it so that mythology is ‘living’ and ‘about us’. It is there before us . . . as fact. Because of this, mythology becomes a world perception and world conception, the base in which perceptions of the world are looked at and reflected. It becomes a ‘center’ of knowledge and life. And because it is a projection of the ‘inner self’, we feel a bond with this ‘center’. It becomes a part of us and, through this, we become a part of the world. The world, in a way, becomes an extension of us. In so doing, we are ‘placed’ in the world as ‘living’ things and as a fact. This makes life ‘real’.
I’ve often felt that the loss of the ‘mythological ability’ may be the first steps in dehumanization. It’s loss took our ‘inner life’ out of the world and made us so we weren’t in-the-world. Because mythology is a projection of our ‘inner life’ upon the world it made the world more “alien” to us and made it less human for us. This ‘unhumanness’ made us have to look at the world in an unhuman way, not reflective of our ‘inner life’. It seems to me that this ‘unhumanness’ made us look at the world as ‘logical’ and ‘facts’. As a result, we made a world of principles and concepts. Though this gives an illusion of an ‘explanation’, the ‘unhuman explanation’ created an ‘unhuman reality’ which would turn into the modern world. This would seem to suggest that mythology is what makes us ‘human’, what made us human-in-the-world-that-we-could-relate-to. The ‘logical world’ only gives an explanation, it does not make us human-in-the-world.
Those are some of the things that gives mythology its great power in life.
There are two forms of mythology:
- Cultural mythology
- Personal mythology
Cultural mythology is mythology that appears in a body of people. It takes generations to create a mythology, and it tends to evolve in that body of people as well. It seems to stem, really, from the cultural character, the ‘group psyche’. Because this character is reflective of all the people of that society it reflects a perspective that everyone relates to and understands.
But, some cultural mythology may not be something everyone relates to. It’s not uncommon that a culture develops ‘levels’ in their mythology. In other words, different people in the culture develop their own ‘mythology’ that only they know (such as priests or specific occupations) or there develops a more involved and detailed mythology that go beyond what other people know. In some cases, it may even become ‘specialized’ where knowing specific mythology is given only to the “initiated”. The development of “levels” in mythology generally describe a more involved function a person has in society. Its much like a ‘specialized knowledge’ suited to their function.
These ‘specialized mythologies’ can’t get so specialized that they may even become alienated from the culture and, in a way, reflect a whole new culture in itself. It may get to the point that it even conflicts with the culture and may cause internal disputes, much like a religious or political dispute.
Normally, general cultural mythology will persist in a culture that changes into a form that does not reflect the mythological way of life. This generally happens in a society that has changed by becoming more populated creating an urban or city-based society. What happens it that the people ‘lose touch’ with the mythology and begin to cease to understand it. As a result, it turns into nothing but a story and often becomes ‘traditional’, meaning that it’s a story that has been in the culture for a long period of time, but which few, if any, people understand. This shows how the urban or city environment does not seems to reflect the mythological way of life. It does not create an environment suited for it. No mythology is created and the ones that exists become ‘dead’ stories. It becomes a ‘story that no one understands’ . . . that is, a “myth”.
In other words, as societies progress we get a “mythology/current living dilemma” where the current living does not reflect the mythological way of life or understands it. When this happens people tend to get alienated with it and, oftentimes, it becomes forgotten. But not always. Sometimes, the mythology can persist in stories, customs, festivals, and religious belief. But, since people are alienated from it, the dilemma can create reactions toward mythology, which could include:
- The forgetting of mythology.
- The continued maintainance of mythology, or things derived from it, because it’s ‘right’, even though one has no idea what it’s about. This creates ‘traditional mythology’.
- There are attempts at trying to make sense out of it.
- A contempt for mythology may develop.
- The creation of viewpoints that are ‘contrary’ to mythology (sort of an ‘anti-mythology’).
I’ve often felt that this dilemma has had a far greater impact on society than what we may think. This is because this dilemma describes a change in society and it shows the conflicts that can happen when society changes. Since mythology is often associated with a people’s identity, its loss can have drastic effects, causing internal social problems that may even help bring the culture down. But the problems it causes can also help develop a culture by bringing in new points of view.
This, it seems to me, is what happened in ancient Greece, about the time of Socrates or earlier. Even then, Greek mythology was becoming ‘detached’ from the new perspectives and way of life. This created a conflict in belief that, it seems to me, helped to create the rise of the Greek philosophers. In many ways, the Greek philosophers were trying to bridge the gap created by this conflict. In so doing, they created a whole new perspective and point of view.
But, overall, cultural mythology has all but disappeared in Western society. It has been destroyed by centuries of civilization, history, and the hodgepodge of other things that has appeared, which has slowly eaten it away. Not only that, the city-based Western civilization is not conducive to the mythological way of life. Even if we had one, it would die off for that reason alone. As a result, we have completely lost touch with the power of mythology and what it can do.
This power, though, can be still be seen in the second form of mythology: personal mythology.
The ‘mythological perspective’ is innate in us. We are all naturally ‘mythological’ deep down. Many of us, though, have lost contact with it and have forgotten it. But it is all demonstrated in us from time to time. Some examples include:
- Childhood. The play and creativity displayed by children entail the ‘mythological’ perspective.
- Various ‘personal opinions and beliefs. Many of our views of things, though they may seem to make logical sense, are actually based on the ‘mythological perspective’.
- Phantasizing and daydreaming. Many of our dreams are based in a ‘mythological perspective’.
- Being creative. When we create things it often reflects and uses the same mechanisms as mythology.
Though these all are ‘mythological’ they are not mythology. The reason is because they do not have the ‘authority’ of explaining things and life. They are primarily personal, and are often kept to ourselves. What they all display is the tendency to be ‘mythological’. They do not display the creation of ‘mythology’. As a result, most personal mythology is actually a ‘partial mythology’. It reflects the tendency of mythology but they seldom lack the authority that is need to create a mythology.
I tend to believe that most people have at least a mild mythology within themselves. I have often been stunned how, if I stand back and listen to how people really view life, it often sounds like a mythology. Typically, its only a grand story that describes ‘life’. It seldom involves ‘beings’ like gods and such and, when it does, it’s usually just ‘god’. But it’s generally a ‘story’ of some sort. This type of thing is a ‘personal life mythology’.
Typically, this ‘personal life mythology’ is portrayed under the guise of a “logical explanation” which is reflective of the mentality nowadays. Sometimes, it can have the appearance of a ‘scientific explanation’. To see the mythology behind the modern-day “logical explanation” one has to do a ‘mythological conversion’. This means the turning of the “logical explanation” into a ‘mythological story’. We must remember that the ‘mythological story’ is nothing but a representation of a fact. Each culture and people have interpreted this differently making many stories of the same thing. In reality, the “logical explanation” used nowadays is one of these representations. But it doesn’t use the dream-like qualities of mythology making it more shallow and ‘watered down’ and giving it another form. There are patterns, though, in its representations which include:
- The turning of a story into a “logical explanation”. Many explanations are just stories that are made ‘unstories’. We may say things like “the earth was created by a big bang” which, in a way, is really a variation of saying “and god created the world”. Even the “story” of evolution is a form of a ‘mythological story’, of a development of life through stages and such.
- The turning of ‘beings’ and ‘gods’ into principles and concepts. ‘Beings’ and ‘gods’ in mythology generally are representative of things and facts in life. And, you know what? . . . so are principles ad concepts. A ‘fertility goddess’, for example, may be referred to as the ‘reproductive tendency’. It’s really the same thing, spoken of in different ways.
Often, the difference between the ‘mythological story’ and a ‘logical explanation’ is a matter of what words you use and how you use them.
Talking with people, I have been stunned how people believe things that goes against their own ‘formal logic’ and the current beliefs of the times. This shows that it exists deep within (remember, it reflects the inner life) and separate from current beliefs. This makes it so that people have two forms of belief within them:
- An ‘inner belief system’, reflecting deep truths within themselves that they are often not aware of.
- A ‘current times belief system’. This is the belief system that the current times “accepts”.
These often contradict one another and often have no similarity whatsoever. Nowadays, with the increasing mass society and technology, there is a growing alienation and dehumanization in people. It creates a tendency where there is a growing gap between the ‘inner belief system’ and the ‘current times belief’. Often, the ‘current times belief’ does not, in any way, cater to any inner need of humanity but is created out of expediency or some other necessary thing. This means that the ‘current times belief’ is seldom accurate, seldom human, and seldom reflective of any belief system. As a result, I tend to believe that a person should not look at the ‘current times belief’ and expect to find anything. As a result, any “real” mythology is found by searching for the ‘inner belief system’, which may mean the complete abandoning of the ‘current times belief’. This means that it is found within themselves and is, therefore, reflective of personal mythology. In other words, it seems that the only “real” mythology, nowadays, is personal mythology. Centuries ago, it was cultural mythology that contained “real” mythology. But, with the growing of humanity and civilization, cultural mythology has been undermined leaving personal mythology as the only form of mythology.
I have found that personal mythology can be quite powerful. Personal mythology is really a revealing and demonstrating of an aspect of ‘inner life’ portrayed as an explanation things in life. In this sense, it is a projection of oneself.
Personal mythology tends to have the quality of an ‘authority’ explaining aspects of life and existence. This makes it more than a ‘theory’ or an ‘idea’ one has or a story one has created. It shows a strong ‘connection’ with existence, of being-in-existence.
But how does personal mythology appear in a person?
- Through experience and living. Typically, these are perceptions that are felt ‘deep within’, like a ‘feeling’ that becomes taken as fact.
- Having a ‘mythological’ perspective on life. This means looking at life as if it were a story, a great drama where everything has a meaning in the story.
- A “closeness” to existence and life. It seems that a person must be ‘religiously inclined’ and must be able to look deep into life.
- A poetic disposition and ability to be expressive. Mythology is an expression. It requires a creativity to develop. In many ways, its like an art form, a creation of a ‘world image’.
- Shamanistic ‘journeying’. This is where I learned a lot of my personal mythology. Many of the ‘journeying’ even resembled mythological tales.
It seems. to me, that organized religion and education hinder the development of personal mythology. This is because they already have the ‘explanation’ ready-made and pre-packaged. It requires you to ‘conform’ to it. In personal mythology, though, you need to discover your mythology, not be told it.
For it to be a “real” mythology it must have a few qualities:
- It must come naturally. That is to say, you can’t just read it or hear it.
- It must be believed.
- It must entail symbols and representation.
- It must have an ‘authority’.
All these qualities are not all that prevalent nowadays, which is why personal mythology is hard to come by. I seem to think that it takes a special person to truly discover a ‘personal mythology’ . . . not everyone can do it.
Copyright by Mike Michelsen