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What is Personal Mythology to you?

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    In my experience this term is still coalescing for people, as they often have their own angle on it and I’d love to hear more of them!

    I’m kind of an acolyte of Stanley Krippner’s so I tend to go off his and my definitions. His is that a personal myth is a belief or statement about important life matters that effects behavior, and then of course the collection of those that make your identity would be your personal mythology. Of course Stanley is an academic through and through. Since my aim is to bring Personal Mythology to the masses I go with somewhat less formal explanations. Sometimes I say Personal Mythology is the art of working with your life stories. When going a little more formal I say it’s a story that affects behavior.

    So what is Personal Mythology to you?


    I tend to follow Joseph Campbell’s explanation here (which, of course, is compatible with Krippner’s):

    Mythological images are the images by which the consciousness is put in touch with the unconscious. That’s what they are. When you don’t have your mythological images, or when your consciousness rejects them for some reason or other, you are out of touch with your own deepest part. I think that’s the purpose of a mythology that we can live by. We have to find the one that we are in fact living by and know what it is so that we can direct our craft with competence.

    Now, many of us live by myths that guide us, myths that may prove adequate for our entire lives. For those who live by such myths, there’s no problem here. They know what their myth is: one of the great inherited religious traditions or another. In all likelihood, this myth will suffice to guide them along the path of their lives.

    There are others in this world, however, for whom these guideposts lead nowhere. . . . There are others who may feel that they are living in accord with a certain system but actually are not. They go to church every Sunday and read the Bible, and yet those symbols aren’t speaking to them. The driving power is coming from something else.

    You might ask yourself this question: if I were confronted with a situation of total disaster, if everything I loved and thought I lived for were devastated, what would I live for? If I were to come home, find my family murdered, my house burned up, or all my career wiped out by some disaster or another, what would sustain me? We read about these things every day, and we think, Well, that only happens to other people. But what if it happened to me? What would lead me to know that I could go on living and not just crack up and quit?

    Now, what do you have in your life that would play this role for you? What is the great thing for which you would sacrifice your life? What makes you do what you do; what is the call of your life to you—do you know it? The old traditions provided this mythic support for people; it held whole culture worlds together. Every great civilization has grown out of a mythic base.

    In our day, however, there is great confusion. We’re thrown back on ourselves, and we have to find that thing which, in truth, works for us as individuals.”

    Joseph Campbell, Pathways to Bliss

    I like your reference to working with your life stories. The way I tend to put it is that personal mythology is not a story that I tell, but the Story that is telling me . . .


    Campbell says repeatedly throughout his writing and speaking that “The old has passed away, and what’s going to replace it, I do not know,” or words to that effect. Logic and reason have taken the life out of the Mystery, but the Mystery has not been surpassed. The Mystery has been, is being, made fun of, ridiculed, derided, denounced, etc., but the Mystery is still with us, among us, needing only recognition to be with us as always.

    Why do we see the way we see? Think the way we think? Feel the way we feel? Love what we love?

    Who are we? What are we about?

    We all are “working on mysteries without any clues” (Bob Seger). We only need to be aware of the place Mystery has in our lives.

    We can encounter the Mystery as easily as emptying ourselves of even the desire to be empty and entering the stillness and the silence, and waiting for something to stir, emerge, arise, appear unbidden/un-thought as an aberration  “out of nowhere,” and follow where it leads.

    How do we revere and serve the Mystery? We create our own symbols, or receive them as they come to us “out of nowhere.” We find our own way as the path appears before us when we start walking. The Mystery is the source of mythology, and is with us always, to the end of our days, and perhaps beyond, for that, too, is a mystery.


    Jimdollar – well said! I appreciate the way you place the Mystery at the center (love the Bob Seeger reference as well). Encountering and exploring that Mystery (through creating/receiving our own symbols, as you note) is key to developing and embracing one’s personal mythology as an expression of that mystery.

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