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Reply To: The Boundary-Blurring Nature of Myth,” with Bradley Olson, Ph.D.”

Bradley Olson

Hi, Stephen
You give, yet again, another great introduction that well frames the substance of my MythBlast on the boundary blurring nature of myth.

You’re right to say that the boundary blurring nature of myth is what gives it its power. I think that endowment is what makes myth, myth. Which is why, I should add, literalizing myth is its death. Myth can’t be myth without being fuzzy, confusing, and ineffable. Because myth is blurry, it quite naturally insists that we turn it over and over and around and even, if we can manage it, inside out; to examine it from as many perspectives as possible in order to generate some understanding of this remarkably abstruse artifact referred to as myth.

I like that you pulled Ed Ricketts’ thoughts into this conversation: “all things are one thing and that one thing is all things…” This is the essence of thinking mythically, and it requires us to develop that double vision I’ve mentioned in past CoHO conversations. When vision and perspective shift, as they must do to compensate for the blurriness, we learn more about “the one thing” to which myth is trying to introduce us. Of course, we never learn enough, never experience enough to say, eureka! We may have those transcendent moments in which we feel we know the mystery, but as soon as we begin to think or talk about it, it’s gone, and we plunge back into ignorance.

You bring up another interesting issue by mentioning that a “sizable segment of American society, a spectrum that ranges from New Age spiritualists on one end to QAnon conspiracy theorists on other, who also embrace a chaotic, blurry vision of the world.” I think that to observers like ourselves, their beliefs, attitudes, and practices seem blurry by virtue of their irrationality, unreasonableness, and ease with which they deny and subvert consensual reality and social contracts. But in fact, from inside those spheres there is nothing fuzzy or blurry at all. Both ends of the spectrum, from New Age gurus to those who insist JFK Jr. is going to return, messiah-like, and assume his rightful place at the right hand of Donald Trump, know for certain that their beliefs are not beliefs at all, but are undeniable facts, and that they have apprehended a deep truth that others are simply not smart enough or too indoctrinated to consider, let alone see. From their perspectives, they see everything with an eagle-eyed clarity and focus. It is a way to avoid the irksome nuanced nature and uncontrollable messiness of life, and it’s not a very long voyage from there to insisting that some sort of authoritarian response is the answer. Just one of the reasons why Campbell insisted that myth was not a toy for children.