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Defining Myth

Viewing 7 posts - 16 through 22 (of 22 total)
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    Esther – a thread (no pun intended) on Ariadne is a brilliant idea! (So much to explore beyond just Theseus and the Minotaur in the Labyrinth!) That might work well in the Awakening the Mythological Mind or Personal Mythology forums, depending on what direction you take, or the catch-all Conversation with a Thousand Faces form.


    Hello everyone,

    I’m new to the forum. My name is Andy – nice to meet you .

    In regards to the question, I feel like we are limited in defining myth if we aren’t believers in a higher power (or something transcendent) and we are also limited if we do.

    For example, myth has a strong connotation with gods/goddesses, and in my experience, strongly religious people are often so wrapped up in their beliefs that they can’t evaluate their faith with rigorous rationality – and I don’t think they should. To me, a believer feels and experiences their faith, and heavy thinking is antithetical to that feeling and experience.

    But at the same time, how are we supposed to truly know something if we don’t experience it? I think this is the main handicap of academics, who might posit theories on this-that and the-other… but who might not “get their hands dirty”… the so-called, “ivory tower” analogy.

    And then of course, there’s the ultimate limitation – that of words and even thought itself. Campbell said many times, as soon as you put a word on it, you’ve lost it. It’s the great irony. The great cosmic irrationality. The mystery can not be named or known. That’s why visual art, music, dance, ritual, storytelling, etc… they are all so powerful… they are a less wordy and less rational way of approaching the divine, and some might say a better way of approaching the divine.

    During a psychedelic mushroom trip (long ago), I once heard a voice (a god, a hallucination? no matter) and asked it why I couldn’t grasp the “truth”? The voice told me that the human mind is based on duality (i.e. black/white, yes/no, hot/cold, etc.), and that the “truth” is ONE (black is white, yes is no, hot is cold, etc.). So the mind can never know the “truth”. In fact, I think duality is the first step into a sense of “I”… IDK if that applies to this topic, but I always think of it when I exercise my faculties of reason and am seeking to understand or define something.

    But even if the mind could grasp it, I don’t think it would be a fun exercise. I think that life might look like a monk in a cave or a yogi sitting and staring at the sky or something. It’s not a life most of us want to live. I like the internet and chocolate and mountain-biking, etc. 🙂

    Cheers! 🙂




    thegoaloflifeisrapture wrote:The Greek word Muthos, or, as it has now become, Mythos, means ‘story’ or ‘speech,’ the story that sets a pattern and has purpose and design within it, deriving ultimately from the Indo-European root of the verb mud, meaning ‘to think’ and ‘to imagine.’

    I love when people use etymological origins when defining things. Bravo!


    Welcome to Conversations of a Higher Order (COHO), Andy! You may have noticed that these discussion forums don’t exactly move at the frenzied pace of social media; it sometimes takes days, weeks, months, or longer for a conversation to unfold – but there is an advantage to not feeling pressured to respond before the conversation scrolls off the screen and is lost in the ether, instead of having the leisure to allow one’s thoughts to simmer a bit and take shape before posting a reply.

    Love the point you make about the limitations of defining myth, depending on one’s belief in a higher power.

    No surprise that defining myth is a little like trying to staple your shadow to the wall; hence the impetus behind this thread of collecting as many definitions of myth as possible, both parallel and contradictory, in hopes of fleshing out our understanding. Of course, even definitions that seem at odds generally aren’t mutually exclusive: myth is more “both/and” rather than “either/or” . . . and being comfortable with paradox is an invaluable trait for any mythologist, amateur as well as professional.

    By the way, your second post triggered a memory of maybe 15 or so years ago, when I was a featured guest at a three day event in Ojai that drew a number of people just starting out in myth, several of whom today are considered luminaries in the field. At the end of the long second day, a handful of us ended up in the organizer’s room sharing adult beverages and conversation on myth late into the night. At one point someone mentioned an obscure term – and suddenly most of us slipped out to our rooms (which were all nearby), and each returned carrying one or more reference works on etymology to continue the discussion – and right away I knew I had found my tribe! (I lean toward the expansive Chambers Dictionary of Word Etymology, but on the road I often travel with a beat-up paperback copy of John Ayto’s Arcade Dictionary of Word Origins)

    I also appreciate the fungal episode you shared. Though it’s been a couple decades, I have indulged in dozens of mushroom experiences and LSD trips, along with the occasional doses of mescaline, peyote, and DMT. I have also recorded over a thousand dreams in a dozen or so dream journals the last three decades, and find an incredible resonance between the dream state and the psychedelic state, both of which tap into that archetypal strata which is the source of myth. That’s a subject worthy of of further discussion.

    You might find interesting this thread, from the early days of this iteration of COHO in the Conversation with a Thousand Faces forum, on the spiritual uses of psychedelics. It’s been quiet for a long time, but feel free to revive it by adding your thoughts and/or sharing your experiences on the topic (which will bump it up to the top of the queue), or starting a new one on this or a related topic.

    Thanks for joining in, androoshka. Feel free to poke around and jump into any thread that draws your interest, including those that seem dormant. Often all it takes to re-start a conversation is a fresh perspective.


    Thanks for the warm response, Stephen. I feel very welcome and am excited to meet intelligent people with fascinating opinions and shared interests. I don’t meet many people in daily life that want to discuss such topics, so it’s a real treat.

    I realize I broke format by going in a more personal and rhetorical, discussion-type direction (I’m a left-hand path kinda guy, and I like a back-and-forth,) so please allow me to mend the wound a little with this:

    “Simply put, a mythology is a set of stories, of ideas, that tries to make sense of the world and our place in it. But these are big ideas – ideas that make you think.”

    – Susan Sarandon, transcribed from her first monologue in the video series “Mythos” from the JCF.


    “I see mythology, when it’s in a socially functioning way, as serving four functions.

    The first function is what I would call the MYSTICAL function – it opens up a realization of the mystical dimension – that behind the surface phenomenology of the world, there is a transcendent mystery source, and that is the source also within yourself.

    The second function has to do with the image of the world – what I would call the COSMOLOGICAL function. This changes radically from time-to-time. In the very early hunting, and planting, and gathering societies – a relatively small horizon – and the science was of that of what was visible. It was in terms of the visible world. The sun rose, went down. The moon rose, went down. With Copernicus, this all changed. The sun isn’t rising, it’s we that are twisting. The cosmology is totally changed. Cosmology and science changes…

    The third function of mythology is SOCIOLOGICAL – to validate and maintain a certain, specific social order, here and now, of this specific society.

    The fourth problem is the PEDAGOGICAL problem – guiding the individual harmoniously through the inevitable crises of the stages of life, in his world today – in terms of its goods, its values, its dangers.

    -Joseph Campbell, transcribed from the first clip on disc 1 of the “Mythos” video series



    Dear friends,

    I’ve been panning for gold and came across a new definition for our thread:

    ‘C.S Lewis offers the following description of how myth can affect us today:

    [Myths] give us (at the first meeting) as much delight and (on prolonged acquaintance) as much wisdom and strength as the works of the greatest poets. […] It goes beyond the expression of things we have already felt. […] It gets under our skin […] and in general shocks us more fully awake than we are for most of our lives. (Phantastes xi)

    I believe the key to understanding the effect myth can have on us lies in Lewis’ word beyond. Myth pushed our ancestors beyond their everyday lives to a different reality, a higher plane of existence, such as the land of the gods. From there, they could look back on their own lives with a perspective that challenged them to rise above a mere animal existence and fulfill their human potential. We can still find in these myths inspiration to do the same.’

    Source: Journey to the Sea

    Perhaps this isn’t a definition per se (more a description of the experience of engaging with myths?), but there’s truth in there for me – I love the reference to the shock that myths can give! And the reference to ‘beyond’.





    C.S. Lewis is very much in the ballpark. I’ve never actually read his Narnia series, but I grew up with a toxic form of Christianity, so in my college years his Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters proved a breath of fresh air.

    Thanks for highlighting Lewis’ use of the word “beyond” – and I especially love “. . .a perspective that challenged them to rise above a mere animal existence and fulfill their human potential.” I have no doubt Campbell would concur.

Viewing 7 posts - 16 through 22 (of 22 total)
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