Thank you for your message. Maybe to begin we can attempt to be on the same page by questioning what is a myth? Joseph Campbell said myths represents the human search for what is true, significant and meaningful. Christine Downing saw the Greek view of the gods as energies that affect everyone. For Carl Jung, the primary function of myth is psychological – to shed light on the workings of the unconscious. And according to James Hillman, “polytheistic psychology can give sacred differentiation to our psychic turmoil.” For him myths are aide-mémoires i.e. sounding boards employed “for echoing life today or as bass chords giving resonance to the little melodies of life.”
Myths move us from the conceptual to the experiential. They provide a larger container as there’s many characters and there’s room for them all – our internal contradictions needn’t tear us apart. We don’t go to myths for ‘the’ answer singular but for wisdom and deeper universal insight, which we often can’t access when we’re in our own personal despair. They become a valuable touchstone, and as David Miller said, “Myths don’t ground, they open.”
Others describe myths as stories that are not true outside but are true inside. They are metaphorically meaningful. They are stories that have significance in life. We could say that we are all ancient Greeks, or ancient Egyptians, or ancient Hebrews. Our collective psyche responds to the images in myths. Myths are descriptive of our unconscious processes and they link inner and outer worlds via personification.
When we engage mythic material it allows for an encounter with the unconscious. So how do we understand ourselves as reflected by the gods and goddesses in these myths? One way is to have imaginative encounters with these mythic figures. We can actually turn our emotions into images. For example, my despair feels like Demeter’s, my shock feels like Persephone’s, this task feels Sisyphean.
Symbolism can bring structure to emotional confusion and can help us hold our deeper psychological experiences. So can we engage myths to help us perceive what’s actually going on in our life right now? Because even though we may not recognise it, we’re nursed by these archetypal images. They provide a psychological cradle for the lived experience. Quite simply, with no underlying story, we’re more anxious. It’s ‘you’ as an individual struggling on a long, adventurous journey, not ‘you’ as a representation of Odysseus in Homer’s ‘Odyssey.’ The underlying myth provides the cradle to view life as a divine drama. And our lives are lived on the back of a bigger story when the personal meets the mythical. The creative mythology, which Campbell so eloquently spoke about, is the need to connect to deeper archetypal patterns as they form the blueprint for why myths matter. They’re part of our cultural forms and myths are the most fundamental patterns of society.
So how do we think mythically and sense archetypally? How do we wear glasses of the mythos and not solely the logos? Firstly, literally. Reading Stephen Fry’s book ‘Mythos: A Retelling of the Myths of Ancient Greece’ is a good start. And secondly, metaphorically we can use the images in myths and dreams to explore our inner lives as they help us move from viewing the human experience in a flat way to instead be a lived, embodied experience, which is why Jesus and other great teachers spoke in parables – as it engages the feelings and imagination. These universal patterns can then come through in a fresh, alive and spirited way. We get forced into literalism if we can’t grasp the metaphorical. These mythic figures are metaphors of imagination and allow us to view movements in our psyches, if we can only perceive them.
Very best, Kristina.