How does mythology function in your life?

Thing on Thursday #4

At the top of our values poll results was relationship with mythology.  This week, let’s dig into that idea.

We are not talking about simple falsehoods here, such as the “myth” that money brings happiness.  We’re talking about something deeper.  Here are a few famous definitions:

“Myths are things that never happened but always are.”

– Sallustius, 4th cent. A.D. (quoted in Carl Sagan’s Dragons of Eden)

“Myth is a traditional tale with secondary, partial reference to something of collective importance”

– Walter Burkert, Structure and History in Greek Mythology and Ritual

“Myths are public dreams; dreams are private myths.”

– Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live By

Examples of myths include the stories of Perseus slaying Medusa, Thor fishing up the world-serpent, or Inanna descending to the underworld.  They usually feature extraordinary figures, such as gods, spirits, or first people, and often describe a primordial time, or how something came to be.

Karen Armstrong notes myths are “usually inseparable from ritual”, so we may think also of the acts that may or may not accompany myths in your life: rituals, devotions, festivals, meditations, visualizations, and so on.

With this in mind, what are the top three ways mythology functions for you?

Remember, this is about myth in your life.  Myths may have served some of these functions at one time without necessarily serving them adequately today or for you.

Please choose your top three.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

About Thing on Thursday

Althing in Session, by W.G. CollingwoodThis post is part of a series of councils on matters vital to the future.  The name represents both the generic term for, you know, a thingie, as well as the Old Norse term for a council of elders: a Thing.

Each week until the Winter Solstice, Thing on Thursday will explore a new controversy.  Participation is open to all – the more minds that come together, the better.  Those who have been vocal in the comments are as welcome as those quiet-but-devoted readers who have yet to venture a word.  We value all constructive opinions.

There are only a few rules:

  • be constructive – this is a council, so treat it as such
  • be respectful – no rants or flames

Comments will be taken into consideration as we determine the new direction of Humanistic Paganism.  This will also greatly shape the vision that unfolds in our upcoming ebook Our Ancient Future: Visions of Humanistic Paganism.

So please make your voice heard in the comments!

19 Comments on “How does mythology function in your life?

  1. I had voted for Cultural Identity (because in my research into my ancestors always had links to myths), Psychological Insight (because I often ponder the messages that these stories may be designed to tell), and Inspiration and Enjoyment (because myths are always fun to read and talk about).

    I also liked the sanction of social order or values. But I didn’t vote on that because it doesn’t impact how I do things. Yet, I acknowledge that they help in having children understand values, and law & order; as they can be said in a way that it will be remembered, even when they grow into adults knowing the reality of things. It still lingers as a hidden message at the back of your head. Similar to “Red sky in morning, do take warning. Red sky at night, take delight.” (I honestly changed the wording a little bit because many variations use “,sailor’s warning.” or “,farmer’s warning.” etc.) It has stayed in my mind and I subconsciously take note of the weather, even if it isn’t accurate.

    • Interesting take on “sanction of social order or values.” I had actually thought more along the lines of, say, claims of ancestral descent from Frey sanctioning rule by the Yngling family in Sweden, or Augustine’s interpretation of the Fall of Adam & Eve sanctioning the need for all to constantly seek redemption.

  2. It seems to me that inspiration (though not necessarily enjoyment) undergirds and breathes life into all of the options. Most of the options deal with beliefs and practices (with the exception of “cultural identity,” maybe), all of which can, and probably will, be inspired by mythology for people who are drawn to mythology.

    • I agree, and even see inspiration applying to cultural identity. A cultural identity can definitely impact one’s world-view, which I think has a definite connection to inspiration, beliefs and practices.

  3. I enjoy using myth in meditation and trance. Myths take what is amorphous and vast–the Cosmos, virtue, our inner selves–and gives it a form that I can easily grasp–a girl in a forest, a bee on her daily rounds, a king who loves gold. Like any good story or lesson, it teaches by metaphor.

    I’m slowly beginning a process of restorying based on the phenology of my bioregion and scientific discoveries that are of interest to me. While I honor the ancient myths and the sense of connection they can provide for some people, I personally would prefer a mythos more solidly grounded in *my* time and place and understanding of the world. We’ll see how that goes.

    • Eli, are you making this restorying a public process (via blog, forum, etc)?

      If not, may I request that you do? It sounds fascinating to me.

    • “I’m slowly beginning a process of restorying based on the phenology of my bioregion and scientific discoveries that are of interest to me. While I honor the ancient myths and the sense of connection they can provide for some people, I personally would prefer a mythos more solidly grounded in *my* time and place and understanding of the world. We’ll see how that goes.”

      I second Luke in interest in this process.

  4. Wish I had more time to keep up! Been really busy lately. Myths are very important to me, although I definitely wouldn’t see them as a requirement of what you are working on here.

    My votes were for: inspiration/enjoyment, psychological insight and a connection to the past.

    I see our myths as a cultural heritage that, for me, is so strong that they can almost be felt in my blood and bones. That’s an obvious figure of speech, but for me these ancient understandings of existence that reside within our myths provide an avenue for connecting to a certain primal level of consciousness. They allow me to, through their symbols and metaphor, explore inward and make discoveries that I would find hard to ascertain otherwise. For this reason, they are invaluable for me when doing meditation or other introspective work.

  5. “Karen Armstrong notes myths are “usually inseparable from ritual”…”

    Christian baptism comes from the myth of the fall via the myth of the baptism of Jesus. Christian communion comes from the myth of the last supper.

    But of course, the fall, the last supper and Jesus’ baptism aren’t myths to the true believer. I wonder if for many of us (at least for myself) the appreciation of myth isn’t analogous to the appreciation of beautiful shells picked up by the sea: for us they are lovely objects, but for creatures that inhabited them, they were home.

    Not often, but every once in a while I envy the true believer his conviction.

    • >I wonder if for many of us (at least for myself) the appreciation of myth isn’t analogous to the appreciation of beautiful shells picked up by the sea: for us they are lovely objects, but for creatures that inhabited them, they were home.
      >Not often, but every once in a while I envy the true believer his conviction.

      Beautifully put. Many if not most myths are for me the lovely objects, but those precious few with which I have lived closely have begun to feel like a home. It takes not just reading and thinking about them, I think, but living with them – reciting them aloud at meaningful occasions, enacting them, learning to see them in the cycles of nature and yourself, doing rituals around them, and so on. In this way, the mind comes to respond differently to them. No longer are they objects out there, but they become integrated into one’s sense of being-in-the-world.

      The conviction of the true believer may be one route to this integration, but not the only route in my experience. I find that it may not be the true believer so much as the true experiencer who finds a home.

      • “I find that it may not be the true believer so much as the true experiencer who finds a home.”

        Well said. Temporary true belief is just as viable a route to true experience as permanent true belief is.

  6. There is mythic element that I have pondered for a long time. The element is that there is a kind of chain from the macrocosm to the microcosm that runs like this: as God organizes the universe, so the king organizes the kingdom; as the king organizes the kingdom, so does the chief organize the tribe; as the chief organizes the tribe, so does the parent organize the family; as the parent organizes the family, so does the individual organize his own being.

    When the Stoic says live in accord with nature, or the Taoist says live in accord with the Tao, or the Buddhist says live in accord with Dharma, they are all referring in some way to this same notion.

    In our own time, we still find that the cosmos is organized, but the naturalist view is that the organization is based on “mechanical” laws; there is no reason to think that this mechanical organization has anything to do with the way we organize our society, communities, families, or our self.

    Despite the utter lack of a good reason, I still can’t shake a deep-set belief that there is something to this ancient mythic sense of cosmic connection.

  7. Analysis time!

    I’m going to look at the top results so far, in order of popularity, and say what I think about how they relate to Humanistic Paganism structurally:

    1) experience of mystery, the unkown, or the sacred

    – this seems to be either synonymous with or a subset of the “sense of wonder” in the Fourfold Path, and is thus a direct result from exploring mythology for its own sake (reading, sharing stories, etc)

    2) psychological insight

    – this seems to be about letting mythology “speak” to you, and would thus be about exploring a literal relationship with mythology, again for its own sake (just to see what mythology has to say to you)

    3) inspiration or enjoyment

    – I already touched on this in my first comment; inspiration is about letting mythology color and breathe life into all beliefs and practices; it’s what hooks us into HP in the first place
    – this is also about exploring mythology for its sake as well, but with a much lighter approach than the seriousness of “experiencing the sacred”

    3) stories to accompany rituals or meditations

    – to me this is tied pretty closely with inspiration, since this is about letting mythology inspire otherwise generic practices; it’s the difference between meditation for stress relief and meditation on the exuberance of Bacchus

    5) connection to the past, or sense of cultural identity

    – this seems to sinply be about exploring a relationship with our past or culture, simply for the sake of experiencing that connection

    The other options didn’t have enough votes to really bother with, since they don’t seem to be representative of the HP community.

    Thoughts?

    • I think you summarized it pretty well.

      So thus far it is determined that this path revolves around myths and tales, and how they relate with Nature (not just “Nature” but the ‘nature’ of things) in a naturalistic way.

      So perhaps a name for those of this path should reflect that. Myths, Nature, & Naturalistic.

      This makes me question the point of including anything else in the description of this path as the above mentioned seems to summarize it. If there is anything fundamentally missing, what is it and why?

      • Well, this analysis was just about one aspect of Humanistic Paganism. Granted, all four principles do flow into each other and depend on each other, but the focus for this Thing was specifically mythology.

        Because of that, I’m don’t think it’d be fair to say that I summarized Humanistic Paganism through this analysis. I didn’t intend to, at least.

        • By all means, you didn’t. I did though, but that is how I see it as shown through virtually all the posts I’ve seen to date. This is just my opinion and may not be in tune with how others see it or feel it is.

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